Whether playing Marvel villains, serial killer victims, Trump Organization executives, or cyborg theme park impresarios, these are the faces currently stealing scenes from iPhone streams to the big screen.
James Van Der Beek
Van Der Beek has been a TV staple for 20 years and is best known for his titular role on the generation-defining Dawson’s Creek. Now, he’s tackling a villainous role on Ryan Murphy’s groundbreaking FX series Pose.
What drew you to Pose?
“I heard what the world was before I heard what the character was, and the fact that these people and this section of society were going to get a platform and a voice, I just wanted to be a part of it. And the fact that I was going to be basically the worst person in the entire story was great!”
How has TV changed since Dawson’s Creek?
“Twenty years ago, if you tried to do something about the trans community, they’d be played by cisgender actors. There would be something missing. And it just wouldn’t be interesting. The biggest difference between 20 years ago and today is that 20 years ago, the barrier to entry was, who will make this? How can you get it made, who will put it on their airwaves? Today you can almost make anything and somebody will screen it somewhere, on some platform. But how do you cut through the noise? And I think the way you do that is authenticity.”
Thomas Q. Jones
Jones played in the NFL for 12 years, becoming one of the top 25 rushers in NFL history and reaching the elite 10,000-yard club. Now a full-time actor, Jones had roles in Straight Outta Compton and the BET series Being Mary Jane, but truly flexed his acting chops in an emotional, nuanced performance as Comanche in Marvel and Netflix’s badass series Luke Cage.
What’s the difference between prepping for a game and prepping for a shoot?
“They’re a mirror image of each other. That’s the thing I love about it. I can take everything I learned in football and add it to this craft. Because the best actors work the hardest, they’re the most specific and detail oriented, just like the best football players. It’s almost like when they say ‘action’ it’s the same thing as when the quarterback says ‘set hut!’ You’ve done the work, and now you live in the moment.”
Do you think athletes should use their platform for protesting and speaking out on social issues?
“It’s all about perspective. If I was still in the NFL, I’d definitely be one of the players kneeling at the national anthem. But people see things with their own eyes and unfortunately ignorance can get in the way. Being a black man in America, I see the world differently, and unfortunately most people don’t want to see the world through our eyes. People need to step outside their comfort zone—it’s a huge world, man. We’re all human beings and we’re all entitled to happiness, peace, and opportunity regardless of what your race is.”
The versatile actor has been a TV staple for years in both comedy and drama, with iconic roles in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, House of Cards, and 24. This was an incredible year in television for Simpson, playing the young Man in Black in HBO’s Westworld, Detective Russell Poole in Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G., and a big part in the acclaimed Black Mirror episode “USS Callister.” He appears next in David Robert Mitchell’s California trippy neo-noir Under the Silver Lake.
As your profile increases, is it important for you to use your platform to tell stories that matter?
“You’re literally quoting me. This is the conversation I had with my agent and manager, who I’ve been with for about 20 years. I don’t have a lot of overhead, I don’t have children, so I said, ‘Let’s focus on projects that matter, writers who are trying to say something, a production team who has a mission, or a role that says something that resonates.’ Because we’re at that point in our species where it could go a couple of ways, and I want to be one of the voices who cares.”
Yaha Abdul-Mateen II
Abdul-Mateen’s breakout role as the disco-loving gangster Cadillac in Baz Luhrmann’s brilliant but cancelled hip-hop drama The Get Down was followed by parts in The Greatest Showman and The Handmaid’s Tale. Next, he’ll play the villain Black Manta in DC’s Aquaman, and has signed on for an undisclosed role in Damon Lindelof’s hugely anticipated Watchmen remake for HBO, as well as Jordan Peele’s follow-up to Get Out.
Why do you think superhero stories are more relevant than ever?
“I think some would say they’re escapism. But also, now is the time to dream. You can be anything you want to be. I think everyone grew up with the question: If you had a superpower, what would it be? And I think we’re living in times where people want to change the world and do extraordinary things.”
