2016's 5 Biggest Breakout Stars
Wonder Woman has been thrown to the ground, her sword is just out of reach, and Doomsday is fast approaching. Superman is hurt. Batman is gone. Then, a glimmer of defiance appears in the eye of the Amazon warrior, confirming that she may be down, but she's not out. That moment—not to mention every other scene Gal Gadot stole in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice — only ratcheted up the anticipation surrounding the heroine's first solo movie, Wonder Woman, due June 2, 2017. "When [director] Zack [Snyder] first cast me for BvS, I came aboard something that was pretty much ready," Gadot told EW in March. "Now we are telling an entire story about her. And we don't want to just show a generic story of a superhero coming of age. We want her to be full and whole." And super. Director Patty Jenkins (Monster) is putting Gadot, 31, through paces serious enough to give Diana Prince herself pause. Her most difficult moment? "It was the fourth day of shooting," Gadot says. "I was going from zero to a thousand on the emotional level, and then I had to jump on a horse and ride into the sunset. I'm in my costume. Everyone else is in big coats. I have tears streaming down my face and I can't see anything because it's so cold. It was a handful." —Nicole Sperling
When Marvel Studios was auditioning Peter Parkers for a webslinger reboot, they also knew they'd need the same actor for a cameo in Captain America: Civil War — so then-18-year-old Tom Holland (The Impossible) auditioned opposite Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans. Leaning on his gymnastics training, Holland blew away his costars with the same stunt work and charm that audiences would discover when the Cap threequel debuted. This summer, he faced even more physical challenges filming Spider-Man: Homecoming (July 7, 2017). "I was upside down for everything I shot last week," Holland told EW during production. His real key to Parker is hitting the heart of what it means to be a teen who is suddenly powerful. "Peter Parker is... going through what every 15-year-old is going through, plus more," says Holland, now 20. "He has to do his chemistry homework and save New York." —Anthony Breznican
"S---!" Issa Rae says upon learning she's one of EW's breakout stars of 2016. Actually, the co-creator, writer, star, and EP of HBO's Insecure is surprised by a lot these days. First, there's the fact that her comedy was renewed for a second season: "Prentice [Penny, showrunner and EP] and Melina [Matsoukas, director and EP] and I lost our minds on the phone," the 31-year-old says. Then, there are the series' devout fans: "It's like 50--50, men and women, which surprises me all the time. The guys are so invested!" Rae, who plays Issa, a woman navigating career, friendships, and a long-term relationship that's seen its share of ups, downs, and soap-dispenser shopping, doesn't take the responsibility lightly. "We're telling human stories that feature black people... This medium allows us to kick walls down and show that we all go through similar things. That is really important, now more than ever." But even after signing a two-year deal with HBO to produce additional programming from new, diverse voices, Rae does wish some things were different. Namely, her character's moniker, as people confuse her for Insecure's Issa. "We share a lot, but I've grown a bit and am further on my journey to confidence than she is," says Rae, who used the name to identify her role back when the show was untitled and just never changed it. "That's my biggest regret, but it is what it is. At least people pronounce my name right now!" —Caitlin Brody
Did Naz do it? The question kept viewers of the HBO crime drama The Night Of on the edge of their seats all summer, but it was star Riz Ahmed's (ahem) arresting performance that had them hoping the answer was no. Yet the British actor, 34, was just relieved that people watched at all. "When we first filmed, I honestly thought there's too much amazing TV," Ahmed confesses. "This is going to get lost in the mix and no one's going to see it!" Fortunately he was wrong, and his profile has skyrocketed ever since. "In America it's every other dude shouting, 'Yo, Naz! You the killer?' " While the jury's still out, Ahmed has been busy. He appeared in Jason Bourne and released his Swet Shop Boys hip-hop album, and now he's entering the Force in Rogue One. The mania has already begun: "I noticed a big difference during the Swet Shop Boys tour. Suddenly there were people with Star Wars memorabilia for me to sign. That's not something that usually happens at rap shows. I think it's the start of a coming tide." —Ray Rahman
This time last year, Kiiara was celebrating a new record deal in the least glamorous way: by having her tonsils removed. Now the 21-year-old Wilmington, Ill., native is getting recognized by Uber drivers and recently had the surreal experience of hearing her song "Gold" blast across the salon where she was getting her nails done. It's a big adjustment for an artist who began her music career in semi-anonymity and actively avoided sharing biographical information. "I still feel the same," she says, "so when someone's like, 'I like your song!' I have to remind myself, 'Oh, I do have a song out.'"
And "Gold" isn't just any song, either. With a hook built around vocal samples that are impossible to sing along to, it managed to crack the Top 40 while completely defying conventions of what a radio hit sounds like. "[Producer Felix Snow and I] didn't get into the studio to say, 'We're going to make a pop song,' " Kiiara says. "It was more like, 'Let's just make what we like. People can love it or hate it.'"
In this case, the people who loved it included some of her biggest idols. Lil Wayne remixed "Gold" last month, and Kiiara has found a mentor and collaborator in Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, whose band she cites as a major influence. "If I ever need advice, I can just call him up," Kiiara says. For someone who hadn't performed live before this year — her sixth show ever was at Lollapalooza in August — such rapid success might be overwhelming. But for Kiiara, there's no such thing as too much too soon. "I can't wait for the next tour in bigger venues, and the one after that," she says. "When I'm not working, that's not good. I can't go back to my apartment. What am I going to do, stare at the walls?" —Nolan Feeney