Let’s face it, most hugely successful stars and celebrities are drop-dead-gorgeous. So, it’s no surprise that many of our favourite A-listers got their start in modeling. Modeling can often be a gateway for a young actor, as both mediums typically require pretty and expressive faces. Some of the celebrities on this list began their modeling careers as toddlers, children, or tweens, but all of them found further success later on in life.
Indeed, many of these actors and actresses found great freedom in being able to travel the world and model, and many have great things to say about their experience in the advertising industry. Whether they were put on the front cover of a magazine or shot for a Levi’s commercial, all of the celebrities on this list began their careers out of the spotlight, as the unknown faces for brands and products worldwide.
20. Hayden Panettiere
The 25-year-old New York native got her acting start when she was just five, playing Sarah Roberts on the soap opera One Life to Live, and then moved on to the soap Guiding Light two years later. Way before that, however, Panettiere appeared in a commercial at the age of 11 months and subsequently became a child model. She appeared on the cover of Family PC in 1995, and would go on to become a star in shows such as Ally McBeal, Heroes, and Nashville.
19. Mischa Barton
The English-Irish actress Mischa Barton became a household name when she played the role of Marissa Cooper in the TV show The O.C. When she was a young girl, however, she was a child model signed with Ford Models. Barton appeared in numerous fashion campaigns, including one for Gitano clothing in 1996.
Since then she has starred in many television commercials and ad campaigns, modeling for companies such as Calvin Klein, Bebe, Dooney & Bourke, JC, Neutrogena, and many more. Barton also has her own line of headbands and handbags.
18. Michelle Trachtenberg
As a youngster, Michelle Trachtenberg appeared in over 100 commercials. She made her first television performance in a commercial for Wisk detergent when she was just three years old. She transitioned from modeling to acting in 1994 and nabbed the role of Nona F. Mecklenberg on the Nickelodeon series The Adventures of Pete & Pete.
Since then she has taken on roles in TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gossip Girl, and films including Harriet the Spy and EuroTrip.
17. Jennifer Connelly
Jennifer Connelly is another actress who began her career as a child model. She appeared in newspaper, magazine, and TV ads before she made her first debut in the 1984 Sergio Leone masterpiece Once Upon a Time in America. She started modeling with the Ford Modeling Agency at the age of 10 and got many gigs, including Seventeen magazine. Even with her numerous appearances, Connelly told Us Weekly in 1986, “I wasn’t like, ‘I’m a model.’”
16. Katherine Heigl
Before winning a Primetime Emmy as Dr. Isobel “Izzie” Stevens on Grey’s Anatomy, Katherine Heigl began her career as a child model for Wilhelmina Models. She posed in campaigns for Sears, Lord & Taylor, and in a 1990 Kids ‘R Us ad. She landed a role as a teenager in the 1992 movie That Night, and would go on to become an accomplished actress. Most recently she returned to television as a CIA attache in the NBC drama State of Affairs.
15. Brooke Shields
Brooke Shields began her career as a child model way back in 1966, when she was just 11 months old. Her first job was for Ivory Soap, and she continued her success with model agent Eileen Ford, founder of the Ford Modeling Agency. In 1980, at the age of 14, Shields became the youngest fashion model to ever appear on the cover of Vogue. Later that year she appeared in a controversial ad for Calvin Klein jeans when the TV ad included the now-famous line, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”
14. Kirsten Dunst
Kirsten’s mother, Inez, takes the credit for the actress’s early success. Inez, an artist and gallery owner, took her daughter to auditions starting at three years old. She was signed with Ford Models and Elite Model Management, and her first paying gig was for a cereal commercial in which she appeared opposite child-star Lindsay Lohan. She appeared in over 100 commercials before making her film debut at the age of six, in Woody Allen’s short film Oedipus Wrecks.
13. Lindsay Lohan
Before Lindsay Lohan became the train wreck we all know today, she became an overnight success after starring in the 1998 Disney remake of The Parent Trap at the tender age of 11. She was also a model in Ford Model’s lineup and appeared in a national print campaign for Calvin Klein.
In 2008 and 2009 she worked as a fashion model and launched her clothing line 6126. Though she never quite made a smooth transition from child star to adult star, she has continued to appear in numerous movies.
12. Martha Stewart
Before becoming a hugely successful businesswoman thanks to her cooking empire, and before her 2004 conviction of insider trading charges, Martha Stewart was a college student who supported herself through modeling. She stated she modeled for “jobs at $50/hour, which was a lot of money at that time.”
Her clients included different brands of swimwear, Chanel, and more. At the age of 15 she starred in a TV commercial for Unilever, and then appeared in a commercial for one of Tareyton’s “Smokers would rather fight than switch!” cigarette ads.
11. Taylor Kitsch
This Canadian star moved to New York in 2002 after receiving an opportunity to pursue modeling with IMG. He studied acting there as well and became a personal trainer. For a time Kitsch was homeless and slept on subway trains, and then he relocated to LA in 2004 where he modeled for Diesel and Abercrombie & Fitch. He also appeared in a coffee table book by celebrity photographer John Russo called About Face. Kitsch would go on to star in Friday Night Lights and then many other movies.
