Tom Hanks has more than enough charismatic giddy-up in his first-ever Western, “News of the World,” as a Civil War veteran and widower Jefferson Kyle Kidd in 1870 Texas who makes a living by going from town to town and reading aloud stories from newspapers. But his 12-year-old co-star, Helena Zengel, is also earning critical praise as a 10-year-old German girl, Johanna Leonberger, who prefers to be called Cicada. She was taken from her family by the Kiowa tribe four years earlier and was raised as one of their own. The upstanding Kidd volunteers to deliver the girl to her German relatives near San Antonio. Along the way, these two broken loners slowly but surely create a bond together as they share a harrowing journey.
If she gets nominated as a supporting actress, she would join an elite club of 21 acting contenders aged 18 and younger, who competed for Tinseltown’s highest honor. Tour our photo gallery featuring Jodie Foster, Haley Joel Osment and Hailee Steinfeld plus actual winners Patty Duke, Anna Paquin and Tatum O’Neal. We are not including those performers who received honorary juvenile awards.
The Wall Street Journal critic Joe Morgenstern had this to say about the young newcomer Zengel in her Hollywood debut: “Tom Hanks gets the best lines in ‘News of the World’ … He does them justice, as always, but his co-star, an extraordinary 12-year-old named Helena Zengel, gets the best silences. They give the film its dimension of mystery.’ “
Zengel first professional acting job was an appearance in a music video at age of 5. She made a name for herself in the 2019 German film “System Crasher” while playing a violent, near-feral child who lashes out and rejects anyone who wants to help her. She earned a best actress Lola for her performance – Germany’s version of an Oscar. When “News of the World” director Paul Greengrass saw her work in the film, he knew he found just the right actress to play the initially difficult but ultimately affectionate girl. As he told the Hollywood Reporter, “Her stillness, the way she radiates inner wisdom makes her captivating every moment she’s on screen.”