Their Stars Are Rising: Meet PEOPLE's 2015 Ones to Watch!
Stepping onto the set of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, Ridley, 23, had an "overwhelming fear," she says. "That was probably the hardest thing, because I hadn't made a film before." But with the support of her cast and crew, "I never felt alone," says the actress, who plays scrappy Rey. With one of the year's most anticipated movies under her belt, what's next for the Brit beauty? "I'm just going to plod through life and see what comes my way!"
Like the young country singer she plays on ABC's Nashville, Peeples deferred Harvard (twice!) to pursue her dream of being a performer. "I'd still like to go to college at some point," says the Lake Mary, Florida, native, 21. But since she's in the lead role of the upcoming film version of the 1980s cartoon Jem and the Holograms, the books may have to wait.
When J.J. Abrams told him he had landed the role of Storm Trooper Finn in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, "literally everything just froze," says Boyega, 23. "The whole world was perfect in that one moment." On-set, the actor gamely braved the Abu Dhabi heat. "The sun was at its highest, and it was really, really sweaty," he adds. "But what I did remember was the old behind-the-scenes footage of Anthony Daniels in C-3PO's costume, so I didn't complain. I took some ice baths!"
Depressed and directionless, Singh, 26, found her calling when she discovered YouTube. "I was totally captivated by it," says the comedy writer, whose channel ||Superwoman|| has 6.5 million subscribers. "I used to do sketches with just audio for my family, so [switching] to video was an organic process."
Since collaborating with Ed Sheeran on "I Was Made for Loving You" – a song on Unbreakable Smile, her hit debut LP of acoustic pick-me-ups and RampB-tinged songs – the SoCal native calls him a friend. For her fall tour Kelly, 22, will put the lesson she learned from him into practice: "Just be yourself – on and off the stage."
THE CAST OF SCREAM QUEENS
"Going to work is always really exciting," says Keke Palmer (at right with, from left, Skyler Samuels, Jamie Lee Curtis, Billie Lourd, Emma Roberts, Lea Michele and Abigail Breslin), who stars on Ryan Murphy's new Fox thriller. Shooting in New Orleans, the cast has developed a tight bond in their new home away from home. Adds Palmer: "We are definitely having a lot of fun exploring."
Between five years in the Wanted and a famous ex (Ariana Grande), Sykes, 22, has some experience in the spotlight. But with the hot new single "Over and Over Again" and a solo debut due next year, the Gloucester, U.K., native is a hometown hero: "If I go into a local pub, it'll be like, 'All right, Nate, d'you want a pint?' It's really cool."
BRIE LARSON & JACOB TREMBLAY
Larson may compare her career thus far to a game of Super Mario ("You're like, 'This is awesome,' but then you keep dying, and then you go back to the beginning again," she says about the ups and downs of Hollywood), but the actress is already garnering Oscar buzz for her role as a kidnapped mother in Room. "We just became best pals and partners in crime," says Larson, 25, of her remarkable onscreen son Tremblay, 8. "He helped me so much."
When Taylor Swift sang her praises on Twitter, "I thought one of my friends hacked her [account]!" says the CMA double nominee, 22, who made history when her debut single, "Love Me Like You Mean It," soared to No. 1. Swift's advice for the singer? "She told me, 'Be warm, and people will relate to that.' "
As the face of NBC's The Player, Winchester, 34, is learning to balance work and daddy duties with 7-month-old daughter Charlie. "I try and help out as much as possible on the weekends," he says. "I couldn't do it without [my wife] Megan. We're a team."
KATHLEEN ROSE PERKINS
After Showtime's Episodes wraps its fifth season, Perkins, 40, is hoping to make her own opportunities. "I'm optioning a book so I can produce a story where I can be a bit of an action [star]," says the actress, who has a third-degree black belt in tae kwon do. "My body is getting older, so I need to do it soon!"
Williams, 19, was only looking for a "learning experience" when she got in line at the opencall audition for the role of Dorothy in NBC's upcoming The Wiz Live! "There wasn't even a moment where I prayed, 'God, please let me get this part,' because that seemed impossible," says the Jersey girl.
He costars with Leonardo DiCaprio in the Oscar-contending historical drama The Revenant – and that's his small film. On Dec. 18 he'll portray General Hux in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens. "I hope there's a toy of me for Star Wars," says the Irish actor, 32, who starred as Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter films. "Bill wasn't important enough, so I never got a wand. I'm still desperate for one."
The daughter of Clint Eastwood and Frances Fisher, she made her acting debut at the age of 2 but then "decided to have a mellow childhood." Now 22, she's back with a stint on NBC's Heroes Reborn and a starring role in the western thriller Outlaws and Angels. "It's been such a whirlwind," she says. "But I'm finally starting to accomplish my dream."
Costarring with Robert De Niro in The Intern "was like working with, like, Jesus Christ or something," says the Nebraskan, 31. "My goal was just to make him laugh." The Pitch Perfect and Workaholics actor has had his family's unwavering support since being hit by a cement truck when he was 11. "My parents kind of gave me a free pass to truly follow my dreams," he says. "They were just so happy I wasn't dead."
Though she appeared on Cybill as a teen, Lawson, now 35, faced tough breaks. "When I was 21, I tested for 14 pilots and didn't get one," she says. Now she'll shine on the CBS comedy Angel from Hell. Her motto? "I just kept going forward."
As a child growing up in L.A., Thompson would "write and direct these little movies with my father, so it was something that was always in me," she says. Now the Selma actress, 31, who costars with Michael B. Jordan in the upcoming film Creed, looks to actors like Tilda Swinton for inspiration. "She's been able to stretch the parameters of what it is to be a woman in Hollywood," Thompson says. "That's something I'm interested in."
WALK THE MOON
After MTV's Video Music Awards, Sean Waugaman, 28, Nicholas Petricca, 28, Kevin Ray, 26, and Eli Maiman, 29, found themselves at Miley Cyrus's afterparty, and that was just fine with them. "We are taking a stand for diversity and equality," says lead singer Petricca about the band's feel-good songs, like their runaway hit "Shut Up and Dance." "Miley's very much about that."
As the lead in USA's computer-hacker drama Mr. Robot, Malek says he's continually grateful for "the challenges that get thrown at me. It's one of the fullest characters I think I'll ever get to play." The L.A.-born-and-raised actor, 34, who also starred in Tom Hanks's The Pacific miniseries, would get into carpentry if not for his day job. "When I was younger, I used to make lamps and frames for art," he says. "I'd like to do something with my hands."
JACK HOWARD & DEAN DOBBS
The British comedy duo (known to their almost 500,000 YouTube subscribers as simply Jack amp Dean) have already collaborated with the likes of Amy Schumer and are working on their first long-form Web series. "I never really knew what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to make something and have fun doing it," says Dobbs, 23 (right). Adds Howard, 23: "I can't believe we get to do this as a job. It feels a little bit like we're cheating and skipping steps."
The Dance Moms sensation is already modeling and acting in addition to starring in music videos including Sia's songs "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart," which together have garnered more than 1 billion YouTube views. As for being recognized, "people will say, 'Oh, you inspired me to dance,' which is such an amazing thing to hear," says the 12-year-old from Murrysville, Pennsylvania. "Sometimes it can get overwhelming, and I just want to be a kid and go get ice cream with my friends, but it's been fun being able to meet people from all around the world."