Sometimes it’s fun to look back on the work that our favorite actors have done in the past. We like to see the movies and TV shows they’ve starred in before they were as famous as they are now. Usually, with television, it’s more of a case of nostalgia. We will remember a classic show fondly and decide to look it up online and read about it a little. Sometimes, we are amazed at how many big movie stars show up on the cast lists for some of our old favorite shows. It’s incredible to think how many big, well-known actors actually got their start doing small-time episodic television. Some were lucky and managed to land great primetime hit shows that launched their careers. Others had to mire through central casting in hopes of working week-to-week, doing guest spots as “uncredited office worker,” “Joey’s friend,” or maybe that one-named character with no backstory who just appears in one episode with minimal lines and then is never heard from again. That’s showbiz.
Regardless, in this age of the internet, everyone’s past can be looked up. Why should actors be any different? Thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to look up today’s hot celebs and see what roles they might have had on classic TV shows. These are the roles they did before they were household names, and the ones some of them might wish had been long forgotten. Some of these we still love dearly. Here are some of the lost roles that you might not have known about.
15. George Clooney – ER
George Clooney might be known now as the Oscar-winning star of Syriana, and for hit movies like Gravity, Ocean’s Eleven, From Dusk Till Dawn, and O Brother, Where Art Though, but many people don’t know that his acting career actually started with small television roles in 1978. He was able to gain some recognition when he landed the role of Dr. Doug Ross on the medical drama ER in 1994. What many don’t know is that one of his early roles in the 1980s was a recurring role on the original television sitcom ER in 1984, in which he played Ace. That series only lasted for eight episodes. Clooney hasn’t forgotten where he got his start as he agreed to return with the entire original cast for episodes of the fifteenth and final season of the second series in 2009. He’s also reprised his ER role in a special appearance for a skit on the Jimmy Kimmel Live! show.
14. Emma Stone – Malcolm In The Middle
She might be internationally known now for her award-winning roles in La La Land and Birdman, but there was a time when Emma Stone was just another struggling actress trying to land a role. In 2006, she auditioned for the role of Claire Bennet in TV’s Heroes, but lost out to Hayden Panettiere. Losing the role devastated Stone; however, that same year she did land a guest spot on an episode of the popular family comedy, Malcolm in the Middle, which coincidentally, Panettiere also enjoyed a guest role on the previous year. As there was already an Emily Stone registered as an actor with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Stone was billed as Riley Stone. Things worked out for her, as the following year, she made her film debut with Superbad, and the rest is history.
13. Chris Pratt – The O.C. & Everwood
Chris Pratt is a household name now, known for his roles in Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World, and The Lego Movie. He is currently enjoying stardom with roles alongside award-winners like Jennifer Lawrence and Denzel Washington. Many also know that prior to film success, he was known as the loveable and pudgy Andy Dwyer in the television series, Parks and Recreation, which ran for seven great seasons. Before that, however, Pratt bounced around with small film and television roles, such as in The O.C. and The Extreme Team. One of his first series roles was as Bright Abbott in all four seasons of the television drama Everwood. The show featured an ensemble cast led by star Treat Williams as a doctor who moves his family to a small town while dealing with the recent loss of his wife.
12. Rachel McAdams – Slings And Arrows
Most people know Rachel McAdams for her breakout role in the hit Mean Girls, which quickly made her one of Hollywood’s hottest young actresses. She was able to parlay her newfound stock into a role alongside Ryan Gosling in The Notebook, adapted from the Nicholas Sparks bestseller. That film was another box office success and became the biggest romance film for a generation of fans. McAdams got her start spending two years in bit parts on television, making her debut in an episode of Disney’s The Famous Jett Jackson, in 2001. She was able to land a co-starring role in the Canadian television series Slings and Arrows, a comedy about the trials and tribulations of a Shakespearean theater troupe. McAdams appeared in seven episodes of the award-winning series that ran for three seasons, winning a Gemini award for her performance in 2003.
