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Why These Marvel Phase 4 Actors Look So Familiar

Marvel Studios continues to increase the pace of their MCU slate, cranking out several movies and TV series each year. And every time fresh announcements come around, fans breathlessly await the news not only of which favorite characters will make the leap from the page to the screen, but who will play them. The biggest revelations usually happen at the San Diego Comic-Con, one of the biggest pop culture meet-ups and exhibitions in the entertainment industry. In 2019, Marvel Studios did not disappoint, with president Kevin Feige on hand to reveal details of where the films will go after the quite conclusive events of Avengers: Endgame and Spider-Man: Far from Home closed out Phase 3. 

Well, it will head into Phase 4 (and Phase 5), of course. Among the new projects announced (or at least hinted at) during the SDCC panel: The Eternals, Black Widow, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Blade, and sequels to Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Thor, Captain Marvel, and Black Panther. Along with the intriguing new titles came some enticing cast announcements. Here are some people set to make a big splash in the MCU, along with some clues as to where you've seen them before.

Florence Pugh (Black Widow)

At the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel Studios revealed some details of its long-anticipated Black Widow standalone movie, including the confirmation that rising English star Florence Pugh would portray a character named Yelena Belova, who the actress described as a "sister figure" to Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, to be portrayed once more by Scarlett Johansson. Pugh first appeared on screen in the 2014 British film The Falling. She and Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams played best friends in this late '60s-set boarding school psychological drama. 

From there she moved on to the romantic drama Lady Macbeth. Despite the title, it wasn't a Shakespearean adaptation, but the 2018 TV movie version of King Lear she starred in was — Pugh played the dying king's kind daughter, Cordelia. More recently, she had roles in Chris Pine's 14th century Scottish epic Outlaw King and AMC's assassin thriller miniseries The Little Drummer Girl. Pugh is having a very good 2019, peaking at just the right time — or at least making enough waves to get the attention of Marvel's casting agents. Just after the announcement that she'd co-star in Black Widow, she played a younger version of real-life WWE wrestler Paige in the well-received comedy Fighting with My Family. She followed that immediately with the lead role in Midsommar, the critical darling of a horror movie about a weird Swedish cult and its not-so-innocuous solstice festival.

O-T Fagbenle (Black Widow)

The upcoming Black Widow movie will include a character named Rick Mason, a former S.H.I.E.L.D. contact of Natasha's and a possible love interest. Landing that pivotal role: London-born actor O-T Fagbenle. Black Widow is the role that will likely make his a household name, as up to now he's primarily been a prolific actor on a variety of British television series not widely known outside the U.K. 

Fagbenle studied at the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and appeared on stages around the world in the 2000s, including an acclaimed stint in Porgy and Bess on London's West End and an award-winning turn in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom for the National Theatre.

Fagbenle balanced his stage work with TV, taking on parts in Britcoms like Grownups, FM, and Material Girl, along with a couple of episodes of Doctor Who. He got his first major exposure stateside on HBO's romantic drama Looking as Frank, a guy with some relationship problems. Fagbenle found his breakthrough role on Hulu's harrowing, Emmy-winning adaptation of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. He plays Luke Bankhole, husband of June (Elisabeth Moss), prior to the dystopian revolution that resulted in Gilead.

Awkwafina (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings)

In December 2018, Marvel informed fans that a film about kung-fu master and superhero Shang-Chi was on the way. San Diego Comic-Con 2019 brought more news, including a full title of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, and confirmation that it would be Marvel's first movie headlined by actors of Asian descent. Among the lead cast: rapper and actress Awkwafina. Though her role remains undisclosed, her meteoric rise in recent years makes her inclusion in Marvel's exciting new enterprise very noteworthy.

Born under the name Nora Lum, Awkwafina first gained attention for her music — her song 2012 "My Vag" has racked up more than 4.5 million YouTube hits, and was included on her debut hip-hop album Yellow Ranger. Her songs are frequently funny and satirical, and that sense of humor led to supporting roles in comedy movies and TV shows, such as sorority lady Christine in Neighbors 2 and a recurring role as a mean video game store employee on Future Man. Awkwafina broke out in a big way in the summer of 2018, appearing in two hit ensemble comedies and nearly stealing them both: Ocean's 8 (as master pickpocket Constance) and Crazy Rich Asians (as boisterous BFF Peik Lin Goh).

Before you catch her in Shang-Chi when it hits theaters in February 2021, Awkwafina can be seen in the lead role of indie dramedy The Farewell, and will soon appear in Jumanji: The Next Level, the third SpongeBob Squarepants movie, and as Scuttle in the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid.

Simu Liu (Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings)

Chinese Canadian actor Simu Liu has built up a solid acting resume, appearing on many television series filmed in the Great White North. Viewers may have spotted him as "Bartender" on a 2014 episode of Warehouse 13, or "EMT #1" on an installment of Beauty and the Beast. As you may be able to guess from those character names, his beginnings were humble. From there, though, he moved up to a recurring role on the Canadian crime drama Blood and Water and the central role of estranged son Jung on the hit CBC sitcom Kim's Convenience.

