It is not easy to make it big in the glamorous world of Hollywood. But there are some famous actors who landed career-defining roles in totally unexpected ways. Some were literally spotted on the streets or in restaurants eating lunch, while others were discovered totally by mistake. There are also those actors who made it big much later in life. Whatever their reasons for making it in show business – these actors have one thing in common: with a little bit of luck, mixed in with natural beauty and talent, and a sprinkling of magic fairy dust, they got their big break. And the rest, as they say, is history. So read on to find out how these actors became accidentally famous.
How a Bar Brawl led to Mad Max
Oscar-award winner Mel Gibson never intended to audition for Mad Max. He had just been in a bar-room brawl the night before and his face looked like a “busted grapefruit”. However, he gave his friend a ride to the audition and director George Miller noticed him. Miller thought that his beat-up appearance would be a good fit for a villainous role in his post-apocalyptic sci-fi film.
Mel Gibson on the set of Mad Max. Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
When a clear-faced Gibson returned a few weeks later, Miller changed his mind and decided to cast him as the film’s lead instead. Without this breakthrough role early in Gibson’s career, we would never have such iconic movies such as Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ..
We can truly say that Max Max set Mel Gibson off on a great acting and directing path.
2. Sarah Michelle Gellar
From Restaurant Eater to Vampire Slayer
Wouldn’t it be nice to be randomly spotted by a talent agent who would turn you into a star? That’s exactly what happened to 90s teen star Sarah Michelle Gellar when she was just four years old. She was discovered eating at a restaurant in Upper Manhattan.
Copyright by Warner Bros.
Gellar has a cult following with the success of her long-running television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996-2003). Borrowing one of the taglines form Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gellar is truly a chosen one – not of standing against vampire, demons, and forces of darkness – but of being a talented actress who had luck on her side.
3. Johnny Depp
Freddy Krueger launched the Career of Everyone’s Favorite Pirate
Screen chameleon Johnny Depp had no intention of becoming an actor. All this would change when he went with his pal to an audition for A Nightmare on Elm Street. His buddy didn’t make it, but Director Wes Craven noticed Depp hanging around the set and requested him to audition.
Photo by New Line Cinema
Johnny made the cut and played Glen, the lead’s boyfriend that Freddy Krueger kills by sucking him into a mattress. That horrifying scene led to more small acting roles, played largely in part by the encouragement of his buddy Nicholas Cage. He shot to stardom when he was cast as Tommy Hanson in the popular TV series 21 Jumpstreet. Depp is known for collaborating with director Tim Burton in memorable films like Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow. But perhaps Depp is best known and loved for playing Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.
From Freddy Krueger’s victim to screen heavyweight, Johnny Depp has come a long way. Savvy!
How Arguing with a Bank Teller Started her Career
South African beauty Charlize Theron trained as a dancer, but since there are not a lot of opportunities in her country, she traveled to the U.S, eventually landing a job at the Joffrey Ballet in New York. Her dancing career ended when she injured her knee.
Photo by Beeld/Gallo Images/Getty Images
In the hopes of making it in Los Angeles as an actress, her mother sent her a one-way ticket to the city, where she went to every agent on Hollywood Boulevard, without much luck. One day, she was trying to cash a $500 check her mother had sent her, but the bank teller refused to cash an out-of-state check, resulting in an argument where she made a huge scene. A kind gentleman stepped over and offered to help. He happened to be talent agent John Crosby, who offered to represent the stunning blonde if she learns to speak with an American accent, which she did by watching soap operas on television.
Theron went on to have a prolific acting career, winning an Oscar for Best Actress in 2004.
5. Matthew McConaughey
“Alright, alright, alright!” These Words catapulted this Texas Native’s Career
Oscar Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey wasn’t interested in following his dad’s footsteps in the oil industry. Thankfully, he decided to pursue acting and appeared in a few student films and commercials in his native state.
Photo by François Duhamel/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images
At a hotel bar in Austin, he met a producer, who would later introduce him to Richard Linklater, writer, and director of the high school comedy classic Dazed and Confused. Linklater was casting for the movie, and when he saw McConaughey he thought he was “too handsome” to play the role of an older guy who thinks he is way too cool for his own good. The role called for a guy who’s a bit of a creep and preyed on unsuspecting high school girls. But Linklater was eventually convinced. This led to more movie roles.
