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Why the cast of Alita: Battle Angel looks so familiar

In 1990, manga creator Yukito Kishiro started his work Gunnm in the men's manga magazine Business Jump. In the early 2000s, VIZ Media would translate and print this story under the title Battle Angel Alita, and it would become a cult hit among comics fans who loved the cyberpunk feel of works like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. The tale of amnesiac cyborg Alita has been explored not only in the original manga, but in the spin-offs Battle Angel Alita: Last Order, Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicle, and Battle Angel Alita: Holy Night & Other Stories (all of which are available in English through Kodansha USA). And though there was a two-episode animated project in 1993, it wasn't until 2019 — when James Cameron finally made good on the live-action rights he's been holding onto for over a decade — that audiences were given a more three-dimensional look at Alita's journey to learn about her past.

There were plenty of mixed reactions to the announcement of another Japanese media property coming to Hollywood, especially after the box office catastrophe that was the Ghost in the Shell adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson. But regardless of fans' feelings, it's hard to deny that a lot of very talented and versatile actors were brought on board to breathe new cybernetic life into this old favorite. Many of these actors are familiar to film audiences without necessarily being top A-list stars, and the work they've done up to this point bears examination.

Rosa Salazar as Alita

While it would perhaps be a stretch to assume that audiences recognized actress Rosa Salazar's face behind all the special effects that transformed her into an uncanny-looking cyborg, it is a near certainty that they will know the films and television shows she's been in over her almost decade-long career. Horror aficionados will recognize her from Bird Box, where she plays Lucy, a survivor in the post-apocalyptic chaos. 

This kind of gripping suspense drama is not new to Salazar, who also played the truly terrifying Maria in the first season of American Horror Story. For those who are disinclined to submit themselves to horrifying entertainment, Salazar has also appeared in television comedies like Parenthood and Man Seeking Woman. And in this increasingly plugged-in world, it's fair to say that most of us have probably glimpsed her in one of the many shorts she filmed with CollegeHumor. Alita is her first starring role, and she takes her role as a Latinx celebrity very seriously. Fans will have to wait and see what kind of opportunities await her now that she's having her moment in Hollywood's spotlight.

Christoph Waltz as Dr. Dyson Ido

Distinguished German-Austrian actor Christoph Waltz is probably the most experienced actor on this cast list, with a career spanning over four decades. For Alita, he plays the role of Dr. Ido, a cyberphysician and Alita's surrogate father. In 2009, Waltz moved from German-language projects to Hollywood hits, starting with the role of SS officer Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. He worked with Tarantino again as dentist-turned-bounty-hunter Dr. King Schultz in the 2012 spaghetti western tribute film Django Unchained

As Waltz is multilingual, he even served as the German and French dub voice-over actor for his roles in these Tarantino films. But it's not just violent R-rated films for Waltz. In 2014, he played himself in Muppets Most Wanted, where he was lucky enough to dance a waltz with Sweetums, the hairy gentle giant. Guess he can cross that off the bucket list!

Jennifer Connelly as Chiren

Playing the role of Chiren, another cyberphysician and Dr. Ido's former partner (whose only other appearance is in the brief animated adaptation) is Jennifer Connelly. She is probably most fondly remembered as Sarah, the stalwart and headstrong protagonist in Jim Henson's 1986 film Labyrinth, where she fulfilled just about every teenage girl's dream by dancing in a masquerade ball with David Bowie at the tender age of sixteen. 

In the 33 years since then, she's proven that she could outlast the doom of irrelevance that so many teen stars find themselves facing later in life. She won no fewer than 13 awards for her performance as Alicia Nash in the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind, including an Academy Award, a BAFTA, and a Golden Globe. And Alita is not the first literary (or comic!) adaptation she's been part of. She played the lead role in the 2003 adaptation of Andre Dubus III's novel House of Sand and Fog, scientist/love interest Betty Ross in Hulk, and smaller roles in Inkheart and Spider-Man: Homecoming, among others. Needless to say, she's had a busy and very visible career.

