EVAN RACHEL WOOD & THANDIE NEWTON | WESTWORLD
"This is a woman—a power—I recognize," says Thandie Newton of her character, Maeve, an android (or "host") prostitute in the Wild West who, like many of her fellow robots in HBO's Westworld—a theme park where wealthy patrons pay to play out their darkest fantasies—gains sentience and begins to revolt against her overlords. "A lot of people in this world are sleepwalking," she continues, "having our souls beaten out of us. Maeve, in a way, is doing what so many of us wish we could do. And she's fucking naked!" Like Game of Thrones before it, Westworld runs high in sex and violence, and examines why we as humans (and viewers) respond so viscerally to the basest of impulses. It's a series in which the women—like Newton's costar, Emmy-nominated Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Dolores, a host fighting for a life beyond the damsel-in-distress—don't just drive the narrative, but also confront the series' most compelling political and philosophical questions. "I would never be so bold as to think I know exactly what Dolores and Maeve represent," Wood says, "but I think we all struggle to live the way we're told to, that will keep us safe. But they are reminders of the power we have to break free." —Seth Plattner
Wood wears: Embroidered shirt, $5,900, leather pants, $7,150, both, Hermès. Earring, Hearts on Fire, $4,490 (for pair). Bracelet, Tiffany & Co., $10,000. Pumps, Paul Andrew, $675. Newton wears: Embroidered blouse, silk bodysuit, wool skirt, all, Louis Vuitton, prices on request. Earrings, Cartier, $20,300. Bracelet, price on request, ring, $9,000, both, Tiffany & Co. Pumps, Jimmy Choo, $795. Styled by Emily Barnes. Hair by Nicolas Eldin at Art Department for Bumble and Bumble; makeup by Brigitte Reiss-Andersen at the Wall Group; manicure by Nori at ArtList NY for Dior Vernis; produced by Una Simone Harris
ISSA RAE | INSECURE
"I consider myself a mirror—you're seeing a reflection through my lens from conversations with my friends and a lot of my relationships," says Issa Rae of HBO's Insecure, renewed this past November after just a few episodes aired to universal acclaim. Indeed, on the show, bathroom mirrors are revelatory places where, as Rae peers at herself, she breaks into rap verses and hard truths come out. The show matches, with brilliant (and funny) dramatic economy, universal coming-of-age themes with the specific circumstances of young buppies in L.A.
A through-line runs straight to Insecure from the Dorm Diaries mockumentary Rae posted to Facebook in 2007 while majoring in African and African American studies at Stanford. Soon after, her Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl webisodes went viral on YouTube, leading to a best-selling book on that theme in 2015. Insecure, which Rae has created with TV comedy Jedi master Larry Wilmore, spins gold that somehow originates, according to Rae, in the cultural dissonances she encountered during her childhood in (very white) Potomac, Maryland, and adolescence in the prosperous African American community of Windsor Hills, near L.A. That's where she says she learned to draw "inspiration from where I'm most uncomfortable and out of place, and find the humor in that." —Ben Dickinson
Dress, Brandon Maxwell, $2,695, collection at Saks Fifth Avenue, Beverly Hills. White gold and diamond earrings, Messika Paris, $13,200. Patent leather sandals, Giuseppe Zanotti Design, $845. Styled by Sarah Schussheim. Hair by Dennis Gots at the Wall Group for Wella Professionals; makeup by Natasha Severino at Forward Artists for Sisley Paris; manicure by Emi Kudo at Opus Beauty for Chanel
MANDY MOORE | THIS IS US
"I've been doing this since I was 15, and there's been plenty of stuff that's happened in my life and career that I'd like to forget about," says Mandy Moore of her years spent first as a teen pop star and then as an actress (A Walk to Remember, Saved!). "But I don't begrudge any of it—it led to where I am now." That kind of full-circle introspection is also at the heart of NBC's massively successful (it's the most-watched new show on TV) and heartfelt family drama This Is Us, in which she plays Rebecca Pearson, matriarch of a Pittsburgh family that also includes dad Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) and their triplet kids (two biological, one adopted). The show, which flashes backward and forward as the Pearsons deal with racism, weight issues, and shifting cultural norms, requires Moore to deftly jump from a 27-year-old new mother to a present-day 66-year-old grandma (which requires four hours of makeup). A bonus: She also, on occasion, gets to sing, say, a Linda Ronstadt tune. "To be part of a show that's hopeful and provides escape for people, but is grounded and about family—it just feels really lucky." —Cotton Codinha
Sequin dress, Dolce & Gabbana, price on request, at select Dolce & Gabbana boutiques nationwide. Styled by Sarah Schussheim. Hair by Charles McNair at Jed Root for R+Co; makeup by Natasha Severino at Forward Artists for Tom Ford; manicure by Tracy Clemens at Opus Beauty for Chanel; produced by Brandon Zagha
SOPHIE TURNER & MAISIE WILLIAMS | GAME OF THRONES
Once Sophie Turner learned she'd landed the role of Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones, "I had this childish excitement that it would be massive," she says. But after the first season wrapped, she said her good-byes on set, since "it was ambiguous if people would respond to the show." The answer has since become abundantly clear, of course, as Thrones, a fantastical epic packed with fire-breathing dragons, ice zombies, and graphic bloodletting, has become a bona fide pop-culture craze. In no small part, that is due to the fiercely powerful performances given by Turner, 20, and Maisie Williams, 19, who plays Sansa's sister, Arya.
