These days, a lot of Hollywood starlets are born famous. It seems like if your mom isn’t famous or your uncle isn’t famous or your dad isn’t a billionaire, it’s kind of hard to break into the film industry. Those born with the resources and connections to easily make it are commonly the ones that do — the rest of us, born to dentists and teachers and construction workers just have to hope something happens and we luck out on our big break.
But that’s not the way it always was nor the way it always is. In fact, some of our favorite Hollywood stars came from nothing, mere simpletons with big dreams and blinding ambition. They worked terrible jobs in order to pay the bills knowing that someday, just maybe, it would all be worth it and their miserable studio apartments and minimum wage jobs would just be figments of the past they could laugh at in retrospect.
As a matter of fact, a lot of Hollywood stars started out just like you — writers that acted on the side; P.E. teachers that thought maybe there was something better out there for them; cashiers at The Gap who couldn’t stand being ignored, underpaid, and underappreciated. Who’s to say that the next celebrity story couldn’t come in the form of one of you readers? Maybe you’re just one great day away from your big break! Let these fifteen photos of movie stars before they were famous inspire you to chase your ambitions:
15. Amy Schumer
Everyone thinks that celebrities will always look their best when they’re thin as a twig and have perfect hair and look flawless, no matter what the given circumstances. Well, we’d like to argue that that isn’t the case for Amy. She looks way more put together and fit in this picture than she has in any recent time, and she certainly looks way hotter now!
If you thumb through Amy’s past, you’ll discover she was actually a fairly normal young lady with close ties to her family and deep-seeded moral values — not at all like the brand she portrays for herself! She grew up in Manhattan but actually had a pretty normal childhood. Not really intending to get into film, she had her eyes on stand-up comedy (which she KILLS at) and comedy writing. Her film career is totally a side note to her comedy career, which she’s been preparing the entirety of her life for.
14. Jim Carrey
We know him as a total and utter goofball, best known for his roles in the Ace Ventura series, The Mask, and Dumb and Dumber. Well, we aren’t totally wrong — Jim labels himself as a comic actor. But some of his greater fans love him most for his roles in The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Man on the Moon. Jim has always had a passion for comedy — his first big stand up comedy gigs were when he was only fifteen years old, and by sixteen he was the opening act for Rodney Dangerfield! So he quit his teenage job as a factory janitor and shipped off to Hollywood, where he worked tirelessly at getting film work for a year before getting his big break on Finders Keepers. He’s living proof that if you devote all of your energy to your dreams, they just may come true.
13. Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron has certainly not always been famous, but she’ll definitely never be forgotten! Even if she weren’t a movie star, Charlize would’ve still been always sexy, and she knew it. Trained as a ballet dancer, Charlize has never had to do much outside her dance work to stay fit and sexy. She was born and raised in South Africa and decided that if she wanted to pursue a full dancing career, she needed to move. She got a job at the Joffrey Ballet in New York City and worked side jobs as a model until a knee injury jeopardized her dancing career. She then feverishly pursued an acting career, correcting her regional African accent to American by watching soap operas. Her big break finally came when she was cast in That Thing You Do! when she was 21, though she’s practically unrecognizable in the role. Nowadays, she’s a formidable acting and sex icon — and it can all be traced back to the days she thought her career was spent when she got a small knee injury.
12. Channing Tatum
Playing the lead in Magic Mike wasn’t just coincidental casting for Channing — the idea for the movie partially arose from the fact that Channing Tatum made a living as a male stripper for a few years when he was younger! Whilst deciding which dream of his to pursue, Channing got a job as an “exotic dancer” for a while to keep money coming in. And it worked! Channing was signed as a model while walking the streets of Miami one day and was able to quit his job dancing so that he could make sexy looks at the camera for brands like American Eagle Outfitters, Nautica, and The Gap. He even had a dancing role in Ricky Martin‘s music video for “She Bangs!” Once he started getting more roles (in films like Coach Carter, Havoc, and War of the Worlds), he left more of his modeling behind in hopes of stepping up to the next level…
11. Jon Hamm
WHAT?! NO WAY THAT IS JON HAMM.
