The Character Actresses
It takes a rare and uncompromising bravery to portray raw, sometimes ugly historical figures.

A movie star rewrites films in his or her image. A great actor becomes the best possible servant to the story, something Sarah Paulson has excelled at for two decades. In Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave, her performance as a sociopathic plantation owner's wife is breathtaking in its inhumanity. "People couldn't believe I was playing her," says the actress, who also stars on FX's American Horror Story. "They asked if I was prepared for everybody to hate my guts. And I was like, 'God, I never even thought about that.'" As Paulson has learned, you can't disappear into a role by half-measures: "If any 'villain' in a film takes their foot off the gas, tries to save face in any way or have a moment of redemption, the weight of what you are watching is diluted."

British actress Naomie Harris gets that and took it to such an extreme that she needed a yearlong break from work. The actress—best known in America as the rebooted Moneypenny from Skyfall—plays Winnie Mandela in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and the emotionally draining process of mutating from a naïve and vivacious young woman into the brutal and disgraced figure Winnie became is, at its essence, exactly why she keeps coming back to the game. "It wasn't fun. It wasn't fun in any way," Harris says. "But it's the kind of role you spend your life dreaming about."

Sarah Paulson, 38 (pictured, left)
Credit Check: Game Change, American Horror Story, Mud, 12 Years a Slave
Mind-blowing Mentor: "Working with Jessica Lange is like going to acting school. There's something very rooted about all of her choices, but within that grounded place come crazy fireworks that shoot off 14 feet in the air."

Naomie Harris, 37 (pictured, right)
Credit Check: 28 Days Later, Skyfall, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; upcoming: Bond 24 (untitled)
Stirred, Not Shaken: "Smaller-budget films tend to make you more creative—you feel freer to experiment. So it was weird when I got Bond. I was expecting this huge experience—I thought there would be trumpeters on set! But [director] Sam Mendes carries his indie background with him. It couldn't have been more low-pressure."

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The 2013 Hollywood Mavericks

The Transformer

The New Kings of Doc

The Antiestablishment Exec

The Dynamic Duos

The Soundtrack Wizard

The Netflix Natives

The Cutting-Edge Comedians

The Character Actresses

The Crowdsourcer

The Creative Capitalists

The Prestige Producer

The Rookie Filmmakers

The Indie Auteur