The Future Leading Ladies of Hollywood
To enter the downtown L.A. studio where seven of today’s most insurgent actors are gracefully posing, one must first walk through a foyer full of signs pointing to offers of wedding dresses at drastically reduced prices. Windows peer down on a scene of shoppers pretty much asking for a super villain attack, which would surely be halted by a team of well-meaning mutants. One after another, the stars roll in, a generational cross section of young women who don’t have time for the studies that say women are invisible in Hollywood—unless invisibility is their superpower. These women are not It Girls; they are fearless forward thinkers. Instead of breaking into the industry by wearing rom-com wedding dresses, they might sport one only as a disguise for the superhero underneath.
Zoey Deutch, 21, is perhaps the most experienced actor on set today. She’s powered through bit parts to earn starring roles in 2014’s Vampire Academy and the forthcoming Before I Fall, based on Lauren Oliver’s 2010 YA novel, and Richard Linklater’s campus comedy, Everybody Wants Some!!, in theaters now. Working with the Academy Award–nominated director, especially on a film billed as the “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s cult classic high school comedy, Dazed and Confused, was, she says, unreal. “[Everybody Wants Some!!] takes place in September of 1980, so we listened to a lot of late-’70s music,” she says. “That was good fun. Rick has such an extensive knowledge of music; he recommended great stuff to us. We all got iPods filled with music from him.”
Deutch’s next expert move is a decidedly more mass-market comedy, directed by John Hamburg (of Along Came Polly fame). Her college-age character in Why Him? dates a startup billionaire (James Franco), who clashes with her midwestern father (Bryan Cranston). “I’m having so much fun shooting that right now,” she says. Franco also gets to direct Deutch after costarring with her, in his adaptation of The Disaster Artist. “And I’m going to do a movie called Flower later this year that I’m beyond excited about. The script is so good.”
Deutch’s family is full of movie mavericks—her father, Howard Deutch, directed the John Hughes–penned classic Pretty in Pink, and her mother is Lea Thompson, best known for her part as Marty McFly’s mom in Back to the Future. Zoey will also star in the Thompson-directed The Year of Spectacular Men, written by Deutch’s older sister, Madelyn, later this year. “It was great,” Deutch says of working with her mother and close sibling. “You know, we try our best to respect each other’s work and celebrate our differences in collaboration. While we’re all in the business, we’re all very different in what we do, and it was fun learning from each other.”
Sonoya Mizuno, 27, is still flustered after driving on the L.A. freeways for the first time on her way to this shoot. She was born in Tokyo, but spent her early childhood in Somerset, England, moving to London when she joined the Royal Ballet School at age 11. “The school has exams every year, and if you don’t reach a certain criteria, you can get chucked out,” she says. “But at that age, it’s physical—how flexible your hips are, what the proportions of your legs and your back are, your coordination, your musicality, how long your Achilles is, your ability to jump. They measure how deep you can go like this,” as she bends her knees to show the length of said Achilles tendon. “The deeper you can go, the higher you can jump.”
Only recently, however, has Mizuno transmuted her physical gifts into an acting career. One of her first parts was a nonspeaking role in last year’s sleeper hit Ex Machina, though she features in its most riveting scene, which has become one of 2015’s most enduring film moments. It’s just a vignette—Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac), a mad billionaire inventor, and Mizuno’s Kyoko, an A.I. robot he created as a sexual companion, get down to Oliver Cheatham’s “Get Down Saturday Night”—but it dips just far enough into the uncanny to be unnerving.
Mizuno is breaking from dance parts for the completed Emma Stone-Ryan Gosling romantic comedy La La Land, directed by Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle (she plays Stone’s roommate), and the directorial comeback of mega-producer Bob Shaye’s forthcoming horror film, Gifted. “The film world feels more progressive,” she says, hesitantly. “When you’re dancing in a ballet company, you’re stagnant, with the same people and the same director doing the same things, which were choreographed 150 years ago. It’s based on fairy tales, which is fine sometimes, but I find film much more exciting. People can’t really relate to [ballet]. They can be moved by it, and go, ‘Wow, that’s amazing,’ but when you watch someone on film, and you can relate to their situation, then it’s just a much more cathartic experience.”
