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Big Breaks in 2014: Boseman had been a working actor in theater, television, and smaller films for more than a decade before landing two years of high-profile biopic leading roles. After putting on Jackie Robinson's Brooklyn Dodger uniform for 2013's 42, he accepted the challenge of ''live-wire channeling'' the Godfather of Soul, James Brown in this year's Get On Up. With charisma to spare, Boseman's dynamic performance raised his profile to the next level—the next level in this case being comic-book superstardom...
An Even Bigger 2015: Boseman was announced in October as Black Panther, the prince of the fictional African kingdom of Wakanda who has long been rumored to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The character will make his debut in the 2016 Captain America sequel, Civil War, and then join the ranks of truly elite superheros with his own 2017 standalone movie, a first for an African-American character. Admittedly not a huge comic-book nerd as a kid Boseman says, ''Once you get into the film business, you start thinking about things that would be really cool to do, and then I fell in love with [the Black Panther character]. For me, that's going to be the case for most people who watch it, for most people who see this character emerge inside the Marvel world. And it's the right time for it, at the end of the day.''
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Big Break of 2014: Rodriguez earned a Golden Globe as Jane Villanueva, the heroine of The CW's new dramedy Jane the Virgin. Jane doesn't resemble the majority of Hispanic characters in prime time—she isn't a cop, a sex kitten, or a cook; she doesn't accentuate her curves in skintight dresses or speak with a sultry accent. All reasons that Gina Rodriguez had to say yes to the role, which she calls the most ''realistic'' portrayal of Latinas on TV.
Origin Story: If Rodriguez is compelling in her portrayal of Jane, it's because, to some extent, she is Jane—a college-educated millennial who simultaneously embraces the Latin culture she inherited and the American landscape she was born into. And the 30-year-old can even attest to the frustrations of an abstinence-minded sweetheart. ''The crazy thing is that I used to date a virgin,'' she says. ''He was a 32-year-old virgin, saving himself for marriage. That just blows my mind...dating a virgin who's literally so like Jane, and now I'm playing Jane. It's the best character study ever.'' —Nina Terrero
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Big Break of 2014: With a hit single—the strummy, propulsive anthem ''Riptide,'' which spent five weeks atop the Billboard Alternative chart this fall—major festival gigs, and a North American headlining tour, Australian singer-songwriter Vance Joy was already set to finish out the year as one of the buzziest new-folk troubadours since Bon Iver....
Upcoming: ...and that was before Taylor Swift (perhaps you've heard of her) tapped the singer-songwriter born James Keough to open on her world tour. Swift's acoustic cover of ''Riptide'' also helped when it went viral in October. It's a far cry from when Keough earned a law degree and played Australian football semi-professionally. He didn't even share his musical ambitions with his teammates until the coach singled him out one night at an after-practice dinner: ''He knew I could play and put me on the spot. He was like, 'Jimmy, bring your guitar and get in front of everyone.''' —Adam Markovitz
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Big Break in 2014: In Texts from Jane Eyre, the canon becomes a parade of selfish, petulant whiners (Hamlet, Lord Byron, Henry David Thoreau, Jake from The Sun Also Rises), moody, overbearing messes (Cathy and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, Edgar Allan Poe), and all-around grade-A jerks (Scarlett O'Hara probably takes the crown). It's a skillful bit of literary sculpting that chips away at great works of fiction (and the Sweet Valley High series) until it reveals the secret core that unites them all: People are terrible. And it?s really, really fun to read about how terrible they are.
Busy, Budding: In her day job as the cofounder of feminist humor mecca The Toast, Ortberg comes off as a fount of ideas—but she admits the fear of writer's block is real: ''Like, this afternoon, today, right before I did [a post], I was literally just sitting at my table going, 'Oh yeah. This is it. I think that's the last idea I've ever had. I'm done now.'' But then I had an idea, so I was saved. Weirdly, often the more I write, the more ideas I have. —Hillary Busis
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Big Break of 2014: James played the quietly charismatic leader Four in Divergent. Many recognize James from his role as Mr. Pamuk, the Turkish diplomat who died in Lady Mary's bed on Downton Abbey. He has the kind of brooding grown-up magnetism that recalls movie stars of yore. When asked to describe him, the Divergent team cited James Dean, Montgomery Clift, Paul Newman, and George Clooney.