Way. This is a picture from Jon Hamm’s senior year of high school, when he was a linebacker for his school’s team whilst also holding the lead in the musical Godspell. Declining numerous scholarship offers from ivy league schools for football, Jon went to school for English and paid his bills by working at a local daycare center. He spent a lot of time acting while in college, though it certainly seemed a secondary interest. He wound up getting a job teaching drama at his old high school, where he would later meet student Ellie Kemper (star of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and Paul Rudd (star of Ant-Man). It wasn’t until he was 24 that he decided to pursue acting, and even then, it took years for him to get cast as anything good. Jon certainly didn’t start out the confident and perfect Don Draper we all know him as today, but he definitely worked hard to get to where he is.
10. Natalie Portman
Look at that adorable smile! Natalie Portman has clearly always been a stunner, but she definitely wasn’t always famous. However, she entered the realm of Hollywood at a ridiculously young age and has been fervently pursuing a career in the spotlight whilst thriving in her personal life. She started modeling at age eleven but found the work to be boring and tedious. Thus, her attention turned to acting, and her debut in film was also an incredibly large role: one of the leads in The Professional. Not only was the movie incredibly demanding on the young actress, but it afforded her the attention of many great directors and actors. As time moved on, she continued getting cast in movies like Mars Attacks!, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and Cold Mountain, all the while pursuing a degree in psychology from Harvard University. She’s always made rising to fame look easy, even when it’s been difficult!
9. Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken has a very interesting past — which is only to be expected since he’s such an odd and interesting man. He spent a lot of his childhood learning how to dance and sing in typical classes suburban families would send any of their children. Through his youth, he would hang around TV and movie sets with his older siblings and occasionally took the chance to be invited on set as extras. He didn’t really pursue a career in acting until he graduated high school, and even then, he had an odd and scattered career. He was even a lion tamer at one point! But it wasn’t until he was almost thirty that he started digging into film. His breakthrough didn’t hit until he was cast in Annie Hall in 1977, but he followed it with a series of roles in famous titles like The Deer Hunter and The Dogs of War.
8. Jennifer Aniston
First of all, we just want to point out that nose. That nose is not the nose of the Jennifer Aniston we all know today. This lady got a nose job.
BUT ANYWAYS — Jennifer certainly didn’t start out her career anywhere near famous! Though she was born to soap opera actors, her life was kept almost entirely out of the limelight. But she desperately craved the life that her parents had, especially as she reached her teenage years. She attended a Manhattan high school designed specifically to support youngsters pursuing the performing arts and auditioned for everything, landing roles in a handful of unsuccessful shows (including a TV series version of Ferris Bueller as his sister Jeannie!), but it wasn’t until she took a chance on a little show called Friends that she would catch her real break. These days, she’s more popular than ever and living the life she always craved!
7. Helen Mirren
Helen never really saw herself becoming famous, though her thirst and passion for acting has been present since a young age. Nowadays, the star is best known for her work in The Queen, RED, The Hundred-Foot Journey, and The Debt, but she invested her initial interest in acting with the greats. Her fiercest passion was for Shakespeare as you can perhaps tell from this photo of her, which was taken when she was only a budding actress in her early twenties as she was playing a part in the film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream alongside Dame Judi Dench and Ian Richardson. However, before she made it to the screen, she spent much of her time on the stage in the Shakespearean plays Antony and Cleopatra, Troilus and Cressida, and Macbeth. She eased slowly into film, and one of her biggest regrets as she began her film career was that she had less time to devote to The Bard.
6. Sally Field
Sally Field is best known for her iconic roles in Forrest Gump, Lincoln, and Smokey and the Bandit. If anyone on this list was born into fame and had a bit of an upper hand, it’s Sally. Sally’s mother was Margaret Field, who was an actress known for her roles in The Man From Planet X and The Big Clock. But Sally didn’t get her jobs from her mom’s connections — she actually discovered her passion for acting by staying after school with her drama club to avoid going home to her strict and abusive stepfather, Jock Mahoney. After attending an acting workshop conducted by Columbia Studios, she landed the lead role in the short-lived sitcom Gidget. Though the series didn’t last long, it launched her career and propelled her toward roles in The Flying Nun, The Way West, and a handful of TV movies. She feared her entire youth that she would never be considered a serious actress — well, look where she is today! Almost primarily starring in serious roles, Sally is the rock all traumatized characters cling to in her stories.
