11 Up-and-Coming Actors to Watch

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Photo Source: Matthew Throne/A24/ Parisa Taghizadeh/Focus Features/Amazon Prime Video

This has been a year of upheaval for the entertainment industry thanks to mass layoffs, dual strikes, and a general air of uncertainty. But even amid the tumult, 2023 has brought us movies, TV shows, and theater productions that have impressed critics and audiences alike. 

Here, we highlight 11 emerging actors who have left a strong impression on us this year, either making their debuts or solidifying their presence. Hopefully, these fresh faces will remain on our radar as they continue to make their marks on the stage and screen.

Lionel Boyce

The second season of Christopher Storer’s critically acclaimed kitchen dramedy got serious buzz over the summer, and that’s largely thanks to a memorable turn from Boyce as Marcus. Although the actor was also on the first season, his portrayal of the character deepened this year, proving him to be an actor to keep an eye on. Boyce began his career as a member of the rap collective Odd Future, later performing on the group’s Adult Swim sketch show “Loiter Squad”; he also played himself in last year’s “Jackass Forever.” Comedy is still Boyce’s strong suit, but the passion he brings to the role of a budding pastry chef—particularly on the episode “Honeydew,” which put Marcus in the spotlight—show him to be a very versatile actor. 

Micaela Diamond

THEATER: “Parade”
Nominated for her first Tony Award this year for best actress in a musical, Diamond is on the fast track to becoming a Broadway star. She performed opposite Ben Platt in the revival of Jason Robert Brown and Alfred Uhry’s “Parade,” which was one of the hottest shows of 2023. Currently, she’s starring in “Here We Are,” the late Stephen Sondheim’s final musical, which is running at the Shed in NYC through Jan. 21, 2024. Considering she originated a role in filmmaker Ethan Coen’s “A Play Is a Poem” at the Atlantic back in 2019, hopefully more screen roles (she appeared in 2021’s “Tick, Tick… Boom!”) are in her future. 

Micaela Diamond and Ben Platt in Parade

Credit: Joan Marcus

Priya Kansara

FILM: “Polite Society”
Incorporating martial arts stunts, highly choreographed Bollywood dance numbers, and impeccable comedic timing, Kansara’s performance in Nida Manzoor’s feature debut, “Polite Society,” nails every shift in genre and tone. She plays Ria Khan, a British-Pakistani teen who dreams of becoming a stuntwoman. The actor’s skills are on full display as her character sets out to rescue her big sister from a suitor with sinister intentions and his hellish mother-in-law. The film is a brilliant showcase for Kansara’s acting chops. 

Lio Mehiel 

FILM: “Mutt”
Writer-director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz’s hit feature debut made history at Sundance this year when its lead, Mehiel, became the first trans actor to win the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award. Watching their naturalistic, passionate performance, it’s easy to see why. Mehiel plays Feña, a trans guy man living in Brooklyn, over a hectic 24-hour period involving an impromptu visit from his little sister, an encounter with his ex, and the arrival of his estranged Chilean father. 

Lio Mehiel in Mutt

Courtesy Strand Releasing

Edy Modica 

Modica, a New York–based comedian, filmmaker, and actor, received critical acclaim for her performance on this faux–reality show from Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. The series centers on Ronald Gladden, an unsuspecting man who’s summoned for jury duty, unaware that everyone else involved, from the plaintiff to the judge to his fellow jurors, are actors partaking in a fake trial. Modica plays juror Jeannie Abruzzo, who attempts to seduce another member of the jury. The character’s manic, petty energy inspired countless memes and TikTok edits—a true marker of comedic mastery in 2023. 

Phylicia Pearl Mpasi 

FILM: “The Color Purple”
Mpasi is likely to make waves with her screen debut in “The Color Purple,” Blitz Bazawule’s big-screen adaptation of the musical version of the 1985 film; it will hit theaters this Christmas. She portrays the younger version of Celie, whose adult counterpart is played by “American Idol” winner Fantasia Barrino. Mpasi started her career in the writers’ rooms of “Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies” and “We Stay Looking”; but her impressive turn in front of the camera points to a successful future as a performer. 

Tia Nomore 

FILM: “Earth Mama”
This first-time actor has already made a name for herself as a rapper in Oakland. This year, she earned praise for her screen debut in Savanah Leaf’s “Earth Mama” when it premiered at Sundance back in January. Nomore stars as Gia, a young, pregnant mother living in the
Bay Area circa 2006, as she
fights to regain custody of her two children while pregnant
with a third. Though her character is reserved, Nomore is astounding at conveying buried emotions through small expressions and gestures. 

Earth MamaCredit: Gabriel Saravia/A24

Talia Ryder 

FILM: “The Sweet East,” “Dumb Money” 
THEATER: “How to Defend Yourself”
Lauded for her breakthrough performance in Eliza Hittman’s 2020 abortion drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” the 21-year-old Ryder continued to demonstrate her acting prowess in three projects this year. Onscreen, she led Sean Price Williams’ road-trip indie “The Sweet East,” which premiered at Cannes earlier this year, and played a fledgling investor in Craig Gillespie’s “Dumb Money.” She also earned acclaim on the stage for the New York Theatre Workshop production of Liliana Padilla’s “How to Defend Yourself,” a drama about college girls learning self-defense in the wake of a sexual assault on campus. 

Dominic Sessa

FILM: “The Holdovers”
When the news hit that director Alexander Payne and actor Paul Giamatti would reunite for the first time since 2004’s “Sideways,” hype naturally followed. What no one was expecting, however, was that a young and previously unknown actor would steal scenes from a legend as seasoned beloved as Giamatti. Sessa plays Angus Tully, a disillusioned student at a New England boarding school who’s forced to spend Christmas break on campus with snide professor Paul Hunham (Giamatti) and staffer Mary Lamb (Da’Vine Joy Randolph). Troubled but innately intelligent, Angus initially butts heads with Paul thanks to his insolent behavior; but he eventually penetrates the older man’s icy exterior, stealing viewers’ hearts in the process.

The Holdovers

 Credit: Seacia Pavao/Focus Features

Sophie Wilde

FILM: “Talk to Me”
“You know, when we cast Sophie, we lost, like, a million out of the budget because she wasn’t a [well-known] name,” Australian director Danny Philippou told Filmmaker Magazine about his and his twin brother Michael’s feature debut. They more than made up for what they lost up front, thanks to Wilde delivering one of the most memorable horror performances in recent memory. She plays Mia, a teenager reeling from the death of her mother. When an embalmed hand grants her and her friends the ability to see and interact with spirits, her obsession unleashes something far worse than your ordinary ghost. 

Kara Young

TELEVISION: “I’m a Virgo”
THEATER: “Cost of Living” 
Young made her Broadway debut in the 2021 production of esteemed playwright Lynn Nottage’s “Clyde’s,” which earned her a Tony nod for best performance by an actress in a featured role in a play. She went on to appear in another project from a visionary Black creator: Boots Riley’s (“Sorry to Bother You”) Prime series “I’m a Virgo.” Young plays Jones, a 20-something revolutionary who shines brightest in the show’s fourth episode (“Balance Beam”) when she delivers an unforgettable speech about the crisis of late-stage capitalism at a house party. She also netted a second Tony nomination for her turn as a broke college grad in Martyna Majok’s “Cost of Living.”

This story originally appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of Backstage Magazine.

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