Origin Story: The British actor grew up in a big family—one of five siblings—and credits a brother for giving him a cinephile's education. (He happily rattles off movies and actors he loves, such as The Verdict or anything else with Paul Newman.) Two more Divergent films are in the works, but James is eager to stretch his acting muscles on other projects as well. ''What's going to be important for my sanity and longevity is to be very picky,'' he says. ''I need to choose wisely.'' —Sara Vilkomerson
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Big Breaks in 2014: St. Vincent (a.k.a. Annie Clark) took the stage on Saturday Night Live, which she called ''the pinnacle of TV. That's the show I grew up watching. It informed my sense of comedy, and I discovered bands through that massive platform.'' She also sang ''Lithium'' with the surviving members of Nirvana at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony. ''I was really touched and honored to be asked,'' she says. ''It was kind of coming full circle, because I don't think I would be playing music if it wasn't for Nirvana. Those guys changed my life forever.''
Liner Notes: Of guesting on Swans's To Be Kind, she recalls, ''I was asked to sing one note for as long as I could hold it, then take a breath and sing it again for the length of a song. By the end, I was singing two notes for about 50 minutes straight. Your body goes through a lot of changes; it feels punishing but also like this big release. My brain went to this whole other place. That band, it's crazy the stamina they have. It's a lot of violence—violence that really pays off. —Kyle Anderson
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Big Break of 2014: Best known as the lovably awkward Stiles on MTV's Teen Wolf, the New Jersey-raised actor, 22, has a notoriety on Tumblr rivaled only by Grumpy Cat. He also starred in September's The Maze Runner, based on the YA best-seller. O'Brien had to fit production on The Maze Runner into a tight eight-week break between the first and second halves of Teen Wolf's third season. ''I'm just proud I made it through,'' he says. —Sandra Gonzalez
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Big Break in 2014: In All the Light We Cannot See, Doerr braided together two parallel stories during World War II. One follows a blind French girl with a rich imaginary life, and the other describes a German orphan whose brilliant mind has brought him to the attention of the Nazis. Without glossing over the atrocities of war, Doerr somehow managed to write the most hopeful novel of the year. His attention to detail and emotion paid off in spades, landing the novel on the short listed for a National Book Award and scoring a film option from Twentieth Century Fox. It also reached a new audience for Doerr. ''I never thought of it as a book that teenagers would be interested in, but parents and kids come up to me and both have read the book. I'm not used to that! It's touching.'' —Stephan Lee
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Origin Story: Previously best known as Hogwarts student Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies, Enoch—whose father, William Russell, was one of the original cast members of Doctor Who—also lined his impressive résumé with theatrical productions of Coriolanus and Antigone as well as guest spots on Sherlock and Broadchurch. Still, he didn't think he had a chance of being cast as an American in ABC's latest sure-to-be-hit from producer Shonda Rhimes.
Big Break in 2014: Nonetheless, Enoch nailed a Skype audition with creator Pete Nowalk to play How to Get Away With Murder's pivotal role of Wes, a seemingly naive law student who gets tangled up in a murder and with his enigmatic professor Annalise Keating (Viola Davis). Though Enoch had to keep mum for most of the fall given HTGAWM's whodunnit premise, being part of a supersecret project is not an entirely unfamiliar feeling. ''It's a similar thing in a way with the excitement I had as a kid doing Potter: Every time a new book came out, I wanted to know because I loved the books. And then I wanted to know what happened to my character.'' —Tim Stack
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Big Breaks of 2014: In January, Aiko dropped in on Drake's Saturday Night Live gig for their duet ''From Time.'' After a guest gig with Big Sean and an acclaimed EP, the California singer-rapper, 26, released her full-length debut, Souled Out.
Origin Story: As a preteen, she found an unlikely source of inspiration in Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul. ''It would spark that creative thing in me,'' she says. No surprise, then, that Aiko values keeping her message positive. ''What are you going to have your crowd chanting? 'F--- money, get bitches'?'' she says. ''It showed me the importance of lyrics.'' —Kyle Anderson
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Big Break of 2014: The 30-year-old was bust-a-gut hilarious in 22 Jump Street, in which she plays the foulmouthed villain in a sundress. ''I don't usually get to play roles like this,'' she says. ''I'm usually a weird, lonely woman. So it was fun to play this badass.'' Anyone who's watched Bell for four seasons on Comedy Central's Workaholics knows her big-screen breakout is well deserved...and overdue.
