Lupita Nyong'o - Black Panther

Weekend Roundtable: From Indie to Payday

After her Oscar win for Room, Brie Larson jumped right into the gargantuan Kong: Skull Island and is now headlining a mega-budget Marvel superhero flick. Our Roundtable this week looks at other actors who’ve made the leap from indie acclaim to blockbuster stardom.

David Krauss

Though opportunities for black actresses are growing (it’s about frickin’ time!), you can’t blame Lupita Nyong’o for taking advantage of and – dare I say it – cashing in on her Oscar win. After winning a well-deserved statuette for 12 Years a Slave, she soon joined the Star Wars franchise (I mean, who wouldn’t?) as the CGI performance capture character Maz Kanata. Of course, now she’s adding much-needed class to Marvel movies with her portrayal of Nakia in Black Panther. The cool thing about Nyong’o is that she manages to maintain her integrity in these comic book roles by taking them just as seriously as more complex and demanding parts. Her presence also helps lend such popcorn fare a dramatic legitimacy it otherwise lacks.

Jason Gorber

12 Years a Slave may not have been Lupita Nyong’o‘s first movie, but the Oscar winning film catapulted the actress to the world’s attention thanks to the riveting portrayal she gave. Her career since then has seen her become part of some the largest franchises in the world, from a mo-cap character in Star Wars: The Force Awakens to another Best Picture nominee, Black Panther. She’s a talent with enormous range and capability, illustrating that no canvas, be it big or small, can’t be made more wonderful with the addition of her contribution.

Brian Hoss

In the late 90’s, Ewan McGregor‘s film career was very indie, with obvious standouts Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. When he elected to join the cast of The Phantom Menace, that trajectory changed forever. Further movies like Moulin Rouge!, Black Hawk Down, and The Island set up a career that has never shied away from would-be blockbusters.

M. Enois Duarte

Although Josh Brolin‘s career dates as far back as the mid-’80s and includes several Oscar-worthy performances, such as No Country for Old Men and W., his nomination as Dan White in Milk brought him a great deal of attention and perhaps even some clout within the film industry. A few years later, he landed the uncredited role of Thanos for an after-credits sequence in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. As his popularity flourished and fan reaction to the powerful villain grew, Brolin started becoming a household name, going on to also become the face of Cable in Deadpool 2 in the same year as Avengers: Infinity War. He’ll next be in an adaptation of X-Force directed by Drew Goddard.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

At the 78th Academy Awards, Amy Adams was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her exceptionally memorable performance in the $1 million indie drama Junebug. Five months later, she was the love interest in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a comedy with a price tag so staggering that it could fund more than seventy Junebugs. The following year, Adams was transformed into a Disney princess in the even more lavishly budgeted Enchanted.

To be fair, it’s not as if the world of big-budget cinema was completely alien to Adams. She appeared in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can several years prior to her first Oscar nomination. Nor has she left the indie world (or, at least, the prestige arms of the major studios) behind altogether, with several of her five subsequent Academy Award nominations stemming from modestly budgeted films. Still, Adams has certainly made the most of the opportunities afforded by that first nomination, from starring alongside a gaggle of Muppets to playing Lois Lane in two DC blockbusters. She’s invariably the best thing about every project she’s associated with. She’s deftly avoided allowing herself to be pigeonholed into a particular type of role, and I’m excited to see which film will at long last be the one that has Adams walking away with one of those golden statuettes.

Josh Zyber

It was producer Jerry Bruckheimer who came up with the ingenious idea of hiring acclaimed and award-winning indie stars to lend some credibility to his monstrous action movie spectacles. Mostly known for quirky roles in little movies like Vampire’s Kiss and Wild at Heart, Nicolas Cage walked away with an Oscar for portraying a suicidal alcoholic in the micro-budget Leaving Las Vegas. The buzz surrounding that was all it took for Bruckheimer to scoop him up and cast him as the lead in a project that couldn’t be more dissimilar – Michael Bay’s bombastic action bonanza The Rock.

The combination was such a success that Bruckheimer brought Cage back for Con Air the following year, paired with other unlikely action stars including John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, and John Malkovich. The formula continued to pay off in projects like Armageddon (Buscemi plus Good Will Hunting star Ben Affleck), Gone in 60 Seconds (Cage again, with Angelina Jolie fresh off her Oscar for Girl, Interrupted), and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Penélope Cruz, and more).

These days, it’s pretty much established that any bloated tentpole movie will need to be anchored by a respectable actor or two.

Your Turn

What other stars have you watched cash in on their indie success with big payday roles?


  1. photogdave

    Adam Driver came off TV roles and indie films like Frances Ha and Inside Llewyn Davis to play the key villain in the third Star Wars trilogy. Pretty big Force Leap!

    • EM

      Yes, itʼs humbling to realize that these talents in the art of superstardom once sold themselves to the demeaning world of low‐budget, low‐audience, low‐revenue cinema while on the path to the glory they so rightfully deserved! 😉

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