This native Texan is known for uttering “Alright, alright, alright” in his southern drawl, but not everyone knows that these were actually his lines from his first ever movie, Dazed and Confused.
6. Jennifer Lawrence
A New York City Trip That Hit the Bull’s Eye
It’s hard to believe that Jennifer Lawrence is only in her 20s, considering that she’s already won an Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of a mentally-ill lady in Silver Linings Playbook.
Photo by Lionsgate Entertainment
This Kentucky native seems like she was born to act. She went to Manhattan at 14 and conducted her first cold read. Agents raved about her talent and tried to convince her mother to spend the summer in the city. On the same trip, she was spotted by a talent agent who made her into a successful teen model. Soon, acting gigs followed. Her TV debut was in Monk in 2006.
That trip to NYC hit the bull’s eye for JLaw.
7. Marilyn Monroe
From Factory Worker to Screen Icon
Unless you’ve been living under a rock all your life, you know Marilyn Monroe or have seen an iconic image of her somewhere. This celebrated 1950s sex symbol had a very sad childhood, spending most of it being shuffled from one foster home and orphanage to another.
Photo by Gene Lester/Getty Images
Monroe’s lucky break came while she was working at a factory in1944 for the U.S. Military. A photographer from the film production unit of the US Air Force happened to shoot a picture of her and put it in a magazine. She then began a successful career as a pin-up model. This led to more minor film roles, and she eventually became a marketable Hollywood star by 1953. Although she’s the stereotypical “blonde bombshell”, Monroe worked hard to shed the image, eventually doing critically acclaimed films such as Some Like It Hot (1959), for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress.
A true pop culture icon, Monroe’s beauty, and talent were sadly eclipsed by her troubled private life.
8. Eva Mendes
Famous by Chance
Gorgeous Hollywood actress Eva Mendes initially wanted to make a career in marketing, enrolling at the California State University to pursue a degree. But then a talent agent caught a glimpse of her photo by pure chance.
Photo by Ian Wingfield/Getty Images
This agent was looking at someone else’s portfolio when he happened to spot Eva and was enamored with her. This led to her first screen appearance in Children of the Corn V. Mendes didn’t like her performance in the direct-to-video movie, so she decided to hire an acting coach to get higher-profile projects. This led to other film roles, until her breakthrough performance in Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day (2001), where she was really noticed by Hollywood bigwigs.
Eva Mendes is famous by chance, but her beauty, talent, and determination gave her staying power in the finicky world of show business.
9. Peter Dinklage
Leaving a 9-5 job and ending up at King’s Landing
Emmy, Golden Globe, and SAG Award Winning actor Peter Dinklage didn’t think that acting is a career that he could pursue.
Long before he rose to fame as Tyrion Lannister in George R.R. Martin’s screen adaption of the Game of Thrones, the New Jersey native actually worked an office job and performed in a punk-funk-rap band called Whizzy. While he was working at the data processing company, it was becoming clear at that point to Dinklage that the 9-5 life wasn’t for him.
Photo by Steve Eichner/Getty Images
Dinklage had a drama degree from Bennington College, and because he refused to take stereotypical roles offered to actors with dwarfism, he initially struggled to find work. His life changed when he was cast in HBO’s fantasy drama Game of Thrones – a commercial and critical success.
Dinklage’s portrayal of Tyrion Lannister received widespread praise, making him a huge star.
10. Meryl Streep
A Natural from the Start
This highly-acclaimed actress had raw natural talent right from the start. Although she appeared in numerous high school plays such as The Family Upstairs in her teen years, she was never really interested in pursuing an acting career.
Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
Meryl also showed her acting chops at Vassar College. Her most notable performance was in 1969, for the play Miss Julie. When her fellow students saw her in the play, she was the talk of the campus. Her professor at Vassar is quoted as saying, “I don’t think anyone ever taught Meryl how to act. She really taught herself.”
Her first film was Julia (1977), which starred Jane Fonda. But her breakthrough role was in The Deer Hunter, where she played Robert De Niro’s girlfriend, a role which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Meryl Streep’s acting chops is a natural gift that she continues to harness during her very successful acting career.