11. Johnny Depp – 21 Jump Street
His acting style has made him the go-to guy for his quirky roles in Edward Scissorhands, Finding Neverland, Alice in Wonderland, and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. He’s truly a resourceful actor and he’s been nominated for multiple Academy Awards and Golden Globes. But did you know Johnny Depp’s rise to fame started with his role as Officer Tom Hanson on TV’s 21 Jump Street? Originally hoping to make it big with one of his garage bands, his friend, aspiring actor Nicolas Cage, convinced him to try acting. He made his film debut as one of the hapless victims in the classic low-budget horror flick, A Nightmare on Elm Street. It was just three years later that he landed his role on 21 Jump Street, a series about an undercover police squad made up of young-looking officers who specialized in crimes committed in a high school or college setting.
10. Jessica Chastain – ER
Jessica Chastain is a two-time Academy Award-nominated actress. She’s given critically-acclaimed performances in hit films such as Zero Dark Thirty, Interstellar, The Martian, and The Help. But did you know she got her start, like the others on this list, with bit parts on television shows? She was originally a trained dancer while still in her teens, but she soon began performing in stage productions in her native Bay area in California. She eventually earned herself a scholarship to study acting at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City. In her final year there, she was signed to a deal with a television writer/producer. He was able to get her small parts in a few episodes of the shows he was working on, namely her first role in a 2004 episode of the hit series ER. She continued to toil in episodic television and small film roles until her breakout role in 2011’s The Help.
9. Neil Patrick Harris – Doogie Howser, M.D.
Star of stage, film, and screen (he’s even an accomplished singer), Neil Patrick Harris, NPH to the initiated, has accomplished so much for one career. He’s given us memorable roles in the Harold and Kumar film series, Starship Troopers, Gone Girl, as well as possibly his most famous role as Barney in the hit television series How I Met Your Mother, which ran for 9 seasons. He’s won multiple awards for his work and philanthropy of the years, and he’s hosted the Tony Awards four times, the Emmy Awards twice, and finally the Academy Awards in 2015. However, before this fame and acclaim, NPH got his start as a child actor and star of the popular series Doogie Howser, M.D., in which he played a teen genius who not only has to navigate the pitfalls and tribulation of being a growing teenager, but he has to also juggle a successful career as a medical doctor!
8. Bradley Cooper – Alias & Sex And The City
Bradley Cooper is a heartthrob, and we are man enough to admit that. He’s also a darn fine award-winning actor known for his roles in The Hangover, American Hustle, American Sniper, and Silver Linings Playbook, as well as being the voice of the popular character Rocket Raccoon in the Guardians of the Galaxy films. However, Cooper got his start doing bit roles on numerous television series throughout the early 2000s. He actually landed his very first screen appearance in 1998, on Sex and the City, while still studying at the Actors Studio in New York. He appeared in shows like Touching Evil and Kitchen Confidential, but one of his first noticeable roles was in the popular J.J. Abrams television series Alias, starring Jennifer Garner. Cooper portrayed Will Tippin, who appeared in four seasons of the show, first as an investigative reporter and then later his character is brought in as a full-time analyst for the CIA.
7. Leonardo DiCaprio – Growing Pains & Roseanne
Leonardo DiCaprio is an internationally known actor whose career is as diverse as it acclaimed. He’s given us award-winning roles in films like The Revenant, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Aviator, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and Titanic. However, like many, he had humble beginnings. As a child, DiCaprio’s parents got him an agent and he was able to land some commercial work and appearances in educational programs. Soon, he came to the attention of producers and landed small roles in a few television series, such as Roseanne, and then made his film debut in 1991’s Critters 3. Though not exactly stellar work, it did allow DiCaprio to land a role in the popular sitcom Growing Pains, which starred Alan Thicke, Kirk Cameron, and Tracey Gold. It was 1991, and DiCaprio was brought into the show in season 7 as a homeless child who moves in with the show’s main characters, the Seaver family. His addition to the cast was short-lived as the series ended after that season. But DiCaprio bounced back and moved on to bigger and better things!
