The 5 Performances Consuming Our Brains This Summer

With May gray extending into June gloom, it’s been a bit sad here in Los Angeles lately. But it’s nothing a new wave of vibrant performances can’t cure. Sure, we’ve spent more time indoors in recent weeks than we care to admit, but it’s given us a chance to catch up on some fantastic viewing before the beautiful beaches, backyard BBQs, and warm-weather getaways really start calling our names. Just in time for our next installment of Ones to Watch, we’ve scoured the streamers, summer film slate, and Broadway theaters for this season’s most talented up-and-comers and the future of Hollywood. No big deal. 

Today, we’re highlighting five actors delivering dynamic performances across the screen and stage, and because we love a great shopping recommendation, we’ve also asked them to share their summer must-haves. So let’s get to it. These are the young women to have on your radar right now!


(Image credit: Sarah Krick)

WHO: Ashley Brooke

WHAT: National Geographic’s A Small Light

You’ve heard the story of Anne Frank—the German-born Jewish girl who kept a diary documenting her life in hiding under Nazi persecution—but what about Miep Gies, the Dutch woman who risked her life to shelter the Frank family? Her incredible real-life story is finally being told in the National Geographic miniseries A Small Light. The eight-episode drama, which is now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu, is not only a fantastic and moving watch, but it also features must-see performances from Bel Powley as the extraordinarily courageous Miep, Liev Schreiber as Otto Frank, and newcomer Ashley Brooke as Margot Frank, Anne’s older sister. Keep your eyes on Brooke. The New Jersey native, who started her acting career on Broadway in Doctor Zhivago and is currently studying film at the University of Southern California, is just getting started, but from what we’ve seen so far, she’s sure to have an exciting career ahead. 

I feel so grateful to be part of a project like A Small Light because… It’s an honor to share the incredible story of the unsung heroes Miep and Jan Gies, who risked everything to help hide the Frank family during the Holocaust. This series takes a fresh perspective to tell an important piece of history with the goal of inspiring us to follow our moral compass, stand for what’s right, and help others out whenever possible. A Small Light is also so meaningful to my family because I am Jewish, and my grandmother is a Holocaust survivor. After my grandmother was taken from her home to the concentration camps, she met several people who helped her survive. Parallelling my grandmother’s story, Miep helped the Frank family. I am truly grateful to help bring Miep’s story of selflessness, courage, and kindness to light. 

One of the things I was intrigued to learn about Margot Frank and her family while working on this series was… How resilient they were by fighting the Nazi regime in their own small ways. The Frank family not only continued to practice Judaism in the Secret Annex while in hiding, but they also found ways to celebrate their religion even in the face of fear. One of my favorite scenes from the series is when the Frank family is celebrating Hanukkah despite it being illegal to do so at the time.

Working alongside the likes of Liev Schreiber and Bel Powley on the show was… Like an acting master class! They are not only such talented actors but also so warm and grounded. I have learned so much from them on and off set and have been inspired by their unwavering work ethic. I loved working with them!

The stories that make me feel excited to work in this industry… [Make] me think, reflect, and grow. My favorite stories are ones that continue to hold my attention well beyond after I’ve watched them. Even in subtle ways, these stories strike a chord with me and cause me to reflect on their lessons for sometimes days or even weeks after consuming them. Those are the stories I hope to tell, ones that really resonate with people. I have a whole dream board of people and projects I would love to work on. 

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… Script writing and directing, both of which I’m currently studying at USC. I also enjoy singing and writing songs! I love musical theater, including memorizing every lyric of Hamilton. Fun fact: I was classically trained at Manhattan School of Music while I was in high school, where I truly learned to capture my inner Renée Fleming. In the summer, I also love to swim and go tubing in the ocean. And most importantly, my true passion in life is taking my dog Chloe on walks. 

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… A comfy sweater, ripped jeans, and white sneakers … or a set of matching sweats. 

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… A cute sundress or a flowy skirt! Especially in the summer, these are essentials in my closet. 

My summer wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces…


(Image credit: Hunterhead Studio)

WHO: Talitha Wing

WHAT: The FX reboot of The Full Monty

When The Full Monty—a British comedy about a group of unemployed steelworkers from Sheffield who bare all when they form a male striptease act—hit theaters in 1997, it was a surprise smash hit. Twenty-six years later, FX is getting the gang back together for an eight-episode series. The show has the same unassuming charm and fun as the film with some fresh faces joining the original cast. Talitha Wing makes quite the impression as Destiny, the troubled teen daughter of Gaz (Robert Carlyle) who is trying to separate herself from her bad school reputation while rekindling a relationship with her father. She is very much the heartbeat of the show. The project marks Wing’s debut leading role in a TV series, and if her performance is any indication, we’ll be seeing a lot more from the actor, writer, and published poet in the years to come.