11. Pamela Anderson
From Fitness Instructor to Baywatch Babe
Canadian babe Pamela Anderson was leading a simple life as a fitness instructor in Vancouver when a Jumbotron image turned her life around. When she went to a BC Lions football game in 1989 wearing a Labatt’s Beer T-shirt, everything changed. Her image appeared on the big Jumbotron screen, and the crowd went so wild over her.
Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage
This event led to a modeling contract with Labatt Beer, and then a Playboy gig. While pursuing a modeling career, Hollywood came knocking on her door. The blonde stunner had roles in a few TV shows before playing “Tool Time” girl Lisa on Home Improvement and most famously, C.J. Parker on Baywatch.
She was in Baywatch for five seasons, and it is still her most recognizable role to-date.
12. Ashton Kutcher
The Simple Engineering Student that Rose to the Top
Can you imagine being a simple college student at the University of Iowa and being approached by a talent scout? That’s exactly what happened to Ashton Kutcher, who was then studying Biochemical Engineering in the hopes of finding a cure for his twin brother’s cerebral palsy and septal heart defect. The agent encouraged Kutcher to enter a modeling competition and he won.
Photo by Frank Trapper/Corbis via Getty Images
The brown-haired hunk dropped out of college then went on to land gigs in commercials for the likes of Calvin Klein and Versace. It was his role as Michael Kelso in the Fox sitcom That ’70s Show that gave him his big break.
Not many people know that Kutcher has an I.Q. of 160, which is genius level. He has used his intelligence not only in his show business career, starting his own production company and creating a television show but also in the world of capital investments.
Since 2009, Kutcher has been investing in start-up technology companies and his reported current net worth is $200 million.
13. Rosario Dawson
Spotted on Her Own Front Porch
Rosario Dawson is perhaps the luckiest of them all: she didn’t even have to leave the house to be approached for a role. When she was just 15 years old, screenwriter Harmony Korine spotted her hanging out on her porch and was struck by her presence.
Photo by Dimension Video/Buena Vista Pictures
The screenwriter asked her to audition for the movie that he was planning to make. The movie was the 1995 independent drama Kids, where Rosario landed the role of Ruby. Rosario went to get plum roles in blockbuster feature films such as Rent, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and Sin City. She currently plays Claire Temple in the Netflix The Defenders series.
Not bad for a girl who was spotted on her own front porch.
14. Jason Statham
From Amateur High Diver to Hollywood High Flyer
Jason Statham never imagined that he will be a successful actor. He was a competitive amateur high diver that sold jewelry on the streets of London to pay his bills. One talent agent noticed the tough-talking Statham while he was working out one day. He encouraged him to audition for director Guy Ritchie.
Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images
Ritchie happened to be working on his debut film Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. He thought that Statham would be a perfect addition to the cast. For his audition, Statham didn’t need to stretch his imagination too far: Ritchie asked him to impersonate none other than a street vendor selling fake jewelry – just his luck! Statham landed the gig and went on to become one of Hollywood’s bankable action stars.
Jason’s journey is proof that you sometimes never know what fate has in store for you.
15. Harrison Ford
How a Carpentry Job Changed His Life Forever
The Star Wars and Indiana Jones megastar had a fledgling acting career, playing minor roles in small TV shows and films. French filmmaker Jacque Demy first showed faith in him as an actor, hiring him as the lead for his American film debut. But the studio head discouraged Demy, saying that Ford had “no future” as an actor. It was around this time that Ford trained in carpentry to support his young family.
Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Ford’s entire life changed when he met George Lucas. He auditioned for a role in his film American Graffiti (1973). This relationship with Lucas proved to be a stroke of luck as he was cast as Han Solo in Star Wars. The rest is history.
His career now spans six decades, and he has achieved worldwide fame with beloved film franchises to his credit.
16. Wilford Brimley
A Real-Life Cowboy
Who better to play a cowboy than a real-life cowboy? True Grit actor Wilford Brimley was actually a real-life cowboy who worked on a ranch as a blacksmith. He was cast as an extra in several Westerns because he could ride a horse and he looked like a real cowboy – because he was.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Brimley is good friends with fellow actor Robert Duvall, who eventually convinced him to get more serious about acting. Thankfully, he did. He is notable for his roles on True Grit in 1969, The China Syndrome (1979), and Cocoon (1985). He was very active throughout the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, but slowed down considerably in the 2000s. His breakthrough screen role was playing Horace in the CBS classic The Waltons.
