Our favorite A-listers weren’t always the sparkly and popular stars we know and love today. They had to pay their dues like any of us do in our chosen professions, and for them that meant appearing in anything from commercials to guest spots on TV shows before making the grand leap to film. And once they made it to film it wasn’t all champagne, hot dogs, soda pop, and caviar. They made tiny films with little to no budget, hoping to be noticed on the festival circuit. So the next time you think a star’s life is all luck, remember where they came from.
Bradley Cooper in Wet Hot American Summer
Bradley Cooper is now a major mega-watt movie star, appearing in everything from popular TV shows like Nip/Tuck and Alias, to blockbuster comedies like The Hangover trilogy and, and Oscar-nominated films like American Hustle and Silver Linings Playbook. But one of his first film roles was in 2001 in a little film called Wet Hot American Summer. He played an uptight theatre counselor alongside the queen herself, Amy Poehler, and even got a saucy sex scene in an equipment shed with Michael Ian Black. Now a cult comedy classic, the film is a labor of love starring a ton of other now popular celebs like Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, and many more. It’s hilarious and if you haven’t seen it, I basically don’t even know what to say to you. Yes, I do. Go see it. Right now.
Ellen Page in Hard Candy
Ellen has appeared in hugely successful films like Inception, X-Men, and obviously, Juno. And she is also now an inspiration to the LGBT community. But I was first introduced to her back in 2005, in an indie film called Hard Candy. In the movie, Ellen plays a young teen who allows herself to be lured to an older man’s home, believing him to be a pedophile. What follows is a crazy and surprising thrill ride. Ellen stars alongside Patrick Wilson, and even Sandra Oh pops in to spice things up. Take a look if you have a hankering for a disturbing revenge movie.
Amy Adams in Drop Dead Gorgeous
We all know Amy. We all love Amy. Whether she’s belting out a love song in Enchanted, or swindling someone with Bradley Cooper in American Hustle, she’s amazing. The lady can do it all. Which is why I was more than pleasantly surprised to see that her big screen debut was in 1999’s strange and hilarious Drop Dead Gorgeous. Amy was perfect as the ditzy and probably pregnant Leslie Miller, whose pageant talent was cheering on a couple of male wrestlers. While her part wasn’t huge, she held her own and stood out in a movie filled with small-town kooks played by folks like Kristen Dunst, Brittany Murphy, and Allison Janney.
Scarlett Johansson in Ghost World
As a child, Scarlett was already a seasoned actress with films like The Horse Whisperer and The Man Who Wasn’t There. But she first made an impression for me in Ghost World. This weird little film was a great training ground for Scarlett before she really solidified herself on the A-list with later movies like Lost in Translation and The Girl with the Pearl Earring. Ghost World is a fantastic movie adapted from a graphic novel by Daniel Clowes about two social misfits who play a joke on an even bigger misfit, played by Steve Buscemi. If you’ve ever felt like you didn’t quite fit in or thought a tampon in a tea cup shouldn’t qualify as art, you’ll probably love Ghost World.
Ryan Gosling in Half Nelson
And here we have a heart-throb who had beginnings as a child star and then went on to star in a slew of indie films, before rocketing to success with The Notebook. Ryan‘s indie cred list is long, but it probably would have to be for a guy trying to transition from shows like the Mickey Mouse Club and Young Hercules to serious films. Do yourself a favor and check out his performance as a drug-addicted junior high teacher who forges an unlikely friendship with a student who discovers his secret. He appeared in other indies like The Believer and The United States of Leland, but Half Nelson resulted in Ryan’s first Oscar nomination.