16 Breakout TV Stars of 2022: Meghann Fahy, Jenna Ortega & More

Meghann Fahy; Sam Reid & Jacob Anderson; Jenna Ortega
HBO; AMC; Netflix

TV contributed a slew of obsession-worthy stories to our cultural zeitgeist this year (has any recent show revived our collective excitement for appointment viewing more than The White Lotus?) But only some acting performances stand out from the rest.

Among the many end-of-year roundups you’re inevitably going to see, allow us to take you through the TV performances we think turned actors into bonafide stars in 2022. Here, we list 16 acting performances that caught our eye and captivated audiences this year.

Some of these shows marked debut TV roles for certain stars, and others came in as new characters to a continuous series. Some have been seen in perhaps multiple series over the years (some of them record-breaking and Emmy-winning). But their roles below have broken them out of the supporting field and into main character territory (and introduced them to larger audiences in a memorable way). We predict these faces will continue to be seen in starring roles from here on out. And if not, these should be their vehicles to that destination.

To be considered for this roundup, the performer cannot be widely known for a previous role. For example, Olivia Cooke is great in House of the Dragon, but she already had a beloved series regular role on Bates Motel and led other films. Conversely, Jacob Anderson was memorable as Grey Worm in Game of Thrones, but his star turn in Interview With the Vampire will be a career-defining role. Also, Jeremy Allen White‘s performance in The Bear is his best yet, but Lip Gallagher (Shameless) cannot be ignored.

One performance we’d particularly like to highlight who couldn’t be listed below is Chaske Spencer (known for playing Sam Uley in the Twilight franchise), whose acting in The English is some of the best Prime Video has to offer.

Without further ado, here are the TV Insider staff’s picks for breakout acting performances of 2022, in no particular order, plus the scenes that cemented their spots on the list.

Sam Reid & Jacob Anderson in 'Interview With the Vampire'
Alfonso Bresciani/AMC

Jacob Anderson & Sam Reid in Interview With the Vampire

There’s no separating Louis and Lestat. Jacob Anderson delivered his best onscreen performance to date in the IWTV pilot. His deliciously brooding Louis anchored the series’ flashbacks while managing to give his grief over losing his biological family and precious daylight a rolling presence. Present-day Louis was chillingly tranquil in talks with Eric Bogosian‘s Daniel Molloy, but the old Louis was brewing underneath his threatening living-dead facade all the while.

Favorite Scene: Anderson could win an Emmy for his confessional booth monologue in Episode 1 alone (the dark gift scene as a whole is one of 2022’s best-acted and directed sequences). It’s staggering how much exposition is successfully covered in the pilot, and Anderson expertly handled the task of establishing most of it. — Kelli Boyle

The flamboyant, frightening Lestat is the perfect foil to Anderson’s Louis. Sam Reid‘s vampire is cruel, obsessive, and at times incredibly charming and funny, and Reid plays Lestat’s sublime bitchiness with glee. While this is not Reid’s first role, this is the part that has introduced him to larger audiences. Watching him skip into rooms, pout adorably when he doesn’t get his way, and fly into violent, terrifying rages on the AMC series is a sheer joy. 

Favorite Scene: In Episode 6, Lestat menaces Claudia by puppeteering a train conductor’s decapitated head. Reid moving the jaw, putting on an American accent, and advancing on a terrified Claudia is both hilarious and genuinely chilling. “Claudia, you left without saying goodbye… again” is one of the year’s best line deliveries. — Leah Williams

(Honorable mention to Bailey Bass, who handled Claudia’s episode-by-episode maturation with impressively adept skill.)

Meghann Fahy and Will Sharpe in 'The White Lotus' Season 2
Fabio Lovino/HBO

Meghann Fahy in The White Lotus Season 2

In a season filled with tension and mystery, Meghann Fahy‘s Daphne seemed as carefree as possible despite having every reason not to be. While Fahy’s role as the wife of rich jerk Cameron (Theo James) could have been superficial, the actress added great depth and nuance to some of the quieter and subtler moments that revealed Daphne for who she really was. Whether it was her suggestive conversation with Harper (Aubrey Plaza) revealing an apparent affair with her trainer or the ability to absorb potentially damaging information about her husband with a smile on her face, Fahy rose above her peers in a stellar season of television, giving The Bold Type‘s former star the recognition she deserves.

