The Breakout Stars of Summer 2019
By Noah Gittell
A TV show can put a young actor on your radar, but nothing can mint a star like a movie. In particular, it’s the summer movie season that most often turns a promising young performer into someone who is going to be in your life for the next decade. Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Brad Pitt, and Reese Witherspoon all had breakout hits come during the summer months. The question is: Who will be next?
A shortlist of the most likely candidates for 2019’s summer breakout reveals a startling trend: All of them are women. As Hollywood processes the #MeToo scandal, it has responded by creating incredible female roles for talented young actresses. If these performances are a harbinger of things to come, the next decade will bring a golden age of female stardom. So, let’s dig in.
The first two candidates left audiences enraptured, but their films were not widely seen enough for them to be considered breakouts. Honor Swinton Byrne was remarkable as a naïve, young filmmaker who falls in love with a drug addict in Joanna Hogg’s “The Souvineir”. Byrne, daughter of Tilda Swinton, has natural charisma onscreen, and, although her character is often passive, she is riveting to watch in the English drama. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn Dever created a new high school archetype as a queer, nerdy, and strangely confident teenager in the underseen “Booksmart”.
Vanessa Kirby has gotten breakout buzz each of the last two summers. In 2018, she battled with Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”, and this year she achieved the near impossible as an MI:6 agent in “Hobbs & Shaw”: she forged romantic chemistry with the ever-sexless Dwayne Johnson. Meanwhile, Florence Pugh hit nearly every viewing demographic this year with two winning performances. She was WWE star Paige in the broad but surprisingly funny “Fighting with my Family”. She then stunned audiences as Dani, the tender center of Ari Aster’s trippy horror film, “Midsommar”. Still, Pugh’s real breakout will come this Christmas, as Amy in Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women”.
That leaves the clear winner: Margaret Qualley, who plays Pussycat in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”. Qualley, daughter of actress Andie MacDowell, is a talented actor with a unique look, and she also possesses that can’t-put-your-finger-on-it quality that makes someone a star. In her standout scene in the film, she shares a car ride with Pitt, doing some of the best work of his career, and you still can’t take your eyes off her. That’s a breakout. Get ready to have Margaret Qualley in your life for a long time.