When I first heard FX was rebooting the smash hit The Full Monty I was very intrigued to see how this iconic British film was going to be transformed into an eight-part TV series 25 years on. It’s such a unique concept, especially having the original cast, writer, and producer on board after all this time has passed. For an audience, stepping back into that world as well as meeting the younger Monty generation would be an absolute treat. For me, getting to be a part of that as an actor feels like a dream.

What I love about my character Destiny is… I love Destiny’s power. She is a powerhouse of a young woman. She carries so much resilience and strength within her. I also love her self-expression through her clothes, hair, and music. She’s not one to follow a crowd. She likes what she likes and is unapologetic about it—even if that sometimes gets her in a bit of trouble…

Some of my favorite moments filming this project include… Getting to work with actors who have been in the industry for much longer than I have and being able to learn from them and watch them work. In this project, I also got to do so many cool things, like smash a car windscreen with a skateboard, steal a car, work with dogs and pigeons, learn how to rap… The list goes on. I really got to push myself out of my comfort zone. Working in Sheffield was also so fun. It is a magical place with magical people!

The stories that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… Definitely the often untold ones. The forgotten stories, silenced stories, ones that maybe haven’t been considered as important, whether that is because they come from underrepresented or marginalised groups or even lost periods of history. I want to be at the forefront of telling those stories. Not just in a way that focuses on pain or suffering but also wanting to celebrate all the wonderful things that haven’t yet been celebrated on-screen or in theatre.

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… Writing poetry, finding the best vegan desserts, and dancing.

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… Anything comfortable! Loose and stretchy trousers, oversize T-shirts (often with a political slogan on them), and always at least five rings.

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… A funky pattern, clashing colours, [and] anything slightly left of centre and eye-catching.

My summer wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces…


(Image credit: Joseph Sinclair; Styling: Natalie Roar; Hair: Pete Burkill; Makeup: Brooke Turnbull)

WHO: Jess Alexander

WHAT: Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid

After much debate and anticipation, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, starring Halle Bailey, was a success. Audiences loved Bailey’s charming portrayal of Ariel (those vocals!), but there was another character that stole the film—Vanessa, Ursula’s human persona. English actress Jess Alexander fully committed to the villainous role, with director Rob Marshall saying, "It’s sort of rare for someone that beautiful and charismatic to be able to then turn into the sea witch literally in front of you and just lose it. It was exciting to see that change.” It’s that kind of transformation that makes Alexander a thrilling young talent to have on your radar. You can see Disney’s The Little Mermaid at home for the first time only on digital July 25. 

Stepping into the shoes of Vanessa was… Terrifying, exhilarating, and nothing short of a full-circle moment for me. Vanessa was one of my favourite cartoon characters growing up, so it felt incredibly surreal and still does. It was also a huge challenge, though, to deliver a performance that did her justice, as she’s such a hidden-gem, fan-favourite character.

I would say a common misconception of Vanessa is… That she’s just trying to steal someone’s man! Of course, that’s quite literally what she seems to do, but neither Ursula nor Vanessa cares about men. They want to wreak havoc, be evil, and look fabulous doing it. Not that I agree with her intentions, but Prince Eric was just getting in the way of her master plan! 

My favorite moment filming this project was… Trying on Vanessa’s black lingerie outfit for the first time for the screen tests. I instantly felt so womanly and powerful. Colleen Atwood really is a fashion genius when it comes to these costumes, and she helped me step into that role with so much confidence. 

The stories that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… Usually the small everyday things. I love hearing about random funny stuff that happens on set, how something that didn’t quite work on paper came to life when something "clicked” in an actor’s brain, or listening to my friends talk about their characters and all the amazing people they met when they’re wrapped and back home. That kind of stuff is why we get into all this.

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… Reading, writing, fashion, knitting, walking, training—anything that stimulates me creatively, physically, or emotionally. I think all actors who are truly in love with acting will happily admit that their main passion and purpose is storytelling, but we all need to find other outlets to keep ourselves fulfilled and busy when we’re not filming or rehearsing. That in itself has been a huge journey for me, and I learn more about myself every day with that.

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… A black minidress and leather boots.

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… A good thrift store in a new city. If I go somewhere new, I’m leaving part of my suitcase empty and finding the best vintage store I can. 