What kinds of stories would you like to see more of going forward?
“Anything that comes out of a crazy mind. Now is not the time to be safe. Art should be dangerous. We should take chances, risk losing our agency and getting fired, and risk making people angry and uncomfortable for the sake of art and change.”
The Australian actor broke out this year in the role of David Madson in Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. Next, Fern has a starring role in the upcoming Kevin Spacey-less season of House of Cards. He’s also writing and directing a feature film, produced by auteur filmmaker Xavier Dolan.
How do you approach playing a real person in Versace versus a fictional person in House of Cards?
“My process is ever-changing. It has to alter and adapt. Playing David Madson in Versace—from the moment he enters the screen, he’s pleading for his life in one way or another. So it was a very intuitive, emotional, raw experience. But House of Cards, you are working within the House of Cards realm, there’s a style and rhythm and structure to the show, where everybody is operating in this realm of sex and power and status, and there’s a game being played in every single scene.”
Is it true you almost quit acting before getting the breakout role in Versace?
“You’re always going to lose out when you’re new in town, have no credits, and you’re not 22. So I just started to get worn down. People didn’t know where to place me as an actor. They wanted me to play the boy next door and I refused to play that, because it’s antithetical to who I am and what I want to do. I wanted to work with Ryan Murphy because he’s a visionary and a trailblazer in terms of telling stories about minorities and sections of societies that people don’t want to look at. So I flew from London, went to the audition jet-lagged as hell, and I got the role. Everything changed.”
After his family escaped the persecution of black Mauritanians and moved to the states, Athie ultimately graduated from the Yale School of Drama. He had a breakout performance as Grandmaster Flash in Baz Luhrmann’s hip-hop drama The Get Down, followed by roles in beloved indie films Patti Cake$ and Brie Larson’s directorial debut, Unicorn Store. Next he’ll star in Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner.
What role have you played so far that you’ve most connected with?
“I did this play called The Visit in grad school. It’s about this fictional town in the 20th century where this woman returns to town and offers the townspeople a billion dollars to kill the guy who jilted her and left her destitute. Throughout the play you see people justifying why they should kill this man. It’s about the power of money and greed, but this guy did do something evil to her. So no one’s a good guy. It’s like, wow, we’re all just humans. [I played] the schoolmaster, who is the only guy who sees what’s happening to the town and happening to himself. [I gave] a really moving speech, one of my favorite things I’ve ever done, about how corruptible we can be if we allow ourselves.”
What type of roles would you like to play going forward?
“I’m getting more specific about the people I want to work with. When I first started, I was anxious and was less likely to pass on auditions. It’s not about curating a career so much as doing things I’m drawn to.”
Bowyer-Chapman plays the driven, sassy producer on UnREAL, a role initially written for a straight womanizer that was reshaped to suit the actor’s queer sensibility. He’s also created a scholarship for LGBT+ actors of color at the Los Angeles BGB Studio. Next, Bowyer-Chapman will take the Ryan Murphy plunge, costarring on FX’s beloved horror anthology series, American Horror Story.
How do you navigate being openly LGBT in Hollywood now?
“It was when I first moved to America, to New York in my early 20s, that I really started to feel that the industry at large was telling me to play small, to water myself down, to not be as feminine or flamboyant, to not be as queer, to not be as big or opinionated, to not be as black. They wanted to make me more palatable for heteronormative audiences. And whenever I would subscribe to those notions I would feel incredible anxiety—my stomach would be in knots. But I recognized very quickly that when I wasn’t being myself, I wasn’t giving anything of value, and when I was unapologetically myself, that’s when people were drawn to me. By being myself, I gave other people permission to be themselves as well. So I discovered very early on the power of authenticity, and when I stray from that, I only hurt myself.”
PHOTOGRAPHS AND VIDEO ROBBIE AUGSPURGER
FASHION JULIA EHRLICH
GROOMER LAUREN PALMER SMITH
SET DESIGN STEVEN VALDEZ
LOCATION SMASHBOX STUDIOS
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