Like all Christopher Nolan films, nearly everything about Tenet was kept secret during production. And like many Christopher Nolan films – most notably Inception, which it feels like a companion piece to – its plot developments are complicated enough to make your brain ache. Because of this, you might not realise that some pretty well-known actors have supporting roles in the film. Here are five familiar faces from the Tenet cast who pop up as the Protagonist (John David Washington) and right-hand man Neil (Robert Pattinson) try to stop a Russian oligarch (Kenneth Branagh) from helping the future to destroy the present. Mild spoiler: it all pivots on the idea that objects and people can be sent back in time to the present, but with an entropy that’s “inverted”, meaning everything happens backwards. Is your brain aching yet?
It’s strange that Taylor-Johnson isn’t given above-the-title billing in every Tenet poster: he’s a big name (and a Golden Globe winner, for Nocturnal Animals) who gets a decent amount of screen time, albeit exclusively in the final act. Perhaps Nolan was trying to be especially secretive about his role? Anyway, he plays a time-travelling soldier called Ives who’s integral to the final battle between the Protagonist and Branagh’s baddie. Wearing combat gear and and a thick beard – so thick, in fact, that you might not recognise him at first – he’s a more down-to-earth counterpoint to the film’s other male characters. Neil and the Protagonist aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty either, but they tend to do so in beautifully tailored suits.
She’s probably best known for playing Fleur Delacour in the Harry Potter films, but Frenchwoman Poésy is a prolific and versatile actress: she also starred in Sky Atlantic’s acclaimed crime drama series The Tunnel and had a key supporting role in Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges. She pops up early in Tenet playing a super-composed scientist who explains the concept of objects with inverted entropies to the Protagonist. It’s a small but important part which requires Poésy to deliver some pretty complicated dialogue, which she does in a flawless English accent.
Patel departed EastEnders in 2016 after playing quiet doctor Tamwar Masood for nearly a decade. Three years later, he made his movie debut with a huge leading role in Danny Boyle’s Beatles-themed romcom Yesterday. He also appeared recently in Armando Iannucci’s sci-fi sitcom Avenue 5. Joining the Tenet cast, he plays Mahir, a clever and inventive associate of Pattinson’s Neil who’s basically a bit of a fixer. He masterminds the first big action sequence involving Neil and the Protagonist and later assists Elizabeth Debicki’s character, Lady Catherine Barton, in a crucial covert operation.
Nolan isn’t averse to a bit of surprising casting: he gave us David Bowie as Nikola Tesla in The Prestige and Harry Styles as a World War II soldier in Dunkirk, a punt which definitely paid off. Kapadia is a Bollywood legend with more than 90 acting credits to her name, but Tenet is her first-ever Hollywood outing. She’s dignified but suitably slippery as Priya, the wife of a billionaire arms dealer who’s not quite what she seems, and arguably the most powerful person in the film.
Though not a household name, Donovan is one of those instantly familiar actors who seems to pop up all the time: you might recognise him from Ant-Man, Homeland, Legends of Tomorrow or Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice. He makes an early appearance in Tenet as a mysterious figure – some kind of agent, presumably – who assigns the Protagonist his mission without explaining very much of what it actually involves.