Actor’s Playbook: 5 Rising Stars Who Are Breaking New Ground at South by Southwest

sydney-sweeney actor
Sydney Sweeney in Immaculate (Film Still), 2024. Image courtesy of Neon.

The vaunted Hollywood enterprise offers many points of entry. Landing a role in a premier HBO series skewed toward the younger generation is certainly an ideal one. Playing the emotional fulcrum in the remake of a marquee musical directed by Steven Spielberg is another. And embodying one of the most fascinating, and up to this point, underexplored figures in all of the American cultural zeitgeist—in a Coppola film, no less—isn’t bad either. But after such major breakthroughs, how does one feed the momentum and perhaps defy expectations?

These five stars, some of the brightest working today, find themselves at a critical juncture in their young careers. The age-old question: What comes next? With these films, each premiering at Austin's cult South by Southwest festival this week, they provide an answer.

Cailee Spaeny in Civil War (Film Still), 2024. Image courtesy of A24.

Civil War
Star: Cailee Spaeny
Known For: Priscilla
New Mode: Big Budget Action

In A24’s first foray into broader action filmmaking, Alex Garland (Ex-Machina, Annihilation) devises a dystopian future America, where Texas and California have formed a militaristic faction against the rest of the union. Previously, Spaeny played a small supporting role in Garland’s television series, Devs. After working alongside her in this film, Kirsten Dunst recommended Spaeny to longtime friend Sofia Coppola for the role of Priscilla Presley. Coppola's velveteen touch is a far cry from the propulsiveness and violence that Civil War portends.

Sydney Sweeney in Immaculate (Film Still), 2024. Image courtesy of Neon.

Star: Sydney Sweeney
Known For: Euphoria, Anyone But You, Reality
New Mode: Horror

Sweeney has already stepped outside the Euphoria-verse with roles in the smash romantic comedy Anyone But You and the (much-maligned) Madame Web. Here, she teams with director Michael Mohan (The Voyeurs, Everything Sucks) and The White Lotus alum Simona Tabasco for a more sinister offering. She plays a devout nun whose visit to an Italian covenant quickly devolves into a cloistered nightmare. Indie house Neon, along with Sweeney, who is also a producer on the film, are counting on her established bankability to capture a fervent horror audience.

Rachel Zegler in Y2K (Film Still), 2024. Image courtesy of A24.

Star: Rachel Zegler
Known For: West Side Story, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
New Mode: Sci-fi Funny Haha

Zegler had the unenviable task of filling Natalie Wood’s shoes in a pantheon part and turned in an electric performance. She proved credibility as the new anchor of beloved franchise The Hunger Games as well. Soon she’ll take up the titular role in Disney’s live-action Snow White. Converse to some of the others on this list, she's looking to go smaller, and more comedic, by appearing in the directorial debut of the idiosyncratic SNL alum Kyle Mooney. The film imagines the projected Y2K disaster actually happening while two misfits attend a New Year’s Eve party in 1999.

Barbie Ferreira and John Leguizamo in Bob Trevino Likes It (Film Still), 2024. Image courtesy of Laymon's Terms.

Bob Trevino Likes It
Barbie Ferreira
Known For: Euphoria, Nope
New Mode: Quieter Indie 

Ferreira will not be returning to Euphoria for its third season. Appearing in this smaller independent fare, the first solo feature by native Texan Tracie Laymon, gives her the opportunity to introduce fans to an entirely new persona. She plays a people-pleasing young woman full of longing who, in search of her estranged father, finds herself instead connecting with a stranger who shares his name.

Hunter Schafer in Cuckoo (Film Still), 2024. Image courtesy of Neon.

Star: Hunter Schafer
Known For: Euphoria, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes
New Mode: Psychological Thriller

Schafer has established herself as a muse of fashion houses worldwide. She also played a small role alongside Zegler in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. Here, she looks to broaden her image beyond Euphoria and the runway, playing a young woman consumed by paranoia and tormented by visions during a trip to a remote resort town in the German Alps with her father and stepmother. Another Neon release, it’s clear the studio will deploy a similar gambit to the one it has planned with Sweeney.