You’ll know the feeling. You’re watching a TV show — maybe a slightly older one — and suddenly a familiar face pops up. This famous face now has several Oscar nominations, you realize, but here they are playing “Girl #2” or “Angry Customer.” Well, everyone’s gotta start somewhere. Here are 40 celebs who popped up in the most unexpected places.
40. Zoe Saldana in Pirates of the Caribbean
Remember the glory days of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie back in 2003? Throw the DVD on today and you might recognize Anamaria, the pirate who slaps Jack Sparrow. That’s a younger, pre-fame Zoe Saldana. But she’s on record as saying she had a miserable time on that set, so don’t expect her back in that franchise anytime soon.
39. Evan Peters in The Office
Evan Peters played Quicksilver in the X-Men movies and multiple roles in TV series American Horror Story. But before that, he got his can spanked by Steve Carrell in The Office in 2010. Yep, Michael Scott’s nephew, the one who ends up subjected to corporal punishment in front of the whole workforce, was played by a young Peters.
38. Keira Knightley in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
You probably realize that Keira Knightley looks a lot like Natalie Portman, but did you know a Star Wars movie took full advantage of this? A young Knightley played Queen Amidala’s body double Sabé in 1999’s The Phantom Menace. Apparently, even the mothers of the girls had trouble telling them apart on set.
37. Brad Pitt in Dallas
Before Brad Pitt was well, Brad Pitt, he was a teenager called Randy on the smash hit soap opera Dallas. He was in three episodes back in 1987. Flash forward to the 2000s and there was a rumor Pitt might appear in a movie version of the show — playing Bobby Ewing this time — but nothing has come of that yet. Don’t hold your breath.
36. Andrew Garfield in Doctor Who
Pretty much every British actor has showed up in Doctor Who at one point or another, and Andrew Garfield is no exception. Back in 2007 the future star appeared in “Daleks in Manhattan” and “Evolution of the Daleks” playing a guy named Frank in Great Depression-era New York. Good practice for that very famous New Yorker he would play later — Spider-Man.
35. Natalie Dormer in Captain America: The First Avenger
Perhaps not every actor in the world has been in the Marvel Cinematic Universe — yet — but a fair few of them have. Before Game of Thrones made her famous as Margaery Tyrell, Natalie Dormer briefly appeared in Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) as Private Lorraine, a girl who kisses Steve Rogers.
34. Ryan Reynolds in Scrubs
Long before he became better known to the world as Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds popped up in a 2003 episode of Scrubs. He played Spence, J.D. and Turk’s college buddy, in “My Dream Job.” These days Reynolds characteristically and hilariously trolls his former Scrubs co-stars on Twitter.
33. Glenn Close in Hook
Next time you watch the movie Hook (1991), keep a close (pun not intended) eye on the pirate named Gutless who gets sent to the “boo box.” Believe it or not, that’s Glenn Close, hidden behind a well-placed beard and lots of makeup! Many years later in 2011 Close would star as Albert Nobbs, a film about a woman disguised as a man.
32. Tobey Maguire in Eerie, Indiana
Before the days of Stranger Things kids had to watch ’90s show Eerie, Indiana if they wanted monsters and ghosts in rural America. One of those aforementioned ghosts, an unlucky young man killed by a milk truck while delivering a love letter, just so happened to be played by future Spider-Man actor Tobey Maguire.
31. George Clooney in The Golden Girls
Even George Clooney paid the rent with bit-parts before becoming an internationally famous star. Back in 1987 he played a small role in The Golden Girls. Clooney played a particularly good-looking cop trying to catch some robbers. The story goes that Clooney took the role mostly just so he could maintain his medical insurance.
30. Benedict Cumberbatch in Atonement
These days Benedict Cumberbatch mostly plays tortured geniuses who turn heroic. Think of his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes or Doctor Strange. But before that he played a very, very different kind of person in the 2007 drama Atonement. His character in that movie, Paul Marshall, is a rapist — not the sort of thing you’d want to get typecast as. Luckily, for Cumberbatch, he didn’t.
29. Daniel Kaluuya in Black Mirror
The science fiction show Black Mirror has advanced many peoples’ careers, and one of these was future Get Out and Black Panther star Daniel Kaluuya. He was in the episode “Fifteen Million Merits” which originally aired in the UK in 2011. And Kaluuya has that one role to thank in part for his future success — Jordan Peele saw it and instantly put him in consideration for Get Out (2017).
28. Lady Gaga in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
Lady Gaga’s secondary career as an actress goes back further than you might think. Back in 2014 she had a tiny part as a waitress in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Director Robert Rodriguez really wanted to cast her, but as he told E! Online’s Marc Malkin at the time, “We needed to find a role small enough that she could do while she was on tour.”
