Sean Baker’s The Florida Project is not only one of the best films of the year, it also has some of 2017’s most devastating and honest performances. You might be surprised to learn all but one of those performances come from actors who have never been on a movie set before. Willem Dafoe is the only familiar face in a movie full of non-professional actors, including seven-year-old breakout Brooklynn Prince, six-year-old Valeria Cotto (discovered by Baker in a Target), Christopher Rivera (who grew up in a Florida budget motel not unlike the one in the film), and the unfiltered Bria Vinaite, who Baker found via Instagram. Just as he did with his Tangerine leads, Baker proves that some of the truest and most affecting performances come from unseasoned actors.

It requires a particular skill to not only street cast well, but to then know how to direct those actors without traditional experience. Robert Bresson and Pier Paolo Pasolini both famously used non-professional actors in their work, and more recently filmmakers like Baker, Andrea Arnold, and the Safdie brothers have continued that tradition. In honor of The Florida Project, we’re celebrating the best performances from non-professional actors.

A list of this sort could grow long with inclusions from classics, like Ana Torrent in The Spirit of the Beehive, R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, or Oscar winner Haing S. Ngor in The Killing Fields, but we’ve limited the list to more recent performances. And now, the criteria – technically, almost every actor begins as a non-professional on their first gig, and this list could easily overlap with one of the best child actor performances and of non-film and TV celebrities making their acting debut. Instead we’ve chosen to focus on performances by actors who were street cast or had previously next to no acting experience before their first roles.

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