6. Idris Elba – Family Affairs
Though Idris Elba may be known for his popular film roles in Thor, Dark Tower, and Pacific Rim, he is equally well known for his popular television roles such as the drug lord on the HBO series The Wire, or as the titular character on the BBC One series Luther. Last year, he was even named to theTime 100 List of the Most Influential People in the World. The acting bug bit him early as he began working in stage productions while still a teenager. However, before becoming the acting paragon that he is, he cut his chops on small television roles like any other struggling actor. One of his first was in 1997, in a recurring role in the first season of the British soap opera Family Affairs. Elba portrayed Tim Webster, a drinking buddy to one of the main characters. The following year producers chose to revamp the series and wrote out most of the regular characters, including Elba, in a massive remodel.
5. Jared Leto – My So-Called Life
In this age of actors who want to be music stars, Jared Leto is the exception. He actually moved to Hollywood to pursue his music career first, only taking acting lessons on the side. Proving to be immensely talented at both endeavors, Leto achieved success not only with his selective film roles, but with his commercially and critically-acclaimed band, Thirty Seconds to Mars. Leto has given us memorable film roles in Suicide Squad, Requiem for A Dream, Prefontaine, and his Oscar-winner Dallas Buyers Club. However, while searching out these great roles, he had to work in episodic television like many others. He was cast in the series My So-Called Life back in 1994, as Jordan Catalano, the love interest of the star Claire Danes. Leto even contributed to the soundtrack for the show and became a series regular. The show unfortunately only lasted one season.
4. Will Smith – The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
Will Smith is a 2-time Oscar-nominated actor, known for Men In Black, Independence Day, Bad Boys, Ali, and The Pursuit of Happyness. For a while he was known as the most bankable star in showbiz, when he had eleven consecutive films gross over $150 million internationally. He also has a Grammy Award-winning music career. In fact, his group, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince were the recipients of the first ever Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance in 1989. But did you know he parlayed that success and was able to star in his own popular television series tailored around his character, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? He starred as a fictionalized version of himself, a street-smart teen from West Philadelphia, who is sent to live with his wealthy aunt and uncle in their Bel Air mansion. The popular show ran for six seasons in the 1990s.
3. Tom Hanks – Bosom Buddies
This Hollywood hit-maker might be known now for his incredible roles in films like Big, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Toy Story, and Sully, but this two-time Academy Award winner’s first starring role was in the gender-bending comedy series, Bosom Buddies. In this television series, Tom Hanks is one of two single men who must disguise themselves as women in order to live in the one apartment they can afford, a women-only complex. The show, which co-starred Peter Scolari, gained a cult following due to its original themes and improvisation. Though it started out strong in the ratings, the show only ran for two seasons and though Hanks wouldn’t become a household name until 1984’s Splash, this helped launch his career.
2. Bruce Willis – Moonlighting
Bruce Willis is known for big films such as The Sixth Sense, The Fifth Element, Sin City, and, of course, the Die Hard franchise. He’s known for his tough-guy action film roles, but they are a far cry from his early starring role as wisecracking private detective David Addison in the hit television series, Moonlighting. Think of it as a proving ground for his similar role as John McClane in Die Hard, except with a little more quick-witted quips and a lot less gunfire. In Moonlighting, he starred alongside Cybill Shepherd, and together the duo offered some of primetime television’s best romantic comedy. The award-winning show ran for five seasons and was the launching pad for Willis’ career as a leading man. In fact, he made Die Hard, while still filming the series!
1. Alec Baldwin – Knots Landing
Alec Baldwin has done drama, he’s done action, and he’s done comedy. This debonair, sophisticated actor is beloved by millions. He is equally known for his film roles, like in The Cooler, The Getaway, Beetlejuice, Ghosts of Mississippi, and The Hunt for Red October, as well as his co-starring role on the hit comedy television series 30 Rock. What many don’t know is that Baldwin had to first cut his teeth in primetime drama, portraying Joshua Rush in the popular series Knots Landing when he was first starting out in 1984. The series was a spin-off of the famous show Dallas, and ran for fourteen seasons. Baldwin appeared in 40 episodes in the mid-1980s, and used the show as a launch pad for a successful film career.
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