Part of the fun of my job as entertainment director is getting a first look at some of the buzziest new shows before they hit the streaming services and prime-time TV. It helps me keep a finger on the pulse of what is cool and noteworthy coming down the pike, but it also comes in handy for spotting breakout talent to feature here on Who What Wear. Simply put: I’m all about keeping you aware of who and what should be on your radar right now. For this reason, our Ones to Watch portfolio is easily one of my favorite stories to work on each quarter. This time around, I’m spotlighting five newcomers who surprised, delighted, and wowed me with their electric performances in some of TV’s most talked-about and highly anticipated shows.
So what’s on the agenda? An authentic portrayal of what it’s like to be a teenager today; a story of friendship, love, and loss during the ’80s HIV/AIDs epidemic; a family on the run in search of a simpler life; a fantasy adventure featuring a young soldier tasked with saving her worn-torn country; and a group of misfits solving supernatural crimes alongside Sherlock Holmes and his associate, Dr. Watson. My must-watch list has something for everyone, but before you dive into these binge-worthy shows, I want to introduce you to the notable young women starring in them.
Ahead, Hollywood’s new class of rising stars talk about their projects, career aspirations, and the items on their spring shopping lists.
WHO: Lydia West
WHAT: The emotional miniseries It’s a Sin
Before debuting in the U.S. last month on HBO Max, Russell T. Davies’s drama It’s a Sin smashed viewing records in the UK, and I think I know why. While the subject matter of the rising AIDS epidemic in 1980s London is heavy and tear-provoking, the series also delivers a lot of heart and laughs through its diverse ensemble of lovable characters. One such character is Jill Baxter, played by 27-year-old Lydia West. Described by many as “the glue” of the friend group, Baxter—who was modeled after one of Davies’s close friends—would go on to become an AIDS activist and ally for the community. In what is only West’s third-ever role, the young actress quickly became an audience favorite, imbuing the show with humanity and hope.
I knew I wanted to be a part of It’s a Sin when… I read the first page of episode one back in 2019. I knew it was Russell [T. Davies]’s latest work, so I instantly knew it was going to be amazing, but when I was presented with this character telling such an important story, I was thrilled at the opportunity to be involved.
One of the most rewarding parts of playing Jill Baxter has been… Seeing the response to everyone thanking and appreciating the allies in their own life with the hashtag #bemorejill. We can all do with a little more compassion, kindness, and love for ourselves and others, especially in times of crisis and/or in the face of adversity, and that's what Jill has brought each and every one of us.
The reason(s) I believe this show is resonating so much with audiences today is… It’s a story that needed to be told. It honors and pays respect to those lives that sadly burnt so brightly during the era. It remembers our not-so-distant past and shines a light on so many lost lives that paved the way for who we all are today. It’s a tale of joy, friendship, love, family (logical and biological), and ultimately loss, which I think everyone can resonate with. The show also acts as an educational tool for future generations and helps open up the discussion on HIV/AIDS, which, in turn, will help the battle to banish the stigma, shame, and discrimination that still surround HIV/AIDS.
My favorite part of working on this project has been… Making friends for life. I loved each and every one of the cast and crew so much, and I can confidently say I have made friends that I will cherish forever.
The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… Stories like It’s a Sin. For a drama to have the power of changing someone’s life, raising awareness, shining a light on so many stories that have been in the dark for so long feels both exciting and special. In my career thus far, I have had the pleasure of working with the most amazing teams, and in the future, I would love to continue to do great work in bringing these important stories to life.
The women in this business I look up to most are… Women who have stood tall and strong in the face of adversity, women who haven't been afraid to have their voices heard, and women who have paved the way for young women of color like me to feel confident, comfortable, and empowered in what we do in our industry. To name a few, Issa Rae, Shonda Rhimes, and Viola Davis.
If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… Nike Dri-Fit leggings and an oversize hoodie. I love my Souvenir hoodie from Voo Store in Berlin, which is my favorite boutique ever. Oh, and my Perspex transition sunglasses.
