This fall brings the return of many familiar faces to the screen, but it also brings chances for younger, less established actors to finally...

Share story

This fall brings the return of many familiar faces to the screen, but it also brings chances for younger, less established actors to finally break through as stars. Here’s a look at six talented performers, all still under 30, whom I’ve been keeping an eye on for years:

Jamie Bell

In the first moments of his screen debut, Bell broke my heart. As a motherless, just-barely-adolescent boy in “Billy Elliot,” he was both vulnerable and matter-of-fact, etching a performance that was always moving and never sentimental. The role of the young working-class dancer introduced Bell to the world; now 20, he’s grown up on screen. He’s played starring roles in independent films, bringing his brand of tough fragility to alienated teen characters (“The Chumscrubber,” “Undertow”), and had a small but vivid role in Peter Jackson’s “King Kong.”

This fall, he’s playing Ralph Ignatowski in Clint Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers,” a fact-based drama about the battle of Iwo Jima, and recently completed a starring role in the British drama “Hallam Foe.”

Gael García Bernal

Mexican actor Bernal slips in and out of roles as if casually donning or doffing a hat: the young Che Guevara (“The Motorcycle Diaries”), a drag queen/film buff (“Bad Education”), or a living-for-the-moment teen (“Y tu mamá también”). His Che is soulful and quiet, eschewing the expected fireworks; in “Bad Education,” he croons “Moon River” like some cinematic angel. (His character is, indeed, named Angel.) This fall, he’s reuniting with his “Amores Perros” director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, in the drama “Babel,” a prizewinner at Cannes.

Bernal will also be on screen this month in Michel Gondry’s trippy dream-comedy “The Silence of Sleep.” Now 29, Bernal has begun filming the dark love story “El Pasado (The Past),” and is trying his hand at directing with “Déficit.” His range, which has been compared to Johnny Depp’s, seems to have no limit.

Romola Garai

Anyone who saw the lovely film version of Dodie Smith’s novel “I Capture the Castle” a few years back remembers this angelic-looking Brit: As Cassandra Mortmain, a teen living in genteel poverty and dreaming of a better life, she effortlessly switched from child to woman and back again, letting adult emotions flicker on her quiet face. Just 24, she’s also appeared in “Nicholas Nickleby,” “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights,” and Mira Nair’s “Vanity Fair” (showing versatility in a sweetly goofball turn as the too-good-to-be-true Amelia Sedley).

This fall, she’ll voice a kidnapped scientist in the experimental animated film “Renaissance,” and she’s got two period films in the wings: Michael Apted’s 18th-century saga “Amazing Grace,” and Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

Lindsay Lohan

Never mind the tabloid gossip: Lohan, just turned 20, happens to be extremely talented. Watch her effortless comedy turn in “Freaky Friday,” in which she has to convince us that Jamie Lee Curtis has taken over her body (and does so with an élan comparable to Steve Martin’s in “All of Me”), or her sweetly centered Cady in “Mean Girls,” or the way she quietly establishes a character while Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are acting up a storm in “A Prairie Home Companion.”

This fall, she’s leaving teen comedy behind with a grown-up role in “Bobby,” Emilio Estevez’s drama about the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

Lohan plays a woman marrying a friend in order to save him from the Vietnam draft. Keep an eye on her, in this and upcoming films (including “Chapter 27,” about John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman, and the troubled-teen drama “Georgia Rule”) — she just might surprise.

Jason Schwartzman

“She’s my Rushmore,” says Jason Schwartzman in the 1998 comedy “Rushmore,” and there’s a world of meaning behind the line: His Max Fischer, a geekily unhappy boy finding meaning in the trappings of his prep school, is reaching for something he knows, deep down, he can’t have. It’s a goofball, sometimes deadpan performance, but Schwartzman, then still a teen himself, knew how to invest it with heart.

Like Bell, he’s never found a role to compare with his teenage debut, but has instead busied himself with being the best thing in otherwise iffy movies: “Shopgirl,” “Bewitched,” “I Heart Huckabees,” perfecting the twisty unexpectedness of his comic delivery. Now, at 26, he’s trying something completely new: the role of Louis XVI in his cousin Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette.” Sounds crazy … but it just might work.

Kerry Washington

“Our Song,” Jim McKay’s beautiful 2001 coming-of-age-in-Brooklyn drama, ends with a long close-up on Kerry Washington. As teenage Lanisha, an ambitious girl ready for her life to begin, hope and fear and possibility mingle on her face, speaking as loudly as any dialogue. Since then Washington (who’s now 29) has kept busy in films and television, often in roles not quite worthy of her talents. “Ray” featured one of her most high-profile roles, but her meticulous, complex work as faithful but all-knowing wife Della Bea was overshadowed by the buzz around Jamie Foxx.

This fall, she’s featured in Kevin Macdonald’s “The Last King of Scotland,” about Idi Amin, and recently finished shooting the thriller “The Dead Girl.” She’s overdue to be noticed; perhaps this will be her year.