Could Debut Performers Like Swankie and Jayme Lawson Get Oscar Attention?

Clayton Davis
·3-min read

There’s no better time than the first time, at least when it comes to actors debuting in their inaugural feature films.

In the history of the Oscars, more than 25 actors have been nominated for their feature debuts across all four acting categories. Among them are winners like Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”) and Anna Paquin (“The Piano”) and nominees such as Edward Norton (“Primal Fear”) and Barkhad Abdi (“Captain Phillips”). This year, an intriguing mix of performers, both seasoned and youthful, are trying their hand at the game of awards season.

Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” casts real-life nomads from different areas of the United States for her moving portrait of the American West. The brilliant Swankie tackles her role like a veteran in what one could argue is the film’s most effective element. Her counterparts Linda May and especially Bob Wells also have their moments, and it’ll be interesting to see how deep the love for the Searchlight Pictures film will go.

A number of kids have already produced awards buzz. As the adorable and curious David in Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari,” Alan S. Kim, who is 9, has garnered fans in this arena. Starring opposite Steven Yeun, who could make history as the first Asian American nominated for best actor, Kim might have his own claim to fame as the second-youngest actor ever nominated in supporting for the A24 film.

Director Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks were the good-luck charms to the diabolical character Abdi played in “Captain Phillips,” for which he received an Oscar nomination for supporting actor in 2013. We’re waiting to see if the duo’s magic will rub off again, this time for Helena Zengel, 12, who’s said to be a standout in Universal Pictures’ “News of the World.”

Sophia Loren may be on her way to the Dolby once more, but she isn’t the only great thing about “The Life Ahead.” Her young co-star, Ibrahima Gueye, 13, is utterly heartbreaking, and while his shot at a lead nomination is slim (the only child nominee has been Jackie Cooper, who was 9 in 1931’s “Skippy”), stranger things have happened.

Focus Features is giving everything it has to ensure that “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” — and especially Sidney Flanigan, 21, and Talia Ryder, 18, in the main roles — doesn’t get forgotten by year’s end. Director-writer Eliza Hittman’s drama received outstanding notices, and Focus is hoping for more than an Independent Spirit nomination.

If there’s a quiet storm that no one is noticing, it’s the riveting and anchoring turn of Jayme Lawson, 23, in Ekwa Msangi’s touching “Farewell Amor.” Getting love from IFC Films, the young star, who is shooting “The Batman” with Robert Pattinson, demonstrates a self-discipline far beyond her years.

Ramin Bahrani’s “The White Tiger” has lots to admire, and one unanimous rave is about Adarsh Gourav’s turn in the Netflix feature. Gourav, 23, and co-star Priyanka Chopra find their way expertly through the narrative tumbles.

Starring alongside Meryl Streep is not exactly a surefire way to stand out, but Jo Ellen Pellman, 23, emerges as best in show in her co-leading role in Ryan Murphy’s musical adaptation of “The Prom,” also from Netflix.

And while “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie” isn’t the only musical where breakout performers could shine, there’s still a considerable amount of excitement for the 20th Century Studios film. We’re eager to see what newcomers Max Harwood, 23, and Lauren Patel, 19, can bring to a peculiarly different awards season.

Visit THE AWARDS HUB to see the full list of contenders by category.

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