The people and/or fashion accounts I love to follow are… I love @matildadjerf with her minimalist style, @raven__smith with his hilarious memes, @somewhereiwouldliketolive with their home inspiration, and @jtfirstman for his amazing comical impressions.
My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces…
WHO: Logan Polish
WHAT: The edge-of-your-seat drama The Mosquito Coast
First a novel by Paul Theroux and then a 1986 film starring Harrison Ford and now an AppleTV+ series, The Mosquito Coast is a thrilling story about an inventor and idealist who grows tired of America’s capitalist society and moves his family to Latin America seeking a more fulfilling life. But as they say, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The gripping drama is led by Justin Theroux, but it’s rising star Logan Polish who keeps you glued to the screen. She plays Theroux’s on-screen daughter Dina, who, despite her initial reluctance to make the big move, proves to be an important player in ensuring her family can cross the border safely. Be on the lookout for episode two, where Polish is especially captivating while getting her father out of a sticky situation.
The Mosquito Coast is the perfect series for anyone looking to watch… How a family deals with unexpected challenges and adversity.
This series is unlike any other project I have been a part of, in that… I’ve had the opportunity to work with three very talented women directors.
What I really love about playing a character like Dina is… How brave, strong, and determined she was when facing adversity.
My fondest memory from the set of The Mosquito Coast… Was learning how to make a shim from a coke can and using it to break someone out of handcuffs.
The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… The ones that are thought-provoking, pose uncomfortable questions, and make the audience ponder a bit.
A rewarding moment in my career thus far has been… being able to see my own growth as an actor throughout the production of the show.
When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… classic vintage loafers.
My spring wardrobe wouldn’t be complete without these three pieces...
Photo:Jessie Mei Li
WHO: Jessie Mei Li
WHAT: The fantasy adventure drama Shadow and Bone
The Grisha book trilogy has a massive fan base, including fashion favorite Eva Chen, so it’s no surprise there is a ton of hype around the Netflix series adaptation, Shadow and Bone, which arrives April 23. Set in the fictional land of Ravka, the story follows a teen orphan turned soldier who inherits magical powers that can help finally unite her worn-torn country. Playing the series heroine Alina Starkov is Jessie Mei Li in what is sure to be her breakout role. It’s going to be a big year for the British actress who will also star alongside Anya Taylor-Joy in Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho in October.
My quick synopsis of Shadow and Bone is… In a country torn in two by war, prejudice, and a deadly expanse of darkness, a young soldier discovers she has the mythical power to summon sunlight, a gift that could be the key to saving her people.
The thing I really love about this fantasy story (and the book trilogy) is… The characters. You really care about them and their relationships, and I think it’s because they feel like real people, despite the fantasy setting. They all have their flaws, quirks, and history, and the cast bring them to life beautifully.
Getting to play a character like Alina Starkov is… A breath of fresh air. When I was growing up, I didn’t get to see many characters who looked like me and shared my experience of being mixed race.
I am most similar to Alina in that… Alina is very much led by her heart, by what feels right in the moment, and often acts impulsively—a trait I definitely share. It’s both a blessing and a curse!
The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… New voices. There are so many creators and filmmakers just starting out now with a lot to say and new stories to tell, and I’d love to be a part of that.
The kind of project I would love to tackle next is… Something completely different. I love Alina, and she was so familiar to me, but in some ways, that can feel more challenging. I’d love to get my teeth into something darker and weirder and really delve into a character who’s very different from the way people perceive me.
The women in this business I look up to most are… Michaela Coel just blows me away, and I May Destroy You was one of the best series I’ve seen in recent years. Sandra Oh and Frances McDormand are definitely two actors I admire. They are both unapologetic and hardworking and really seem to love what they do, and you can feel it in every performance. I love seeing actors just have a good time on screen.
When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… Big shoes. There’s nothing better than stomping down the street in chunky platform boots. I swear people feel the vibrations coming and scatter.
My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces…
“Wandering around charity shops and vintage stores and finding some real gems is a favorite pastime of mine. This past year, that hasn’t been so easy to do, but there are so many places online to buy and sell clothes. We love circular fashion! I love wearing a maxi dress. It’s ultimate comfort! I tend to grunge it up a bit, though, with my favorite accessories and footwear.”
