Jason Coleman’s Top Five Male & Female Performances Of 2018 (w/Bonus #1 Actress Nadia Alexander Interview!)

With only two more columns to go here at WhySoBlu, there is nothing more exciting to this humble movie critic than praising the work of actors who go beyond the norm.  Thespians who not only enhance the story of the project they are in, but mange to standout by creating an original performance filled with elements that make their characters utterly unique.  This year in particular saw some savory on-screen turns by actors in smaller films that I’m happy to highlight here loud and proud for those who may have missed them.  Plus as a goodbye bonus treat I’m joined a little later by my #1 pick in the female category Nadia Alexander for a little Q&A interview insight into both the roles that made her a standout this year.  So from undead teens to channeling Steve McQueen and everything in between here are my illustrious (and last ever!)…TOP FIVE MALE & FEMALE PERFORMANCES OF 2018.

Up First – The Ladies!


1. Nadia Alexander – “The Dark/Boarding School”

Gifted with an uncanny knack for disappearing into her roles, my number one selection bests all others for, not one, but two unforgettable turns where she manages to show amazing emotional range – all the while covered in prosthetics that make her almost unrecognizable.  Portraying a vengeful murderous undead teen in The Dark and a burned fourteen-year old boy in Boarding School, Alexander defies both gender and genre to show a range that even a seasoned actor would find daunting.  But the ample Alexander proves she creates her characters just like the extensive makeup she wears – with many layers.


2. Jess Weixler – “Entanglement”

It’s never surprising to see the ever-so-talented Juilliard grad Jess Weixler nab a place on this list year after year, this time for a what seems on the surface like a mere girl next door turn.  But like all roles inhabited by Weixler there’s much more going on beneath the façade and her character of Hanna may start as a fun spirited soul looking to help sad sack Thomas Middleditch, but fans of her unusual acting choices know ordinary eventually turns extraordinary.  Emotionally tangling up the viewer in all the right ways, Weixler’s work continues to be winning.


3. Bel Powley – “Wildling”

Playing a role in a film that meshes a coming-of-age angle with monster movie elements is a tall order, but actress Bell Powley takes to the challenge like a black lagoon creature to water.  As a naïve girl experiencing both typical teen trysts and hair-raising transformations, Powley injects a shot of bold acting adrenaline into an already wild premise that elicits both smiles and scares in tandem – the woman is wild indeed.


4. Hannah Marks – “Banana Split”

While it may not be aS showy as some of the big name performances this year, there’s something about the earnest and engaging turn by Hannah Marks in the teen themed outing Banana Split that hits the sweet spot.  As a dumped gal who ‘friend falls’ for her ex-boyfriends new girlfriend, Marks’ April has just the right amount of serious and sassy to make her shine bright – her flavor is five-star.


5. Anne Hathaway – “Ocean’s 8”

Standing out amongst Hollywood heavyweights like Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchette, Sarah Paulson and Helena Bonham Carter, especially in a smaller role, is no small film feat.  But the ever-underestimated and utterly hilarious Anne Hathaway all but steals Ocean’s 8 playing a bubbly actress whose skills of observance make her more dangerous than the nefarious ladies using her as a pawn.  Funny, charming and always surprising, Hathaway adds the spice to this dish of dames.


The Gents Next!


1. Joshua Leonard – “Unsane”

Breaking out of the shell that claimed he was merely one leg of a tripod known as The Blair Witch Project, Joshua Leonard finally gets to strut his character acting stuff for Director Steven Soderbergh and in Unsane he doesn’t waste a frame.  Playing a quiet creepy hospital orderly who may or may not be stalking lead gal Claire Foy, Leonard lets his unsettling oddball unfold slowly and methodically before revealing his true nature and intentions – and it’s so worth the wait.


2. Joaquin Phoenix  – “You Were Never Really Here”

Playing a former military man turned hired gun in Lynne Ramsey’s You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix lovingly bucks every trope we’ve seen associated with such a character.  Unlike the majority of skilled tough guys, his sullen Joe is portly, slow, unkempt, suffering from severe emotional trauma and uses a distinctively unquiet everyday hammer as his weapon of choice.  Need an original take on a familiar type – you never really have to look further than Phoenix.


3. Andre Brooks – “Chasing Bullitt”

Channeling his inner and outer Steve McQueen, actor Andre Brooks does way more than embody the role of the real-life Hollywood icon.  Providing an uncanny resemblance, a signature charismatic swagger and a troubled emotional core in his rendition of the famed tinseltown tough guy, Brooks boldly brings ‘the king of cool’ back to the screen warts and all.  The fast-moving Bullitt car may be the film’s focus, but it’s Brooks’ riveting performance that hits the gas.