Brimley’s gravelly voice and walrus mustache are his trademarks – along with his accent and brusque manner.
17. John Wayne
Thank God He Got Disqualified from His Football Scholarship
One of the biggest box-offices draws of his time, John Wayne’s name is synonymous to Western movies. In fact, 83 of his movies were westerns.
Photos by Southern California/Collegiate Images/Getty Images
During his younger years, a broken collarbone disqualified him from his college football scholarship at USC under Coach Howard Jones. He was in a bit of a pickle after that, having not enough money to continue paying for college. As a favor to the coach who gave silent western star Tom Mix tickets to USC games, director John Ford hired Wayne to work in the prop department of Fox Studios. He would also work as a movie extra. “Forget going back to school,” Wayne thought. He could use his new job to propel himself to fame. Wayne got real tight with director John Ford, and his big break came with Stagecoach (1939), which both a critical and commercial success.
The Duke continued to lord it over the silver screen until the 1950s and is considered to be one of the biggest stars in cinema’s golden era.
18. Estella Warren
It All Started with Synchronized Swimming
Canadian beauty Estella Warren never intended to be an actress. She was, in fact, a synchronized swimmer, a member of the national team for which she won three national titles.
Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage
Even though she was training as an athlete since she was twelve, her swimming career took a back seat when a talent agent noticed her in her high school charity fashion show and offered her a modeling gig. She broke through the international modeling circuit when she booked the Cacharel fragrance campaign. More high-profile modeling stints followed, including covers for Vogue, Elle, and Vanity Fair.
Warren has delved into acting with performances in Driven, Kangaroo Jack, Planet of the Apes, That 70s Show, and others.
19. Danny Trejo
This Toughie Was Behind Bars in Real and Reel Life
Danny Trejo often appears as a tough villain in many films, but he was also a young troublemaker in real life – being in and out of prison in the 1960s. While serving time in San Quentin, Trejo became a champion boxer and he was able to overcome his drug addiction by joining the twelve-step program.
Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images
He was working as a youth drug counselor when a young patient asked for help in dealing with cocaine problems on the movie set of Runaway Train (1985). While helping out on set, screenwriter and former convict Edward Bunker recognized him when they did time together at San Quentin. He offered Trejo a job to train Eric Roberts for a boxing scene, and he was also offered a small role as a boxer.
That was the start of Trejo’s acting career, starring in major motion pictures such as Desperado, Heat, From Dusk till Dawn, XXX, Machete, Predators, and more.
Danny kicked-off his acting career unexpectedly, and he’s the best example of making it big amidst the odds.
20. Christoph Waltz
We Have one Person to Thank: Quentin Tarantino
Until 2007, Austrian-German actor/director Christoph Waltz was lucky to be able to get by and support his family doing behind-the-scenes stage work and playing small-time TV roles. But his life changed completely when brilliant filmmaker Quentin Tarantino cast him as SS officer Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds, a critically acclaimed performance that kick-started his Hollywood career.\
Photo by The Weinstein Company
He was 51 when he had his big break. He has won two Oscars since and rightfully earned his place as one of the most talented actors in Hollywood.
Refreshingly un-Hollywood, Christoph was catapulted to international stardom with one pivotal role, thanks to the unconventional vision of Tarantino.
21. Alexis Bledel
She Needed Tuition Money for NYU but didn’t Need it for Chilton or Yale
Blue-eyed beauty Alexis Bledel is best-known for playing Rory Gilmore in Gilmore Girls, but she has made a name for herself in other roles in Mad Men and The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, recently getting an Emmy nomination for playing Emily in A Handmaid’s Tale.
Photo by J. Vespa/WireImage
Alexis started her modeling career just as soon as she was scouted at a mall. However, her modeling stint wasn’t earning her enough money to pay for her tuition at NYU. An opportunity to audition for Gilmore Girls came up, and Bledel was so sure that she won’t make it that she didn’t take it seriously, even showing up with the flu. Lucky for her, showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino saw something in her and decided to cast her as Rory.
Playing Rory changed Alexis’ life, paving the way for the great career that she’s enjoying now.
22. Alden Ehrenreich
It Pays to Be the Son of Stephen Spielberg’s Accountant (And be Talented to Boot!)
