Hot Take: These 7 TV and Film Performances Are Not to Be Missed

It’s time for another installment of our Ones to Watch portfolio! If you are new here, welcome to our quarterly roundup of the breakout stars to have on your radar right now. In other words, we’ve put together a who’s who of the rising names in Hollywood to keep you in the know on all things entertainment and help curate your spring watch list. And this season is a good one, as we’re highlighting seven incredibly talented women who are serving up dynamic and thought-provoking performances on screens both big and small. 

From the former Disney star stepping into Hilary Banks’s very stylish shoes in the modern-day reimagination of the beloved series Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to the fresh face starring in Sally Rooney’s next book-to-TV adaptation, this list is oozing with exciting talent. In an effort to get to know the women behind the characters we’ve grown to love, we caught up with each of the actresses to talk about their projects, the stories that light their fire, and their off-duty style. Keep reading for our exclusive interviews.

WHO: Kaci Walfall

WHAT: With the legendary producer Ava DuVernay at the helm and an exciting newcomer in the title role, Naomi stood to be one of The CW’s most anticipated new series of 2022, and the DC adaptation does not disappoint. The aforementioned newcomer is 17-year-old Kaci Walfall, who DuVernay called the show’s “magic” in an LA Times interview. In this fairly new origin story about a Superman comics superfan who discovers she has extraordinary powers of her own, Walfall is truly sensational, bringing a refreshing groundedness and depth to the young hero. While a second season is still uncertain at this point, one thing we do know is Walfall’s star is rapidly rising. Following her front-row debut at this month’s Chanel F/W 22 show, expect to see more noteworthy fashion moments from this one. 

With a project like Naomi, I am excited I get to showcase… The different emotions Naomi feels throughout the show. If there’s one thing you learn about Naomi in the first episode, it’s that she doesn’t put herself in a box. With the great storytelling of Ms. Ava and Jill [Blankenship], I never felt like I had to put myself in a box. I explored what Naomi felt like at her “best” and then her “worst,” her anger, and her strength. Showcasing these different emotions definitely helped me craft this character.

I think what makes this superhero origin story unique is… It’s grounded in normalization. The story follows a 16-year-old still trying to figure out her own identity and how her superpowers factor into her future. The show moves at a realistic pace. If a teenage girl were to find out she has powers, what would she do? The show puts a new perspective on the superhero genre and brings up the ideas of the pressure of having powers, fear, vulnerability, hurt, and growth.

An invaluable lesson I’ve learned from Ava DuVernay along the way is… To silence the outside voices and live in your hard work and glory. If you’re proud of something you’ve done and feel like you’ve worked hard, no one’s opinion should consume you. 

The stories that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… The ones that show different perspectives on our reality and include people of all races and identities in those projects. I get excited about telling the truth of our surroundings because it’s what I strive to do. I feel most connected to any projects that “tell the truth.” I also feel excited to be in an era of change in Hollywood. I hope to see more people of all identities in genres they haven’t been included in, because it’s not a lack of talent. It’s a lack of opportunity. 

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… Singing and dancing. Outside of the performing arts, I love to read, across all genres. I also enjoy fashion. This whole fashion month, I’ve been on Vogue Runway daily. 

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… My “old faithful” black Levi’s, a sweatshirt, my Chuck Taylors, a trench coat, and a small bag. My outfit usually depends on how I feel that day, but I like to keep it simple. 

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… Jewelry. Jewelry always elevates my wardrobe. I have statement rings I wear every day. 

My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces:

Sunglasses! I love the Arnette sunglasses, especially the ones with color in the lenses.”

“Telfar, aka Telfeezys, are a staple. I like the small ones for spring because a small bag makes me feel light and free.” 

“A boot is a classic. The high-boot-and-skirt combo is in consistent rotation in my spring wardrobe.”

WHO: Alison Oliver

WHAT: Let’s call it the Sally Rooney effect—the way in which newcomers are catapulted to stardom following their breakout roles in the TV adaptations of Rooney’s best-selling novels. It happened to Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones following the release of Normal People, and we’re betting lightning will strike again for Alison Oliver and the highly anticipated follow-up series Conversations With Friends. In her first-ever role, Oliver is captivating as college student and poet Frances, who becomes entangled in a complicated relationship with a married couple (Joe Alwyn and Jemima Kirke) along with her best friend Bobbi (Sasha Lane). The role was Oliver’s early in the audition process, and it’s easy to see why from her delicate performance as an observant young woman trying to find her path in the world. Partnered with a trio of well-known actors, she shines across the show’s 12 episodes.