From the start, both young women possessed serious magnetism. But over the last six seasons, they've also artfully embodied characters coming of age in a gruesomely violent world and being transformed by their experiences. Sansa, once slightly spoiled, was raped by her husband in a much-discussed scene in season five—"I was pleased it caused an uproar," Turner says. "That's a dialogue we need to have"—and she's since become a steel-spined realist able to outmaneuver just about anyone on the battlefield and beyond. As for the future, "The training wheels have come off," Turner says. "Sansa's ready to take on the threats that await." For Arya's part, she's gone from rebellious kid to skilled swordswoman (with a kill list!), though she remains quick with a comeback. "When I meet fans, they're disappointed I don't come at them with a sassy one-liner," Williams says. "Playing Arya, I can pretend I'm that girl."
The two actresses' story lines haven't crossed since season one, but in real life, they FaceTime daily. "We're like an old married couple," Turner says. One, that is, with matching "07.08.09" tattoos (for the day they landed their roles) who dressed up for Halloween in Brownie uniforms with marijuana-leaf patches. Pot brownies, get it? —Molly Langmuir
Turner wears: Cashmere sweater, $1,250, embroidered-tulle skirt, price on request, cotton-knit panty, $840, gold-finished metal ring, $240, all, DIOR, at Dior boutiques nationwide.
Williams wears: Ciré coat, $3,345, cotton poplin top, $745, both, Miu Miu, visit miumiu.com. Stylist's own belt. Hair by Joe McGivern at Morgan the Agency for Leon Gorman hair care; makeup by Ashley O'Rourke; manicure by Niamh Carey at Tropical Popical
AMERICA FERRERA | SUPERSTORE
America Ferrera knows something about playing the straight woman in the midst of absurdity. After all, she spent four years as the sincere, smart fish-out-of-water Betty in Ugly Betty, bobbing along in her clashing sweater vests in a sea of fashion sharks. On NBC's Superstore, she is Amy, the rule-following nine-to-fiver attempting to rein in an assortment of oddballs at that very 2017 crossroads of America, the big-box store. "It's every kind of person you can imagine," Ferrera says, "from working-class America to corporate America. That's a potent intersection to mine for comedy." Season two has tackled rigged elections, diminishing wages, and unionizing the staff, and finds Amy galvanizing employees to develop a louder voice for justice. "I get to be a representative of millions of people who maybe feel underrepresented," says Ferrera, the activist daughter of Honduran immigrants, who spoke passionately about sexism and discrimination at last year's DNC. She relishes playing characters brand-new to the landscape—like Ana Garcia in the 2002 movie Real Women Have Curves. Ana, Ferrera says, "spoke to so many people who'd never really seen themselves on a movie screen before. That's a huge opportunity and something I'm really grateful for." —Cotton Codinha
Cotton and viscose dress, Bottega Veneta, price on request, call 800-845-6790. Silk and lace bra, Fleur of England, $117. Rose gold, diamond, and malachite ring, Bulgari, $3,200. Gold ring, Hueb, $1,420. Styled by Sarah Schussheim. Hair by Dennis Gots at the Wall Group for Wella Professionals; makeup by Natasha Severino at Forward Artists for Sisley Paris; manicure by Emi Kudo at Opus Beauty for Chanel
THE CAST OF RIVERDALE
"You didn't see Betty taking Adderall, or Archie having an affair with a teacher," says Lili Reinhart (right), 20, who, along with Brazilian actress Camila Mendes, 22, will step into the iconic roles (and rivalry) of Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, respectively, in Riverdale, the CW's slightly sinister reimagining of the happy-go-lucky world of vintage cars and varsity jackets. "Those characters weren't three-dimensional people," says Reinhart, a Cleveland native who landed the job after a handful of indie roles. "That's what our show does. It brings a darkness." Her girl-next-door(ish) Betty indeed finds her foil in snarky wordsmith Veronica, who channels a "fearlessness and sarcasm," says Mendes, a 2016 grad of NYU Tisch School of the Arts, "as well as some pretty witty, pop-culture-charged dialogue." Add to the mix New Zealand actor K. J. Apa (left) as the now sexed-up redhead Archie Andrews, and Cole Sprouse (worlds away from his Disney-kid days as Cody on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) as Jughead Jones—reborn as a budding journalist dead-set on solving the murder of a Riverdale High student. "Archie just celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary," Reinhart says. Their job: amping up the beloved love triangle just enough, as Reinhart says, to "bring it to a young audience like me." —Brianna Kovan
