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Time to shine: eight Irish actors and film-makers to go stellar in 2021, from Paul Mescal to Aisling Franciosi

Many of the names on this list will be familiar to us, but the year ahead looks set to propel them on to international stardom

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Actress Aisling Franciosi

Actress Aisling Franciosi

Actress Aisling Franciosi

Here we go again. It’s a dangerous thing, this prediction business. How many of last year’s ‘stars of tomorrow’ got their chance in 2020? How many more will have to wait just a little longer for their big break?

The silver lining, of course, is that Ireland has never before been home to such a vast and magnificent line-up of actors, writers and directors.

Some of them have already started to make a name for themselves on the world stage, including Barry Keoghan, Jessie Buckley and Niamh Algar.

The pandemic may yet continue to play havoc with shoots and schedules, but we can always hope that our most talented artists will finally get a chance to shine over the next 12 months.

Keep your eyes open: these are the Irish film-makers on their way to superstardom.

Aisling Franciosi


Hardly a newcomer, the 27-year-old Dubliner has already impressed in some of the most acclaimed shows on television.

Franciosi dug deep as series regular Katie Benedetto on The Fall, opposite Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson. She played the part of a teenage Lyanna Stark on Game of Thrones.

Her cinematic breakthrough arrived in the form of Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale. The harrowing, Australian western tells the story of a 19th century Irish convict in Van Diemen’s Land, who seeks revenge on the British colonists who murdered her family.

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More recently, Franciosi picked up stellar notices for her turn as Sister Ruth in the BBC’s unexpected adaptation of Rumer Godden’s Black Narcissus.

She will next be seen alongside Sandra Bullock and Viola Davis in Nora Fingscheidt and Christopher McQuarrie’s Netflix remake of the 2009 ITV drama Unforgiven. Hell of a line-up, hell of a CV. Remember the name.

Clare Dunne


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Clare Dunne. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Clare Dunne. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Clare Dunne. Photo: Kyran O'Brien

A veteran of the stage, the brilliant Clare Dunne should have gone supernova in 2020. Alas, her critically commended, homegrown drama Herself suffered the same fate as most Irish releases, and was pushed out to 2021.

Co-written by and starring Dunne, and directed by Phyllida Lloyd (The Iron Lady, Mamma Mia!), Herself tells the story of a Dublin woman who finally leaves her abusive husband and, with no other options available, decides to build a house for her children with the help of her local community.

It’s a strong, optimistic display and Dunne is terrific in the lead. The film was a surprise hit at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where Amazon Studios acquired US distribution rights. Is that awards buzz we can hear in the distance? Perhaps. Whatever the case, Herself looks set to become the DIY hit of the year — and you’ll be hearing a lot more from Dunne.

Paul Mescal


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Paul Mescal. Photo: Frank McGrath

Paul Mescal. Photo: Frank McGrath

Paul Mescal. Photo: Frank McGrath

Yes, we know what you’re thinking. Isn’t he already a superstar? Didn’t he receive an Emmy nomination? Wasn’t he in GQ a couple of months back, sporting a €10,000 fleece?

Here’s the thing: the inimitable Mescal is still riding off the beautiful high of Normal People. The Kildare lad had a better 2020 than most, but 2021 will be the year when he finally makes his next move. We’re excited.

First up, his big-screen debut in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s forthcoming adaptation of the 2006 Elena Ferrante novel The Lost Daughter, which also stars Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Ed Harris.

After that, we will see him opposite rising star Melissa Barrera in Benjamin Millepied’s contemporary “reimagining” of Georges Bizet’s 19th century opera Carmen. Well, we already know the chap can sing. Oh yes, this could very well be Mescal’s year. Again.

Lee Cronin


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Director Lee Cronin

Director Lee Cronin

Director Lee Cronin

Remember The Hole in the Ground? Lee Cronin’s impressive 2019 supernatural offering did exactly what it was supposed to do, unnerving both Irish and international audiences and sealing the deal on Cronin’s status as a promising new voice in independent horror.