“I’m all about just being relaxed and comfortable, so you'll often find me in a boilersuit or dungarees, especially for those days you just want to throw something on for a laid-back day out. I really like that Lucy and Yak are committed to being ethical and sustainable and always making steps toward improving their environmental impact.”
WHO: Chloe East
WHAT: The buzzy HBO Max teen dramedy Generation
Written and created by 19-year-old Zelda Barnz and produced by Lena Dunham, Generation offers audiences an honest portrayal of what it’s like to be a young adult today, with its main characters tackling real issues such as gender identity, sex, complicated family lives, and teen pregnancy. In addition to perfecting the Gen Z experience, the show’s standout feature is its excellent casting. Among an ensemble of notable rising stars is Chloe East, who plays boisterous teen Naomi. East draws you in during the show’s very first manic moments and delivers a performance so good she will have you simultaneously laughing and cringing as she navigates a series of wholly relatable moments.
Generation is different from other teen dramas, in that… It was created by Zelda Barnz when she was a 17-year-old in high school!
I think audiences watching Generation will be happy to see… The inclusivity in our cast.
The character Naomi really resonated with me, in that… She is from Orange County, which is where I grew up.
My favorite part of working on this project has been… Doing late-night shoots at the local mall.
The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… Projects with solid writing, particularly Paul Thomas Anderson’s and Quentin Tarantino’s [writing]. Their films just make me love cinema all the more and get me excited to hopefully work with them in the future.
One of my favorite looks I’ve worn for a project is… The outfit I wear in the Generation pilot and opening scene is pretty true to Naomi and will always have a special place in my heart.
However, if you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… Overalls, a sweatshirt, beanie, and a pair of Vans.
When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… Jewelry, especially necklaces and rings!
My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces…
WHO: Thaddea Graham
WHAT: The supernatural crime series The Irregulars
The world of Sherlock Holmes is vast, making way for a variety of thrilling series and films to take place within its fictional universe. The Irregulars, which premieres on Netflix on March 26, is one of those series, offering avid fans and new audiences alike a fresh take on the detective narrative. The series, based on a set of characters that appear in three Sherlock Holmes stories, follows a group of down-on-their-luck teenagers living in Victorian London who are hired by Holmes’s associate Dr. Watson to help solve supernatural crimes. The fierce leader of the group is Bea, played by Thaddea Graham. Not only is it exciting to see a badass and strong-willed young woman at the forefront of this story, but Graham is also superb in the role.
I think audiences are really going to enjoy The Irregulars because… It’s a show full of heart and honesty and warmth that was so brilliantly created by our writer Tom Bidwell. We’re based in the very recognizable world of Sherlock Holmes but have an added supernatural element and a version of the famous detective that we’ve not really seen before. It’ll make you laugh, cry, hide behind a pillow—all the good stuff! There’s a little bit of something in there for everyone and an undercurrent of humanity that makes all of the characters, even our villains/monsters, people you can relate to and understand.
Bea was such a fun character to step into, in that… She’s a headstrong badass! Bea’s driving force is her little sister Jessie, who she’d do absolutely anything for. She’s brave and extremely emotionally intelligent for her age and able to see things in people that others would dismiss or overlook. What I love about Bea is that, while she does feel this pressure to “lead” the gang, she’s open to the idea that she doesn’t have to do it alone. It’s okay to ask for help—it’s okay to have someone to lean on. You’re never truly on your own. This is certainly something she starts to understand more as the show develops.
My favorite part of working on The Irregulars was… The people, for sure. I feel extremely lucky that the team on this were some of the best. None of this happens because of just one person—it’s a massive team effort from day one of prep to actually shooting it all and then into post-production. They were all so driven and invested in telling this story, which I think is infectious from Tom Bidwell, our creator, who spent 10 years crafting it before any of us knew it existed. His commitment and belief, not just in relation to this show but also in the people and things around him, is one of the many things I admire and respect about Tom.