27. Leonardo DiCaprio in Parenthood
You might be aware that Leonardo DiCaprio started off as a child actor, but did you know he was in the 1990 television version of Parenthood? He played Garry, the character played by Joaquin Phoenix in the film. But since DiCaprio’s done so much other stuff now, it wouldn’t be surprising if you’d forgotten his early TV work.
26. Michael Jackson in Men in Black II
Yes, that’s the real Michael Jackson playing Agent M in Men in Black II. (2002) After seeing the first Men in Black movie, the pop star called up the director, Barry Sonnenfeld, and begged to be in the next one — his only stipulation being that he got to wear the iconic black suit. It was the only movie cameo Jackson ever did.
25. Julia Roberts in Miami Vice
Before she became a megastar, Julia Roberts was briefly in the show Miami Vice in 1988. But she only got the role because her brother Eric was doing well in Hollywood at the time. Many years later in 2003 showrunner Dick Wolf remembered to the Television Academy that he was told, “Dick, her brother [Eric Roberts] is about to become the biggest movie star in the world. Do yourself a favor: Put his sister in the show.” Obviously things went a bit differently.
24. RuPaul in Sabrina the Teenage Witch
Wait, RuPaul was on an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch? Yes, the fabulous queen showed up in a 1998 episode, appearing both in and out of drag since their character, “Judge Witch”, could change their gender at will. Dig out your old VHS tape of the episode “Sabrina’s Choice” if you want a fun kick of ’90s nostalgia.
23. Pedro Pascal in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Pedro Pascal was an actor long before Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian came along. And, as fans of his later work discovered to their delight, he was actually in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the premiere of season four in 1999, he played a character called Eddie, an unfortunate college freshman who gets turned into a vampire. But you probably wouldn’t have recognized him, particularly since he was credited as “Pedro Balmaceda.”
22. Edward Norton in Modern Family
Edward Norton is generally known as a very serious actor, so it might have been a big surprise to see him appear on the sitcom Modern Family. In a season one episode back in 2009 he played Izzy LaFontaine, aka a totally made up member of the band Spandau Ballet. Norton and Ty Burrell are reportedly pretty good buddies, so maybe they just wanted to do something funny together.
21. Emma Stone in Malcolm in the Middle
Future A-lister Emma Stone had a tiny role in the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. During the show’s final season in 2007, not long before Stone made it big, she played a mean girl called Diane and got to show off some comedy chops. These served her well in later movies such as Zombieland (2009) and Easy A (2010).
20. Jake Gyllenhaal in Homicide: Life on the Street
The1994 episode of Homicide: Life on the Street “Bop Gun” is famous for having Robin Williams in it. But another star showed up alongside him — a young Jake Gyllenhaal. He played Williams character’s son, and Gyllenhaal’s own father, Stephen, just happened to be the director of the episode. Much bigger things were to come for that young kid.
19. Danny Pudi in Gilmore Girls
Quite a few people popped up in tiny roles on Gilmore Girls before going on to be famous. Take Danny Pudi, who in 2006’s season seven played one of the smallest roles of all, Raj in the Yale Daily News office. It comes as a pleasant surprise to Community fans when Abed Nadir suddenly appears.
18. Andrew Lincoln in Love Actually
Not everyone’s able to connect these two characters — the zombie-killing hero Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead and the lovestruck Mark from Love Actually. But both are played by Andrew Lincoln. Every so often someone will catch up with the movie, realizes who Mark is and expresses absolute awe on Twitter.
17. Ty Burrell in The West Wing
Ty Burrell was very much a rookie actor when he played the small role of Tom Starks in one episode of The West Wing in 2011. In fact, it was only his second ever screen performance. Now he’s so instantly recognizable thanks to his starring role on Modern Family it’ll be impossible to miss him.
16. Cate Blanchett in Hot Fuzz
Does the voice of woman under the hazmat suit in Hot Fuzz (2007) sound familiar? That’s because it’s none other than Cate Blanchett! In 2019 Director Edgar Wright told Twitter, “We wrote the scene and thought it would be funny to have a famous actress in the part but to never take off the mask. We had heard Cate Blanchett liked Shaun Of The Dead so we asked her. She said yes, shot for a day and gave her fee to charity.”
15. Jennifer Lawrence in Monk
You might be surprised to learn what Jennifer Lawrence’s very first role was. She was a team mascot in a season five episode of Monk in 2006, meaning audiences barely even got to see her face. But when Lawrence pulls the head off her costume, it makes for a great retroactive reveal of a famous actress.
14. Viola Davis in Kate and Leopold
Viola Davis is a massive star now, not to mention the most Oscar-nominated black actress in history. But she had a humble start. You can see her in a tiny role in 2001’s Kate and Leopold, as the cop who tells Hugh Jackman to pick up after his dog. Many years later she and Jackman met again in 2013’s Prisoners, this time as co-stars.