10. Naomi Campbell
The London-born model and actress was one of the most in-demand models in the late 1980s and 1990s. Naomi Campbell, who is officially of African-Jamaican, Chinese-Jamaican descent, was one of just six models of her generation to be dubbed a “supermodel” by the fashion world. But she was working in the background before she became a superstar.
At 15 – while studying dance at the Italia Conti Academy – she was scouted by Beth Boldt, who urged Campbell to take photos and sign with the Elite Modeling Agency. Another interesting tidbit: Campbell’s first public appearance came at the age of seven, in 1978, when she was featured in Bob Marley’s music video for “Is This Love.”
9. Norman Reedus
Although many people may now know it, the Floridian actor Norman Reedus has banked on his modeling career for many years. Before starring in the 1999 film The Boondock Saints, its sequel, and his career-catapulting role as Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead, Reedus had a successful modeling career. He appeared in ads for Gap, Prada, Alessandro Dell’Acqua, Durban, Levi’s, Lexus, and Morgenthal Frederics. He’s even appeared in nine music videos, has a book of photography published, and currently shows his artwork in galleries in New York, Berlin, and Frankfurt.
8. Taylor Swift
Before her seven grammys, record-smashing songs, and wildly successful career as a singer-songwriter, Taylor Swift posed for Abercrombie & Fitch in 2003, when she was 14 years old. She was working with New York-based music manager Dan Dymtrow in 2003, and with his help she modeled in Abercrombie & Fitch’s “Rising Stars” campaign, and then had an original song of hers included in a Maybelline compilation CD.
7. Robert Pattinson
The Twilight star began modeling at the young age of 12, but then his workload began to diminish just four years later. He blames the lack of bookings on his masculine appearance: “When I first started I was quite tall and looked like a girl, so I got lots of jobs, because it was during that period when the androgynous look was cool. Then, I guess, I became too much of a guy, so I never got any more jobs. I had the most unsuccessful modeling career.” That being said, he appeared in the ad campaign for Hackett’s 2007 autumn collection, and in 2013 Pattinson was announced as the new face of Dior Homme fragrance.
6. Jennifer Lawrence
The hugely successful Kentucky-born actress first enlisted the Kentucky-based photographer Chris Kaufman to help get her modeling career off the ground. This was when she was a tween, and two years later she scored an agent and transitioned into acting, first starring in the TBS comedy series The Bill Engvall Show.
Since then, she became the second-youngest Best Actress winner at the Oscars for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook, and has since gained international fame for playing leading heroine Katniss Everdeen in the popular The Hunger Games film series.
5. Ashton Kutcher
Ashton Kutcher began his career as a model while still attending high school in Iowa. Then he participated in an IMTA competition in 1998 and lost to Josh Duhamel, and then signed with Next modeling agency in New York and appeared in commercials for Calvin Klein in Paris and Milan. As for his modeling experience, he said, “I didn’t even know guys modeled before that. I thought Fabio was the only male model, and I really didn’t fit that bill.” Kutcher would go on to portray Michael Kelso in That ‘70s Show, and proceed to have successful acting and investing careers.
4. Cameron Diaz
The beautiful actress Cameron Diaz began her career as a fashion model at the age of 16 when she contracted with Elite Model Management. She spent the next few years working around the world for companies such as Calvin Klein and Levi’s. She appeared on the front cover of the July 1990 issue of Seventeen magazine, and in 1991 spent two to three months in Sydney, Australia, shooting a commercial for Coca-Cola. Four years later the 21-year-old auditioned for The Mask, with no previous acting experience, and was cast. The film became one of the top ten grossing films of 1994 and launched Diaz as a sex symbol.
3. Channing Tatum
Not only did Channing Tatum begin as a model – he was also a stripper who worked under the name “Chan Crawford.” That stint of course led to the movie Magic Mike. In 2000 he was paid $400 to dance in Ricky Martin’s music video for “She Bangs.” He began modeling for clients such as Armani and Abercrombie & Fitch, and then moved to TV commercials, landing national spots for Pepsi and Mountain Dew.
He signed with Miami-based modeling agency Page 305 (Page Parkes Modeling Agency), but found more success after being cast by Al David for Vogue. He was picked as one of Tear Sheet magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful Faces” in 2001, and also signed with Beatrice Model Agency in Milan, and Ford Models in New York.
2. Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie is best known as an actress and humanitarian, but when she was younger she was a model and, in her words, “I am still at heart – and always will be – just a punk kid with tattoos.” At the age of 14 she “aspired” to become a funeral director. She began working as a fashion model in the early ’90s in Los Angeles, New York, and London, and during this time she wore black clothing almost exclusively.
She also appeared in music videos for Meat Loaf, The Lemonheads, and Lenny Kravitz. Since then she has, of course, become a wildly successful actress, winning an Academy Award and being named as Hollywood’s highest-paid actress in 2009, 2011, and 2013.
1. Brad Pitt
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the other half of Hollywood’s most beautiful couple, Brad Pitt, began his career as a model. In the same year as he made his film debut as a cowboy hitchhiker in Thelma & Louise, Pitt starred as a man freed from prison in a commercial for Levi’s jeans. He would of course go on to have great Hollywood success, and a 2006 global industry survey by ACNielsen found Pitt and Angelina Jolie to be the favorite celebrity endorsers for brands and products worldwide. He appeared in several TV commercials for Heineken, Acura Integra, SoftBank, and Edwin Jeans.