Every year, there are those actors who make their presence felt and demand a place for themselves in the entertainment landscape. Be they world-weary prostitutes or adorable children. These are the ten who have made themselves the most indispensable.
There's a reason why Masters of Sex is bringing Ashford, 28, back for its second season: she's fantastic, a multitalented lady we would call a "firecracker" ... if we were in an 1940s romantic comedy. The Broadway veteran—she's done stints in Wicked, Legally Blonde, and Hair—not only got a Tony nomination for Kinky Boots this year, she also enjoyed a hilarious and weirdly touching stint on Masters of Sex. While Kinky Boots, in which she played a lovelorn and industrious employee of a shoe factory that starts producing footwear for drag queens, showed off her talent for musical comedy, her Masters of Sex role, Betty, proved that she could strike some emotional chords. Ashford had the chance to play Betty's sadness beautifully, taking her out of a sassy prostitute stereotype. It's great she'll be back. — Esther Zuckerman
Litchfield prison, the setting of the Netflix original Orange Is the New Black, might be the least appealing place on television. Federal prisons aren't meant to be, of course— tarting up prisons might make someone not want to leave, thus defeating the concept of prison. But Litchfield, with all of its warts and cardboard brownness, lights up like a fussy jewelry box thanks to its inmates, in particular Danielle Brooks's Taystee. Brooks, 23, brings an honest humanity to Taystee, a brightness that cuts through the sad noise of Litchfield. There's actually a point in the first season that feels empty and Hollow without Brooks, making you wish more jail time upon Taystee even though you genuinely want to see her happy. — Alexander Abad-Santos
The young actors cast in Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring were — with the exception of Emma Watson — utilized for their fresh-faced newcomer status. Broussard looked especially young and impressionable, and it's ultimately his perspective that sells what a strange journey he and his fellow teenage burglars are on. The usual young male star is more of a closed off kind of guy, but Broussard, 19, seems like the kind of actor who can tap into a more realistic kind of emotionality. Should be fun to see what he does next. — Joe Reid
Sam Claflin, 27, did not have an easy task in playing Catching Fire's Finnick Odair. Odair, as written in the novel, is a better-looking, more charming version of The Talented Mr. Ripley's lusted-after Dickie Greenleaf. On top of that, Claflin was under the scrutiny of teenage girls (and women, and gay men) who have the capability of being the most venomous critics around. With that table set and odds not in his favor, Claflin, better known as the third wheel of Snow White and Huntsman, more than held his own in Catching Fire. So much that we'd watch a Finnick-Johanna (the outstanding Jena Malone) prequel or spinoff. — AA-S
Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich
Nobody saw Beautiful Creatures, the YA-adaptation franchise hopeful about witches and hats and hilarious southern accents that bombed at the box office last winter. More people should have, because it's a delightful trifle of a movie, grounded by a love story actually worth paying attention to, almost entirely due to the lead performances of Englert and Ehrenreich. Englert, 19, is the daughter of Jane Campion, while Ehrenreich, 24, was discovered at a friend's bat mitzvah by Steven Spielberg and has starred in a couple Francis Ford Coppola movies no one saw. This year, however, they both made strong cases for themselves as the faces of their generation, movie-wise. Englert was also brilliant opposite Elle Fanning in Ginger & Rosa, while Ehrenreich took a bit part in Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine. — JR
Maslany, 28, is certainly not unrecognized in the entertainment community— she's had her cheerleaders ever since Orphan Black premiered in March, and she even got a deserved Golden Globe nomination. But she is something of a cult figure. She's the lead in a bizarre, Canadian-made show that runs on BBC America, but what she does is nothing short of brilliant. Maslany plays seven clones—each with vastly different personalities and accents—in the first season of the show, not to mention the times she's playing one clone playing another clone. Somehow, Maslany pulls the whole thing off by never making it feel false. — EZ
As Patsy, a slave girl who with the misfortune to catch the eye of her cruel master (Michael Fassbender) in 12 Years a Slave, Nyong'o, 29, gives a performance designed to fool you and obscure the fact that it's her feature film debut. It's the kind of debut that does something even better than make you a star — it makes you an in-demand talent. That she'll spend awards season going up against the likes of Julia Robert and Oprah Winfrey might just end up taking care of the "star" part, too. — JR
The Mindy Project has the power to split offices, and pit co-worker against co-worker. It's happened here at the Wire, where one misinformed writer clings to the crooked belief that New Girl is better (it is generally believed that you cannot like both shows at the same time). I'm in the other camp, and my trump card of late has been Xosha Roquemore, 29, and her seamless addition to the cast as Tamra. Tamra and Ike Barinholtz's Morgan are not unlike Will and Grace's Karen and Jack — the two get to play in the deep end of the pool and steal the show while they do so. And with comedic architect Mindy Kaling building Mandy Patinkin jokes for her, Roquemore has us looking forward to more Tamra this season (or at least four or five more). — AA-S
Roquemore is also dynamite in director Darren Stein's high-school comedy G.B.F., which played the festival circuit this year but doesn't open theatrically until January. — JR
There's a lot to love about ABC's new show Trophy Wife, but perhaps the most lovable thing on the show is Albert Tsai. Tsai plays Bert, the adopted son of Pete (Bradley Whitford) and his second wife Jackie (Michaela Watkins). First off, this kid is adorable, but there have been plenty of cute kids on TV before. He also manages to be good. The character is supposed to be hyper—he gets in trouble for doing Bert-wheels, his form of cartwheels that just involve spinning and shouting—but Tsai isn't a show kid. He just seems genuinely happy, and that's a swell thing to see on TV. (If you need more convincing just read this interview.) — EZ
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.