4. Crispin Glover – “We Have Always Lived In The Castle”

Never having met a nutburger character he couldn’t embody fully, actor Crispin Glover hits his wacko stride here playing a senile wheelchair bound gent who aims to keep idle hands away from his precious papers.  (Kind of like those sandwiches in Wild At Heart!)  Complete with shaking hands, past conversations that spring up out of nowhere and a need to have everyone be quiet, Glover as unstable Uncle Julian has finally found the perfect outlet for his inner oddball – and it’s a match made in weirdo heaven.


5. William Zabka – “Cobra Kai”

I’m cheating a bit here going with a performance from a series instead of a flick, but lead William Zabka is so undeniably good as aging bad boy Johnny Lawrence in Cobra Kai that he simply kicks the competition.  From his attachment to 80’s items (he still drives a Firebird and listens to Foreigner!) to his politically incorrect slang (“kick that pansy bitch in the face!”), Zabka creates a complex and troubled character that the audience finds themselves actually rooting for.  Putting the singular one-note bad guy he coined in the 80’s on full multi-layered display here for all to see and appreciate (he does so much with even a small smirk!), Zabka finally gets to show here that his chops aren’t only martial arts ones.


And now here’s a bonus exclusive one-on-one chat (movie spoilers here – read AFTER seeing the films!) with none other than my #1 pick for Best Female Performance 0f 2018 (for both roles!), the uber-talented…


Nadia Alexander

Congrats on creating not one but two original characters that in tandem earned you the #1 spot on my Top Five Female Performances of 2018 list for both Boarding School and The Dark

Nadia Alexander: Thank you very much!

Both Boarding School and The Dark were not only original pieces of work, but were roles that required you to disappear into the character.  Was this a conscious choice and how did you come across them both?

NA: Interestingly I did Boarding School and The Dark back to back.  We shot them both towards the end of 2016 and I literally wrapped on Boarding School at like 7pm and the morning after I was on a flight to Canada to go do The Dark.  So it was one after the other and it was really funny because I had never done a prosthetic role in my life – I don’t even think to that point in my life I had done a burn scar or anything in terms of special effects makeup.  So I chose two films back to back where I was more or less in head to toe prosthetics, which was weirdly fortuitous.  But I was happy because by the time I got to The Dark I had already been so prepared with everything I had done on Boarding School in terms of learning how to act when most of your face is being hidden by a plastic mask that I really felt prepared and able to go in not terrified.  I learned so much about myself as an actor in those four months.  It just sort of happened that those two things lined up one after the other – I even auditioned for them in the same week.

At a time when reality TV is popular and there’s an edict that says as an actor one needs to ‘just be yourself’ how are you able to stay true to the craft and find work that allowed you to become someone else?

NA: My philosophy on acting is every character – to some extent or another – lives within the person.  And I think that counts for all of us, not only people who are just actors.  I think we all have different elements within ourselves and some of them are just more dialed up than others.  So it’s really about self-exploration in terms of finding ‘there is a part of me somewhere that is a burned 14-year old boy’ and ‘there’s the part of me that is a zombie’.  (Laughs)  There are parts within myself that I can access particularly for the emotional stakes and then in terms of the characterization I try to create really rich backstories so they feel like real people.  I make character bibles for every film that I do and they are about twenty-five to fifty pages and they outline the emotional arc of the person’s story within the script.  For Phil I talked about what were the circumstances that led to the fire that he was burned in and for Mina what was her life like at school when she was sixteen years old.  So when I step onto set I can throw all that out the window and have the knowledge that I spent time with these people and turned them into people.

Well let me say, one, you can tell from the work on the screen and, two, I would KILL to look at those books!

NA:  (Laughs)  They’re all color coordinated and stuff – Phil’s color was a sort of light blue and for Mina all the text was blood red.  I try to visually stimulate myself as well as narratively.

Are you ever aware when doing the work of the important socially relevant ideas within the story, like the idea appearances not mattering in The Dark or facing your fears like in Boarding School?

NA: It’s always something that plays in the back of my mind just in terms of you want to portray the emotions, but you are also the piece of a story that the director is trying to tell to make some kind of message.  The director is trying to convey something and it is your responsibility to be of assistance towards that message.  So it’s all about tailoring and that delicate balance between making the emotions as raw and natural as possible – the right brained aspect of acting – while slightly bringing in through the left brain understanding that this is a big machine that you are a cog in and all of us together are working towards something that will be meaningful and will impact somebody.  What is the story that we are trying to tell and how can we work towards that goal as a team – that’s what is so great about making movies.

Both The Dark and Boarding School feature helmers who are both writer and director – what are some of the benefits for you in such a scenario?

NA: Honestly I love working with writer/directors because it makes the process so much quicker and easier – there’s no battle it terms of creative ideas. Anything that feels like it’s sticking and not working can be easily fixed and doesn’t delay the process.