Alden Ehrenreich started his acting career unconventionally. His father happens to be Stephen Spielberg’s accountant, and this connection eventually led him to play beloved character Han Solo in 2018’s Solo: A Han Solo Story.
Photo by Warner Bros.
Alden, who is an Ashkenazi Jew, was discovered by Spielberg at a friend of his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. He acted in a dedication video with his daughter, and Spielberg liked what he saw. He set Alden up with an agent, and his natural talent led him to riveting roles in several feature films. Alden’s star continues to rise with his immense talent, dedication, and right career choices.
As they tell you in college, having connections pays off, and it certainly did for young Alden.
23. Chris Pratt
Serving Seafood Propelled Him to the Galaxy
Everybody loves Chris Pratt. He deserves all his success – including roles in huge franchises Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Photo by Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage
But Pratt had his share of struggles when he moved to Los Angeles from Washington State to pursue an acting career. One of his many jobs was waiting tables at Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in Maui, where he met director Rae Dawn Chong. Chong cast him in her horror comedy Cursed Part 3. That was in 2000. After his first acting credit, he steadily built his career, appearing in the big and small screen. His most notable appearances is in Parks and Recreation, where he played lovable Andy Dwyer. His charisma and versatility were evident right from the start, which is what propelled him to huge success.
In 2018, Chris accepted the MTV Movie and TV Generation Award, capping it off with a memorable acceptance speech that reflects his earnest and positive spirit.
24. Evangeline Lilly
Spotted by an Agent while Walking Around Town
Evangeline Lilly has a classic Hollywood discovery story: she was spotted by an agent while walking around town in her native British Columbia, Canada. The talent agent was from Ford Models, and Evangeline was surprised because this was a career that she hasn’t considered before. Since she needed money to pay for college, she accepted the offer and landed some jobs.
Photo by Touchstone Pictures, ABC
Lilly’s big break came when she was cast to play Kate Austen in the huge ABC TV series Lost. She became a big star, winning a Screen Actors Guild Award and receiving a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
Evangeline Lilly has come a long way from the streets of British Columbia to Hollywood stardom, but she still stays grounded and down-to-earth.
25. Kristen Wiig
A Teacher’s Prodding Led to Hollywood Fame
Kristen Wiig is such a joy to watch. A writer, producer, and actor, she is a multi-talented force that wouldn’t even be in show business if not for the encouragement of her college teacher to pursue acting. That prodding gave Kristen the confidence to pursue the craft full-time.
Photo by Universal Studios
When Wiig moved to Los Angeles, she became part of the Groundlings Improv Group. After struggling to find work, Wiig finally got her big break in 2006 when she became a cast member of Saturday Night Live (SNL) at the age of 32. At SNL, Wiig is best known for her very funny and memorable characters Target Lady, Gilly, and Suze Orman.
Sometimes, an encouraging word from a trusted mentor is all it takes for us to take a step in the right direction.
Ambition and Drive Leads to Success
This South African actor proves that hard work and drive will always lead to success. He is one of the few people on this list who once actively sought an acting career. Copley performed in school plays and studied drama in college, but eventually gave up and decided to take up business.
Photo by TriStar Pictures
He co-founded several companies at 19, and by the age of 24, he was dubbed South Africa’s youngest television producer. During that time he allowed a young Neill Blomkamp to borrow his computers, in order for Blomkamp to further pursue his passion for 3D animation.
Blomkamp returned the favor years later by casting Copley as the lead in District 9, a surprise hit in 2009. He went on to star in other big-budget movies such as The A-Team, Elysium, Maleficent, and Chappie.
Copley continues to be a prolific actor, but he has never forgotten his roots.
27. Sylvester Stallone
A True Rags-to-Riches Hollywood Story
Sylvester Stallone’s rise to fame is the real deal. He was a dirt-poor struggling actor and screenwriter in the 1970s. At one low point, Stallone found himself looking for places to sleep because he couldn’t afford rent.
Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Stallone was a true stereotype of a struggling artist – or at least he would have been if he wasn’t so jacked. It all changed when the script that he wrote and completed for only three days was picked up. That was the script for the movie Rocky. Of course, Stallone played the title role. And everyone knows what happened after – the Rocky series became a huge success worldwide and it catapulted Stallone into international superstar status. He also received two Oscar nominations for the original Rocky: one for Best Actor and the other for Best Original Screenplay.
