Commercials have launched the careers of many of today’s A-list actors. Before they got their foot in the Hollywood door, many were peddling products from fast food to personal hygiene to cars. While the ads certainly didn’t highlight these actors’ exceptional skills, they did act as a stepping stone toward the fame and success they’ve achieved today. Here’s a look at eight stars who launched their acting careers in 30-second increments.
1. Morgan Freeman
Before he was a leading Hollywood star, Freeman was in a 1973 Listerine commercial in which he played the part of a telephone line repairman who is advocating for the mouthwash despite its terrible taste. In the ad, Freeman confesses to his friend that he doesn’t like the mouthwash’s flavor but that it’s better than other brands and it kills germs, per Chicagoist.
Two years before his mouthwash commercial, he was also in an ad for Long And Black cigarettes, according to The Independent. In the commercial, Freeman says: “We have come so far in the last 20 years. Granddaddy did good, Daddy did better. We marched a long way. … Stay black, stay strong, stay black and long. … That’s some good nicotine.”
2. John Travolta
Before Travolta was known as Danny on Grease, he spent some of the ’70s starring in commercials. Mental Floss writes that Travolta focused on athletic-oriented commercials, including a few for Safeguard and Band-Aid. In a 1975 soap commercial for Safeguard, a 21-year-old Travolta is with a few members of his basketball team smiling and singing the words, “Use Safeguard, with twice the lather, we feel so clean.” He’s also in a locker room for one of his Band-Aid commercials, singing the words, “I am stuck on Band-Aid brand because Band-Aid’s stuck on me.”
3. Lindsay Lohan
It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when Lohan was an in-demand Hollywood starlet. From a young age, she was nailing major movie roles, with a few being The Parent Trap, Freaky Friday, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, and Mean Girls. Her early success is, at least in part, due to the many commercials she was in. According to Biography.com, Lohan got her start as a child model and was in more than 60 television spots and 100 print ads for clients such as Toys ‘R’ Us, Duncan Hines, and Jell-O.
4. Ben Affleck
Affleck has no shortage of Hollywood hits these day. Between Gone Girl, Argo, The Town, Good Will Hunting, and Pearl Harbor, he has proven he has astounding acting abilities. But everyone’s got to start somewhere, right? Affleck’s start was in a 1984 Burger King commercial, writes People.
In the ad, Affleck, who’s referred to as Jeff, receives a call from a woman asking if she had reached Burger King and if they could deliver. Jeff happens to be driving by a Burger King, so he tells her he works there and can bring her food. As he’s delivering her meal, he gets a call from his dad and doesn’t get a chance to introduce himself to the mystery girl. The commercial ends with Affleck telling his dad he’ll be right home and a narrator saying, “Sometimes, you gotta break the rules.”
5. Steve Carell
In 1989, before Carell had landed any major movie or TV roles, he was advocating for Brown’s Chicken. The commercial begins with Carell saying, “Big news from Brown’s Chicken.” He then shares that while the restaurant’s chicken has always been cooked in cholesterol-free cottonseed oil, the batter is now also being made cholesterol-free, ensuring the chicken is both delicious and nutritious. Carell ends on this note: “Brown’s Chicken, it tastes better, and it’s better for you.”
Since then, Carell has had a successful Hollywood career. He was a correspondent on The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, played Michael Scott on The Office, and has been in plenty of movies, including Anchorman, Anchorman 2, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and recently Foxcatcher.
6. Leonardo DiCaprio
Today, DiCaprio is a sensational star who has been in blockbuster hits such as The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby, Inception, Shutter Island, and Catch Me If You Can. However, before he worked his way to the top, Adbranch writes that DiCaprio was starring in commercials. He was in ads from a very young age, with one of the first being a 1988 ad for Bubble Yum. DiCaprio was also in a clothing ad and acted in commercials for both Honda and Suzuki.
In the Suzuki ad, a teenage DiCaprio and a group of his friends pull up in a Wagon R, smiling, high-fiving, and declaring how much fun they’ve had. The group pulls out a giant fish that they’ve just caught, and it ends with DiCaprio saying: “Go Wagon R.”
7. Paul Rudd
Before Rudd made it big, BuzzFeed writes that he was showcasing his acting abilities in a Super Nintendo ad. If you watch the 1991 commercial, you’ll see a 22-year-old Rudd walking through a dark and eerie area, only to find he’s about to play Nintendo. While he’s playing his game, he becomes quite intense and experiences a roller coaster of emotions, including happiness, amazement, nervousness, and wonderment.
While the commercial didn’t do Rudd’s acting skills justice, it certainly was a step in the right direction. After that, he received roles in a couple of shows and made-for-TV movies, and in 1995, he landed the role of Josh in Clueless. Since then, the star has been in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Knocked Up, to name a few.
8. Meg Ryan
Any guesses as to what commercial Ryan starred in? Woman’s Day reports that in 1981, she was a spokeswoman for Aim toothpaste. In the commercial, Ryan’s cheerleader friends ask to borrow her minty-fresh Aim, which she describes as a serious toothpaste that’s “clinically proven to reduce cavities.” The commercial didn’t show off Ryan’s acting abilities, but it did pave the way for her to go on to much bigger and better roles. She went on to land endearing parts in films such as Top Gun, Armed and Dangerous, Sleepless in Seattle, and When Harry Met Sally.