These stories of famous actors who got discovered may have happened by sheer chance, but let’s face it, most of the actors on this list have not only been blessed with amazing looks, but they also have that star quality power that draws attention. Who could walk by a young Ashton Kutcher and not think he could have a successful modeling career? Wes Craven took one look at Johnny Depp and asked him to audition for A Nightmare on Elm Street. Alfred Hitchcock saw Tippi Hedren in an ad for diet soda and knew that he had his Grace Kelly replacement.
Of course, it takes a lot of work and dedication to stay at the top. Many of these stars have had long-lasting, award-winning careers in Hollywood. What’s your favorite story of how actors got discovered? Let us know in the comments section below.
- Jennifer Lawrence is still years away from being 30, but it seems like the Academy Award-winning actress has been at the top of her game forever. The Kentucky native was vacationing in New York when a talent agent spotted the 12-year-old walking around Union Square. Lawrence quickly got work as a teen model before making her television debut on Monk in 2006. The Hunger Games heroine received her first Oscar nomination for her acclaimed performance in the indie drama Winter’s Bone in 2010.
Pamela Anderson was working as a fitness instructor in 1989. While living in Vancouver, British Columbia, she attended a B.C. Lions football game wearing a Labatt Blue t-shirt. The sexy Anderson was put up on the stadium’s Jumbotron, and the crowd cheered so enthusiastically that she was brought down to the football field for a standing ovation.
The Labatt company heard about the uproar and hired the future Playboy playmate as a “Blue Zone Girl”spokesmodel. After modeling in Playboy, Anderson began focusing on acting and she received small parts on several TV shows. Her big breakthrough came as “Tool Time Girl” Lisa on Home Improvement. Then, in 1992, Anderson got the role that would define her career, beautiful blonde bombshell C.J. Parker onBaywatch.
Charlize Theron moved from South Africa to Hollywood when she was just 18 years old. She was on the verge of running out of cash and living in a sketchy hotel room when she was discovered at a bank. Actually, she was discovered at a bank while yelling at a teller because he wouldn’t cash her paycheck. Apparently, it was a do-or-die situation for Theron.
She explained the ordeal during an interview with O Magazine, “I’m like, ‘It’s survival, people.’ If I didn’t cash that check, I wouldn’t have had a place to sleep that night. I said to the teller, ‘You don’t understand—please!’ I was begging and pleading, and a gentleman came over and tried to help. I had to fill out a ton of paperwork and open an account, and I cashed the check.”
Not only did the Oscar-winning actress cash her check, she also got discovered by a talent agent who was also at the bank. Theron scored her first feature film acting gig just a few months later in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest in 1995.
- Note to Jackie Earle Haley: don’t allow someone as hot as Johnny Depp to tag along with you for a movie audition. Haley planned to try out for Wes Craven’s original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Depp did not have any plans for the day and accompanied his pal Haley to the set. Haley did not get the part, but Craven spotted Depp hanging around and asked him to audition. The future Jack Sparrow landed the role as Glen and made his feature film debut in 1984. Depp’s Glen has one of the most famous kill scenes in horror movie history.
- Neta-Lee Hershlag (Natalie Portman) was just being a normal 11-year-old gal, eating a slice of pizza on Long Island when a rep from Revlon spotted her. Portman told the rep that she didn’t want to be a model but did want to get into acting. Portman spent a few summers honing her acting chops by working in theater productions. In 1993, she auditioned for the part of Mathilda Lando in Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional. The actress was turned away at first for being too young for the part. However, after a few more auditions, Besson cast the future Academy Award-winner for the role of a hitman in training.
- Ellen Pompeo was working as a bartender at the SoHo Kitchen Bar & Grille in New York City in the mid-1990s. A casting agent saw her and signed Pompeo to an advertising campaign with L’Oreal. She soon appeared in minor television roles, including Law & Order and Friends. Film parts followed, and Pompeo made a memorable turn as Jake Gyllenhaal’s love interest in Moonlight Mile and as Luke Wilson’s love interest in the hit comedy Old School. Major breakout success eluded Pompeo until 2005 when she was cast as Meredith Grey, the titular doctor in the long-running ABC drama Grey’s Anatomy.
- Rosario Dawson was hanging out on her front porch with some friends when a photographer and screenwriter were walking by and spotted the 15-year-old. They told Dawson about a film they were working on and told her to come audition. Even with no acting experience, Dawson landed the part of Ruby in the controversial and extremely disturbing indie film Kids (1995). Dawson’s Ruby was a promiscuous teenager in the edgy drama about a day in the life of carelessly sexually active, drug-taking teens in New York.
