The past decade in television alone has blessed us with performances that have challenged the way we think about who and what kinds of stories have a place on our small screens. With this more inclusive viewing environment, we’ve been able to engage with new classes of on screen talent across genres, whose unique performances have left us breathless with laughter, drowning in tears, or even scared out of our minds.
Our favorite supporting actors have been a particularly important part of this explosion and diversification of on screen talent. It is often these roles that are the first to open new doors in terms of representation and to introduce new kinds of personalities to television audiences.
Queen Latifah, Patrick Dempsey, Kyra Sedgwick, and Leslie Jones are just some of the actors making return trips to the small screen.
But there comes a time in a supporting actor's life when they are ready and able to make the leap to strong and juicy leading and top-billed roles, the kinds that make enduring stars out of their iconic performances.
Many scenes in FX’s first two seasons of Ryan Murphy’s Posewere stolen whenever Angelica Ross appeared on our screens. The actress made her mainstream debut in the show as Candy Ferocity, a feisty house daughter turned mother whose witty one liners and heartfelt, tear-jerking personal journey quickly made her a fan favorite. After Candy’s tragic demise, Ross was picked up in a supporting role for another of Ryan Murphy’s pet projects, American Horror Story 1984, where she made history as the first transgender actress to be a series regular on multiple programs.
We would love to see Ross as the leading lady in another edgy Ryan Murphy produced period drama, where she could take her magnificent talents to the next level and continue her pioneering career as a trans actress in the mainstream.
It is hard to imagine Tituss Burgess outside of the context of his brilliantly hysterical and Emmy-nominated performance on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. On the Tina Fey produced show, Burgess played Titus Andromedon, Kimmy’s roommate turned best friend who has a tendency for neuroticism, quippy pop cultural references, and spontaneous song (like his epic rendition of Beyonce’s megaproject Lemonade).
Burgess has had a number of amazing performance opportunities outside of Unbreakable, including as Sebastian the Crab in the Broadway production of The Little Mermaid and a supporting role in the critically acclaimed Netflix film Dolemite is My Name. With his epic résumé of varied supporting roles, we think it’s time for Burgess to get his chance at top-billing in a comedic series that combines his hilarious acting chops as well as his stunning musical talents.
Robert Sheehan has had success in European dramatic programs like Britain’s Misfits and Ireland’s Love/Hate. But his biggest break came with his introduction to a global audience as Klaus Hargreeves (or Number Four) in the Netflix megahit The Umbrella Academy. Sheehan gives one of the breakout performances on the show as the emotionally tormented and drug-addled sibling who can conjure and speak to the dead. His complex role has allowed him to showcase brilliant acting performances, at once ridiculously hysterical and then suddenly heartbreaking, nuanced and vulnerable.
Through Klaus, Sheehan has been able to exhibit an incredible range in just one season of the show’s production. And with the experience he brings from supporting roles in European television, top-billing in a dark and brooding drama or thriller mystery series of some kind could be a great next step for this very promising actor.
Samira Wiley is another supporting actress who gave a breakout performance to truly showcase her leading lady potential, this time as Poussey Washington in the Netflix phenomenon Orange is the New Black. Her devastating murder at the climax of the show’s fourth season stunned audiences and even garnered outrage from viewers that grew to love her character so deeply.
She has remained a fixture in conversation surrounding OITNB and since her run has made critically acclaimed appearances in Hulu’s drama series The Handmaid’s Tale. For the latter series, she even snagged the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. It is clear from her critical and audience reception, as well as her awards pedigree, that Wiley is ready to lead in a powerful drama series that will allow her to take her emotional performance abilities to new heights.
Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett
These twoSaturday Night Live favorites have been best friends since their days as student creatives at USC and have been able to forge a career in sketch comedy alongside one another ever since. After their early days in the comedy circuit, including shared opportunities with improv and sketch comedy troupe Commedus Interruptus, both were cast in the 39th season of SNL as featured players, where they have remained ever since. Mooney and Bennett can often be seen on the show in sketches together, including in their hilarious role as constantly fighting tighty-whities-clad siblings in the “Brothers” series.
When their antics at SNL are through, we would love to see this pair bring their amazing chemistry to a comedy series that showcases their bond. They could even put their multiple talents to work as executive producers, writers and directors.
Since 2016, Madelaine Petsch has played Cheryl Blossom on the CW series Riverdale, a loose remake of the Archie Comics series. From the outset of the show, Cheryl is presented as one of the most emotionally tormented and complex characters, giving Petsch the chance to explore her range as an actress while consistently delivering standout performances amongst her peers.
With the exposure of a series as prominent as Riverdale so early in her career, as well as a solid audience following from Petsch’s active YouTube channel, there are many possibilities to build a starring vehicle around her. Petsch’s witty and cunning performance with the Cheryl Blossom character suggests that she is ready for more adult material in the dramatic or suspense genres (something with the energy of Netflix’s Youcomes to mind).
Merie W. Wallace/HBO
Insecure has proven itself as a major comedy hit for HBO, and has introduced us to some hilarious on screen talent. Perhaps no one has been more of a fan favorite on the show in this regard than Natasha Rothwell, whose role as Kelli in the series is one of the most quotable and laughter-inducing in recent memory. As one of main character Issa’s more secondary friends, we don’t get to see much of Kelli outside of her jokester moments and game-spitting — but Rothwell is still put to great use as one of the show’s writers.
With her performance a hit with audiences, vibrant real life personality, and her writing chops displayed on standout episodes such as season four’s “Lowkey Happy,” it would make sense for networks to pay close attention to Rothwell’s top billing potential for stripped back, semi-autobiographical comedic programming. There are already talks of Rothwell writing and executive producing an animated series for Comedy Central, so her star is certainly on the rise.