With so much going on within the lovingly layered The Dark – from harsh things like kidnapping, abuse and cannibalism to wondrous things like love, emotional connections and healing, how would you describe the film to an outsider?

NA: I think I would call it a horror, but it’s really got so much drama involved and it’s a big metaphor in this sort of fantastical way of what it can feel like to be an abuse victim and how abuse victims can cope with their trauma and movie forward out of the dark quite literally. At the core it’s such an important story because it doesn’t shy away from that metaphor – it’s very much the point.

Wanted to go into physical characteristics of both your characters of Mina from The Dark and Phil from Boarding School beginning with Phil…

NA: Sure.

Which was harder playing Phil – the heavy makeup or playing a young boy?

NA: I would say playing a young boy, because once the makeup goes on it’s actually pretty easy.  You do have to learn how to over-exaggerate some facial expressions to get scenes through the mask, but I definitely think for Phil the biggest challenge was embodying a boy, which I had never done before and especially a boy that was almost ten years younger than I am.  Thankfully for me I have a little brother who is nine years younger than I am and I grew up with him and have seen his characteristics and how boys move and talk – I used a lot from that.  I also got to work with (writer, director) Boaz Yakin’s father who is one of the top teachers at Juilliard and I worked with him for three hours.  We basically walked around a room together and he helped to give me a lot of movement techniques to not only have a body that would read masculine but also a body that would read that it had been in a horrific accident – it was really helpful.

Originally when I auditioned they were not sure if Phil was going to be a boy or a girl.  He was written as a boy in the script, but when it came down to casting they obviously needed someone who was over eighteen because it was three and a half hours in the makeup chair and in order to have that they couldn’t have an underage kid.  The problem is most boys who are eighteen years old look like they are eighteen – it’s hard to find an eighteen year old boy who is going to look physically like he’s fourteen.  And so they opened it up to girls and at the time when I auditioned they said, ‘Just go in as a girl – if they cast you they may change the role to a girl.’  So then I get it and they cast me, but they said ‘no, we’re gonna keep it as a boy.’  So I walked in the first day and I was like, ‘Hope you like my boy voice!’  (Laughs)

Phil has a very timid demeanor for someone with such striking physical features – what do you attribute that to and what helped you create Phil’s uniquely quirky personality?

NA: I my mind Phil was always just a nerdy boy who liked outer space and reading and was always kind of an introvert in general.  Of course when he suffered through the accident that just made him retreat even further into his shell because he didn’t look how normal boys look.  He lost himself in books and science and anything that could be outside of general social interactions.  It was really important to embody somebody who had a lot of shame around what had happened to him, but knew he could rely on his intellect.  He was a rational kid – he didn’t want anyone to pity him.

The relationship between Phil and Jacob is key to his coming out as a person of strength – how did you and actor Luke Prael bond on set to solidify that on-screen relationship?

NA: I feel bad because the truth is I saw Luke pretty much only when we were filming because I was in the chair the all morning and so I would always be the last person to come to set.  I always felt awkward because he was I think – I don’t want him to come after me if I’m wrong on his age – but I wanna say he was twelve or thirteen when we were shooting and I would have been twenty-two. So it’s not the easiest thing to come up with banter, especially when my face was completely covered.  But I think we just used that because in the circumstances of the film – it’s not like they’ve been bosom buddies forever, they just met and it was about unfolding.  The fact that we didn’t get a whole lot of time to see each other on set made the scenes feel realistic – it worked by happenstance.

As far as Mina in The Dark even though it’s never discussed or totally detailed in the film what do you think is the physical status of the character at the beginning of the film?

NA: I call her a smart rage zombie.  She has this undead exterior but her inner life is very much alive and also very much fueled by her anger, her viciousness and this desire to push everyone away until she meets Alex.

Of course Mina’s horrific physical ailments begin to heal as the film moves forward – what did you feel was making her become whole again?

NA: I think the minute she sees Alex’s face, even though she doesn’t yet know the story of how it came to be, she recognizes someone else who has been destroyed in a way that must have been similar to what she was dealing with and it evoked this tiny nugget of empathy within her that at that point causes her not to kill him – which is a pretty big leap for her.  It’s the first time in her whole life that she’s ever met someone who she really cares for, who she hasn’t had to either protect herself against or kill to fuel this desire to push people as far away as possible.  She sees herself in Alex. It’s her caring and true pure love for him that literally brings her back to life.

Can you talk about the drawings and décor around Mina’s room – did you have a hand in any of them and how did they help you inform the character?