Origins and Incomings: A Groundlings member and former Saturday Night Live writer, Bell signed a deal to turn Idiotsitter, her Web series with writing partner Charlotte Newhouse, into a show for Comedy Central. She also shot Goosebumps, the Jack Black vehicle based on the R.L. Stine books, and sold a rom-com called Let's Get Married to MGM. Bell even got to act opposite Benicio Del Toro—an actor she so adores, her Twitter handle is @jilliandeltoro—in Paul Thomas Anderson's crime dramedy, Inherent Vice. Turns out, though, she has an even bigger star crush. ''I love Amy Poehler,'' Bell gushes. ''I worked with her briefly on SNL, and I thought she was the loveliest and the funniest. I really look up to her.'' —Nina Terrero
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Origin Story: Sam Heughan has been training for the role of heroic Highland warrior Jamie Fraser his entire life—he just didn't know it. ''I was born and brought up in the countryside,'' says the Scot. ''I used to live in converted stables on the grounds of a castle, and I spent a lot of my childhood running around pretending to be Robert the Bruce.'' Over the ensuing years, Heughan supplemented all that make-believe with a real résumé of bona fides: studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Shakespearean stage performances, a role on the BBC soap Doctors, and even a gig as the Caped Crusader in a 2011 DC/Warner Bros. touring production of Batman Live.
Big Break in 2014: His experience as Batman means he's familiar with the pressures of portraying a beloved character. ''You can't please everyone,'' he admits, ''but ultimately, I think we're all fans of the [Outlander] books. We're as close to them as we can be while still telling a great story.'' Another prepping strategy? For authenticity, Heughan spent two weeks in ''Outlander boot camp'' practicing horseback riding and sword fighting, learning Gaelic, and perfecting Jamie's brogue. ''The Highland accent is quite soft; it's quite well-spoken, but it's got a musicality to it, and I think that's part of the character of Jamie. There's music in him.'' What the actor wasn't able to glean from that edifying fortnight—or his near-daily conversations with author Diana Gabaldon—he could probably just fudge given his delightful similarities to the 18th-century clansman. To wit, when asked if he wears his kilt the ''traditional'' Scottish way, Heughan's answer is pure, mischievous Jamie: ''It'd be rude not to, wouldn't it?'' —Amy Wilkinson
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Origin Story: Peltz, 19, had wanted to act all her life, but her mom, a former model, wasn't eager to let her daughter go into the business. ''She was very against me being an actress,'' says the New York native. ''I thought I was going to play ice hockey in college.'' Then at 13, she was allowed to start auditioning and got hooked after working with Jeff Daniels in the Manhattan Theatre Club's stage production of Blackbird. She later appeared in M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender and on A&E's Bates Motel.
Big Break of 2014: As the rare human (and woman) in the effects-laden Transformers: Age of Extinction, she stole scenes from the likes of Bumblebee and Grimlock. The Transformers films launched the careers of Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. So during one of Peltz's auditions, Bay pulled her mother aside, concerned about whether Peltz was ready for that kind of fame. Sweet, right? But on set it was a different story. ''Michael always says the Transformers are the stars,'' she says. ''He made that very clear.'' —Lindsey Bahr
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Big Break of 2014: Fresh off an Oscar nomination for co-scoring Spike Jonze's Her, the Canadian singer-songwriter and longtime Arcade Fire collaborator released his excellent new solo album, In Conflict in May. ''I have song titles before I've written the songs,'' admits Pallett, 34. ''I have a whole file on my laptop. I have so many band names, too. My favorite was a metal-band name, Mi Coffin Su Coffin. I'm really hoping someone picks that one up.''
Bore-igin Story: Arcade Fire brought him in to help craft the score for Her—and may have regretted the decision. ''I'm a bit of a loudmouth in the studio,'' he says wryly. ''I think passivity is the devil. It's much better to express your idea and be shot down for it than to sit there. I think sometimes they value that in me.'' He laughs. ''Other times they don't.'' —Kyle Anderson
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Charlotte Le Bon
Big Breaks in 2014: She played Victoire Doutreleau, the leggy muse in the French biopic Yves Saint Laurent and made her Hollywood debut as the beguiling sous chef to Helen Mirren's head cuisiniste in The Hundred-Foot Journey.
Origin Story: A Montreal native raised by two actors, Le Bon, 27, at first eschewed acting—''I saw them struggling a lot,'' she says. Nonetheless, she landed a gig as a quirky comedian/weathergirl on a popular variety show in Paris. (She's also an artist and photographer.) Her feature-film debut was opposite Gérard Depardieu in the 2012 comedy Astérix and Obélix: God Save Britannia. Le Bon also stars in a handful of self-produced Vine videos with the theme #slapthebitch, where she does something irritating—obnoxiously chewing gum or dragging her fingernails on a chalkboard—and gets slapped for it. ''It made people laugh for some reason,'' she says. ''So I did more and more.''
