We’ve all had the dream. The one where you’re walking down the street and someone stops you, “Excuse me,” they say, “you wouldn’t happen to want to be super rich and famous would you?” Well this is a fantasy for normal people, less likely to happen to you than winning the lottery, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t ever happen. Just because you don’t have the luck of the Irish, doesn’t mean others can’t have it. I’m here to tell you that others do have it. There are some actors who have amazing stories of being asked to act or model out of nowhere. Yeah, they’re beautiful or unique looking. No doubt that helps. For the ones on this list, acting sort of just fell into their laps and they ran with it, becoming the household names we know them as today.
That’s not to say that there wasn’t hard work involved along the way. It’s unlikely that any of these stars got where they are today by sitting around on their couches eating Cheetos and binge-watching The Walking Dead. But they did get their starts in strange and lucky ways. They were beautiful enough, interesting enough, charismatic enough or weird enough to draw the right person’s attention at the right time. Not only that, but the person who saw them probably had to have some pull, too. In almost all of these cases, there was a series of very fortunate events that led to their discovery. Today, they’re famous, but, at one point, these people were just randoms like us. Their names are known by almost everyone, while my own mother takes about three tries to get my name right. They’re the chosen ones and it all started with one random occurrence. These are 15 actors that came into acting by chance.
15. Johnny Depp
If you really break it down, Johnny Depp (right) was discovered by Nicolas Cage (left). Let that sink in. Depp’s first wife, Lori Anne Allison, introduced the future Captain Jack Sparrow to Cage in 1983 and Cage advised him to try acting. Depp had tried the music thing, but it wasn’t quite working out. He then became a pen salesman, but, as you can imagine, that was a dead end. As soon as Cage hooked Depp up with his acting agent, it was smooth sailing from there on out. Soon after the introduction, Depp was reading for the part of Glen Lantz in A Nightmare on Elm Street. A little bit later on, Depp went to 21 Jump Street and superstardom.
Fun Fact: Depp went to the Nightmare audition with friend Jackie Earle Haley, who didn’t get a part. At least, not until 26 years later when Haley was cast as the new Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).
14. Evangeline Lilly
The only thing that is truly surprising about Evangeline Lilly’s discovery is that it took so long. The stunner from British Columbia was walking down the street in Kelowna when a modeling scout from Ford Modeling Agency spotted her and gave her a card. From there she received a few roles as an extra in Smallville, Kingdom Hospital and Freddy vs. Jason. It wasn’t until she was cast as Kate Austen in Lost that she was fully realized. Honestly, just giving her a stage to show off her beauty is all she needed to make it big. Lilly might not yet be a household name, but give it time. Not only is she so good looking it’s actually dangerous to look at her too long, but she’s quite talented as well.
13. Jason Statham
You may have seen Jason Statham competing for Britain’s diving team at the Commonwealth Games, or maybe you saw him dancing in one of the several music videos he was in in the 90s. If you haven’t, go watch those clips because they’re hilarious. But, even though Statham touched a little bit of fame here and there, it wasn’t until he was approached by a French Connection talent scout while he was selling fake jewelry and perfume on the streets that he made it big. After appearing in a few ads, he met Guy Ritchie, who was looking for someone to play the con artist Bacon in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Turns out that Statham already knew how to play that part pretty well. It was a match made in heaven and Statham never looked back.
12. Pamela Anderson
It helps to be absolutely smoking hot, but Pamela Anderson also needed some good fortune to make her famous. While watching the BC Lions play in the Canadian Football League with the 11 other people who watch CFL football, the blonde bombshell was spotted on the jumbotron wearing a Labatt’s Blue shirt. The crowd gave her a wild cheer and next thing she knew, the people from Labatt were asking her to model for them. From there she went on to do Playboy, she was the original Tool Time Girl on Home Improvement and finally she made Baywatch into must-see TV. The rest, as they say, was history. While Pamela Anderson’s star may have since fizzled and her acting career was never the most polished, there was a time when she was one of the more recognizable stars in the world.
11. Rosario Dawson
When Larry Clark and the other film-heads involved with the 1995 teen drama film, Kids, were filming around Rosario Dawson‘s apartment, Dawson’s dad told her to go downstairs and make herself famous. So she did. No, seriously. Dawson (right) went downstairs, sat on her stoop and waited. Eventually, Clark approached her and asked her if she would be interested in being in the movie. Wow. That’s all it took. She said yes, and her performance in the movie combined with her beauty led her to a life of riches and caviar. How much confidence does it take to just sit and wait for the filmmakers to approach you? Dang, that’s what I call being cool.
10. Janet Leigh
Janet Leigh (Psycho), the mother of Jamie Lee Curtis, was discovered and given a contract nearly on the spot, without any acting experience whatsoever. The story goes that Leigh’s father was working as a receptionist at a ski lodge, when acting legend Norma Shearer spotted a photo of Leigh and said that she should be in the movies. How exactly Shearer saw this photo is not known. Did she just start flipping through Leigh’s father’s personal items? Did Leigh’s father bust out his awesome collection of wallet pictures like people used to carry? Whatever it was, Shearer asked to take the photo of Leigh with her to give it to her manager, Lewis Wasserman. Wasserman saw it and called Leigh in for a screen test. Leigh went in, smashed the screen test out of the park, and was given a role in The Romance of Rosy Ridge right away, along with a 7-year contract right then and there.
