When you see him onscreen, you may say, “Oh, hey, that guy! “But you may not know him as Will Poulter, because this young English import is so skilled at disappearing into the characters he plays, that it’s easy to miss him as one of the strongest actors in Hollywood today. He’s been featured in both blockbusters like The Maze Runner and in indie darlings like Midsommar. He is on the cusp of being launched into superstardom as he will be featured in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3 next spring, which should establish him firmly among moviegoing audiences. His role as Adam Warlock, a cosmic being who has been traditionally tied to the Soul Stone, has deeper ties to notable characters in Marvel Comics. So before Poulter sets off for the stars, here are the seven performances that best showcase the actor’s impressive talents.
Lee Carter in Son of Rambow (2007)
Poulter made his film debut at age 14 in this British charmer as middle school terror Lee Carter, the boy who wants to direct his own sequel to Rambo: First Blood and become the next Spielberg. Poulter is hilariously menacing in this one, willing and able to put his fellow students in grave physical danger in order to get the right shot, yet endearing in the relentless pursuit of his passion. Poulter’s character also forms an unlikely bond with Will (Bill Milner), a classmate from an ultra-conservative religious family, and the genuineness of their friendship is what gives the movie its heart. Poulter has an uncanny way of portraying characters who are both dangerous and lovable, and Son of Rambow gives him the ideal vehicle to showcase this extraordinary ability.
Kenny Rossmore in We’re the Millers (2013)
Jennifer Aniston and Jason Sudeikis headline this comic caper, but it’s Poulter who steals the movie as Kenny, the hapless teenager who agrees to be part of a fake family traveling to Mexico to smuggle drugs across the border. While the other members of his manufactured clan are all jaded failures hoping for a big score, Poulter’s Kenny is just a simple sap with nothing better to do but go along for the ride. In a less skilled actor’s hands, the character of Kenny could have been a caricature performance, but Poulter gives Kenny layers of humanity and empathy. In a scene where Sudeikis’ slimy character tries to convince Kenny to perform sexual acts on a corrupt Mexican cop so the “family” can escape danger, Poulter brilliantly conveys what a horrible predicament he’s been put into and shows he absolutely does not want to do. the deed, but at the same time, he does want to keep the people in his life safe from harm. While the scene is hilarious, audiences feel the agony of Kenny’s struggle to do right by his co-conspirators. Then, of course, there’s the scene in which Kenny gets a spider bite in the worst possible place. Poulter’s superb slapstick makes this movie’s most memorable moment.
Shane in Glassland (2014)
Where We’re the Millers is a laugh-filled American romp, Glassland is a bleak Irish drama and one of the last places you’d find a character like Kenny. In this film, Poulter is a revelation as Shane, a working-class lad with little direction and a young son he is not allowed to see. He spends most of his time at the video arcade and DVD store with his best friend John (Jack Reynor), who’s dealing with his own demons and an alcoholic mother (the always superb Toni Collette). Poulter’s Shane is a young man straddling the divide between adolescence and adulthood, struggling to find a way to make it safely across. Some of Poulter’s best moments in this film are when he’s saying nothing at all; his ability to express Shane’s turmoil and grief through the simple arch of a brow or a steely gaze is revelatory. In one particularly heartbreaking scene, John takes Shane to the arcade and arranges a surprise reunion between Shane and his son. Shane stands motionless, staring at the young boy in front of him, and in that brief moment, without a single word, Poulter conveys all the shock, joy, longing, and melancholy Shane is feeling.
Jim Bridger in The Revenant (2015)
This acclaimed frontier drama earned Leonardo DiCaprio an Oscar, but it also gave Poulter another opportunity to show just how capable he is at embodying diverse character roles. Poulter plays Jim Bridger, a green Montana fur trapper under the controlling thumb of the heartless John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Poulter brings a palpable sense of despair and heaviness to his role as the unworldly huntsman racked with overwhelming guilt, fearful of speaking the truth. There’s a pivotal scene in which Bridger confronts Fitzgerald, with Poulter successfully conveying that first spark of maturity in Bridger that eventually leads to his redemption. In fact, Bridger may be the most interesting character in the movie, experiencing an arc from naïveté to self-realization, and Poulter masterfully pulls off the transformation.
Philip Krauss in Detroit (2017)
Kathryn Bigelow directed this chilling drama recounting 1967’s deadly Detroit riots, with Poulter as police officer Krauss. Seething with rage and racism, Poulter is downright frightening in one of his finest performances to date. Detroit is an exceedingly uncomfortable watch, with an extended sequence featuring Poulter’s Krauss brutalizing and intimidating witnesses in a series of sadistic cat-and-mouse interrogation sessions. Watching Poulter embody someone so horrendously wicked is such a jarring experience, it’s difficult to believe he’s the same actor who played the lovable Kenny in We’re the Millers. It’s also a testament to Poulter’s fearlessness as a performer to be willing to go full bore and portray such a loathsome individual.
Mark in Midsommar (2019)
In this Ari Aster shocker, a group of friends travels to a Swedish village for a once-in-a-lifetime summer solstice festival. Poulter plays Will, the goofy frat boy who just wants to go to Europe, drink a lot of beer, and meet some girls. Unfortunately for Will, once he relieves himself on the village’s sacred Rotvalta tree, the locals conspire to make him pay for his grievous offense. Poulter is at home playing a wide-eyed boy who becomes infatuated with one of the hamlet’s girls, but who’s too nervous and insecure to approach her. When she makes the first move and asks him to come with her, the look of surprise and eager anticipation that registers on Poulter’s face is priceless. It’s clear he thinks he’s going to score, but audiences know it’s a different score that’s about to be settled.
Billy Cutler in Dopesick (2021)
In this Hulu miniseries about the origins of the opioid addiction crisis, Poulter plays Billy Cutler, an ambitious young pharmaceutical salesperson with dollar signs in his eyes who peddles OxyContin to local doctors offices. Billy faces a moral crisis when one of his clients, Dr. Finnix (Michael Keaton), becomes addicted himself. Watching Finnix’s gradual decompensation leads Billy to renounce the lies he’s been telling and reckon with his consequences. Poulter is remarkable in a scene where Billy visits Finnix in rehab and confesses his transgressions in a tearful breakdown, only to discover that Finnix does not want his apology at all, just more pills.