My summer wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces…


(Image credit: Stephanie Diani; Styling: Sarah Slutsky; Hair: Marco Santini using Color Wow at Walter Schupfer Management; Makeup: Marie-Josée Leduc using Odièle for Exclusive Artists Management)

WHO: Millicent Simmonds

WHAT: The new Broadway thriller Grey House

If you find yourself in New York City this summer, make sure you add the Broadway show Grey House to your itinerary. Directed by two-time Tony winner Joe Mantello (Wicked, The Humans), the eerie thriller, which opened at the Lyceum Theatre on May 30, delivers a hauntingly good tale with plenty of spooks and some heart too. When a couple crashes their car in the mountains, they take refuge in a decrepit, isolated cabin in the woods and soon discover their hosts, a "mother” and her five curious kids, may not be who they seem. Starring alongside the likes of Tatiana Maslany and Laurie Metcalf is Millicent Simmonds in her Broadway debut as the intuitive Bernie. Best known for her critically acclaimed role in the A Quiet Place franchise, the deaf actress and BAFTA EE Rising Star nominee is proving her talents extend way beyond the screen with a truly fantastic performance in the show.

What excited me most about Grey House is… How unique and ambitious it was. The story fascinated me. It’s not your typical feel-good or sing-and-dance Broadway show. When I read the script, I had a visceral reaction. I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of it. 

I would describe my character Bernie as… Very intuitive. She’s gentle, deliberate, [and] watchful, and I think she understands the house more than anyone else. 

One of the things that I love about performing on Broadway is… The live audience! I didn’t realize how much we played off of them. It’s a rush every night. I love hearing screams and gasps coming from the audience. There is an energy that you don’t get on a film set. It fuels the whole cast. 

The stories that make me feel excited to work in this industry are… The stories that make me feel something. The stories that convey the human experience as opposed to just being entertained. It doesn’t matter if it’s happy or sad. Stories that teach me something, whether it’s about a different lived experience or a different culture. I think we’ve been telling stories from the same perspective for too long. We need to branch out. There are so many more stories to tell. 

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include… Books. I’m an avid reader. I love traveling. I love yoga. I love art. I love coffee. I’m passionate about a lot of things. Most of them are pretty simple.  

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing… My favorite vintage jeans, a David Bowie T-shirt, a baseball cap, and my black Chuck Taylors.

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for… A wicked pair of heels and a cute clutch. I love Manolo Blahnik, Louboutin, Gucci, and Valentino, among others. You can be in jeans, a cute top, and a pair of bright heels, and a cute clutch changes the whole vibe. 

My summer wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces…


(Image credit: Liam Butler-Schafer; Hair: David von Cannon; Makeup: Quinn Murphy)

WHO: Vivian Olyphant

WHAT: The American Western crime drama Justified: City Primeval

When it came time to cast the 15-year-old daughter of beloved Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens for the FX miniseries Justified: City Primeval, Timothy Olyphant had a great idea. Why not his real-life daughter? Though showrunners Dave Andron and Michael Dinner were initially hesitant, Vivian Olyphant blew them away with her audition, and the role of hard-headed Willa Givens was rightfully hers. The part marks Vivian Olyphant’s on-screen debut, and it’s clear from the beginning that acting runs in her blood. As she’s currently studying acting in New York, we expect an exciting future for this star on the rise.

Making my screen debut on a series like Justified: City Primeval was… The thrill of a lifetime and way better than my job last summer (dog walking).

I really connected with my character Willa Givens, in that… Her dad and my dad look strikingly similar.

The great advice my dad gave me going into filming was "Just do what I say.”

The stories that make me feel excited to work in this industry are The ones that are both funny and truthful. My favorite performances are by actors who can be dramatic and comedic all at once—just like life!

Outside of acting, some of my other passions include Songwriting. I went to Berklee College of Music for one year to study songwriting. We filmed Justified the summer after my freshman year. By the end of shooting, I decided to drop out of Berklee and move to New York to study acting. I wanted to dive deeper into the craft. I’m still writing, though, and will be releasing an EP soon!

If you catch me off duty, chances are I’m wearing An oversize hoodie. I like feeling that people think I stole it from my (nonexistent) boyfriend’s closet.

When it comes to fashion, I’m a total sucker for Comfort! If it’s not comfortable, I’m not wearing it.

My summer wardrobe would not be complete without these three pieces…

Executive Director, Entertainment

Jessica Baker is Who What Wear’s Executive Director, Entertainment, where she ideates, books, writes, and edits celebrity and entertainment features.