50 first jobs of now famous actors

Written by:
November 16, 2018
Gage Skidmore // Flickr

50 first jobs of now famous actors

First jobs: we’ve all had them, and they are rarely glamorous. Often, we are fetching coffee for our superiors, making copies, or doing data entry, all for the chance to climb the corporate ladder. But have you ever had to dress as a chicken, handing out fliers to promote a Mexican restaurant? How about paying the bills by working as an “exotic dancer?” Though they may be fabulous now, your favorite stars of the stage and screen usually did not start out that way.

In many cases, humble beginnings led to a fierce work ethic and an insatiable desire for success when holding out for fame and fortune seemed impossible. Read on to find out who made lemonade out of lemons—and went from rags to riches in the process.

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Anna Altheide // Wikimedia Commons

Johnny Depp: Ballpoint pen salesman

Johnny Depp’s first pre-acting gig was selling ballpoint pens over the phone. The "Pirates of the Caribbean” star found that this work helped him relate to people, a crucial skill for acting. "You had to call up these strangers and say, 'Hi, how ya doin'?' You made up a name like, 'Hey, it's Edward Quartermaine from California,'" Depp told Interview Magazine.


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Gage Skidmore // Flickr

Tom Cruise: Bellhop

Before starring in "Mission Impossible” (and did all his own stunts) Tom Cruise was carrying luggage to hotel rooms. Cruise held a diverse range of jobs as a young person, and once thought about becoming a Catholic priest.


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JD Lasica // Flickr

Ashton Kutcher: General Mills cereal dust sweeper

Kutcher got his first gig sweeping cereal dust off the floor at the General Mills factory in his hometown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. His humble beginnings—paying for his studies in biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa—soon gave way to greater things, like starring in "That 70s Show.”


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Chris Roth // Wikimedia Commons

Justin Hartley: Lawn mower

TV star Justin Hartley used to mow neighborhood lawns with his brother for $20 each. Now that Hartley stars as Kevin Pearson on the Emmy-winning NBC series "This is Us,” he can probably afford to have someone mow his lawns for him.


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David Shankbone // Wikimedia Commons

Chace Crawford: Abercrombie & Fitch store greeter

Heartthrob Chace Crawford of "Gossip Girl” fame was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a greeter for Abercrombie and Fitch while in high school. He looks back on the job with disdain, claiming he was so bored he would "beg them to let me work on the cash register.” His work paid off, as he became a model for the company's sister brand, Hollister, and the rest is history.


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unwrappedphotos // Flickr

Channing Tatum: Stripper

The star of "Magic Mike” started his career as a stripper after dropping out of college. Though the story served as good fodder for his later film career, Tatum says that "there was nothing glamorous” about stripping, and he doesn’t miss it at all.


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Richard Thomas Johnson // Wikimedia Commons

Hugh Jackman: High school PE teacher

Before starring on the screen and stage, Hugh Jackman was a high school gym teacher. He attributes his "Wolverine rage” to his turbulent teen years, and learned to channel that rage into sports—especially rugby.


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Georges Biard // Wikimedia Commons

Patrick Dempsey: Juggler

Though it’s a far cry from his role on "Grey’s Anatomy,” Patrick Dempsey once wanted to be a professional juggler. He even applied to join the Ringling Bros. circus but was rejected. 


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Gregg DeGuire // Getty Images for Turner

Brad Pitt: El Pollo Loco chicken dancer

Back before Brad Pitt was famous, he was just another guy in a chicken suit. He promoted El Pollo Loco chicken sandwiches on Sunset Boulevard in costume—a role he would probably rather forget.


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Dominick D // Wikimedia Commons

Jon Hamm: Porn set dresser

It’s a bit of a stretch to imagine the dark and mysterious Don Draper working on an adult film set—but that’s exactly where Jon Hamm found himself before making it big. He described the job as "soul-crushing,” and seems glad to have moved on.


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Avda // Wikimedia Commons

Matthew McConaughey: Armadillo killer

One of Matthew McConaughey’s duties as a country club employee in Texas was to kill the armadillos that were digging holes in the golf course—a far cry from the Oscar-winning performances he delivers today.


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Eva Rinaldi

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson: Dishwasher

Now one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, The Rock had humble beginnings: his first job was washing dishes at age 13.


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Bill Ingalls // Wikimedia Commons

Donald Glover: Box-crusher

Glover, known for both his acting and musical talents, had a less-than-exciting start to his career. The star, a.k.a. Childish Gambino, recalls that his first job was breaking down boxes at a school supply store.


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Gage Skidmore // Wikimedia Commons

Damon Wayans: Summer youth corp member

Damon Wayans of "Lethal Weapon” fame started out as a member of the Summer Youth Corp. He and his friends were responsible for rounding up neighborhood children, and doing activities with them. "Was I good at it? No, not at all,” he recalls.


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J. Vespa/WireImage // Getty Images

Clayne Crawford: Brick layer

Before playing a cop on the action-drama "Lethal Weapon” on FOX, Clayne Crawford was laying bricks with his brother. The actor worked in construction starting at age 13 and worked throughout high school in day-long shifts.