13. Chris Pratt in Jennifer’s Body
Chris Pratt racked up a number of memorable roles even before he was a Hollywood A-lister. In the 2009 Megan Fox movie Jennifer’s Body he played an obnoxious boyfriend of Fox’s with the great name of Roman Duda. Viewers have wondered what happened to the character after his one scene in the movie, but now we know — he went off to conquer Hollywood.
12. Craig Robinson in Friends
Craig Robinson’s been in The Office and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but he was actually very briefly in another smash-hit sitcom too. He appeared in a 2004 episode of Friends as the uninterested courthouse clerk who helps Lisa Kudrow’s Phoebe very memorably change her name to “Princess Consuela Banana Hammock.” Years later he actually played Kudrow’s husband in Table 19.
11. Amy Adams in Smallville
Of course, Amy Adams plays Lois Lane in the more recent Superman movies. But long before that she was in a 2001 episode of the Superman TV show Smallville, where she played a bullied, overweight teenager with the power to absorb fat from others. And yep, she was in a fat suit for the role. Those days are long behind her now.
10. Rami Malek in Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2
As it turned out, quite a few future megastars were in Twilight before making it big. There was Lee Pace, Anna Kendrick, Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson themselves, of course — and Rami Malek. Before his 2019 Oscar for his performance as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, Malek played a vampire named Benjamin in the 2012 movie.
9. Peter Dinklage in Elf
When he embarked on his acting career Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage promised himself he wouldn’t take roles such as elves or leprechauns, since he considered them insulting. So when he appeared in the 2003 movie Elf, it wasn’t as an actual elf. He plays a supporting role as an author who beats Will Ferrell up.
8. Olivia Colman in The Iron Lady
Remember the scenes in The Crown where Colman’s Queen Elizabeth squares off against Gillian Anderson’s Margaret Thatcher? To make that whole situation just a bit weird, Colman has played a real-life figure from Thatcher’s circle before. When Colman’s career was just taking off she played Thatcher’s daughter, Carol — under quite a bit of makeup prosthetics — in the 2011 Meryl Streep biopic The Iron Lady.
7. Bradley Cooper in Sex and the City
Unsurprisingly, Bradley Cooper’s first ever credited role was one that showed off his sex appeal. He played a guy called Jake who Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie takes a liking to in a 1999 episode of Sex and the City called “They Shoot Single People, Don’t They?” Two decades later and everybody now sees what Carrie saw in him.
6. Jack Gleeson in Batman Begins
Everyone remembers Jack Gleeson’s King Joffrey of Game of Thrones, one of the most iconic and most loathed villains ever to grace a TV screen. So it might be a little disconcerting to see him as a small child saved by Batman in the 2005 movie Batman Begins. Yep, Joffrey’s future reign of terror was all Batman’s fault.
5. Kylie Minogue in Moulin Rouge!
Kylie Minogue played the personification of intoxication, the Green Fairy in Baz Luhrmann’s beautifully weird Moulin Rouge! in 2001. Fans of the movie and of Kylie have noticed that Ozzy Osbourne gets a credit as “voice of the Green Fairy” so what’s going on? While Kylie clearly sings The Sound of Music in the film, her scream at the end of the number was dubbed by Ozzy.
4. Octavia Spencer in Spider-Man
In the very first cinematic outing for Spider-Man in 2002 a pre-fame Octavia Spencer shows up. She’s the check-in woman at the wrestling match who mocks Peter Parker’s costume and tries to get him to change his mind. As fans of the movie have pointed out, though, if only she’d succeeded, Uncle Ben probably wouldn’t have been murdered.
3. Chris Hemsworth in Star Trek (2009)
More than one famous Chris appeared in the 2009 Star Trek movie. A pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth has the brief but memorable role of George Kirk — the father of James T. Kirk — who dies in the opening scene. Once he got mega-famous Hemsworth was offered the chance to reprise his role in a new Trek movie, but he turned it down. Boo!
2. Sarah Paulson in Serenity
Future star Sarah Paulson had a small but memorable role in the 2005 Joss Whedon film Serenity. She played a character called Dr. Caron — or a hologram of her anyway — who gets attacked by the monstrous space creatures called Reavers. Paulson’s said that she didn’t like having to act alone on a green screen, but she was happy to be part of the movie.
1. Chris Evans in Not Another Teen Movie
Chris Evans has spent a lot of his career being a superhero. He was Captain America, of course. Before that he was The Human Torch in the early 2000s Fantastic Four movies. But before that he was Jake in the 2001 film Not Another Teen Movie. And if you’ve seen one scene of it in particular, you’ll know why it’s so popular among Evans fans.