It was no surprise, then, when the great Sam Raimi handed him the keys to the Evil Dead franchise, with the legendary Bruce Campbell telling Empire magazine during the summer that everything was already in place, despite Covid restrictions.

“We’re going to get that sucker out as soon as practical,” he said. Yep, Evil Dead Rise is on the way, and one of our own is behind the camera. How cool is that?

Fionn O’Shea


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Fionn O'Shea

Fionn O'Shea

Fionn O'Shea

There are two things you should know about Fionn O’Shea. One: he played Jamie, aka that guy who you wanted to punch, in Normal People. Two: the real Fionn O’Shea is a much nicer guy than Jamie.

Indeed, O’Shea, who first came to our attention in John Butler’s sorely under-appreciated teen drama Handsome Devil, has already shared the screen with Jamie Dornan (The Siege of Jadotville), Jason Clarke (The Aftermath) and Iain Glen (Jack Taylor). He’s doing well, then.

But his stand-out performance was in David Freyne’s tender and triumphant 2020 dramedy Dating Amber.

Next on the O’Shea roster, we’ve got Wolf (Nathalie Biancheri’s arthouse shocker, with George MacKay and Lily-Rose Depp) and Cherry (high-octane thrills, courtesy of the Russo brothers, starring Tom Holland). Onwards and upwards, Fionn.

Lola Petticrew


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Lola Petticrew

Lola Petticrew

Lola Petticrew

The Amber in Dating Amber, the great Lola Petticrew is off to a flying start.

The heart and soul of Shelly Love’s beautiful mother-daughter comedy A Bump Along the Way, and a vital component of the BBC Three mini-series My Left Nut, Petticrew has already shown herself to be a smart, witty and sensitive performer, with remarkable presence and pristine comic timing.

She too is on the Wolf cast sheet and is also set to star alongside Jodie Turner-Smith as Jane Seymour in a forthcoming Anne Boleyn series.

Oh, and Petticrew and O’Shea (they’re best buds in real life) are currently working together again on a secret project.

Dónall Ó Héalai


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Dónall Ó Héalai

Dónall Ó Héalai

Dónall Ó Héalai

Tom Sullivan’s ambitious, Irish-language famine drama Arracht has been chosen as the official Irish entry for Best International Feature Film at this year’s Oscars.

It stands a decent chance of being shortlisted too. Whatever happens, Arracht (which is due to land in Irish cinemas in April) should make a star out of its leading man, Galway native Ó Héalai.

The award-winning, Screen International ‘Star of Tomorrow’ is every bit as commanding as you’ve heard, and he has it in him to go the distance. Casting agents, take note: you’re looking at the next Cillian Murphy.

Cathy Brady


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Director Cathy Brady

Director Cathy Brady

Director Cathy Brady

Might this be the year that the Newry film-maker finally unveils her feature debut, Wildfire? Brady, renowned for her short films, has been working on the project — a story of two sisters growing up on the Irish Border — for seven years now.

After a rousing reception at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, surely it won’t be too long before Wildfire (which features the late Nika McGuigan in a starring role) reaches Irish cinemas. Expectations are high, and Brady has waited long enough. It’s time for her close-up.

Five more to watch

Éanna Hardwicke

A sinister estate agent in the 2019 film Vivarium and the tragic best friend in Normal People. It’s time for Hardwicke to take the spotlight.


Lara McDonnell

The Artemis Fowl star reunites with Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench on the British drama Belfast.

Emer Reynolds

One of Ireland’s best documentarians, Reynolds makes her feature directorial debut this year with Joyride, starring Olivia Colman.


Hazel Doupe

The star of Carmel Winters’ Float Like a Butterfly recently wrapped shooting on Kate Dolan’s domestic horror You Are Not My Mother.


Amybeth McNulty

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Amybeth McNulty

Amybeth McNulty

Amybeth McNulty

The Anne with an E star returns as a drug-addicted teenager in Colum Eastwood’s thriller Black Medicine.


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