Liu made his way into American television as ex-CIA guy Faaron on NBC's short-lived TV adaptation of Taken, and worked as a stunt double on Heroes Reborn and Designated Survivor. In the spring of 2019, he guest-starred on an episode of Fresh Off the Boat as a helpful Taipei street vendor named Willie who helps out broke, lost main character Eddie. Portraying Shang-Chi in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings marks Liu's first starring role in a feature film. Amazingly, he publicly lobbied (via Twitter) for the part in 2018, tweeting, "OK @Marvel, are we gonna talk or what #ShangChi."

Brian Tyree Henry (The Eternals)

Marvel's Phase 4 will include The Eternals, a story about alien immortals sent to Earth to protect humanity. Brian Tyree Henry will star as Phastos, one of those good guys. Back in 2016, Henry found his breakout role: world-weary, late-blooming rapper Alfred Miles, a.k.a. Paper Boi, on Donald Glover's FX dramedy Atlanta. Henry earned an Emmy nomination for his work, but that's not the only awards attention he's received. Before moving into television and movies, Henry put in some time on Broadway. He acted and sang as part of the ensemble in The Book of Mormon, the musical by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park. In 2018, he used part of his Atlanta hiatus to return to the Great White Way, starring in the play Lobby Hero, for which he received a Tony Award nomination.

The exposure from Atlanta and Broadway helped Henry move into film, and he's landed supporting roles in many major movies. In 2018, Henry appeared in three acclaimed films: Widows (as crime lord Jamal Manning), If Beale Street Could Talk (as reforming convict Daniel Carty), and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (as the voice of the father of hero Miles Morales). Henry co-starred as Detective Mike Norris in the 2019 remake of Child's Play, and he's got a lot of other movies on the way. In addition to The Eternals, Henry will show up in Joker, Godzilla vs. Kong, and A Quiet Place 2.

Richard Madden (The Eternals)

Along with Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, and Brian Tyree Henry, Richard Madden will portray one of The Eternals. Specifically, he'll be the "cosmic energy"-driven Eternal named Ikaris. Like a lot of actors from the U.K. — he's Scottish — Madden got his start performing classic plays in the legitimate British theatrical tradition. After graduating and acting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and the Glasgow Repertory Company, in 2007 he won the role of Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, presented at the Globe Theatre (as in William Shakespeare's Globe Theatre) in London. From there, it was a short hop to British television, a virtual farm system to the international smash hit that was Game of Thrones. He played presumed heir of Winterfell Robb Stark on the HBO series, until the character (as is likely to happen on Game of Thrones) died a bloody and violent death. After leaving Westeros in 2013, Madden moved on to play another ruler, Cosimo de' Medici on the Italian Renaissance-set series Medici.

Madden then quickly hopped over to his biggest role since Thrones: the BBC thriller Bodyguard. He portrays the titular bodyguard to a British politician, and for his trouble he won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama. Shortly before he landed the role of Ikrais, Madden played John Reid, Elton John's lover and manager (and ostensible villain) in the biopic Rocketman.

Lauren Ridloff (The Eternals)

A lot of actors struggle for years to find work in major Hollywood blockbusters. Others get a little luck added to their talent, and get asked to join the cast of, say, a potentially huge Marvel Studios blockbuster with only a handful of screen credits to their name. The center of such a Hollywood success story: actress Lauren Ridloff, cast as alien superhuman Makkari in Marvel's upcoming The Eternals. She'll play the first-ever deaf hero in the MCU. 

A former stay-at-home mom and Miss Deaf America, Ridloff got into acting, landing a part in If You Could Hear My Own Tune, a film about how deaf people perceive music. Ridloff then appeared in the fantastical Wonderstruck, an episode of the CW supernatural series Legacies, and on an installment of NBC's medical drama Margot. Her most prominent role before The Eternals: portraying Hilltop survivor Connie during the ninth season of The Walking DeadAway from TV, Ridloff earned a Tony Award nomination for her work in a revival of Children of a Lesser God.

Mahershala Ali (Blade)

Before Iron Man launched the MCU in 2008, and even before X-Men and Spider-Man redefined modern superhero cinema, the seeds of the Marvel movie revolution were sown by Blade in 1998. Wesley Snipes starred as the titular sword-wielding, vampire-hunting half-vampire in what would be the first of three action-packed hero/horror movies. Who could possibly replace Snipes in his most famous role? A two-time Academy Award-winning actor is who. 

At the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con, Marvel announced that a reboot of Blade was on the way — not for its imminent slate of Marvel Cinematic Universe "phase 4" movies, but as part of the distant "Phase 5." Starring as the too-cool-to-be-mortal vampire hunter: Mahershala Ali, one of the most acclaimed actors of his generation. Just days before his introduction as the new Blade, Ali received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie for his work as a haunted Louisiana murder investigator on HBO's True Detective.

Back in February, Ali won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Green Book, portraying real-life pianist Dr. Donald Shirley. That made for Ali's second Oscar in just three years— he first won in 2017 for his work in Moonlight. Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige reported that spinning Oscar gold into comic book vampire adventures was Ali's plan all along — shortly after the award ceremony in February 2019, the actor reached out to Feige specifically to request the role of Blade.