5. Amy Adams
It would seem from this photo that even though Amy was not always famous, she was always a glamorous, gorgeous diva. Born an army brat, Amy was actually born in Italy and moved all around the world until she was eight years old and landed in Colorado. Though she initially fell in love with the study of ballet, she enjoyed a more relaxed training style and thus pursued musical theater — which, of course, led her to acting and film work. She got her first film role in Drop Dead Gorgeous when she was only twenty-five, and her co-star, Kirstie Alley, encouraged her to pursue work in the industry. She had a series of great roles and thought her big break would be in Catch Me If You Can alongside Leonardo DiCaprio, but it, for some reason, didn’t work out. Her true break came with the much lesser known movie, Junebug, and it propelled her toward all the serious roles she takes today (such as in Man of Steel, Arrival, and American Hustle).
4. Nicole Kidman
WOW, THAT HAIR. Looking like that, Nicole Kidman would be damn near impossible to recognize compared to the sexy, slinky woman she is now.
Nicole Kidman wasn’t born into the industry, but you might have guessed she was since she began her acting career at such a young age. Her film debut came with the acclaimed Australian movie, Bush Christmas. From there, Nicole had nowhere to go but up. She would go on to continue acting and modeling for years during which she met several people who would later help her in her career (including best friend Naomi Watts, whom she met at a modeling audition for a bathing suit brand). She wouldn’t have her U.S. breakthrough, though, until she was twenty-two and starred in the movie Dead Calm. After that, everyone wanted her. Nicole has gone through a lot of makeovers in her career, and she’s looking worlds better than she did in this early pic.
3. Gwyneth Paltrow
That’s right — the idyllic queen herself once had a time when she was not a Hollywood-groomed diva. There was indeed once a time when Gwyneth Paltrow wasn’t known as this Pinterest-perfect celebrity who has her own line of clothing and cookbooks and puppies. Gwyneth used to be a semi-normal human being!
Gwyneth was born to a Tony-winning actress and a television producer. She made her theater debut as a five-year-old in a play with her mom and thought reveling in the spotlight was amazing. She was encouraged to pursue other more academic interests, but after starring alongside her mother in a television series called Cruel Doubt, she dropped out of college and pursued film acting full time, getting roles alongside Nicole Kidman, Alec Baldwin, Dennis Quaid, and Meg Ryan. Only a couple years later, she got her role in Se7en, a part that’s still one of her most famous to date. She’s only now spreading her interests outside of acting to more diverse pursuits, but we all kind of know her as the diva of the big screen.
2. Angelina Jolie
Angelina had every reason to be a famous TV star the second she came out of her mother’s womb. Daughter to renowned film star Jon Voight (best known for his roles in Mission: Impossible, Heat, and Deliverance), Angelina could have been a star from the start. But she chose not to be! It was almost as if the young lady understood that good acting doesn’t just happen but is rather skillfully crafted. She spent her early teens studying acting before auditioning for films in the 1990s, landing her first big role when she was 20 in the movie Hackers. She was sexualized by media and audiences almost immediately after beginning her career and it certainly affected the trajectory of her early career, landing her promiscuous and scandalous roles in movies like Foxfire, Gia, Girl Interrupted, and Gone in Sixty Seconds. Now, of course, she’s more of a humanitarian and director than an actress, but we revel in all of her work!
1. George Clooney
George didn’t have a direct line to fame when he was born, but he certainly had something of a leg up in the industry. George was born to Nick Clooney, an anchorman around Cincinnati, Ohio, who was absolutely beloved by his viewers. (Seriously, Cincinnati is still obsessed with the Clooneys.) Though George loved acting in news sketches with his dad, he developed an illness called “Bell’s Palsy” in middle school, and it paralyzed half his face. He feared it would ruin any chances at an acting career, so he focused on sports and even tried out for the Cincinnati Reds — though that clearly didn’t work out. He went to college and made money selling shoes door to door and as a farmhand before he decided to try acting again. He moved to L.A. and worked crap jobs until he got some low-level success on shows like Roseanne, The Facts of Life, and Bodies of Evidence. But all his hard work paid off when he got a lead on E.R., proving that dogged determination can always prevail.