The film world may be progressive in storytelling, but Mizuno has faced backward-thinking casting calls. In fact, she’s learning the Japanese art of kendo sword fighting in her spare time simply because so many of the scripts she’s sent call for martial arts. “I look the way I am, and it’s 2016, and Asian girls don’t just do martial arts,” she says. “We can be the leads. But I do think the casting brackets are opening. That’s also why I like being [in L.A.], because it’s more progressive than in London, where I had little opportunity to do anything outside of being a computer hacker or the sexy Asian girlfriend.”
Brianna Hildebrand, 19, rolls into her interview with a closely shorn head. As Negasonic Teenage Warhead, she’s a mean millennial sidekick to the wisecracking Deadpool in this year’s Deadpool—for which a sequel has already been ordered. But it wasn’t her first major motion picture’s dizzying success that awed Hildebrand about the experience. It was the man behind the “Merc with a Mouth.” “Ryan Reynolds was my celebrity crush hard-core when I was growing up,” she says, laughing. “I literally Photoshopped myself into a picture with him my freshman year of high school. I took the photo to set the first day. It probably really weirded him out, but he did a great job of not showing it. Literally, his name is on my bedroom wall back home in Texas still. It’s really fucking weird how that all worked out, especially since I never wanted to be an actress or anything.”
Besides Reynolds, her other first love is writing folky R&B songs with the Seagull Entourage Mini Jumbo guitar her dad bought her. She plans to release music later this year. Journaling, she says, has helped her develop a process for understanding characters. “It helps to write as the character that I am trying to be, and try to journal every day as them. Once I’ve already recorded thoughts as this person, it’s easier to just flip back through and be like, Oh yeah, this is what she’s thinking; this is what she’s feeling. With [Negasonic], I would go into how she felt about her family and friends. She really finds [Deadpool] annoying. She thinks he’s an irritating presence—kind of like you would with your siblings growing up in the same house—you’re just like, Fuck off, I hate you.”
After stepping off the Deadpool set, Hildebrand threw on a blonde wig to play a popular softball-playing high school student in the brilliant indie First Girl I Loved, which earned accolades at Sundance this year for its honest take on the confusion underlying teenage sexuality. As Hildebrand’s real-life girlfriend, Jonneke, pokes around the shoot, it’s clear this film is an important one for her. “When I first read the script, I thought, I have to be a part of this,” she says. “It’s a peek into these teens’ lives—each of them discovering theirselves—with no agenda. I feel like media often portrays young people as knowing what’s going on, and this film just showcases how it really is. Everyone has insecurities, and we’re all just moving along.”
Alexandra Shipp, 24, comes into the studio sporting a cropped cut as well. Traveling back and forth from Phoenix as a teenager to pursue a career as a pop singer (she, too, plans on releasing music later in the year), Shipp ended up with a child agent who got her an audition for Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel. Before you laugh, consider that that film took in $443 million worldwide. It did not, however, turn Shipp into an overnight success. “I was like, ‘Mom, I’m going to stay in L.A. and become a famous actress.’ I didn’t [land a role] for five years,” recalls Shipp, flatly. “I was a nanny, I worked at a lot of clothing stores, I worked at a cigar bar in Beverly Hills—pretty much everything that didn’t involve the sex trade. I feel like something clicked in the last two and a half years. All those ‘no’s, and all those ‘too ethnic, too edgy’ things just came to a whisper. I’ve been slowly but surely doing some cool stuff.”
Those roles range from the wily KT Rush on the teen mystery series House of Anubis and Aaliyah in Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B to Ice Cube’s young wife in Straight Outta Compton. It culminates in her taking over as Storm in X-Men: Apocalypse—which Shipp can hardly contain her glee about. “This is frickin’ Storm,” she exclaims. “This is the epitome of the black female lead role.”
