How these famous actors got their start in Hollywood

Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images

While many of us have heard stories of Hollywood stars being discovered while walking down the street, it still seems like an unbelievable concept. But, as was the case for these now-famous actors, their careers were launched while they were busy doing other things.

Whether waiting tables or simply sitting on a stoop (as in the case of Rosario Dawson!), these famous faces have a little bit of chance to thank for being where they are today.

Pamela Anderson

Although she had already been modeling, Pamela Anderson shot to stardom after she was “discovered” cheering on the B.C. Lions football team from the stands. The Vancouver actress wore a Labatt’s Blue crop top to the game and caught everyone’s attention when she appeared on the Jumbotron. Labatt soon hired her as a “Blue Zone girl”; she went on to model for Playboy in 1989 and joined the cast of “Baywatch” in 1992.

HOME IMPROVEMENT – Pilot – Airdate: September 17, 1991. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)

Charlize Theron

The aspiring model moved from South Africa to Hollywood at 18, but the California life wasn’t easy at first. Theron was discovered when she was pleading with a bank teller and causing quite a scene while trying to cash a check. A talent agent, John Crosby, was also in line at the bank, saw her outburst and tried to help her. Theron successfully cashed her check and left the bank with Crosby’s business card as well.

Johnny Depp

Long before he was Jack Sparrow, Depp sold ballpoint pens over the phone — a job he called a “scam.” Later, in Los Angeles, the director Wes Craven noticed Depp, who was a musician at the time, and asked him to audition. He snagged the role of Glen Lantz and made his feature film debut in “The Nightmare on Elm Street” in 1984.

Vince Bucci/Getty Images

Natalie Portman

Before she was the Oscar-winning actress, Natalie Hershlag was just a girl walking out of a pizza parlor. That’s exactly what she was doing when a Revlon representative spotted her and suggested she pursue modeling. Even at 10, Portman was discerning. She was flattered but told the rep that she wasn’t interested in being known for her appearance and wanted to connect with acting agents. Taking her grandmother’s maiden name as an actress, Portman was eventually cast in an off-Broadway show and then landed her first big role in “The Professional” in 1994.

Photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect

Channing Tatum

The handsome actor opted for a unique job opportunity after high school instead of heading to college on a football scholarship. He danced in an “all-male revue” in Tampa, and it was in that club that a “sketchy dude” who saw him perform suggested he pursue modeling. As a result, Tatum booked a minor part in a Pepsi ad, which catapulted him into the leading role in 2006’s “Step Up.”

First Look Pictures Premieres A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints - Arrivals
Getty Images | Peter Kramer

Jennifer Lawrence

The Kentucky native was vacationing in New York at age 14 when a talent agent spotted her walking around Union Square. She went into an agency and did a cold read for a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial, and they loved her. She started as a model, including for Abercrombie & Fitch, and transitioned into acting with a role on “Monk.” Many more award-winning roles have followed.

90th Annual Academy Awards - Arrivals
Getty Images | Kevork Djansezian

Rosario Dawson

Like Lawrence, Dawson was also first spotted on the streets of New York City. She was hanging out on the stoop of her Lower East Side apartment building when “Kids” director Larry Clark and writer Harmony Korine spotted her.

LAS VEGAS – JUNE 21: Actress Rosario Dawson arrives at the fifth anniversary party for Vegas Magazine on the closing night of the CineVegas film festival at The Palazzo Resort-Hotel-Casino June 21, 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for CineVegas)

Ellen Pompeo

A casting director noticed Pompeo when she was bartending in New York City in the ’90s. As a result, she was signed to an advertising campaign with L’Oreal. After a few small roles in films and on an episode of “Friends,” her breakout role as Meredith Grey in “Grey’s Anatomy” came in 2005.

Getty Images | Mark Mainz

Harrison Ford

When Ford moved out to Hollywood, fame didn’t come easily or quickly. He learned carpentry to make ends meet. He appeared in George Lucas’ film 1973 film “American Graffiti” but was actually cast in “Star Wars” after building a door at Lucas’ movie studio. The director asked the actor to audition for the part of Han Solo and the rest is history.

Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Ashton Kutcher

The Hawkeye State native was studying biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa in 1996, where he also belonged to a frat. A talent agent discovered Kutcher at a bar one night and talked him into entering a state modeling competition. He won, dropped out of college and became a professional model. He appeared in Calvin Klein and Versace ads before he landed a leading role on “That ’70s Showin 1998.

The 9th Annual Race to Erase MS
Getty Images | Robert Mora

Katherine Heigl

When Heigl was 9 years old, her aunt sent pictures of her to modeling agencies. She signed with Wilhelmina Models and appeared on the cover of Seventeen in 1994, before transitioning to acting.