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Big Breakfast // Wikimedia Commons

Adam Conover: Grocery bagger

The star of "Adam Ruins Everything” got his start bagging groceries at a King Kullen supermarket on Long Island. "I tried to talk to the customers about their food choices. My bosses were like, please stop bothering the customers,” the actor recalls.


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Peabody Awards // Wikimedia Commons

Matthew Morrison: Server

Matthew Morrison, star of the TV musical comedy "Glee,” started out as a restaurant server in New York and worked at The Gap. No word on whether the waiter gig involved singing.


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Thomas Atilla Lewis // Wikimedia Commons

Matt LeBlanc: Carpenter

Before he was sitting on a couch at Central Perk, Matt LeBlanc was building couches and other furniture for a living. "Everyone in my family does some kind of work with their hands,” the actor explained in an interview.


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Gage Skidmore // Flickr

Vince Vaughn: YMCA lifeguard

Can you imagine Vince Vaughn working as a lifeguard? The actor supervised pools before hitting it big, though he got fired for being late to work one too many times.


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montclairfilmfest // Flickr

Nick Offerman: Carpenter

Nick Offerman is more like his "Parks and Recreation" character, Ron Swanson, than you might think: the longtime actor got his start building sets and props for local theaters using the carpentry skills he acquired from his grandfather. 

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Michael Vlasaty // Wikimedia Comons

George Clooney: Door-to-door insurance salesman

One of George Clooney’s early jobs was as an insurance salesman, which he recalled did not go well: "The first day I sold one [policy] and the guy died.” Clooney also worked jobs cutting tobacco and selling women's shoes before getting his big break.


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Gage Skidmore // Wikimedia Commons

Danny DeVito: Hairdresser

It’s hard to imagine Danny DeVito in any business other than show business; he has been acting for more than half a century. But before he was an actor, DeVito worked as a hairdresser and beautician in New Jersey. His sister Angela owned a salon, and encouraged him to work with her and take classes in makeup artistry at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. There, he observed and eventually joined the student actors there.

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Tabercil // Wikimedia Commons

Christopher Walken: Lion tamer

Christopher Walken got his start as a lion tamer in the circus—definitely one of the quirkier gigs on this list. Thankfully, he got out unscathed and went on to play the eccentric series of roles he's known for today.


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Gage Skidmore // Flickr

Harrison Ford: Carpenter

If you can believe it, Han Solo nearly gave up on acting before landing his big break. Ford couldn't find work after playing a small role in "American Graffiti," so he did what he knew best. In order to support his family, Ford worked as a carpenter before being offered the "Star Wars" role that changed his life.


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Georges Biard // Wikimedia Commons

Jim Carrey: Factory cleaner

Famous funnyman Jim Carrey took a gig as a janitor in a factory after dropping out of high school at the age of 16. His job didn’t last long, however, as he was discovered a year later and hired as the opening act for Buddy Hackett and Rodney Dangerfield.


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Gage Skidmore // Flickr

Sylvester Stallone: Zoo cleaner

Before he was Rocky, Sylvester Stallone cleaned lion cages at the Central Park Zoo—a gig that makes waiting tables look glamorous in comparison.


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Rob Mieremet // Wikipedia Commons

Sean Connery: Milkman

Sean Connery had a humble start as a milkman for St. Cuthbert’s Co-Operative Society in Edinburgh. He also worked as coffin polisher before getting into acting.


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Gage Skidmore // Flickr

Peter Dinklage: Rock band frontman

Before starring on HBO’s "Game of Thrones,” Peter Dinklage had a more gratifying gig than many on this list: rock musician. Dinklage and his band performed at Columbia University and indie music enclaves of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.


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Gage Skidmore // Flickr

Alec Baldwin: Nightclub bouncer

Famously hot-tempered Alec Baldwin worked as a nightclub bouncer before hitting it big—at New York City's famed Studio 54, no less.


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Gerald Geronimo // Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Garfield: Starbucks barista

Tony-winning actor Andrew Garfield may have served you a latte: One of his first jobs was at Starbucks. It wasn’t quite as exciting as a John Hughes movie, but his career as Spider-Man has probably made up for that.


31 / 50
David Shankbone // Wikimedia Commons

Michael Douglas: Gas station attendant

Oscar-winning Michael Douglas' life is a far cry from where he was at age 20: working as a gas station attendant and named Mobil man of the Month. He has since been asked to be the head of two major Hollywood studios.

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David Shankbone // Wikimedia Commons

Chris Rock: Red Lobster busboy

Before hitting it big as a comedian, Chris Rock used to bus tables at a Red Lobster on Queens Avenue. He wrote a comedy routine about his time there, jokingly warning fans that "dropping out of school in 10th grade is the dumbest thing you can ever do... you really might as well have dropped out in the second grade, because you qualify for the exact same job.”


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Alan Light // Wikimedia Commons

Warren Beatty: Rat catcher

Warren Beatty spent time in his pre-acting days catching rodents around the National Theatre in Washington D.C.