- Mel Gibson was just being a good pal by giving a friend a ride to an audition. The Australian had been in a bar fight the night before and had bruises and cuts all over his face. His condition caught the eye of director George Miller, who thought that Gibson would be a good fit for one of the “offbeat or villainous” background roles in his post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie Mad Max. When Gibson returned to the set a few weeks later, Miller took one look at the bruise-free, extremely handsome Aussie, and decided to give him the lead role.
Harrison Ford moved out to Hollywood to become an actor but quickly grew frustrated because of his lack of success. He taught himself carpentry in order to earn a living and support his family. Ford landed a small gig in George Lucas’s American Graffiti (1973). However, success did not come quickly to Ford, who still had to do carpentry to make ends meet.
Then, Lucas spotted the 35-year-old doing woodwork at a movie studio while the director was conducting auditions for his new movie Star Wars. Lucas remembered Ford from his small role in American Graffiti and asked the actor to audition for the part of Han Solo. Once Ford landed the iconic gig, he no longer had to work in carpentry.
Iowa-born Ashton Kutcher was studying engineering at the University of Iowa in 1996. While out at a bar one night, he was spotted by a talent agent who talked him into entering the Fresh Faces of Iowa modeling competition. The ever-handsome Kutcher won first place. He then dropped out of college to go to New York to enter the International Modeling and Talent Association competition.
Interestingly, Kutcher lost the big modeling competition to Josh Duhamel. However, Kutcher went on to appear in ads for Calvin Klein and Versace. Kutcher eventually packed his bags and headed to Hollywood to pursue acting. He landed the role as Michael Kelso on That ’70s Show in 1998. It was his first audition.
Burt Reynolds had no real interest in becoming an actor. He attended Florida State University on a football scholarship and was even drafted by the Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts), but his NFL dreams were shattered when Reynolds suffered a career-ending injury.
The ruggedly handsome athlete took a shot at acting and won a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse in New York. After performing in a revival of Mister Roberts, Reynolds signed a television contract and appeared on several TV shows over the next decade. He hit the silver screen in 1972’s Deliverance and became one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood.
When Katherine was just nine years old, she posed for pictures for her aunt’s hair care products. Those pictures were sent to talent agencies in Hollywood, and Heigl signed with world-renowned modelling agency Wilhelmina Models. Her signing led to a lucrative modelling career, commercials, and TV and film roles. She even made the cover of Seventeen Magazine in 1994.
Her big breakout on television came in 1999 with the sci-fi program Roswell, which lasted for three seasons. After appearing in several independent films, Heigl then landed the role of Dr. Izzie Stevens on the mega-hit medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, which instantly made the actress a household name.
You may not know the name Peter Mayhew, but you certainly know the iconic Wookiee Mayhew portrays. He has appeared as Chewbacca in five Star Wars movies. Mayhew, who worked as a hospital orderly pre-Star Wars, got discovered when he appeared in a newspaper article about men with huge feet. The 7’3” Mayhew caught the attention of producer Charles H. Schneer, who was casting the movie Sinbad and the Eye of Tiger. Mayhew was selected just because filmmakers needed a really tall actor to play a minotaur.
Mayhew was also cast in Star Wars simply because of his size. The English actor went to the studio for an interview with George Lucas, who took one look at Mayhew and said to his assistant, “I think we found him.”
Much has been made about Tippi Hedren’s complicated relationship with director Alfred Hitchcock. But before she became his long-suffering muse, she was a model. Hedren got discovered by a modelling scout when she was getting out of a cab in Minneapolis.
The chance encounter led to a few ads and a commercial for a diet beverage called Sego. In 1961, Hitchcock was watching The Today Show when he saw Hedren’s Sego ad and arranged a meeting with the woman he thought could be his Grace Kelly replacement. Hedren signed a seven-year deal and appeared in her first motion picture, The Birds, in 1963.
John Wayne had no real interest in becoming an actor. He attended the University of Southern California on a football scholarship in 1925. However, a broken collarbone ended his football career and his scholarship money. Thankfully, his football coach knew John Ford, and he got Wayne a job as a prop boy and extra.
Wayne appeared as an extra and secondary character in several B-movies over the next decade. Then, in 1939, Ford cast Wayne in his breakout role as Ringo Kid in the Academy Award-winning westernStagecoach. Wayne eventually became know as The Duke and went on to not only become one of the most lauded actors in Hollywood history, but also a bonafide silver screen icon.