I think Conversations With Friends is a fantastic portrayal of… The complexities of love and the dependency we have on one another as people. I think the story lets us observe different types of human behavior and the ways people can respond in certain situations. It’s a coming-of-age story as well as a love story filled with all the joys and all the pain that can bring! 

In reading both the novel and the script, I was really drawn to Frances because… I really hadn’t read a character like her before! I think she is so multifaceted and complex. I was instantly drawn to her and cared about her so much. I felt such a deep privilege in getting to play Frances. I think it’s so brilliant and important to read female characters who can be challenging and flawed because that is human and reflective of life. Seeing that and reading that makes us all feel more understood and more understanding. 

One of the biggest things I took away from working on this series was… Everything I learnt from watching Lenny, our director, work. He is an actual genius. And acting opposite Sasha, Joe, and Jemima, who are all such incredible actors and people, the experience of all that was truly invaluable. 

The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… Stories that haven’t been told yet! 

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… Music. Just listening to it! All different kinds and genres. I recently got a record player, so I’ve been having lots of fun finding different records and building a little collection. 

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… Funky jewelry, especially earrings and rings. And I love contrasting styles of jewelry worn together. I think it can add such detail and expression to an outfit.

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… Olly Olly & Co leggings and jumper. [It’s] an Irish sustainable activewear brand whose products are all made from regenerated ocean waste. They have a bright-blue pair of leggings that I’m always in. They’re so comfy and wonderful!

My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces:

“A classic Arizona Birkenstock! I love these so much. I find they go with everything and are great for walks when the sun’s out. (I must admit I am also fond of wearing them with socks…)”

“I recently got this, and I absolutely love it. I’m so looking forward to wearing it in the spring without the big coats and hoodies that I’m wearing with it now. I think boilersuits are very cool and easy. I love the classic denim feel of this one in particular.”

“I haven’t purchased this item yet because I’m still thinking about what design I’d like, but there’s an amazing jewelry brand called Willa Hilfreich Jewelry that makes personalised rings by commission as well as selling their own pieces. Many people get their names or different shapes—whatever you fancy! I really really love the style and detail she uses, so hopefully, this will be part of my spring wardrobe soon (once I finally decide on an idea!).”

WHO: Coco Jones

WHAT: Frankly, Coco Jones needs no introduction (Who can forget her starring role in the Disney Channel original movie Let It Shine?), but her return to the spotlight in Peacock’s new series Bel-Air is certainly worth noting. The show, created by Morgan Cooper and executive produced by Will Smith, is a dramatic take on the beloved sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, featuring a whole new cast stepping into the iconic roles that have been cemented into the pop culture zeitgeist. Now, we know you shouldn’t mess with a good thing, but this show is a must-see, especially Jones as Hilary Banks. In this modern-day version, Hilary is an aspiring entrepreneur dead set on making her mark in the culinary world. Jones delivers a fantastic performance, creating a character who is both aspirational and relatable. And much like her predecessor, she has some of the show’s most exciting fashion moments.  

Bel-Air is a particularly special project to me because… Because of what Bel-Air represents: Black excellence, second chances, and culture.

Stepping into the iconic role of Hilary Banks has been… A whirlwind! Ever since I got the role of Hilary, I feel like I’ve learned so much about myself and what I can believe for in my own life.

If I could steal one look from Hilary’s closet, it would definitely be… I wouldn’t steal one look from Hilary’s closet. I would take them all!! I am very serious.

The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… Stories like Bel-Air. An amazing, talented creative like Morgan Cooper, who had an idea that represents Black people in a beautiful light—and it’s also relevant and cool. Those are the projects that inspire me.

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… When I’m not acting, music is my main passion. I am spending a lot of time in the studio and really looking forward to dropping my single in March. I like to try new restaurants, relax, and do something spa related, or I like to do a fun activity, like roller skating.

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… Sweats if I’m off duty. Or I’m wearing athleticwear because I’m working out or moving around a lot.

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… Crop tops. Because of my lengthy torso, crop tops always make me look snatched.

My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces:

“I love the comfortability of these leggings. They are perfect for when I’m on the go, which is often!”

“I carry a lot of stuff with me because typically I go from set to the studio, and I need a cute purse that also fits my laptop.”

“I wear heels a lot on set, so when I wrap for the day and still want to feel girly, I put on these slides.”

WHO: Lily Sheen

WHAT: Being a “daughter of” in Hollywood comes with its own set of pressures, but Lily Sheen is determined to forge her own path without the help of her name. In fact, when she landed her first major role in the dark comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, the producers had no idea she was the offspring of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen. Her talent stands on its own. In the film, which premiered at this year’s South by Southwest festival, Sheen provides the heart as Nicolas Cage’s charming daughter in a story that is an all-out fun meta adventure. It’s a breakout performance not to be missed.       