9. David Boreanaz
If you can believe it, David Boreanaz, of TV’s Bones, was discovered and landed the role of Buffy’s brooding vampire boyfriend, Angel, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer while he was walking his dog down the street. Though he had previously done some work as Kelly’s (Christina Applegate‘s) boyfriend in Married… With Children, Boreanaz didn’t catch his first big break until this chance spotting by his neighbor when walking his pooch. Apparently, the guy saw him, liked the cut of his jib and, from there, he was asked to come in and do a reading for the character of Angel. Not long after that he would have his own spin-off, Angel. Good doggy, I guess.
8. Channing Tatum
The story goes that Channing Tatum was a stripper in the Tampa area, making money by taking off his clothes (as strippers do). It wasn’t until he moved to Miami that he was discovered by a model talent scout while walking down a street. From there he began modeling, making more money by taking off his clothes. After that it was music videos and movies in roles that usually required him to take off his clothes. In 2012, Tatum made it really big, starring in Magic Mike, the story loosely based on Tatum’s life of taking off his clothes, just about full circle when you think of it. If there’s one thing you can say about Tatum, he really knows how to stick to his strengths.
7. Peter Mayhew
The great Peter Mayhew, best known for his work as Chewbacca in the Star Wars Franchise, got his start in acting because he was in a newspaper article about people with big feet. And do you know what they say about people with big feet? They have a greater need for proper arch support. It was from that article that the creators of Sinbad and the Eye of Tiger saw him and gave him the role as the minotaur. Surprisingly, that role didn’t quite make him famous. Mayhew needed to work to find his next role, so he started looking and came across a call for the role of Chewbacca in Star Wars. When Mayhew went to the studio to read for the part of Chewbacca, he stood up to say hello to George Lucas and Lucas immediately said, “I think we’ve found him.” That was it. In less than an hour, Mayhew was being fitted for a costume. Sometimes it helps being 7 foot 3 inches tall.
6. Charlize Theron
When you look like Charlize Theron, it’s only a matter of time before you’re discovered, really. The insanely beautiful South African moved to LA after a knee injury forced her out of ballet. While there, she was arguing with a bank teller over an international check when a Hollywood agent became seriously impressed by her gusto… Or, if I were a betting man, I would say he was just impressed in general with Theron (looks and all). I’m constantly impressed by her. Soon after seeing this magical unicorn of a woman, the agent had her in Children of the Corn III and that was all she needed. Once the world had the chance to see the greatest creation ever built, nothing was going to hold her back.
5. Danny Trejo
Danny Trejo has a lot of myths attached to his name, but the true story of his discovery is just as amazing as many of the lies. No, he wasn’t in prison at the time of his discovery, though that would be pretty cool. He had long been released from San Quentin prison, where he was a championship boxer during his time. He was working as a drug counselor, when one of his clients asked him to go to the set of The Runaway Train to help him with some drug issues that were going on there. While there, Trejo was asked to do some extra work. During the shots, the screenwriter, Edward Bunker, recognized Trejo from his own stint in San Quentin—also remembering his boxing abilities. Trejo was asked to help out Eric Roberts with his boxing. After that he was given a role as a boxer in the film. Talk about getting lucky like six times in one day. Just don’t tell Trejo I said that.
4. Eva Mendes
If you can believe the story, Eva Mendes was discovered by an acting agent who spotted her in one of her neighbor’s pictures. Like how good looking are you that an acting agent sees you in the background of some photo and is like, “yep. She’s the one.” Ugh. Every picture I’m in the background of, I’m either picking food out of my teeth or in the middle of a sentence looking like Sloth in The Goonies. Well, from that moment on, Mendes started acting, albeit really terribly at first, landing her first speaking role in Children of the Corn V. The fact that there are two beauties on this list who got started in the Children of the Corn franchise is a weird coincidence but a really hot coincidence nonetheless. Mendes would need to work on her acting meticulously to keep herself relevant in such a demanding industry.
3. Mel Gibson
The story might be a little more myth than reality, but legend would have it that Mel Gibson was simply driving his pal, Steve Bisley, to an audition for Mad Max when he himself was discovered by George Miller. To add to the story, it is rumored that Gibson had been in a bar fight the night before, Mel’s familiar stomping grounds. The fight left him a little battered and bruised which totally suited the character he was reading for. When Miller and the casting director saw the beat up Gibson, they immediately gave him the part. Gibson’s performance in Mad Max led to a long and prosperous career, despite how contentious of a figure he is today.
2. Marilyn Monroe
The stories of Marilyn Monroe‘s discovery vary a little, and I guess it all boils down to what we mean by discovery. Sure, Leo Caloia has the earliest images of Marilyn Monroe (then Norma Jeane Mortenson), but most give the credit of making her into a star to photographer David Conover, a man who was sent to the Radioplane factory where Marilyn Monroe worked to take photos of women at work during war time. Well, it was from those first photos that Monroe was catapulted into stardom, becoming a famous model and, soon after, a famous actress. It really wasn’t until Monroe died her hair blonde, or bleached it, that she became one of the most recognizable people in film history.
1. Jennifer Lawrence
While walking through Times Square in New York City, Jennifer Lawrence just happened to have been spotted by a talent scout asking to take her picture. She says that this wasn’t creepy, but it sounds creepy. After that, the Internet’s favorite girl most hated girl. Wait. Does the Internet hate or love JLaw this week? Ok, so Lawrence said yes and the scout passed around her picture to some friends in the industry. Lawrence started getting some calls to come in to do some readings. After one particularly amazing Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups reading, Lawrence knew she was in the right field. It would only be a few years later that she was nominated for her first Academy Award for her unbelievable performance in Winter’s Bone. Today, she’s so famous that people just start randomly hating for the same things that they used to love her for. She’s like the Harvey Dent of Hollywood.