Favorite Scene: When Ethan (Will Sharpe) tells Daphne that something might have happened between Harper and Cameron in the finale. — Meaghan Darwish

Gaten Matarazzo and Joseph Quinn in 'Stranger Things' Season 4
Courtesy of Netflix

Joseph Quinn in Stranger Things Season 4

In his one season on the show, Eddie became a fan-favorite, to the point that many are hoping that his death is a fake-out. (I can’t blame anyone for that, though it is very unlikely.) And that’s due to Joseph Quinn’s performance, making Eddie a character you rooted for, rather than saw as competition for Steve (Joe Keery) for Dustin’s (Gaten Matarazzo) friendship. He was a joy to see onscreen, fitting in perfectly with the Hawkins gang. Oh, and that metal performance of Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” in the Upside Down? Quinn was a large part of why it was as enjoyable as it was.

Favorite Scene: As much as we love the rock performance, we have to call out Quinn’s work as Eddie sacrifices himself in the Upside Down. — Meredith Jacobs

Iman Vellani in 'Ms. Marvel'
Marvel Studios

Iman Vellani in Ms. Marvel

Ms. Marvel is one of the only Marvel Studios TV shows that does not co-star or cameo a preexisting character to usher in a newcomer or serve as an adversarial force. As such, Iman Vellani (in her first-ever acting role) is forced to carry this show on her shoulders as Kamala Khan, and she does so exceptionally well with great wit and charm. Fitted with a fresh cast of young actors and a New Jersey setting, the show felt like the television equivalent of the Spider-Man MCU film trilogy, but with much more nuance, culture, and generational conflict resolution at the forefront. The show will tie into the upcoming film, The Marvels, starring Vellani alongside Brie Larson (Carol Danvers) and Teyonah Parris (Monica Rambeau) from WandaVision, and we’d be lying if we said Vellani wasn’t the main headliner for us.

Favorite Scene: The continuous shot in Episode 1 where Kamala is talking about her costume both looks great and encapsulates the show’s tone. — Isaac Rouse

Jenna Ortega in 'Wednesday'
Courtesy of Netflix

Jenna Ortega in Wednesday

Jenna Ortega may have been a child star, but she became a household name in 2022 with her role as the iconic Addams Family daughter in Netflix‘s Wednesday. Learning cello and fencing for her goth role, Ortega took her role in stride, embracing the macabre like a fish to water. Collaborating with Tim Burton surely helped but at the end of the day, it was Ortega’s show and viewers ate up every second. Sure, she may have featured in You and starred in 2022’s Scream, but already Wednesday Addams has become a career-defining role for the actress who earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance. That’s the marking of a true breakout if we ever saw one.

Favorite Scene: Wednesday’s now-iconic dance routine to The Cramps’ “Goo Goo Muck.” — Meaghan Darwish

Emma D'Arcy in 'House of the Dragon'
Ollie Upton/HBO

Emma D'Arcy in House of the Dragon

Emma D’Arcy had appeared in some small series and films before House of the Dragon. The Game of Thrones prequel has made theirs an instantly recognizable face (and a Negroni Sbagliato the fall’s most ordered cocktail — oh, stunnin’!). Picking up years after where Milly Alcock‘s left off, D’Arcy’s Rhaenyra Targaryen was entertainingly egotistical with a balance of cool masculine and feminine energy. They carried the full context of Alcock’s performance throughout while showing us where their Rhaenyra is now. The elder royal is much more discreet and calculating, with D’Arcy revealing the most about the character’s evolution in unspoken moments.

Favorite Scene: That last frame after Rhaenyra’s son is killed is a doozy, but the crown must go to the continuous shot where Rhaenyra drags her beleaguered postpartum self to step-mother/former best friend Alicent’s chambers, who demanded to see the baby. — Kelli Boyle

Chanté Adams in 'A League of Their Own'
Nicole Goode/Prime Video

Chanté Adams in A League of Their Own

In a show full of excellent performances, Chanté Adams stands out in Prime Video’s A League of Their Own. Maxine “Max” Chapman is funniest in scenes where her stubbornness gets the best of her, and she has excellent chemistry with Gbemisola Ikumelo (who was very nearly on this list) as her wonderful best friend, Clance. Max’s mother doesn’t understand her love of baseball. She also doesn’t know Max is a lesbian. Adams is heartbreaking as she alternates between reaching out to her mother and pulling back. And her relentless pursuit of playing professional baseball makes Adams easy to root for.