Working on The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent was… An incredible challenge. It was my first real acting job, and I was surrounded by so many talented and creative people with so much knowledge of the field and craft. It was a really fantastic opportunity to learn from some of my heroes. The actors are all so professional and still so funny and kind and talented. I couldn’t really believe how lucky I was. We shot my portions during an unexpected lockdown in Hungary, and the entire cast and crew’s ability to roll with the punches and adapt under such extreme circumstances was really inspiring. And to have been able to get such a fun, hilarious movie out of it is just proof of their massive talent (he-he)!

What I can tell you about my character, Addy, is that… She completely knows herself. She’s a typical 16-year-old girl in the ways that count for her, but she has this maturity and understanding of her identity that was born from feeling unseen by her parents, specifically her dad. I think everyone can relate to that feeling of having to mold oneself to fit a parent’s vision of their “perfect child” and the frustration of feeling completely unappreciated for our own uniqueness. The journey she goes on with her dad is really special. It felt cathartic to play someone so adamant about their own identity.

In the spirit of the film, one of my favorite Nicolas Cage characters is… I’m all about the bees!! The Wicker Man is fantastic and criminally underrated. Nicolas Cage is the master of teetering on the line of restrained madness and unbridled insanity, and this movie is such a great vehicle for that. Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention movie of the year, Pig! Rob is so complex and in control with this undercurrent of power and comforting wisdom. He’s unknowable in a way that I’ve never seen a character be on-screen. It’s such a testament to Nicolas Cage’s skill. 

The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… Weird-girl stories! I love when women and girls are allowed to be completely strange and off-putting. It’s so freeing to watch as a former (and current) weirdo. Ghost World is a perfect example of that—stories about girls finding their own paths and identities and cultivating their own strange little world amidst so much commercial conformity. I feel so lucky to be coming into myself during a period of time where so many different interests and micro-identities are being celebrated. I can’t wait to be able to show those on-screen and inspire uniqueness in other young girls. 

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… Watching, reading, or listening to horror stories. I am obsessed. I got a Shudder account and have been absolutely beside myself, but the Criterion Collection app also has an excellent selection of really creepy, foundational horror movies with very little gore or jump scares if that stuff isn’t your vibe! I love to read (all genres) and paint, too. Though, my painting skills are still being honed. There’s something very therapeutic about working through a feeling or dream by painting it out, and if you do it regularly, you get a visual journal of all your neuroses. 

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… In an ideal world in which I get myself together, I love a baby tee. They’re so easy to layer and dress up and down and give you room to go wild with the trousers and jewelry. A classic look would be a pair of blue jeans and a fun baby tee. I have a great pair of vintage jeans with Mickey Mouse on them to pair with silly graphic shirts. My honest answer would be a comfort pant. I’ve gotten sucked into the matching-sweat-sets revival, and I love to pair them with some enormous sneakers. It’s very comfortable, but you can still pass as someone who does laundry regularly.

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… Vintage for sure! New York is such a haven for vintage shopping, and every time you ask a stylish girl where she got something, it’s maddeningly vintage. The smaller boutiques are so well curated, and you can find a once-in-a-lifetime piece without even trying. I coveted this Mugler shag jacket for two weeks, and the day I finally snapped and went to buy it, it was gone. The early bird…

My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces:

“I got this beautiful brown faux-leather trench for my birthday and have been wearing it everywhere, weather appropriate or not. It’s currently working great with a big scarf and hoodie underneath, but I can’t wait for the warmer weather so I can pair it with flowy maxi dresses, knee-high boots, and statement hair.”

“Réalisation has the cutest, chicest baby tees I’ve ever seen, and they pair with literally everything. I’m obsessed with this brand, so I love wearing one of their colorful crew-neck jumpers over top to stay warm or putting a patterned long-sleeve shirt underneath and adding low-rise denim or striped dress trousers. And this one gives me the perfect opportunity to force people into a zodiac-sign conversation against their will!”

“This is literally my favorite store of all time. I treat their website like social media and just scroll through it all day. It’s fairly expensive, but I signed up for text and email updates, and they have almost-weekly sales and discount offers. Plus, their inventory is mind-blowing and one of a kind, so you know you’re getting a really unique piece. I actually bought this Vivienne Westwood bag a couple weeks ago (sorry), but they have so many other insane pieces, and they update their stock constantly, so you really can’t go wrong.”

