You Won’t Believe the Tiny Roles These Celebrities Had Before Becoming Famous

Some of today’s biggest names got their start on the silver screen by taking on small roles. While it’s tough to imagine our favorite stars as struggling actors, the fact is that everyone has to start somewhere.

These first-time roles were these stars’ stepping stones to greatness, and they provided them with the necessary experience and contacts to hone their craft. Without them, they probably wouldn’t have landed bigger, more involved roles, or given the amazing performances they’re known for today.

Here are 25 actors who started out small and made it big.

1. Michelle Williams

Blonde bombshell Michelle Williams has made a name for herself in the film industry, including her provocative depiction of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, and her heartbreaking performance alongside her co-star Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine. However, before her successful movie roles and her acclaim to fame, a six season regular role as Jen Lindley on Dawson’s Creek, this small-town girl made her first TV appearance on two episodes of Baywatch in the early 1990s.

2.Mila Kunis

Mila Kunis on Days of Our Lives.

Mila Kunis on Days of Our Lives | Corday Productions

Yep, the girl we all got to know in That ’70s Show, and who married her co-star Ashton Kutcher, started her career on Days of Our Lives. She appeared in one episode of the highly-acclaimed soap opera as a young girl, and after that, she appeared in a number of other TV shows, including Baywatch, Hudson Street, and Unhappily Ever After.

 3. Jason Segel

Many of us know Jason Segel from the CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother, as well as from his roles in movies like Forgetting Sarah Marshall and I Love You, Man. Before he landed those roles, however, Segel had a small role in the 1998 romantic teen comedy Can’t Hardly Wait. He is credited for the role as “Watermelon Guy.”

 4. Michael B. Jordan


Before he starred alongside Sly as a boxer, Michael B. Jordan was in a number of small roles and TV shows. Jordan’s first on screen appearance was as part of a group of kids on the street in an episode of The Sopranos. He also appeared in an episode of Cosby during this time.

5. Daniel Day-Lewis

Now a well-known, award-winning actor, Daniel Day-Lewis appeared in the drama Sunday Bloody Sunday as a young teen who vandalizes cars. It was his film debut, and Lewis was unaccredited for the role. It was sometime after this that Lewis gained critical acclaim for such movies as My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room with a View.

6. Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood is dressed as a scientist in Revenge of the Creature.

Clint Eastwood in Revenge of the Creature | Universal International Pictures

Clint Eastwood’s performances in a number of western and action movies, in addition to his later work as a producer and director, solidified him as one of Hollywood’s greats. However, the actor had to take on several small roles before he made it big. His first one was an unaccredited appearance in Revenge of the Creature in 1955.

7. Bruce Willis

Bruce Willis in The First Deadly Sin in a coat and hat.

Bruce Willis in The First Deadly Sin | Artanis Productions Inc.

Action superstar Bruce Willis is best known for his action hero roles, but before his rise to fame, he had a small role in the 1980 thriller The First Deadly Sin. Willis appeared in the film for a few seconds as a man who enters a diner. His role was unaccredited. After that, he had a number of small TV roles, including Moonlighting, that eventually gained momentum.

8. Denzel Washington

Young Denzel Washington in Wilma.

Denzel Washington in Wilma | Cappy Productions

From his epic depiction of Malcolm X to his impressive performances in films like Training Day and American Gangster, Denzel Washington is one of the most critically acclaimed actors of his generation. Before he had the chance to change cinematic history, though, he had a small role in the 1977 TV movie Wilma. Before that, he allegedly appeared in an unaccredited role in a movie called Death Wish.

9. Megan Fox

Megan Fox dancing in Bad Boys II.

Megan Fox dancing in Bad Boys II. | Columbia Pictures Corporation

You may know her as the love interest of Shia LaBeouf’s character, Sam Witwicky, in the Transformers movies, but Megan Fox wasn’t always the well-known star she is today. She first appeared on the silver screen for a few seconds in Bad Boys II in an uncredited role as a dancer, and as Ione Starr in the 2002 Swedish-American TV series Ocean Ave.

10. Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence is now Hollywood royalty due to her numerous and impressive award-winning performances (including an Oscar for Best Actress in Silver Linings Playbook). But it wasn’t always that way. Before she starred in The Hunger Games, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, Lawrence had a number of small TV roles. She started out her career on the popular show Monk in 2006, where she played a mascot during the “Mr. Monk and the Big Game” episode.

11. Lucy Liu

Lucy Liu is known for her roles in Kill Bill Vol. 1, Kung Fu Panda, and the CBS show Elementary, among others. Before she became a star, she appeared in a 1991 episode (Pass, Not Pass) of Beverly Hills, 90210 as a waitress.