Favorite Scene: As Max grapples with her sexuality, she also gets to know her uncle, Bertie, who’s been shunned by the family for being trans. In Episode 6, Bertie stops by Max and Clance’s house to drop off a suit and extend a party invitation. Max is cold toward Bertie, embarrassed in front of Clance. Bertie leaves, hurt, and Max’s face while Clance hugs her and says, “It’s not your fault your aunt’s a freak,” is devastating. — Leah Williams

Tramell Tillman in 'Severance'
Apple TV+

Tramell Tillman in Severance

Severance was filled with its fair share of tense situations and close calls, and while Patricia Arquette‘s Harmony Cobel was threatening as Mark’s (Adam Scott) Lumon department head, it was Cobel’s right-hand man Milchick (Tramell Tillman) who was truly terrifying. Between interfering with employees in their Outie form at home with their kids and hosting office parties under erratically dancing lights, Tillman’s powerful performance had just enough mystery to leave viewers wondering what kind of secrets Milchick is hiding, and in a series featuring stars like Scott, John Turturro, and Christopher Walken, Tillman was a clear standout.

Favorite Scene: The panic in Milchick’s performance when he discovers the Lumon employees have broken out of their Innie personas off hours is palpably good. — Meaghan Darwish

Morfydd Clark (L) & Ismael Cruz Córdova (R) in 'The Rings of Power'
Ben Rothstein/Prime Video

Morfydd Clark & Ismael Cruz Córdova in The Rings of Power

The Rings of Power‘s Galadriel is far different from J.R.R. Tolkien’s regal Elf in some ways, but at her core is the same bargaining between light and dark for which the character is known. Morfydd Clark encapsulates Galadriel’s ethereal power — and her inextricably linked predisposition to abuse it — with tension, wisdom, and youthful arrogance in a season-long performance that never ceases to captivate. Her hero’s journey from seeking out the destruction of evil to being tested with the offer of its reins is what fantasy epics are made of. The show’s creators opted against casting household-name actors in RoP, and because of Clark, we’re so glad they did.

Favorite Scene: The entrance to Valinor in the series premiere, as Galadriel internally battles with what she wants and what she knows is right. She has no lines, and yet the acting speaks volumes. — Kelli Boyle

While The Rings of Power tweaked many Tolkien characters, a handful of the cast was tasked with bringing entirely new characters into the author’s rich world and making us care for them. Ismael Cruz Córdova excelled on this front. His Arondir was teeming with the tenderness and instinctive bravery we saw in Elijah Wood‘s Frodo Baggins. Combine that with the combat skill of an Elven soldier (the fight choreography for him and Clark were refreshingly great), and we’re left wondering how Córdova wasn’t given a role like this sooner. We simply couldn’t choose Clark over Córdova, or vice versa, when compiling this roundup.

Favorite Scene: Córdova laid his claim on leading man status fighting Orcs in Episode 3, “Adar.” — Kelli Boyle

Samantha Hanratty in 'Yellowjackets'
Kailey Schwerman/SHOWTIME

Samantha Hanratty in Yellowjackets

Showtime fans knew Samantha Hanratty from her time on Shameless, but it’s as Teen Misty on Yellowjackets that she will be remembered. To say Teen Misty began thriving in the wilderness following the plane crash would be an understatement, with people looking to her for guidance, and we’d say Hanratty is doing the same with the role. From amputating the leg off to her obsession with Coach Ben Scott (Steven Krueger), it’s impossible not to notice her — and Hanratty’s performance, embracing the wildness of the part and doing a great job of showing the character who grows up to be played by Christina Ricci, is why.