ABC Press Tour All Star Party
Getty Images | Mark Mainz

Will Smith

Smith got his start in the ’80s rapping as The Fresh Prince. After his latest album was a flop, he went to the Arsenio Hall Show in hopes of kickstarting his career. There, he met Benny Medina, who knew of Smith and had an idea for a new television show inspired by his life. Medina introduced him to the producer and Smith auditioned on the spot and got the part to star in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

Chris Pratt

Chris Pratt was living in a van and waiting tables at Bubba Gump in Maui when he was discovered by a director.

“I have one of those strange stories that you hear about, and you think that that can’t possibly be true,” he said on an episode of “Live with Kelly and Ryan.”

Photo by Robert Mora/Getty Images

Mandy Moore

The singer and actress learned early on it’s all about who you know in the entertainment business. For her, it was a FedEx delivery man who overheard her singing during studio time that she had paid for with money she earned singing the national anthem for local sports teams.

He recommended her through multiple connections to the head of Urban A&R at Epic Records, and that was enough to land her a meeting, which would be the start of her career. By 15, she had recorded an album and was opening for ‘NSync and the Backstreet Boys.

Photo by Chris Weeks/Getty Images

Haley Joel Osment

Most people go to Ikea for furniture, but if you’re Osment, you found your big break in the store. When Osment went as a youngster, there was a casting table set up to take Polaroids of the kids visiting the Burbank store. Osment’s photo got him a Pizza Hut commercial audition, which got the casting director of “Forrest Gump” interested.

“It all kind of snowballed from there,” he told Vulture.

Photo by Scott Gries/ImageDirect

Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston is now one of the most famous women in the world thanks to her role as Rachel on “Friends,” but it almost didn’t happen for her. TV executive Warren Littlefield remembered running into her at a gas station on Sunset Boulevard when the actress, who appeared in multiple failed comedy pilots, asked, “Will it ever happen for me?” He encouraged her to keep going and later gave her the script for “Friends.”

Zac Efron

Efron’s natural affinity for performing appeared early. Without any formal training, he got his first role, a small part in a local theater production, at age 11. Thanks to encouragement from his 8th-grade drama teacher, he set his sights higher and started auditioning for TV and movie roles. He stuck with it and landed the leading role in Disney’s “High School Musical,” which endeared him to teen fans everywhere.

“Getting a job is like beating a casino,” he told his hometown paper, San Luis Obispo’s The Tribune, back in 2006.

zac efron high school musical photo

Sofia Vergara

The Colombian bombshell was enjoying a day on the beach with her family when a talent scout noticed her. The scout asked to snap a polaroid of the 17-year-old Vergara, she explained to E!. Less than a year later, she booked a Pepsi commercial, which brought her back to a beach in search of a bottle of the soda. A series of TV roles followed, including her long-running role of Gloria on “Modern Family.”

62nd Venice Film Festival: Four Brothers
Getty Images | Pascal Le Segretain

Evangeline Lilly

The Canadian-born actress was discovered by chance on the streets of Kelowna, British Columbia, when a Ford Models agent spotted her. Lilly was hesitant at first, but she realized how lucrative modeling and acting could be and she decided to give it a shot. She worked in TV commercials and regularly as a movie extra, which helped her pay for college. During that time, friends helped her realize her acting destiny, and her agent encouraged her to audition for bigger opportunities. Not long after, she started filming for the hit series “Lost.”

2010 Winter TCA Tour - Day 4
Getty Images | Frederick M. Brown

Vin Diesel

Before he was an action star, Diesel was Mark Sinclair who got his start in a New York City theater — but not in the way you’d expect. One night, he and his friends got caught messing around inside a theater, but ended up in roles instead of handcuffs, thanks to the benevolent artistic director. Diesel went on to appear in other Off-Off-Broadway shows throughout high school and a few years of college before moving to Los Angeles. There, he turned his experience as a struggling actor with “ethnic” looks into the short film, “Multi-Facial.” The film was played at the Cannes Film Festival, where several directors including Steven Spielberg noticed it. As a result, Spielberg cast him in “Saving Private Ryan.”

2002 MTV Movie Awards - Show
Getty Images | Kevin Winter

Originally published on The Delite.

Celebrities, Entertainment

Related posts

Photo of Ludacris
The real names of famous rappers
Actor Jeff Goldblum smiles at red carpet event
32 of the tallest actors in Hollywood
8 celebrity homeware brands you didn’t know existed
38th AFI Life Achievement Award Honoring Mike Nichols - Show
The internet has decided these are the 10 most beautiful songs ever

About the Author
Jennifer Nied
Jennifer Nied is a freelance writer and editor based in New York City. She focuses on beauty, wellness, and travel stories with a background covering the spa industry.

From our partners