But becoming Storm meant enduring an emotional roller coaster. There was an initial optimism with callbacks and table reads, but Shipp’s hopes were dashed when she was told director Bryan Singer was passing on her. “They said, ‘He really likes you, but they’re going to try and find someone who is actually 16 to 18’—which is the character’s age—but I was like, ‘Okay, okay, but black don’t crack, and I’m not going anywhere,’” she grins.
What remains of a mohawk reveals the rest of the story. Still, the great role didn’t come without a sense of great responsibility. “My grandfather passed away in February of last year,” says Shipp. “Toward the end, I was going back to Arizona twice a month. Two weeks before he passed away, I was able to get out there, and I got a chance to just sit with him, and say, ‘Hey Papa, you know this year I made a little bit of black history. [Halle Berry and I] are the first female black superheroes.’ He just looked at me with this glint in his eye. When I think about all of the scariness that goes with all of that, I just think of my grandfather, and I think, I just did that little bit.”
Bridget McGarry, 15, hit the acting ground running, so to speak. #Horror (said “Hashtag Horror”), in which she stars, is a take on how social media-obsessed girls treat one another if left to their own devices (pun intended). It costars Chloë Sevigny as McGarry’s ambivalent upstate New York mother, whose absence during a slumber party is key in first-time director Tara Subkoff’s depiction of preteen cruelty—and how that plays out online. But the stylish film (animations by Tabor Robak announce “scores” whenever someone is murdered, and the set, designed by Subkoff’s husband, Urs Fischer, is decorated with art by Dan Colen and Rob Pruitt) also has a message.
“[Subkoff] was telling us stories about Amanda Todd [the Canadian 15-year-old who committed suicide after being cyber-bullied],” says McGarry. “What [Subkoff] said is that if you’re bullied on the bus or whatever, you can go home and you can forget about it, but when you’re cyber-bullied, it follows you. It’s always on the Internet; it’s on your phone forever. That’s what’s really scary. That’s the true horror story. I’m lucky not to have ever been cyber-bullied or anything. I can’t imagine what they’re going through.”
McGarry made a brief appearance in the Palm d’Or–nominated Louder Than Bombs alongside Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Ryan, and Isabelle Huppert. She’s apprehensive as she tells me about the film (her mother sits in on interviews with her, coaching her on talking points), but when she finds out the other actors in this shoot are in the next X-Men movie, she perks up. “I’ve always been a huge comic book person, so I think it would be really cool to be in an X-Men movie,” she says. “[Or] Star Wars. I’m also a huge Percy Jackson fan. I’ve read those books at least seven times each. And just this past winter break, I read the Mortal Instruments series, which they based the TV show Shadowhunters on. I want to be in a Young Adult movie, because they’re making a lot more heroines. I think it would be really cool to be in a movie where I’m the strong female hero, and she saves the day.”
Lana Condor, 18, has to hop to get her tiny frame into her seat. Crossing her legs and swiveling about, she is absolutely a real-life version of the X-Men character Jubilee—the rambunctious, gum-popping mallrat who can release fireworks from her fingers. Without pausing to take a breath, Condor explains that she was in class when the producers called to tell her she got the part, her first ever role. “I was a second semester senior,” she says. “So as soon as I found out, I was like, Peace. My teachers let me take all my finals early. It was maybe two weeks before I was on the plane to Montreal [where X-Men: Apocalypse was filmed]. Really, really quick. I learned most of what I had to do when I was actually on the set.”
Jubilee’s origin scene is set in a shopping mall converted to look like the bustling 1980s. “It’s my first set ever and it’s this massive thing, there are flying cameras everywhere, tents everywhere, I’m mic’d so everyone knows what I’m saying,” she says, breathlessly. “I actually was like, Okay, I just gotta get this done. I was really focused, and Bryan [Singer] even came up to me and was like, ‘Dude, smile. This is awesome.’ I had never had a camera in my face.”