Favorite Scene: Thanks to the way Hanratty played Teen Misty cutting off the coach’s leg, we couldn’t look away, as much as the gruesome scene itself made us want to. Meredith Jacobs

Keyla Monterroso Mejia in 'Abbott Elementary'
ABC/Gilles Mingasson

Keyla Monterroso Mejia in Abbott Elementary

Abbott Elementary fans may be concerned about the state of Janine (Quinta Brunson) and Gregory’s (Tyler James Williams) relationship, but the pair’s comedic performances slightly pale in comparison to Season 2’s breakout Keyla Monterroso Mejia. The actress, who made a splash on Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2021 as aspiring actress Maria Sofia, brought her talent for playing an oblivious young woman to the ABC comedy in the form of a teacher’s assistant named Ashley. Along with her unique approach to education and interactions with Abbott’s other faculty members, Mejia has been a breath of fresh air to the fan-favorite comedy in its sophomore outing.

Favorite Scene: Ashley’s introduction set to the tune of Jennifer Lopez‘s “Una Noche Más” was priceless. — Meaghan Darwish

Vico Ortiz & Selenis Leyva in 'Our Flag Means Death'
Aaron Epstein/HBO Max

Vico Ortiz in Our Flag Means Death

Among the shining cast of Our Flag Means Death (voted the internet’s favorite cast of the year) was Vico Ortiz as the gender-fluid, dagger-slinging, pirate on-the-run, Jim. Starting out as a mute, Ortiz gave Jim a goofy but mysterious air. Underneath the disguise was a swashbuckling heartthrob. Jim’s need to avenge their murdered family could have easily fallen flat, but Ortiz’s performance radiated with mindfulness as the pirate navigated the murky waters of going back home after home made you flee. At home with Selenis Leyva‘s nun/dagger-throwing educator extraordinaire, Ortiz showed the difficult balance of critiquing one’s family while internally dueling with the fact that you so badly want that relationship healed — a feeling to which many LGBTQ+ viewers relate. With their chosen family (including an endearing romance with Samson Kayo‘s Oluwande), Jim was smoldering and bold. Again, extremely relatable for us queers. Does Jim belong on the sea or in a Western? Who cares! Ortiz belongs on TV.

Favorite Scene: The fight with Spanish Jackie (Leslie Jones). Quite simply, it is hot. — Kelli Boyle

Bridget Everett & Jeff Hiller in 'Somebody Somewhere'
Matt Dinerstein/HBO

Bridget Everett in Somebody, Somewhere

Bridget Everett is a star, but if you aren’t a comedy cabaret nerd, you might not have heard of her before now. In the semi-autobiographical Somebody, Somewhere, Everett plays Sam, a big fish back in the little pond she grew up in after moving home to care for her now-deceased sister. Sam is left adrift, figuring herself out alongside her old high school classmate, Joel (Jeff Hiller, also excellent). Everett is typically a big, loud, raunchy performer. As Sam, she’s more subtle, but there are bursts of the energy that we know is there. She is difficult and selfish and so warm and funny. As Sam returns to her love of performing, we get to see more and more of Everett’s sparkle. Sam is as much a star as Everett.

Favorite Scene: Anytime she sings, but especially the performance of Janis Joplin’s “Piece Of My Heart” where she rips her shirt open. Immediately after, she steps off stage and is so happy and at home performing, she can’t help but cry a little. — Leah Williams

The Bear Season 1 Ayo Edebiri as Sydney
Frank Ockenfels/FX

Ayo Edebiri in The Bear

FX‘s fast-paced kitchen dramedy certainly brought some heat and even though Shameless alum Jeremy Allen White delivered a strong leading performance, The Bear‘s true breakout was Ayo Edebiri. The actress is a multi-talent beyond her performance as cook Sydney in the series — she’s been voicing Missy on Big Mouth, penned What We Do in the Shadows‘ “Private School” episode, and previously appeared on Apple TV+‘s Dickinson. Still, it’s Edebiri’s layered dramatic work on The Bear which has introduced her to wider audiences, and isn’t that the definition of a breakout star?

Favorite Scene: In Episode 7’s “The Review,” when Sydney can’t help but get flustered by a flurry of incoming online orders. It’s so relatable and results in one of the funniest comedic stabbing scenes ever. — Meaghan Darwish