Mahershala Ali as Vector

A deal on the black market and a human body parts trafficker with a keen understanding of people, the complicated character Vector is played by the extraordinarily talented Mahershala Ali. Comics fans will recognize his face from Luke Cage, where he plays the villainous Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes, and his voice from Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, where he takes on the more sympathetic role of Uncle Aaron. 

But he's been out in front of more general audiences as well, gaining accolades for his performances in Moonlight and Green Book, two films which themselves have both won Academy Awards for Best Picture. He is the first black actor to win two Academy Awards in the same category, as well as the first Muslim actor to win an Oscar for acting. He has released a couple rap albums, but has recently been focusing his energy on his acting career. Ali is already very much in the public's eye, and it will be very rewarding to watch him continue to break down barriers in Hollywood as his career progresses.

Ed Skrein as Zapan

London-born actor Ed Skrein was called in for the role of Zapan, one of Alita's deadliest enemies. Skrein's career is well-rooted in fandom, as he is perhaps best known for his roles of Daario Naharis in the first three seasons of Game of Thrones and the lead villain, Ajax, in Deadpool. He was also slated to play the role of Ben Daimio in the upcoming Hellboy adaptation, but after realizing that the character was originally Japanese-American, he responded to concerns about whitewashing by graciously stepping down from the role and allowing Lost star Daniel Dae Kim to pick it up. Like his co-star Mahershala Ali, Skrein has also released a few rap albums, though it has been several years since rapping has been his focus. He's slated to be in this October's Maleficent sequel, Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, which can only serve to draw him further into the limelight.

Jackie Earle Haley as Grewishka

Originally appearing only the the short animated adaptation of Battle Angel Alita as "Grewcica," Grewishka is a cyborg assassin played by Jackie Earle Haley with the aid of motion capture technology. This is another case where he might not have been immediately visually recognizable, but comic book and fantasy fans will certainly have seen Haley in at least one role, whether it was Rorschach in the 2009 Watchmen film, Odin Quincannon in the recent Preacher television series, Sayre in The Dark Tower, or The Terror in Amazon Video's The Tick

Outside of comic book adaptations, Haley donned the mantle of the classic horror icon Freddy Krueger in the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Though his career had dipped a bit between 1993 and 2006, it was revived when he took on a supporting role in All the King's Men, and it's clear that he's been making the most of his acting renaissance. He was nominated for an Academy Award that same year for his performance in Little Children, a film which also featured his Alita co-star Jennifer Connelly.

Keean Johnson as Hugo

The youthful Keean Johnson was cast to play the role of Hugo, a down-on-his-luck orphan who turns to crime to stay alive, becoming Alita's first love along the way. Johnson is a television favorite, taking on roles in Spooksville, The Fosters, Nashville, and Guidance. But it looks like true his Hollywood fame is on the rise, as Alita is the first of six films he's part of in the next year or so, most of them R-rated dramas. 

Outside of acting, Johnson has many other creative and artistic pursuits, including painting and dance, which he credits to being given a lot of freedom to explore his passions as a homeschooled child. As he's been in the public eye through Broadway since his childhood, it must be a real thrill for him to be picking up this kind of movie momentum. If you weren't already familiar with his work, chances are you will soon be seeing a lot of him.

Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. as Tanji

Tanji is Hugo's partner in crime in his more dubious dealings. For the film, he is portrayed by Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., an up-and-comer who has been making the movie and television rounds for only five years now. Despite this short career, he's been a part of a couple major hits, including a supporting part in Love, Simon, a minor role in Spider-Man: Homecoming, and the part of romantic lead Memo in Bumblebee. He is also set to star in John Leguizamo's feature directorial debut Critical Thinking, about an inner city high school chess team that takes on the U.S. National Chess Championship. 

