Acting is undoubtedly a tough career to break into, even if you are bursting with talent.
To become an actor you have to ooze confidence, be resilient, be persistent, face rejection on a regular basis while remembering all your acting lessons, techniques and those all-important lines. It’s no simple feat, and I doubt that many of us are up for the challenge!
For this reason, many actors take commercial jobs early on in their careers to make rent, but it can be a tough gig to break out of once you’ve started. No one wants to be remembered as “acne cream lady no. 1” but it’s hard not to take anything and everything when you’re a struggling actor!
That being said, everyone has to start somewhere! Being a commercial actor can be just the platform you need to get your portfolio together and move on to bigger and better things. Here are a few big celebrity names that started from meagre beginnings in the commercial acting world.
10. Matt Le Blanc: Heinz Ketchup
Matt Le Blanc moved from a small-town in Massachusetts to New York at the tender age of 17. Originally a carpenter, LeBlanc quick realised it wasn’t the career for him.
At first he tried modelling, but wasn’t quite tall enough at 5ft 11’. He then went into acting and in 1987, he was featured in a Heinz Ketchup commercial. The ad shows Le Blanc carefully placing a Heinz Ketchup bottle on the edge of a building’s roof, before running down a few flights of stairs and catching the falling ketchup on his hot-dog.
9. Elijah Wood: Pizza Hut
Elijah Wood landed his first acting role at the tender age of 7, and his roles only got bigger and bigger from there. In 1999, at the age of 18, he landed the role that would rocket his career into the big leagues; Frodo from The Lord of the Rings.
To get that role, Wood did a lot of TV commercials in his early years, including an ad for Cheese (1992), Tommy Jeans (19980) and Wavy Lays (1994, 1995 & 1996). In 1992 he starred in a Pizza Hut commercial, which featured a Dad hard at work, but unable to grill the family’s hamburgers to perfection, orders Pizza Hut’s hamburger pizza instead!
8. Bryan Cranston: Preparation H
Bryan Cranston is best known for his role as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle between 2000–2006. More recently, he’s become somewhat of an icon as he shocked audiences with his incredible depiction of Walter White in AMC’s hit show, Breaking Bad.
Bryan Cranston had a relatively good acting career in the 90’s, attaining small parts on hit shows such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The X-Files and Seinfeld, but the actor wasn’t always so lucky in his roles. In the 80’s Bryan Cranston was featured in a haemorrhoid cream commercial called Preparation H.
7. Brad Pitt: Pringles
Brad Pitt is a staple name in Hollywood. Best known for his roles in Fight Club, Ocean’s Eleven and Inglourious Basterds, Pitt has established himself as a talented and sought-after actor and has made millions in his chosen career.
Pitt’s breakthrough role was in 1991 as JD, a hitchhiker in Thelma and Louise, but before that he had to climb his way to the top, just like everyone else. With his chiselled jaw, beach-ready body and all-American good looks, Pitt landed himself a commercial for Pringles in 1989 where he was joined by two friends using their surfer charm to steal Pringles from three unsuspecting girls!
6. Keanu Reeves: Corn Flakes
Reeves’ acting career began off the screen and on the stage. At 9 years of age, Reeves appeared in the theatre production of Damn Yankee and at 15 he played Mercutio in a stage production of Romeo and Juliet. On screen, Reeves is known for playing save-the-world roles.
Keanu Reeves also starred in a few commercials on his way to fame, including one for Corn Flakes breakfast cereal. Reeves plays an overly enthusiastic waiter setting cereal down on rows of tables.
5. Bruce Willis: Seagram’s Golden Wine Coolers
In his 30-year-long career, the Die Hard actor has won two Emmy’s and a Golden Globe, but his acting career had humble beginnings.
As a child, Willis suffered from a speech impediment and children were quick to bully him about it. Willis found that he could express himself best on stage, and that this also helped his stutter and soon his high-school years involved many stage performances.
During the early years of his career, Seagram approached Willis and hired him for their Golden Wine Cooler campaign. He was featured in several of their ads, usually singing and dancing, and was paid between $5-7 million over the two years. Willis didn’t renew the contract in 1988 because he stopped drinking.
4. Paul Rudd: Super Nintendo
If you were an 80’s child, you’ll remember the 1995 cult-film Clueless with fond memories. You’ll also remember Paul Rudd as Josh, Cher’s ex-stepbrother and object of her affection.
Rudd knew that he wanted to get into acting from a very young age, and in 1991 was chosen for a Super Nintendo commercial. In the commercial we see Rudd playing games on an outdoor big-screen, and the graphics are to die for!
3. Steve Carell: Brown’s Chicken
After quitting his job as a mailer because his then-boss told him he wasn’t any good at it, Carell began his acting career touring with a children’s theatre company.
In 1989, he landed a commercial with Brown’s Chicken. It’s hard to watch the commercial and not think of Carell’s Michael Scott persona from the hit spin-off of the UK show The Office, as a hint of his famous dry sense of humour shines through.
2. Seth Green: Nerf
The Buffy The Vampire Slayer actor started his career at a very young age. His uncle, who was a casting director, got him into commercials such as Kodak, Burger King and of course, the most embarrassing of them all; Nerf.
There are a few key embarrassing moments in this 1997 Nerf commercial, namely the cool-dude personas, their bullying antics and Rogan’s terribly dated 90’s hairstyle.
1. Morgan Freeman: Cigarettes
Freeman had an aptitude for acting from a very young age, winning a statewide drama competition at the age of 12. After graduating from high-school, Freeman enlisted in the Air Force and served for four years, achieving the status of Airman 1st Class.
Freeman had a few smaller roles, but didn’t break onto the screen until the 1980’s with roles in Driving Miss Daisy and Glory. In 1971, Morgan landed a commercial for a cigarette company, where he narrates over a video of himself smoking.