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Mingle Media TV // Wikimedia Commons

Chris Pratt: Waiter

Chris Pratt was living out of a van in Miami while working at the local Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. when he approached actress Rae Dawn Chong at her table. Chong decided to cast Pratt in a film (never released) called "Cursed: Part 3," and Pratt found his life’s passion.


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Alan Light // Wikimedia Commons

Jerry Seinfeld: Lightbulb telemarketer

Before he had his name in lights, Jerry Seinfeld was selling them: lightbulbs, to be precise. "There aren’t a lot of people sitting home alone in the dark saying, ‘I can’t hold out much longer,” he joked.


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Mingle Media TV // Wikimedia Commons

Tim Allen: Drug dealer/sporting goods store employee

Tim Allen had a rough start to life: His father was killed by a drunk driver when Allen was 11; the young boy began living a double life as a marketer for a sporting goods store and narcotics dealer. While incarcerated for drug trafficking, Allen honed his stand-up skills and started performing upon his release.


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Georges Biard // Wikimedia Commons

Adrien Brody: Magician

Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody, who portrayed master magician Harry Houdini, once had ambitions of becoming an illusionist himself. He performed magic shows for his family and friends under the alias "The Amazing Adrien” as a child, landing his first paid magic gig at age 12.

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Siebbi // Wikimedia commons

Gerard Butler: Lawyer

Scottish actor Gerard Butler almost became a lawyer, but drank his way through his first job as a trainee civil attorney, and was fired. 


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Peabody Awards // Wikimedia Commons

Jon Stewart: Puppeteer

Though he’s best-known for news satire, Jon Stewart was employed by the government putting on puppet shows. He performed for kids to make them more sensitive to the needs of the disabled: "I was a cerebral-palsy puppet, a blind puppet, a deaf puppet, a hyperactive puppet—and a puppet who couldn’t commit to a relationship. How sad.”


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SAMHSA // Wikimedia Commons

Ray Romano: Futon delivery man

Before he was a comedian, Ray Romano was just your average delivery man in New York City. Well, maybe not so average: some of his clients included Robert De Niro and Cher—the latter of whom came up to him years later and said the futon he sold her was garbage.


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David Shankbone // Wikimedia Commons

Jon Bon Jovi: Christmas decoration maker

The actor and musician once earned a living making Christmas decorations. It kind of makes sense: all the glitter and bright colors he’s worn on tour may have taken their inspiration from this first gig.


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Georges Biard // Wikimedia Commons

Mick Jagger: Porter in a psychiatric hospital

The iconic rock star worked in a psychiatric hospital as a porter, similar to a custodian. His time there was not without incident—but you’ll have to read his biography for the juicy details.


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Georges Biard // Wikimedia Commons

Denzel Washington: Barbershop assistant

Before acting in Academy Award-winning movies, Denzel Washington worked in a barbershop. Washington claims he got his first acting lessons from the shop’s owner. Why? "Because the best liars are in the barbershop,” the actor told Oprah Winfrey.


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Georges Biard // Wikimedia Commons

Orlando Bloom: Clay pigeon trapper

Before he reached his heartthrob status, Orlando Bloom worked at a shooting range. He was responsible for releasing the clay pigeons used as targets on the range.


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Library of Congress

Jimmy Stewart: Highway line painter

The legendary Jimmy Stewart, star of "It’s a Wonderful Life,” held several jobs while still in high school, including painting lines on highways and laying bricks for local construction companies. He also worked as a magician’s assistant for two summers: his first exposure to show biz.


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Viva Vivanista // Flickr

Jimmy Fallon: Supermarket cleaner

SNL alum and late-night host Jimmy Fallon had a decidedly unglamorous first job. The actor and comedian said in an interview that he started out mopping the floors at a supermarket. 

47 / 50
Paul Sherwood // Flickr

Bill Murray: Chestnut roaster

Bill Murray unsurprisingly had some odd jobs (emphasis on the odd) before striking it big. He described being semi-fired from a Chicago grocery store after a misunderstanding with a customer, but the store kept him on as a chestnut roaster. Murray freely admits that "No one wants roasted chestnuts. I still don't know how to roast a chestnut."


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Eva Rinaldi // Flickr

Russell Crowe: DJ

Known for his roles in "Gladiator” and "A Beautiful Mind,” Russell Crowe was once Russ le Roq, a nightclub DJ pursuing a music career.


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Gage Skidmore // Wikimedia Commons

Harry Shum, Jr.: Dancer

The "Glee” and "Crazy Rich Asians” actor got his start as a backup dancer for various pop acts including Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and Mariah Carey. It makes sense, considering his "Glee” character, Mike Chang Jr., had aspirations of becoming a professional dancer.


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Elen Nivrae // Flickr

Ryan Gosling: Child star

Not every actor suffered to get to be where they are: Ryan Gosling had his first acting role as a child on "The Mickey Mouse Club” after attending an open audition, and ended up living with Justin Timberlake's family during his time on the show. That’s show biz, kids!


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