The Miami setting of Critical Thinking should be familiar to Lendeborg, who moved there from his birthplace of the Dominican Republic when he was still a small child. Lendeborg is very conscious of his Afro-Latino background and how that sometimes presents a challenge in the competitive Hollywood landscape, which prefers to lump ethnicities into simple categories. But like co-star Keean Johnson, it looks like bright things are ahead for this young actor, who is determined to show that he can break barriers and be the best he possibly can.

Lana Condor as Koyomi

For someone whose career only really took off a few years ago, Lana Condor, who plays the spunky freelance photographer Koyomi, is really raking in some excellent roles. Her movie debut came when she was cast as Jubilee in X-Men: Apocalypse, and though it was a relatively small part, it was a very visible one. Only a couple years later, Condor took the lead role of Lara Jean in the Netflix original film To All the Boys I've Loved Before, based on the novel by Korean-American author Jenny Han. She is also starring as Saya Kuroki in the currently-running adaptation of Rick Remender and Wesley Craig's comic book series Deadly Class

If you haven't seen Condor on either the large or small screen yet, it looks like it will be merely a matter of time, whether your preference is for action-packed blockbusters or sweet and relatable romantic comedies, as she's set to reprise her role as Lara Jean in To All the Boys I've Loved Before 2, as well as take the romantic lead in Summer Night, both out later this year.

Idara Victor as Nurse Gerhad

Nurse Gerhad is a new character created for the movie version of Alita. As Dr. Ido's aide, she has a similar role as that of Gonzu, the cyberveterinarian in the original manga. She is played by Idara Victor, a prolific television actress. Most recently she has taken on the role of Angela Brown in the series Love Is_, but she has had roles in many well-known shows, such as All My Children, Law & Order, The Young and the Restless, Mad Men, and Grey's Anatomy. She was also a lead actor in both Rizzoli & Isles and TURN: Washington's Spies, making her very hard to miss if you've got access to cable television. 

In terms of non-television film roles, big movie buffs might remember her as Antigone in Watching TV With the Red Chinese, a 2012 comedy-drama that follows the exploits of a trio of Chinese exchange students in New York. Even though she didn't originally intend on going into acting at all, it seems that she's really taken to the job and is enjoying the pursuit of her passion.

Jeff Fahey as McTeague

Though McTeague's presence in the film is brief, it is memorable, as his cowboy vibes seem out of place in the high-tech world of Alita — and on top of that, he's got a pack of cyborg dogs. He's played by Jeff Fahey, an actor with 35 years of acting credits under his belt. Though he's appeared on TV classics like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Miami Vice, Fahey is perhaps best remembered for his roles as Captain Frank Lapidus on the hit television show Lost and as Duane Duke in Psycho III. He has worked with huge stars like Clint Eastwood in White Hunter Black Heart (also directed by Eastwood) and Pierce Brosnan in The Lawnmower Man

Alita: Battle Angel isn't his first film with director Robert Rodriguez, either, as he played a starring role in Machete, a spin-off film in the Spy Kids franchise. Outside of acting, Fahey has a profound dedication to humanitarian efforts, helping to found orphanages in Kabul and raise awareness about the ongoing refugee crisis that has affected millions of people.

Eiza Gonzalez as Nyssiana

Mexican actress/singer/model Eiza Gonzalez plays the antagonistic cyborg Nyssiana. Gonzalez has been in several Spanish-language television shows, getting her start in the teen-oriented telenovela Lola: Erase una vez as the lead character. She will be more immediately recognizable to American audiences from her roles as Darling in the 2017 crime drama Baby Driver and as Santanico Pandemonium in From Dusk Till Dawn (originally created by Alita director Robert Rodriguez). 

Gonzalez is also a singer who started her musical career with her debut television role in Lola: Erase una vez in 2007. Just a month before Alita was released, she appeared in a lead role in the fantasy film Paradise Hills alongside Crazy Rich Asians star Awkwafina and actress/model Milla Jovovich. If none of these endeavors sound familiar, she's due to star opposite Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Idris Elba in the upcoming Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw later this summer, cementing her place in the hearts and minds of action-loving movie-goers.