On Mendes, left: Marabou jacket, Sonia Rykiel, $1,810. Embroidered bralette, 3.1 Phillip Lim, $225. Crepe pants, Prabal Gurung, $1,295. Rings, both, Van Cleef & Arpels, $2,700-$9,950 each. On Reinhart, right: Wool jacket, Dior, $4,300. Lace dress, Dolce & Gabbana, $1,895. Cotton panty, Araks, $42. Ring, Shay Fine Jewelry, $2,090. On Apa, left: Leather jacket, Gucci, $5,380. Cotton T-shirt, Levi's, $28. Jeans, A.P.C., $210. On Sprouse, right: Cotton sweater, Off-White c/o Virgil Abloh, $1,100. Jeans, Burberry, $595. Styled by Sarah Schussheim. Hair by Charles McNair at Jed Root for R+Co; makeup by Natasha Severino at Forward Artists for Tom Ford; manicure by Tracy Clemens at Opus Beauty for Chanel; produced by Brandon Zagha
IN WITH THE NEW: BEHOLD SIX OF THE SMALL SCREEN'S FRESHEST TALENTS
VANESSA KIRBY, THE CROWN (NETFLIX)
As Princess Margaret, Kirby brings emotional availability to Netflix's behind-the-curtain look at England's otherwise buttoned-up royal family. To her, that comes naturally: "Standing opposite Ben Whishaw [in] on my first take—I was shaking. When I was young, I put a picture of him as Hamlet on my wall."
SARAH RAMOS, MIDNIGHT, TEXAS (NBC)
Ramos, former Parenthood teen Haddie Braverman, dives into the darker side of TV as the mysterious Creek in this supernatural drama. "Creek is a nice departure from Haddie. Everyone in Midnight has secrets. I'm excited for the lid to get blown off."
ANNA DIOP, 24: LEGACY (FOX)
On Fox's 24 reboot, Senegalese actress Diop plays a steely military wife whose husband (Straight Outta Compton's Corey Hawkins) is embroiled in an antiterror fight. "She's a woman who doesn't tolerate disrespect, which we need to see in our wives; don't just leave them at home freaking out over their husbands."
GENEVIEVE ANGELSON, GOOD GIRLS REVOLT (AMAZON)
Angelson's Patti Robinson is a free spirit leading the fight for equality in a male-dominated newsroom. Pre-newsroom: "I was a pig trainer on Beasts of the Southern Wild—basically a student film made by everyone I went to college with. I had no experience, but I bought a book and learned that pigs, who will trample siblings for food, are just actors trying to get a job."
JUDE DEMOREST, STAR (FOX)
She leads Lee Daniels's newest drama about a girl group trying to make it in the Atlanta music scene. "Star is hard to love. She's honest—sometimes when she doesn't need to be. I'm a girl like her. I understand why she's misunderstood."
YETIDE BADAKI, AMERICAN GODS (STARZ)
Badaki—a Nigerian princess who moved to the U.S. at age 12—plays Bilquis, an ancient goddess who finds herself living among modern-day American mortals. "The show is really an immigration story, with questions of identity and finding one's place. Bilquis is a survivor. She understands the idea of adapt or die."
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of ELLE.
From left, on Kirby: Blazer, $2,895, waistcoat, $895, trousers, $995, all, Dolce & Gabbana. Sandals, Giuseppe Zanotti Design. On Ramos: Dress, Rag & Bone, $550. Shirt, Michael Kors Collection, $495. Mules, Giuseppe Zanotti Design. On Diop: Tunic, $3,350, pants, $1,190, both, Dion Lee. Sandals, Jimmy Choo. On Angelson: Dress, $3,850, ankle boots, $950, all, Fendi. Rings, both, Bulgari. On Demorest: Tank, Isabel Marant, $200. Trousers, Carven, $890. Bracelet, Pomellato. Ankle boots, Louis Vuitton. On Badaki: Dress, Chloé, $1,495. Sandals, Christian Louboutin. Styled by Sarah Schussheim. Hair by Charles McNair at Jed Root for R+Co; makeup by Natasha Severino at Forward Artists for Tom Ford; manicure by Tracy Clemens at Opus Beauty for Chanel; produced by Brandon Zagha