WHO: Denée Benton

WHAT: Without Downton Abbey and Bridgerton to whet our opulent period-drama appetites, HBO has come to the rescue with its new original series The Gilded Age, a delightfully juicy watch set during the boom years of the 1880s in New York City. The story follows a young Marian Brook, who moves from rural Pennsylvania after her father’s passing to live with her aunts and soon finds herself entangled in a social war between her family and the wealthy new neighbors across the street. The show is a casting treasure trove, including the likes of Christine Baranski and Cynthia Nixon, but a clear standout is Denée Benton, who plays Peggy, Marian’s friend and an aspiring writer looking to make it on her own. Benton is no stranger to a good period drama, having made her name on Broadway in musicals Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 and Hamilton. But with Peggy, she is given the opportunity to showcase a dynamic and ambitious Black woman of the time period—a rare role the actress has been manifesting for years. It’s a fantastic performance, and lucky for us, the show was renewed for a second season. 

I was really excited to be a part of The Gilded Age because… I’ve been really fortunate to have played dynamic aristocratic women from the 1800s for most of my 20s, but they were both white women, and I began to long to tell a class story like this that was intentionally written with my background in mind. Then comes the magical, dynamic, educated, ambitious, and finely dressed Peggy Scott. 🙂

In bringing the character Peggy to life on-screen, it was important to me that she… Make Black women proud. 

A particularly proud moment working on this series has been… Finding my voice and using it to collaborate with the creative team to make Peggy’s story as authentic, nuanced, dignified, and human as possible. 

The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… Stories that tell the truth about histories that have been erased from our history books. Media has so much political power to fill in the gaps in our collective narrative. I am beyoooooond excited for Tomi Adeyemi’s incredible book series Children of Blood and Bone to be turned into a feature film directed by Rick Famuyiwa. We as a mainstream Western culture learn so much about Greek, Roman, and Druid mythologies, but West African mythology is also so rich and full of powerful, dynamic storytelling, so I’m thrilled that it’s going to be brought to the mainstream in such an intentional, large-scale way. 

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… I love reading and educating myself on all things liberation. Whether it be spiritual liberation through Reiki, meditation, and ancestor-veneration political liberation through podcasts like How to Survive the End of the World hosted by Adrienne and Autumn Brown or books like Saidiya Hartman’s Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments or the liberation of just being by dozing off in the grass in the sun and staring at the sky. 🙂

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… My grandma’s muumuu. 😉 Oh, and also some Birkenstocks. I love a supportive shoe! (I’m clearly a bit of a grandma myself.)

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… A simple, sexy silky slip dress that drapes on the skin like butter. I feel so feminine and powerful in them. 

My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces:

“I grew up in Florida, so a breathable, comfortable dress that makes me feel vibrant and free are my absolute go-tos, and I’m always itching to get back into them after the winter. I love how Theophilio plays with sexy color and comfort.”

“Since I do live in NYC now, pants are something I’ve had to accept, especially because spring can still be cold! But Christopher John Rogers helps me do that with style and break out of sweatpants with his unique cuts and exciting patterns.”

“And last but not least, I literally never make it through the season change to warmth without buying a sustainable look from Reformation. A breezy crop top with a high-waisted skirt is my favorite look, and Reformation does it like none other for me.”

WHO: Eva De Dominici 

WHAT: It wouldn’t be fair to call Eva De Dominici a newcomer. After all, the Argentinian model and actress has appeared in over 600 episodes of television, including a starring role in the Spanish-language drama Sangre en la Boca. Not to mention, she has a dedicated fan base of 2.6 million followers on Instagram. But despite her huge following in Latin America, she is still somewhat new to the U.S. market. That stands to change with her latest role in the Fox series The Cleaning Lady. Executive produced by Shay Mitchell, the drama follows a doctor who comes to the U.S. looking for a special treatment for her sick son and ends up working as a cleaning lady for the mob. De Dominici plays Nadia Morales, the wife of a cartel leader who is more than just a pretty face (Read: She’s the brains behind many of her husband’s business moves.) A testament to De Dominici’s superb performance, the writers built out a larger storyline for her role mid-season, making her this series’ breakout. In other words, don’t sleep on this one. 

The Cleaning Lady is a project that immediately caught my attention because… It’s a female-empowerment story above all, and it’s a show that brings to the forefront the situation of undocumented immigrants in the States who can’t have access to a dignified life just because they can’t get the right papers. 