Hollywood loves its success stories – and Stallone’s story is one of the best.
28. Samuel L. Jackson
The Iconic Movie Star’s Stratospheric Rise to Fame
Cool and languid Samuel L. Jackson is one of the busiest actors around, and his movies, when combined, will probably be worth billions in the box-office.
Photo by Miramax Films
As Nick Fury, he is part of the enormous Marvel Cinematic Universe. He was also cast in the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy and Pixar’s The Incredibles as the voice of Frozone. You would think this is amazing enough had it not been for the fact that he is also part of the roster of talented actors that brilliant director-screenwriter Quentin Tarantino loves to use. Jackson’s pivotal role is that of Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction. He got the role when he was 45 years old, and his career took an unexpected trajectory after that.
What’s the best thing about Mr. Jackson? He doesn’t take himself too seriously. The fact that he’s proud of Snakes on a Plane proves just that.
29. Morgan Freeman
His Big Break came when he was 52!
We all think that Morgan Freeman has been part of our lives forever (after all, he IS God) but surprisingly, his big break came when he was 52 years old! His brilliant performance in Driving Miss Daisy earned him a Best Actor Academy Award nomination in 1989.
Photo by Joseph Lederer/Paramount Pictures
Morgan Freeman has always loved acting and film. By the time he was a teen, he turned down a partial drama scholarship in favor of a career in the U.S. Air Force. In 1959, Freeman realized that acting was his true passion and he moved to Hollywood to follow his dreams. He plodded on until the 1980s, getting decent parts in movies and TV. His star continues to rise the older he gets with such notable films as Se7en, Glory, The Shawshank Redemption and playing the voice of God in Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty.
Known for his rich, distinct voice and calm tone, Freeman is often the narrator for his films. He continues to be very busy and has shown no signs of slowing down.
30. Hulk Hogan
Discovered Wrestling While Playing Music on Stage
You might find this hard to believe, but wrestler and entertainer extraordinaire Hulk Hogan is actually passionate about music. The best thing about this was he discovered wrestling while playing bass for his band in Florida. On one of the gigs, someone in the audience thought that he might make a good wrestler.
Photo by New Line Cinema/Getty Images
He didn’t start out as a musician, though. Hogan was once a pitcher in Little League Baseball and attracted scouts from the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately, an injury ended his career. When his baseball career ended, that’s when he went to music.
Hulk Hogan’s entertaining persona in the wrestling ring gave him the opportunity to act in movies and be a television personality. He has been a professional wrestler since 1977 and he is still active today.
Hulk Hogan’s staying power is a testament to his determination and hard work.
31. Channing Tatum
Living His Best Life: The Real-Life Magic Mike
Screen hunk Channing Tatum is famous for his Magic Mike movies, and everyone knows he’s got the moves because he was actually a nightclub stripper. That’s just one of his many odd jobs when he dropped out of college in West Virginia.
Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic
When his stripper stint came to an end, Tatum moved to Florida to pursue a modeling career. He was actually spotted by a talent scout while walking the streets of Miami. He had a lucrative modeling career and even put his dancing skills to good use, appearing on Ricky Martin’s “She Bangs” music video in 2000.
His modeling career led to his work on the silver screen. His breakout role was in Step Up, which required him to dance (no surprise there) opposite Jenna Dewan, who would later become his wife.
Tatum’s star continues to rise and he now lives a great life as a holiday A-lister.
32. Lana Turner
Stunning Screen Icon Was Discovered Drinking Soda at a Café
One of the most iconic actresses of the ‘40s and ‘50s, Lana Turner became a much-adored sex symbol and favorite pin-up girl.
Photo by Eric Carpenter/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
Lana Turner was a student at Hollywood High when she was discovered by William R. Wilkerson, then publisher of the Hollywood Reporter. When he saw her drinking soda in the Top Hat Café, he knew right away that he was looking at a star. It was Wilkerson who set up the meeting between 15-year old Turner and Zeppo Marx. Marx helped Turner get a small part in They Won’t Forget.
Lana Turner tried very hard to shed the “Sweater Girl” image that her studio built around her; and although people remember her more for her looks than her talent, many fans and directors that she worked with recognized that she was more than just a pretty face.
