Casting directors, take note: These six actresses are destined for stardom.
In Amazon’s apocalyptic sci-fi series Good Omens, Adria Arjona plays a witch who must decide if she should alter the world with her awareness of centuries-old prophecies. “I love that she has the courage to question things,” says Arjona, 27. “She has an intellectual bravery.” The actress’s high-octane résumé includes two Netflix action films (the heist drama Triple Frontier and Michael Bay’s thriller Six Underground) and the forthcoming Marvel spin-off Morbius, in which she stars opposite Jared Leto. With breakout turns in Narcos and True Detective, Arjona has often been the outlier in a boys’ club, both on camera and behind the scenes. “I’ve never been directed by a woman,” she says. “And it’s not by choice. But it’s made me want to produce. I need to see more women on set.” Arjona, who was born in Puerto Rico and traveled frequently as the child of superstar singer Ricardo Arjona, also values the opportunities she’s had to play bilingual characters, like Dorothy Gale in Emerald City, NBC’s retooled Wizard of Oz. “I want little girls who watch these projects to say, ‘It’s cool to speak Spanish.’ I want that to be embedded in their culture, their brain, and their blood.”
Lovie Simone stars as a lethal queen bee in Selah and the Spades, a sizzling drama following a clique turf war at an elite prep school. Inhabiting Selah’s ruthless yet regal demeanor allowed the unassuming Simone, 20, to unlock her own brand of assertiveness. “Playing Selah taught me that you can be young and look soft and still be respected and firm,” she says. The film garnered buzz at Sundance, as did Simone’s incisive social-media-gone-wrong thriller Share, which was picked up by HBO. Raised in the Bronx, Simone was set on acting from age nine (“I used to look in my mirror and say, ‘Hi! I’m Lovie, and you’re watching the Disney Channel,’ ” she remembers). During her senior year of high school, she was cast as the wild child of a dysfunctional dynasty in OWN’s megachurch drama Greenleaf, a role she’ll reprise when the show’s fourth season airs later this year. But her big break almost didn’t happen: When roles hadn’t materialized, she considered studying fashion merchandising and marketing at Manhattan’s LIM College. “I tried to want to do something else,” she says. “But a fashion career didn’t scare me. And I felt that if my vision wasn’t scary, it wasn’t for me.”
Twenty-two-year-old Londoner Ella Balinska joins Kristen Stewart and Naomi Scott in November’s Charlie’s Angels reboot. “When I was 10, I shot a Charlie’s Angels–esque short for fun. I was running around and swinging on the monkey bars,” she says. “To be cast in the real thing is totally surreal.” The new iteration is directed by Elizabeth Banks, the first woman to take the reins in the franchise’s history. “She managed to get everyone on the same page with the same vision,” Balinska says. “There were moments where we were all overwhelmed by the portrayal of female empowerment in this movie.” The daughter of model-turned-chef Lorraine Pascale, Balinska stands 5 feet 11 inches tall and competed nationally in netball and javelin as a teenager. “I loved my height. There’s nothing better than being a tall offense or defense,” she says. Her angel alter ego shares her athletic prowess, giving Balinska the chance to do many of her own stunts. “I found liberation in this character,” she says. “Whenever we had a massive day with loads of fight scenes, I was in a good mental place, because I know how my body works, and I trust it.”
“Music is a huge part of my life,” says Irish actress Jessie Buckley. “I don’t understand how it’s not how we naturally tell each other how we feel.” The life-changing power of music is a theme in her new film Wild Rose, about a spirited Glasgow singer whose dreams of country-music stardom are complicated by real-world responsibilities. Though Buckley actually sang for the film, country was new territory for the Killarney native. “My Spotify Discover Weekly will never be the same!” the 29-year-old says. The actress, who moved to London at 17 with musical theater ambitions, followed her instincts, whether they took her to jazz (“I got drunk in a bar one night and started singing with a band,” she laughs. “Then I became a jazz singer for two years”), reality TV (she placed second on I’d Do Anything, a series that searched for the next big musical theater star), or the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Her fiery performance in 2017’s Beast, in part, earned her a nomination for BAFTA’s Rising Star Award. Next up: HBO’s historical miniseries Chernobyl and the Judy Garland biopic Judy, in which Buckley will play Rosalyn Wilder, a production assistant and Garland’s caretaker at the end of her life. “I love finding foibles and human vulnerabilities,” she says. “I think they’re the most useful parts of people.”
As an affable neuroscientist in NBC’s The Good Place, an acting student in HBO’s Barry, and a spy whisperer in BBC’s Killing Eve, Kirby Howell-Baptiste is already a fixture of prestige TV. “A lot of incredible content goes unseen just because of the volume of projects on all these platforms,” she says. “To have made something that’s cut through some of that noise is incredible.” Howell-Baptiste grew up looking for ways to channel her creativity in her family’s Islington, North London, neighborhood. “We were too poor to have a camcorder,” she remembers, “so my brother and I would act out sketches and record them on a cassette. It was like we invented our own podcast.” The actress will reteam with The Good Place costar Kristen Bell in Hulu’s eight-episode reboot of Veronica Mars this spring and has also been writing projects in an effort to create more opportunities for underrepresented people. “Part of the joy of writing is filling in the blanks,” she says. “Hollywood is this puzzle, but there are still pieces missing. I think diverse voices are here to fill that puzzle. We’re not here in a tokenistic way. The puzzle will not be complete without our voices and without our stories.”
When Hunter Schafer makes her debut in HBO’s gritty high school drama Euphoria this summer, it will actually be the 20-year-old’s second turn in the public eye. In 2016, Schafer, then attending a performing arts high school in North Carolina, made national headlines when she became the youngest plaintiff in the ACLU’s suit against HB2, her home state’s controversial bathroom bill. Schafer, a trans woman, is proud to have advocated for the trans community in her state. “But I did get a little confused as to what my goals were,” she says. “I had to check in with myself and realize that being an activist was never what I wanted to do. My intention has always been to be an artist.” Her platform allowed her to venture into new creative territory, both as an illustrator (her work was featured in Rookie) and as a runway model for designers like Helmut Lang and Marc Jacobs. But her first acting gig, Schafer says, has given her the purest connection to her artistry. “I feel like this job is marking the end of me trying to do things just to pay the rent. That was definitely driving some of my decision making before,” she explains. “This job was more about joy. Because I love the story and the characters, it has made all art feel more approachable again. I’m never going to put down my paintbrushes, but acting is an art of the mind—you can apply it to other practices.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of ELLE.
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