What I really love about playing a character like Nadia Morales is… As an actor, I was able to explore extreme emotions without any fear. Nadia is a brave woman who knows exactly what she wants, and she is willing to do whatever it takes to get there. She has a plan, and she empowers and pushes Arman to make it happen. Her world involves Las Vegas dark places surrounded by violence, corruption, powerful and creepy men, but because of her difficult upbringing, she is not afraid of that. She has lived worse things in her life, so that does not make her feel intimidated. It is also interesting to play her contradictory feelings about Thony (Elodie Yung) because she actually likes her, and at the same time, her intuition tells her that Thony might be an obstacle in her way to achieve her goals, and Nadia can’t afford to lose the opportunity she got and come back to where she started. 

A favorite moment working on this has been… A scene where I had to throw and smash a champagne bottle against the wall while screaming because the character was extremely frustrated, humiliated, and angry. I always wanted to do it. It was very “cathartic.” 

The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… The ones that you can’t stop reading on a script. That gives me an idea of what’s probably going to happen once I see it on-screen. I love stories that involve contradicted characters, conflicts with difficult solutions. Those ones that make you feel, “How is this person going to get out of this?” And then when you already formulated the possible solutions in your mind, bam—the story goes somewhere you never imagined. There’s got to be something in the story that makes me live the fantasy, makes me feel uncomfortable, something to react to in order to enter the character’s world. I also love the stories that start important conversations. I truly believe in the power of storytelling, because it reaches a huge number of people, and they can either feel related to the story and characters, or they can get to unknown worlds and feel empathy for people from a different community than theirs or in a completely different situation than they are. That’s something magical about storytelling. It gets people closer, and it can shape your way of thinking about any subject. It can make you know the human condition better. 

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… Reading, singing, and parenting. (I am a mother of a 2-year-old boy.)

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… A white T-shirt or blouse and black pants or jeans. 

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… Black reefer coats and bootcut elasticized jeans.

My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces:

“Paige is one of my favorite brands when it comes to jeans and pants in general. I love how they fit me. And I love this model, in particular, because I am a fan of high-rise stretchy, flared jeans, and they are inspired by the ’70s. I love that it gives me a vintage feeling.”

“I have these short boots in my closet. They’re classic, comfy, and they are easy to combine with any outfit.”

“I love this top. It’s cool and chic, fitted, and also, you can adjust it in the back as you wish. It’s pretty easy to wear with a lot of outfits.”

WHO: Britt Lower

WHAT: Imagine you could actually achieve the perfect work/life balance with a surgical procedure. No more Sunday Scaries. No more taking work home with you. Sounds kind of amazing, right? Well, the Apple TV+ series Severance might have you thinking otherwise. This strange-yet-eerily-timely tale follows a team of employees at Lumon Industries who have chosen to literally have their memories divided between their work and personal lives. Their work selves have no understanding of their outside personal lives and vice versa. It’s all business as usual until a new hire begins to rebel, and a former colleague has everyone questioning the truth about their jobs. While this is truly a stellar ensemble piece, we can’t say enough good things about Britt Lower as the skeptical new hire Helly, who is all of us in her attempt to understand and find her way out of the bizarre world of Lumon Industries.

One of the things that really stood out to me about the Severance script was… There was something raw and singular and wonderfully strange about Dan Erickson’s writing that pulled me in immediately. I think the show explores identity in a fresh way. The desire to know who we are at our core is such a basic human need, and I was fascinated by the different ways the characters in the office cope with their lack of knowledge of who they are on the outside. For Helly, we watch her ignite a rebellion inside herself.   

I can relate to my character, Helly, in that… I also dislike wearing pantyhose. And figuratively stepping into Helly’s shoes—which, on the literal side, were Repetto dance pumps and were remarkably comfortable to run through hallways in, all things considered—inspired me to be more unapologetically honest in my life and to not be afraid to speak up for myself.  

I think a show like Severance has the power to… Wake us up to the ways in which we’re blindly overworking ourselves. I think Severance poses a great question: When is it a good idea to break the rules in favor of our dignity and humanity?

The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… Stories that champion emotional bravery. 

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… Playing the ukulele poorly, playing basketball surprisingly well, watching YouTube videos of people who are camping, and also taking myself camping. 

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… Coveralls. 

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… Clothing with a story and fabric that feels good against my skin.

My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces:

“I love this L.A.-based shop that makes unisex and sweatshop-free everyday goods. This jumpsuit can be dressed up or down.”

“I always grab a hat. Artful and ethically made, this linen one is from Blluemade, a company created by husband-and-wife team Alex Robins and Lilly Lampe. Alex and I were studio-mates in art school!”

“I wear the same pair of boots 99% of the time. I have had eight or so over the past decade, and when I can’t cobble them anymore, I put dirt in them and plant a succulent inside.”

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