33. David Boreanaz
We are blessed with this Screen ‘Angel’ thanks to his Dog
David Boreanaz captivated audiences with his portrayal of a dark, brooding vampire with a soul. It was the perfect foil to Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy. This career-defining role came to him thanks to his dog, which he was walking around the neighborhood.
Photo by Warner Bros.
Before landing this role, Boreanaz had no acting career to speak of. One of his neighbors, a friend of Buffy writer Marti Noxon, happened to see him walk his dog past their home. This neighbor is well aware that the role of Angel called for someone who is impossibly handsome – and suggested that Boreanaz audition, just like any good neighbor should.
The ladies’ reactions around the room the day that Boreanaz read for the part was what convinced Buffy creator Joss Whedon that he was right for the role. Boreanaz’s success at playing Angel led to a spin-off series, which lasted five more seasons.
What did we learn from this story? Walking your dog can change your life.
34. Natalie Portman
She was Just a Kid Eating a Slice of Pizza
Natalie Portman was just a simple 11-year old girl eating a slice of pizza in her Long Island neighborhood when a Revlon agent noticed her. She got a modeling offer right away but turned it down because she wanted to pursue acting. She then spent a few summers working in theater productions, honing her acting chops.
Photo by Patrick CAMBOULIVE/Sygma via Getty Images
Portman’s career-defining role came when, at the age of 12, she auditioned for the part of Mathilda Lando in Luc Besson’s riveting film Leon: The Professional. Initially turned away because they thought that she was too young, she was eventually cast for the role of a hitman-in-training.
This Harvard girl started her career as a child, but she didn’t go down the sweet and innocent route. This shaped Portman’s career, leading to her Best Actress trophy for Black Swan many years later.
Natalie Portman has made and continues to make, great choices in her career. This will definitely help her stay on top of her game.
35. Ellen Pompeo
From Bartender to Dr. Grey
Ellen Pompeo worked as a bartender at the SoHo Kitchen Bar & Grille in New York City in the mid-1990s. A casting agent had noticed her and convinced her to sign an advertising campaign with L’Oreal. That modeling gig led to minor television roles in high-profile shows such as Friends and Law and Order.
Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage
From the small screen, supporting film parts followed. However, Pompeo’s big breakthrough came when she was cast in 2005 as Meredith Grey, the titular doctor in the long-running ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy. This made her into a big star.
Many wannabe actresses actually start out by bartending in trendy bars in New York, in the hopes that a casting agent will notice them. It certainly worked for Ellen Pompeo.
36. Burt Reynolds
His NFL Dreams were shattered, but Acting gave him Redemption
Burt Reynolds had no real interest in becoming an actor at an early age. He initially set out to be an NFL football player, and for a while it seemed like he was on the right path, attending Florida State University on a football scholarship and being drafted by the Baltimore Colts. Sadly, his football dreams were shattered when he suffered a career-ending injury.
Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
He then won an acting school scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse in New York. Deliverance, which came out in 1972, was his breakthrough performance. But that was eclipsed when he decided to bare it all, appearing nude in Cosmopolitan. Unfortunately, that photograph was discussed more than his performance in Deliverance. He did earn a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in 1997’s Boogie Nights.
The Oscar may have eluded him, but this prolific actor was active until the end. He worked relentlessly and holds the record of being the US’s top box-office leading man for five years in a row.
37. Katherine Heigl
Posing for Hair Care Products Paved the Way to Her Acting Career
Screen stunner Katherine Heigl started out as a child model when she was nine years old. Her aunt invented a hair care product and asked Katherine to pose for some pictures to advertise it. The pictures turned out so well that with her parent’s permission, they were sent to an agent in New York. Not long after that, Heigl was signed with world-renowned modeling agency Wilhelmina Models. This led to a lucrative modeling career.
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Katherine then moved up to the big screen in 1992 with her movie debut, That Night. Heigl’s big breakout television role came in 1999 with the sci-fi hit Roswell.
However, it was when she was cast as Dr. Izzie Stevens on the mega-hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy that made her a household name.
38. Peter Mayhew
His Height Brought Our Favorite Wookie to Unprecedented Heights
The name Peter Mayhew may not ring a bell, but I’m sure you know the name of the iconic Wookiee that he portrays. Englishman Mayhew has appeared as Chewbacca in five Star Wars movies. Before he became the beloved sidekick of Han Solo, Mayhew worked as a hospital orderly. He was discovered because of his height and size. At 7’3, he is hard not to notice. An article appeared about him in a newspaper about men with huge feet. This caught the attention of producer Charles H. Sneer, who was casting for Sinbad and Eye of the Tiger. Needing a very tall actor to play a Minotaur, Mayhew was selected due to his towering height.