12. Ben Stiller

Young Ben Stiller is in a classroom with other students in Kate & Allie.

Ben Stiller in Kate & Allie | Alan Landsburg Productions

Ben Stiller is now universally known for the roles he’s played in comedic movies like Zoolander and Meet the Fockers, but his start came with a number of small TV roles. His first was in the TV series called Kate & Allie. He appeared in only one episode.

13. Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson as a little kid looking off.

Scarlett Johansson in North | Castle Rock Entertainment

Scarlett Johansson is one of the most successful and well-known women in Hollywood. She’s been in a long list of important films, including her work with Woody Allen. But her fame didn’t happen overnight. She got her start with a small role in the 1994 movie North, where she appeared as a young girl next to some pretty big stars like Elijah Wood and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

14. Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell in the center of young boys in Dennis the Menace.

Kurt Russell in the center of a group of young boys in Dennis the Menace. | Darriell Productions

Kurt Russell is now known for his many action hero roles, but he got his start as a child actor. An unaccredited role in Dennis the Menace was his first. Russell appeared only for a short time in one episode of the show in the early 1960s.

15. Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson sitting in a crowd of people.

Jack Nicholson | Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Jack Nicholson has earned a reputation for his dramatic and sometimes unnerving performances that span a wide variety of genres. But while he might have won numerous awards in years past, and is considered to be one of the most well-loved actors of the last several decades, he started small. The 1956 TV series Matinee Theatre featured him in his first small role for one episode.

16. Jack Black

Jack Black turning around surprised in The Fall Guy.

Jack Black in The Fall Guy | 20th Century Fox Television

Jack Black is known for numerous films like Kung Fu Panda, King Kong, and School of Rock, but like many actors on this list, he got his start on TV. His first role was in a 1984 episode of The Fall Guy.

17. Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson laughing.

Samuel L. Jackson | New York Times/Peter Yang

Samuel L. Jackson’s had a small debut role in a 1972 blaxploitation independent film called Together for Days that focused on a mixed race relationship. After undergoing a title change, the movie is currently called Black Cream.

18. Jada Pinkett Smith

Jada Pinkett-Smith biting her lip on Doogie Howser, M.D.

Jada Pinkett Smith in Doogie Howser, M.D. | 20th Century Fox Television

Jada Pinkett Smith now enjoys a high level of fame, but this certainly wasn’t always the case. She had a small part in an episode of True Colors, and a year later, she appeared in the popular show Doogie Howser, M.D. for one episode. These led to future TV and movie roles, and to her eventual success.

19. George Clooney

George Clooney resting his head on his hand.

George Clooney | Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

George Clooney had a small unaccredited part in a TV miniseries called Centennial before he became a major motion picture heartthrob. Another small part in a film called And They’re Off became his first credited role. These two small roles launched his now illustrious career.

20. Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling talking on the phone in a kitchen in Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Ryan Gosling in Are You Afraid of the Dark? | Nickelodeon Network

Hey, girl. Before heartthrob Ryan Gosling became a household name, he was merely making television appearances on kids’ shows. He first appeared in an episode of the horror fantasy-themed show called Are You Afraid of the Dark.

21. William Shatner

William Shatner talking to two men in The Butler's Night Off.

William Shatner in The Butler’s Night Off | Mount-Royal Films

Long before William Shatner was sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise in Star Trek, he had a small role as a crook in the film The Butler’s Night Off. This was the only time the name “Bill Shatner” appeared in the credits for the actor.

22. Christopher Walken

Christopher Walken is known among many different types of moviegoers, and he has played in everything from musicals and comedies, to action and drama movies. Walken got his start as a young boy in The Wonderful John Acton TV series as a young kid.

23. Patrick Dempsey

The Cast of Heaven Help Us in suits and smiling.

The cast of Heaven Help Us | HBO

Best known for his role as Dr. Derek Shepherd in Grey’s Anatomy, Patrick Dempsey got his start in a small role on a film called Heaven Help Us. After that, he landed a number of other small TV and movie jobs before his role as Ronald Miller in Can’t Buy Me Love, which led him down the road to a successful career.

24. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck at the Oscars holding up their awards.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck | Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Best friends Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are well-known Hollywood actors, but that wasn’t always the case. Before they became wildly successful, Damon and Affleck appeared as unaccredited extras in Field of Dreams, and, at the time, they were both teenagers.

25. Philip Seymour Hoffman

philip seymour hoffman in law and order

Philip Seymour Hoffman in an episode of Law and Order | NBC via IMDb

Philip Seymour’s depiction of Truman Capote in the film Capote earned the now deceased actor an Oscar. However, Seymour didn’t start out doing films. His first role was on an episode of Law and Order.

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