The stories or projects that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… The ones that make people feel less alone. The stories that make us feel seen and understood. I think representation of all kinds is so important. Different accents, ethnicities, genders, ages, lifestyles, ways of telling stories… The list is endless. We’re only just scratching the surface, and it excites me to think of all the stories that are out there just waiting to be told. The goal is to do it with honesty and care and respect. I love watching scenes where I hold my breath for fear of interrupting what’s being said—the moments where you feel like a fly on the wall and you forget it’s all scripted and crafted and you think, “I shouldn’t be watching this extremely private, vulnerable moment between these two people, but my god, is it beautiful. Oh, brilliant. Now I’m crying.”
Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… Music. It’s a massive form of therapy for me. I look back at the songs I’ve written, and it’s like reading a diary. There are few things that bring me more joy than a good harmony, the traditional three parts SAA blended beautifully, and a run of perfect sixths on a piano.
In the last year or so, I started shooting on a 35 mm Pentax MX, and I’ve really been enjoying taking that on-set and cataloging the jobs I’ve done. There’s something exciting about not really knowing for sure how a shot will turn out, and the process of loading the film, winding it, cutting it, and sending it off to get developed is so satisfying. I love the grainy quality of the photos. I think it really brings a different character/ life to them.
Also, bouldering is something I’ve found myself very drawn to. It’s quite difficult to think of anything other than where your hands and feet are going next when you’re halfway up a route that is a little bit harder than your skill set/ability level (damn you, eager ambition!). It’s quite simple: If your mind wanders, you fall. I find it very therapeutic and relaxing to go to the climbing gym for a few hours and just work through the problems on the wall. It’s a great way to clear your head.
One of my favorite looks I’ve worn for a project is… Bea’s purple bomber-type jacket that she wears predominantly in the second half of the series. I love that style and the tartan that was underneath that would peek out when we rolled the sleeves. Our costume designer Edward Gibbon is an absolute genius, and the collection he’s created is just incredible.
However, if you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… A T-shirt, sweats, and trainers. I’m really not fashionable at all! I’m in my own clothes for I’d say a max of 10 minutes at the start and end of every day when I’m at work. I roll out of bed, make it to the car, and then, I’m in my trailer and into costume when I arrive. End of the day, I get changed, I get home, I have dinner, I have a bath, and then, I’m in bed. Glamorous, I know!
The people and/or fashion accounts I love to follow are… Brandi Carlile (@brandicarlile), who is one of my favorite musicians and usually styled by Maryam Malakpour (@maryammalakpour). She can often be found fitted in tailor-made suits. In particular, what she wore to the Newport Folk Festival in 2019 stuns me. I find myself going back to the video of her and Dolly Parton, who Brandi had brought on stage to sing “I Will Always Love You,” and what they’re both wearing just captivates me. They look so strong and powerful and completely at ease. The power of their voices and the emotional pull it has is also what I associate with the image of them standing together in yellow and red.
Shauna Coxsey (@shaunacoxsey) is a world champion British climber and will be competing in the Tokyo Olympics, where her sport is being recognized as an official discipline for the first time. I find her very grounded and honest. She doesn’t take herself too seriously, but when it comes to her work, she’s like a machine. Her mindset is incredible, and I want to be able to transfer the approach she has to her field of work—that work ethic and drive but humility and complete lack of ego—to mine.
My spring wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces…
“One of my all-time favorite musicians Orla Gartland (@orlagartland) has a piece of merch that I wear constantly. I usually roll the sleeves and pair it with high-waisted jeans and a light bomber jacket or my Gandys burnt-orange jacket for the colder days (of which there are many in Ireland).”
“A pair of Tarantulas, chalk, Adidas joggers, a trusty T-shirt, and an open mind and you’re all set for a session at your local wall. A few of my favorite climbing gyms are The Climbing Hangar Liverpool and London and Climbing Center SmíchOff in Prague.”
“‘How r u really’ (@_howrureally_) is a collection crafted by Northern Irish local Jack, who draws from his own journey with mental health and wants to encourage others to open up and share. This is probably one of the softest jumpers I’ve ever owned. It’s made from 100% recycled material, and he donates 20% of the profits to mental health charities who help support those dealing with mental health issues.”