The rise to pop stardom can be a rough business -- just ask Justin Bieber or Britney Spears. English actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw captures that fraught journey convincingly in buzzed-about film Beyond the Lights (in theaters now through Relativity Media). The 31-year-old portrays Noni, a singer (based loosely on Rihanna and other stars) who attempts suicide after being forced into a highly sexual persona by a domineering mom-ager (Minnie Driver) and record executives. With guidance from director Gina Prince-Bythewood, Mbatha-Raw immersed herself in music, recording songs written by The Dream for the film, acting alongside rapper Machine Gun Kelly and soaking up intense dance training from choreographer Laurieann Gibson (Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj).
Mbatha-Raw (center) in Beyond the Lights.