NA: Thankfully I had no hand in the drawings, which is great because I am (laughs) horrible at drawing!  Stick figures is pretty much where the line is drawn for me – ha, ha, drawn, pun!  Justin (Lange, writer/director The Dark) said from the beginning her art was her escape as it is for so many of us.  She found art very early on and it was a way for her to channel her emotions.  Actually the photo in the snow globe that shows my mom and my dad – who is never actually in the film or a character – that photo is actually of my father.  And the thing that I’m drawing and working on in the first flashback is a very good rendering of my own dad, which was pretty cool.  So shout out to my dad for letting his face be used in the film.  But a dark story to that was we had to shoot the very traumatic scene between Mina and her mother’s boyfriend and I had to be lying on the bed and I could see all of my drawings all over the walls and there were a couple of my dad.  I had to go the producer and I was like, ‘I’m so sorry, but could you take the pictures of my dad off the walls for this scene, please?’  And so they did and they agreed to do that because it was just too creepy – I couldn’t do a molestation scene looking at pictures of my dad.  The art was obviously very instrumental to Mina’s entire character and how she coped before and after her death.  You can see obviously the drawings before are very normal and then after the house has been dilapidated for some time you see these drawings that are very dark and disturbing and that is the manifestation of her monster self.  But she still never loses the art – in my eyes she draws just as much when she’s dead and it’s a statement of art in general.

I’m very curious to know what you think became of both Phil and Mina after the stories in the films stopped – where do you think they went after the events in the film?

NA: With Phil I would like to think that his parents had bit of a ‘come to Jesus’ moment and realized maybe they shouldn’t have sent him off to that boarding school.  I’d like to think maybe he gets a scholarship really young and goes off to college and studies astronomy and physics and science and new comets and lives a good life.  And for Mina the ending is very much supposed to be ambiguous and I think it was one hundred percent the intention.  We know she looks normal now, but can she ever be normal?  I think in my idealistic mind I would love to believe that she and Alex got to see each other again.  I guess he wouldn’t get to see her, but maybe he has some new eyes.  Who knows?  Who knows what kind of technology is available in this parallel universe where zombies are real.  But I think she ultimately goes back out into the world and slowly reassimilates back into society and finds a way to fully cope with everything that she’s been through.  But I think she finds Alex again – she’s probably got that number memorized.  A google search?  White pages on line?  Maybe!

I don’t watch much TV but I’m curious – now that I’m a die-hard fan – of all the shows you’ve done which should I be sure not to miss?

NA: I would say if you like my work and my crazy f@cked up characters you have to watch The Sinner.  It’s a great mini-series, quick to watch eight episodes, you can binge it all and it’s on Netflix now.  It’s really twisty-turny and a ‘you have to know what happens next’ kind of show.  I have so many people who write to me and say they watched the entire show in one night – that’s like eight hours!  But it’s really fast paced and exciting and the story revolves around a young mother played by Jessica Biel who is out with her family at a day at the beach and about halfway through the journey she just sees a guy who is hanging out with his girlfriend on the beach playing some music and she gets up and stabs him to death.  We have no idea why, she says she’s never met him before, doesn’t know why she did it and the story is told half in real time and half in flashbacks.  And I play her sister in the flashbacks who is dying and was born with a bad heart and she’s not doing well and has never been outside her whole life and lives vicariously through her sister in some rather nefarious and prickly ways – she’s one of my favorite characters that I’ve gotten to play.

Finally what’s next for you and can we expect a continuation of the bold film choices made in 2018?

NA: I would love that!  Actually The Dark was the last film I did and I’ve been exclusively doing TV for the last two years, so I’m really excited to hopefully dive into films in the new year because I just love working on indie films.  It’s such a great camaraderie and there’s so much to sink your teeth into.  But in terms of what I have coming out there’s an episode of Blue Bloods in a couple of weeks and then I’m going to be on an episode of Instinct which is Alan Cumming’s CBS show in the spring and also I am actually working as a professional writer which is insane.  This year I sold a mini-series that I co-wrote to a studio out in LA.  We’ve been writing two episodes for them and so that’s exciting and empowering – make your own rules.

Want to give a BIG shout out to the talented and amazing Nadia Alexander for taking time out to dissect both her cool characters in The Dark and Boarding School  – not to mention making my last ever Top Five Male & Female Performances article go out with bang!  Congrats to all the winners here and keep doing that tasty on-screen work that only you can do – I will always be watching!





I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

3 Responses to “Jason Coleman’s Top Five Male & Female Performances Of 2018 (w/Bonus #1 Actress Nadia Alexander Interview!)”

  1. Brian White

    Great interview, Jason!
    Reminds me too I need to watch Unsane yet!

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    Unsane! Great stuff all around here. I need to catch up with some of these titles but cool that you scored this interview.

  3. Raymond Gray

    I first noticed Nadia in “The Sinner” and was amazed at her talent. In part seven, Nadia dominated th he series and commanded admiration with the best performance I’ve ever seen. Nadia brings a character to life like no other. I don’t want to miss anything she is part of.