Usually, when an actor is famous, we know them most for their most recent or iconic roles. We remember Alan Rickman for the Harry Potter movies and Elijah Wood for Lord of the Rings. But what about their early roles? While it’s not always the case, some first film roles of famous actors can actually be quite surprising. They may have had a small role in a big movie or started out their career with an award-winning performance. Whatever the case, these roles may shock some readers.
Read on for our list of surprising first film roles of 10 famous actors.
10. Alan Rickman – Die Hard (1988)
Alan Rickman was a decorated actor not only long before his role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter franchise, but also before his very first film role. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in the mid-1970s, he made a name for himself in British theater and television. He was even nominated for a Tony Award in 1987. It’s surprising then that his first film role was more than a decade after he started acting. He starred as the main villain in the 1988 movie Die Hard alongside Bruce Willis. Also interesting: He played a German man named Hans Gruber, despite being born and raised in England.
9. Zoe Saldana – Center Stage (2000)
Zoe Saldana has made a name for herself when it comes to sci-fi and action movies. She had big roles in Avatar and the recent smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy. Before any of those movies, she first starred in Center Stage in 2000. She played Eva, one of the main dancers at a prestigious ballet school. Not only does she act in the movie, but she also does the ballet. Fortunately for her, she attended ECOS Espacio de Danza Dance Academy in her youth. Without that education, she may never have entered the film world and earned as much success as she has now.
8. Elijah Wood – Back to the Future Part II (1989)
These days, Elijah Wood is most known for his role as Frodo Baggins in the critically acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy. While he got most of his fame from his roles as an adult, he actually started his career at a much younger age. He began in television commercials and music videos when he was only seven years old. However, his first film role was actually in Back to the Future Part II. When Marty McFly goes into the future, he sees two kids playing an arcade game in the diner. One of those kids? Yep, that’s Elijah Wood starting his long and storied film acting career.
7. Jake Gyllenhaal – City Slickers (1991)
Jake Gyllenhaal had an interesting start to his acting career. Because he came from a Hollywood family–his father, Stephen Gyllenhaal, is a film producer and his mother, Naomi Foner, is a screenwriter–he already had a taste of the industry before he ever got his first role. Perhaps because of these connections, he landed the role of Billy Crystal‘s son in the popular 1991 flick City Slickers. After that first role, however, Jake told IGN.com that his parents wouldn’t let him take the roles that he auditioned for and won as a child. They’d only allow him to act in movies directed or produced by his father. Perhaps that’s why his biggest and best roles–like Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain–happened after he became an adult and he could make those decisions for himself.
6. Kevin Bacon – Animal House (1978)
Kevin Bacon has been a big name actor since the 1980s, but he actually got his start in the 1970s with the ’78 smash hit Animal House. Still, his comedy film debut didn’t launch him into a movie acting career just yet. He spent the following years acting in TV soap operas like Guiding Light before his film career really took off. With 1984’s Footloose, everyone knew his name. Of his very first film role, Kevin said, “They cast me straight out of acting school. I went for this goofy audition for this movie, and then I forgot all about it.”
5. Jennifer Aniston – Leprechaun (1993)
Despite growing up in a Hollywood family–her parents are both seasoned actors–Jennifer Aniston still had to get her start the hard way. While she worked on failed TV shows in the early 1990s, she had to get by working jobs as a waitress and telemarketer. Finally, she landed her first film role as Tory in the 1993 cheesy horror movie Leprechaun. Although the movie has a low Rotten Tomatoes rating of only 27%, it’s worth a watch just to see Jennifer’s original nose. All that hard work early on in her career paid off, and now she is considered one of the Hollywood elite.
4. Johnny Depp – A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Johnny Depp has been making iconic movies for decades. While he got famous in the late ’80s and early ’90s for his roles in 21 Jump Street, Cry-Baby and Edward Scissorhands, he started in an unlikely place–a classic horror movie. Not only was A Nightmare on Elm Street his very first role–garnering him an “Introducing Johnny Depp” in the opening credits–but he was also one of the main characters. He sported belly shirts and fluffy feathered hair as the main character Nancy’s sweet boyfriend. His death scene, thanks to overzealous Freddy Krueger, remains one of the most memorable in the entire movie franchise.
3. Kate Winslet – Heavenly Creatures (1994)
Most actors have to take a slew of small roles before they ever land a big part in a film. That wasn’t the case for Kate Winslet. Her first role was a big one. She was chosen out of over 175 girls for one of the lead roles in Peter Jackson‘s Heavenly Creatures, a drama based on the true story of two murderous best friends. Not only was this Kate’s first role, but it was also her costar Melanie Lynskey’s first role as well. Audiences were so taken by Kate’s acting skills that she earned a London Film Critics’ Circle Award for ‘British Actress of the Year’ for this very first role.
2. Nicolas Cage – Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
If you’re a student of film, especially a student of Hollywood families, then you’ll know that Nicolas Cage’s real last name is Coppola. That’s right, he’s Francis Ford Coppola‘s nephew. At the very beginning of his career, Nic used his real last name to get roles. That’s how he ended up getting a very small part in his first movie: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). After that first role, he decided to drop Coppola and adopt Cage instead. In an interview, he said, “I needed to change my name just to liberate myself and find out I could do it without walking into a Hollywood casting office with the name Coppola.” It seemed to have worked: He landed the lead role in Valley Girl in 1983–and the rest is history.
1. Halle Berry – Jungle Fever (1991)
When you consider what Halle Berry was doing before her very first film role, you may be surprised at the role she chose as her first. See, Halle was a decorated beauty pageant winner in the 1980s. She won the 1985 Miss Teen All American, 1986 Miss Ohio USA and was the very first African American pageant contestant in the Miss World competition in 1986. Yet, her very first film role in 1991’s Jungle Fever was as a dirty junkie named Vivien–quite a stark contrast from her pageant days. The choice seems to have paid off, though. She’s had near-constant movie roles ever since.