It’s hard to believe that some of the biggest stars today were ordinary people doing regular jobs not so long ago. Many of the A-listers entertaining us today got their start by chance. That doesn’t mean they weren’t working extra hard or lacking an ounce of talent. In the extremely competitive entertainment industry, it does help to be in the right place at the right time, and these famous faces are proof.
Here are some of the best “how I was discovered” anecdotes from famous actors.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Show” in 1998.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”