Condor, who was adopted when she was a baby, quickly found herself comfortable on this set, too. As if to illustrate the lasting friendships she developed with the other cast members, Shipp pops her head in to say hello, affectionately calling Condor “Monkey.” “I moved from place to place and to new school environments on a dime,” Condor explains. “That has helped me a lot, because I can adapt to things really easily. Learning throughout my childhood to have an open mind, and to be like, This is your reality now; this is what you have to do; deal with it—that definitely has helped. But it is a surreal experience. I was a senior in high school who just happened to be cast in this huge franchise movie. It doesn’t happen. Does it happen? Because if it happens, everyone would do it.”
Though her IMDb only lists one film, Condor is powering through scripts, looking forward to her next role. “I think horror would be awesome, just because I’m such a scaredy cat myself,” she says, showing me her best scream-face. “I also like to think I’m funny; I would like to do comedy. Right now, action is what I love to do. But then again, everything. Every job is a blessing.”
“I’ll take the dangerous one,” says Billie Lourd, 23, as she slides into a taupe leather office chair with one wheel missing. “This is a really good clincher for your article: ‘Sitting on a broken chair, Billie Lourd almost dies as we speak.’”
Lourd is a burgeoning comic, so far best known for her role as the low-talking earmuff-sporting lackey, Chanel #3, on Ryan Murphy’s campus slasher farce Scream Queens. She’s also the daughter of talent agent Bryan Lourd and actor/writer Carrie Fisher, aka Princess Leia. Last year, Lourd landed a bit part in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, across from her mom—now known as General Leia. Lourd utters but a brief, easily missed line during a battle sequence (“General, are you seeing this?”), but as she spins in the broken office chair, she assures me that she’ll say a lot more in Star Wars: Episode VIII, due out in December 2017. Seeing as the first rule about acting in Star Wars is to not talk about Star Wars, we can perhaps thank a familial attitude for at least this small insight.
But even for the offspring of a bona fide sci-fi sex symbol and one of the first celebrity children, the enormity of the franchise’s mass appeal is not lost. “It’s trippy,” says Lourd. “It doesn’t seem real: me sitting in that theater like, Oh yeah, I did that last summer. Oh, there’s my friend Daisy [Ridley]. You watch it, and you’re like, Wow, I’m really a part of this cult that’s so much bigger than me or anybody. It’s overwhelming. Even my mom—she’s gone through it before, and she still stands up there in awe, like, Holy shit, billions of people are seeing this movie.”
But Fisher didn’t push Lourd into acting. Lourd was urged by her parents to go to school, so she studied religion and psychology at NYU. And despite repeated discouragement from Fisher’s mother, Hollywood icon Debbie Reynolds, Lourd’s immunity to the acting bug was no match for the glamorous artifacts her Oscar-winning grandmother collects. “She has way more knowledge about Hollywood than anybody I know. There are pictures of everyone from Cary Grant to Charlie Chaplin—the ruby slippers are on her mantle—she had the Maltese Falcon! No matter how much she said to me, ‘Don’t do this,’ she showed me how much she loved it. Same with my mom. They really tried to shelter me from it. People would ask me to do little bit parts in movies, or Teen Vogue does these ‘celebrity kids’ things, and they always said no.”
Like Deutch, Mizuno, Hildebrand, Shipp, McGarry, and Condor, Lourd is grabbing roles that are bigger, smarter, and better than her predecessors have been able to get. Over the next few months, these super women will be flying around big screens all over the world, kicking ass and taking names. They’re in furious combat scenes, brandishing superpowers and flashing super skills. No longer an anomaly, in 2016, tough women are in. MAXWELL WILLIAMS
Makeup Sandra Ganzer using Tom Ford Beauty (Jed Root) Hair Ramsell Martinez using Oribe (Streeters) Photo assistant David Solarzano Stylist assistant Vanessa Ehrlich Makeup assistant Jessie Bishop Hair assistant Camilla Dahlin