Photo by Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty Images
His size was also the reason why he was cast in Star Wars. When he appeared before George Lucas in the studio for an interview, Lucas took one look at him and declared, “I think we found him.”
Everyone loves Chewbacca, and apparently, Mayhew is also dearly loved by his castmates.
39. Tippi Hedren
Renowned Hitchcock Muse was Discovered While Getting out of a CabMuch has been made about Tippi Hedren’s complicated relationship with director Alfred Hitchcock. Before she became the legendary director’s muse, she worked as a model. In fact, she was discovered by a scout as she was getting out of a cab in Minneapolis.
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She had a few commercials, including an ad for a diet beverage called Sego. Hitchcock saw Hedren’s ad and arranged a meeting with her. Hedren signed a 7-year contract with him. She famously appeared in the horrifying thriller The Birds in 1963, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Hedren won a Golden Globe for her debut performance. She followed that up with the psychological thriller Marnie, also directed by Hitchcock.
With granddaughter Dakota Johnson, Tippi Hedren has spawned her legacy in Hollywood.
40. Shannyn Sossamon
A Tale of Beauty and Talent
Shannyn Sossamon’s unusual beauty and even more unusual name are so unforgettable. This American actress rose to fame with her breakout role as Heath Ledger’s love interest in A Knight’s Tale. She then made a couple of more big-budget movies until she decided to take a little break following the birth of her son.
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A native of Hawaii, Sossamon was discovered at a party, while she was DJing for extra money. A casting director noticed her stand-out beauty while she was helping a DJ friend who was spinning at Gwyneth Paltrow’s brother’s birthday party. That led to the audition for A Knight’s Tale.
Sossamon has recently been seen on TV, with her roles in Wayward Pines and Sleepy Hollow.
41. Will Smith
From Fresh Prince to Hollywood Royalty
Multi-talented megastar Will Smith already showed a lot of promise as ½ of the rap duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. This Philadelphia native was discovered at just the right time. As Fresh Prince, he was on his way to a sporting event one day and was approached by a man in a parking lot. This man happened to be Benny Medina, a VP at Warner Brothers. He was just asking for directions, but the most surprising thing was he knew who Will Smith was. It hit him that he is perfect for the lead role based on his own life, and that’s how “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was born.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage
Of course, this was the start of a very prolific and successful career that includes several Academy Award nominations, blockbuster films, and Hollywood royalty status. A chance encounter in the parking lot totally changed Will Smith’s life.
42. Vin Diesel
A Short Film Started His Fast and Furious Ride to Fame
California native Vin Diesel lived in an artists’ housing project in New York City as a child. His acting career started by chance when at the age of seven he and his friends broke into a theater and tried to vandalize it. A lady stopped them and offered them $20 with a script, on the condition that they would attend rehearsals every day after school. Diesel was bitten by the acting bug and his career progressed to off-Broadway productions.
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After deciding that college wasn’t his top choice of post-teenage life opportunities, Diesel made a short film about a struggling actor. Amazingly, the film was picked up and played at the Cannes Film Festival. Stephen Spielberg noticed Diesel and gave him a spot in Saving Private Ryan.
Diesel is well-known for his being part of the Fast and the Furious movie franchise, and films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick, and XxX.
43. Christie Brinkley
Standing in a Post Office Catapulted Her Rise to Supermodel Status
Christie Brinkley is one of the first supermodels, appearing in back-to-back covers of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues from 1979 to 1981. She was also the face of CoverGirl for 25 years, one of the longest contracts in history.
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After graduating from High School, Brinkley moved to Paris to pursue a career in illustration. She was just standing in a post office one day when American photographer Errol Sawyer noticed her. He took pictures of her and introduced her to the Paris branch of Elite Model Agency. That began her meteoric rise into the world of modeling. Throughout her 4 decades as a model, she has appeared in over 500 magazine covers and held major contracts for world-renowned brands.
This All-American girl from Michigan is still actively pursuing her passions after all these years.