Breakout Stars: Tough Girls Under 25

In the past year, the entertainment world delivered more than its fair share of successful, strong, and resilient young female stars. Some of our perennial favorites? Teen queen Miley Cyrus (age 18) was the most-searched person of 2010. Lady Gaga (24) had eight — yes, eight — versions of herself created at Madame Tussaud’s wax museums worldwide. Music maven Rihanna (22) won two Grammy awards, released a book, and announced the formation of a media empire, Rihanna Entertainment. And don’t forget Kristen Stewart (20): The mopey actress broke out of her “Twilight” bubble with films like “The Runaways” and “Welcome to the Rileys.” Let’s take a minute to breathe in all that achievement.

Now exhale. The year had some lesser known but equally awesome breakout stars under the age of 25. Some of these ladies were tough in a physical sense (think Chloe Moretz in “Kick Ass”); others were tough in a brainier way (a la “Mad Men” star Kiernan Shipka’s incredible acting chops). All of them deserve props for working hard and pushing their skills to the limit. Here are 10 worth watching out for.

Willow Smith (10 years old)
The adorable Willow Smith, daughter of celebrity supercouple Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, earned her spot by just being herself. We love her look (the long, paint-spewing braids in her “Whip My Hair” video), her feisty lyrics (“Don’t let haters keep me off my grind /Keep my head up I know I’ll be fine”), and her colorful fashion sense (the “I love me” shirt and the heart-shaped faux-hawk? OMG). Oh, and we can’t get enough of her mature-beyond-her-years voice. We’re in good company: In September, Jay-Z liked her vox so much that he signed her to his Roc Nation label.

Florence Welch (aka Florence and the Machine; 24 years old)
This fiery-haired British music darling rightfully achieved global success in 2010 — at one point she was the No. 1 search term on Google. Welch earned tons of critical praise this past year, but it’s her skyrocketing album sales that speak volumes. Her song “Dog Days Are Over,” from the bestselling album “Lungs,” was recorded “with no instruments in a studio the size of a loo.” That song went on to become Florence and the Machine’s signature hit: It was everywhere, from the theme song for USA’s new thriller, “Covert Affairs,” to the trailer for the summer 2010 flick “Eat Pray Love.”

Kiernan Shipka (10 years old)
This accomplished young star has flexed her acting muscles on the critically acclaimed AMC series “Mad Men” since its inception four years ago. Portraying conflicted daddy’s girl Sally Draper, Kiernan Shipka has garnered quite a fan base — for good reason. Her performances in the recently ended Season 4 were some of her most nuanced to date. Audiences went along for the bumpy ride as Shipka’s character attempted to navigate a post-divorce family life that grew more complicated as her mom, Betty Draper (January Jones), grew more dissatisfied and demanding. As Shipka talked out her feelings in therapy and in chats with neighbor Glen, viewers got a better glimpse into what makes Sally tick.

Evan Rachel Wood (23 years old)
This actress may be best-known for her thrice-failed relationship with shock rocker Marilyn Manson. That’s a shame, because Wood is one of the most talented 20-somethings in showbiz today. Wood has bolstered her gothy tough-girl image by playing sinister vampire queen Sophie-Ann Leclerq on HBO’s hit series “True Blood.” (Series creator Alan Ball describes Wood’s character as “very powerful, capricious, and most likely insane”). She first drew attention as the precocious pubescent lead in 2003’s edgy coming-of-age film “Thirteen” (sex, drugs, cutting, and stealing). In real life, Wood earns her butt-kicking stripes as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.


Hailee Steinfeld (14 years old)
The burgeoning beauty isn’t a household name yet, but that may have changed by this time next year. As the new kid on the acting block, Hailee Steinfeld has major potential and a pivotal role in the Coen brothers’ latest flick, the ballyhooed remake of “True Grit” co-starring Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, and Matt Damon. Steinfeld beat out 15,000 other girls for the role, and before nabbing it, she’d appeared only in a few shorts and TV bit parts. Now she’s standing at the center of oodles of Oscar buzz, and the humble 14-year-old deserves it.