And then Spielberg called... Journey producer Steven Spielberg caught one of Le Bon's comedy routines online and told a casting director that she was his No. 1 choice for her role in the film. ''He thought I was weird,'' she says. It's as good a reason as any, non? —Nina Terrero
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Emily St John Mandel
Big Break in 2014: Station Eleven—a literary postapocalyptic page-turner that combines a deadly pandemic, a Hollywood A-lister's life story, and a traveling caravan of Shakespearean actors—was the unlikely toast of BookExpo America, an annual trade show bringing together publishers, media, and booksellers around the world. Since then, Station Eleven garnered every bit of hype a novel can get: critical acclaim, early reader enthusiasm, and prime boosts from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And on Sept. 18, nine days after it was published, it was even long-listed for the National Book Award.
Origin Story: Back in 2006, Mandel found it almost impossible to get the publishing world to pay attention to her first novel, Last Night in Montreal. After Unbridled Books bought it and released two more literary detective noirs, Mandel became a best-kept secret in indie bookstores. Praise about Mandel eventually reached Knopf editor Jenny Jackson in New York City. A manuscript of Station Eleven landed on her desk in 2013, and ''it felt like complete fate,'' says Jackson. ''Unfortunately, I wasn't the only person who'd been hearing about Emily.'' After a heated weeklong auction, the rights went to Knopf, the book was published, and the word-of-mouth started to swell into major swells and accolade. ''I feel as if I won the lottery,'' says Mandel, who works as an administrative assistant at Rockefeller University. ''My instinct is to hold on to [the day job]. We'll see if that remains possible in a few months.'' —Stephan Lee
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Big Break of 2014: After a Late Night With David Letterman performance went viral. Guitarist and bassist William Cashion acknowledges, ''It's been a real whirlwind, really surreal since that happened. The video went all over the Internet, and people's parents and grandparents are checking it out.'' Among other things that have driven the band's Internet fame is frontman Sam Herring's performance style. Herring says his banter ''used to be even better. In our first band I played this faux Eastern European art star, so I got to speak in this great fake German accent and talk about myself lovingly. The guys are probably tired of my weird jokes. Sometimes the crowd laughs, and sometimes they don't. Last night I thought I was dropping gems, but nobody was laughing. I was probably just drunk.'' But the allure isn't all verbal. Per Cashion, ''We know there are certain parts of the songs where we have to duck back or make sure we don't get punched.'' —Kyle Anderson
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Big Breaks of 2014: A veteran of Australian soaps, the 24-year-old made the leap to Hollywood this summer with three meaty roles: a dreamy Prince Phillip in Maleficent, a road-tripping college student in the sci-fi mind-bender The Signal, and the lead in the film of Lois Lowry's YA classic The Giver.
Travelin' Man: Thwaites had always wanted to see the world, and he did just that, landing film roles that took him to New York, Hawaii, London, and Cape Town, South Africa, where The Giver was shot. ''Oh, man, I would shoot a cracker commercial in Cape Town just to get back there,'' he says. ''It's such a magic place.'' —Lindsey Bahr
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Big Break in 2014: Over the course of three compulsively readable and nontraditional sci-fi novels—Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance—VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy confronts the sinister, rapidly expanding landmass known only as Area X. By the third novel, VanderMeer constructed a deeply unsettling philosophical argument.
Covers Boy: The trilogy was so compelling, it was swiftly translated around the world, including the books' jackets. Of the Spanish editions, he says, ''These are tied with the U.S. covers as my favorite. They took these original natural-history pieces as the basis and just twisted them. They fit the books so well, in terms of theme and subtext—trippy and kind of disturbing. They remind me of a couple of the Spanish painters.'' —Stephan Lee
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Origin Story: Lee toiled on and off Broadway for years before a 2012 staging of the Off Broadway play 4000 Miles caught the attention of Girls creator Lena Dunham, who called her for a second-season role. ''I was [supposed to play] a slutty yoga instructor who was dating Jeff Goldblum,'' Lee explains. But then Patrick Wilson signed on for an episode, shaking up the season and relegating her to a small (but hilarious) role as Booth Jonathan's (Jorma Taccone) assistant, Soojin—who later returned to steal scenes in season 3. Around the same time, Lee met Amy Schumer at an audition for a Noah Baumbach movie and went on to star in some of Inside Amy Schumer's most popular sketches—playing a woman who can't take a compliment and a gerbil-squishing cannibal, among other characters...
Big Breaks of 2014: ...including a drunk chef! Lee rode her newfound momentum into this year's pilot season, landing a role on NBC's Old Soul, produced by Amy Poehler and starring Natasha Lyonne. Though the show didn't make it to air, Lee says she's just happy her race isn't at the forefront of every career conversation anymore. ''The turning point was when people started writing for me. You can only audition for that Chinese nurse or lab technician so many times,'' she says with a laugh. ''I wasn't getting those parts anyway. I've been told I have too much personality.'' —Stephan Lee