Mia Wasikowska (21 years old)
This up-and-coming Australian actress hit her stride in 2010. Her biggest break was the title role in Tim Burton’s No. 1, billion-dollar-grossing movie “Alice in Wonderland,” but she also earned praise for her portrayal as Julianne Moore and Annette Bening’s daughter in the sleeper hit “The Kids Are All Right.” Wasikowska’s star is poised to get even brighter in 2011, when she will play the title character in Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of “Jane Eyre.” Fun fact about the actress: She trained as a ballerina from age 8 until she quit at 14 because of the intense pressure for “your body [to be] perfect.”

Jennifer Lawrence (20 years old)
The lovely Kentucky native has no formal acting training. But that didn’t stop her from achieving breakout status as the lead role in Debra Granik’s film “Winter’s Bone” (a powerful drama that won the grand jury prize at the 2010 Sundance Awards). In the gritty film, based on a 2006 novel by Daniel Woodrell, Lawrence appears in every scene as Ree, a 17-year-old girl forced to track her father through the Ozark Mountains after he puts their home up as his bail bond, then flees. Lawrence has been nominated for tons of awards (including a Golden Globe) for her work in “Winter’s Bone,” so keep your eyes on her.

Chloe Moretz (13 years old)
The year 2010 was a banner one for rising tween actress Chloe Moretz. She kicked butt and took names as the pint-sized heroine Hit Girl in “Kick Ass,” the year’s sleeper action smash. In the controversial film, the then-11-year-old actress cussed, hit, shot, and slice-and-diced Mob enemies alongside her Batman-obsessed father (Nicolas Cage). Also boosting her breakout status: Moretz’s dark turn as vampire Abby in “Let Me In,” a remake of the creepy 2008 Swedish film “Let the Right One In.” This talented actress may be ready for Hollywood, but she’s still forced to play by her parents’ rules. As she puts it, “My mom has always said that if I get a big head, she’ll take me out of this business as quickly as I got into it.” We hope Mom lets her stick around.

Rooney Mara (25 years old)
Been living in a cave? No? Then you’ve heard of the upcoming “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” film (based on Stieg Larsson’s phenomenally successful Millennium Trilogy book series). You may not have heard of the film’s star, though. The coveted leading role of mega bad-ass Lisbeth Salander went to 25-year-old, relatively unknown Rooney Mara. Who is Mara, and what makes her a tough girl? For one thing, she allegedly beat out Hollywood bigwigs like Natalie Portman, Ellen Page, and Scarlett Johansson for the “Dragon Tattoo” role. She made some respectable hits in 2010, too: She starred in the uber-hyped “Social Network,” as well as in “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Youth in Revolt.” Mara also has a big heart. In 2009 she founded the charity Faces of Kibera, which provides food, housing, and medical care to orphans in a Nairobi, Kenya, slum.

Tavi Gevinson (13 years old)
Pubescent media darling Tavi Gevinson started her super-buzzy fashion blog, Style Rookie, in 2008, when she was just 11 years old. Since then, Gevinson has been seen absolutely everywhere, from magazine cover shoots to Fashion Week runway shows to the pages of the New Yorker magazine. She doesn’t just cover trends; she helps start them (remember last year’s briefly chic gray-hair trend?), and that’s an impressive amount of cachet for someone so young. Gevinson also recently announced plans to launch a new magazine with beloved former Sassy magazine editor Jane Pratt. Sign us up as their first subscribers!

Laura Barcella is a freelance writer and a Yahoo! copy editor. She has written pop culture, news, arts, and lifestyle pieces for more than 40 publications, including Salon, the Village Voice, AlterNet, Elle Girl, Nylon, Time Out New York,, Bust, and the Chicago Sun-Times.