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50 first jobs of 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 while 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 usually did not start out that way.
Stacker curated a list of the first jobs of 50 famous actors. These stars range across eras and styles and their first jobs represent a true cross-section of American career arcs. 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.
See which stars went from rags to riches by making lemonade out of lemons.
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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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Tom Cruise: Bellhop
Before starring in “Mission Impossible” (and doing all his own stunts), Tom Cruise was carrying luggage to hotel rooms. And that’s not all: Cruise held a diverse range of jobs as a young person, and once thought about becoming a Catholic priest.
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Ashton Kutcher: General Mills cereal dust sweeper
Ashton 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 on “That ’70s Show.”
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Justin Hartley: Lawn mower
Justin Hartley used to mow neighborhood lawns with his brother for $20 apiece. Since landing the gig 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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Chace Crawford: Abercrombie & Fitch store greeter
Heartthrob Chace Crawford of “Gossip Girl” fame was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a greeter for Abercrombie & 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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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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Hugh Jackman: High school physical education 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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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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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 California’s Sunset Boulevard in costume—a role he would probably rather forget.
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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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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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Dwayne Johnson: Dishwasher
Now one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson had humble beginnings: His first job was washing dishes at age 13.
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Donald Glover: Box-crusher
Glover, known for both his acting and musical talents, had a less-than-exciting start to his career. The star, also known by his musical stage name Childish Gambino, had the honor of breaking down boxes at a school supply store as his first job.
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Damon Wayans: Summer youth corp member
Damon Wayans of “Lethal Weapon” fame started out as a member of the Summer Youth Corps. 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 recalled.
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Clayne Crawford: Brick layer
Before playing a cop in the action drama “Lethal Weapon,” Clayne Crawford was laying bricks with his brother. The actor worked in construction starting at age 13 and worked day-long shifts throughout high school.
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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 recalled.
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Matthew Morrison: Server
Matthew Morrison, star of the TV musical comedy “Glee,” started out as a restaurant server in New York and worked at a Gap clothing store. No word on whether the waiter gig involved singing.
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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 shared in an interview.
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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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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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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,” said Clooney, who also worked jobs cutting tobacco and selling women’s shoes before getting his big break.
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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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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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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 would change his life.
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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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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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Sean Connery: Milkman
Sean Connery had a humble start as a milkman for St. Cuthbert’s Co-operative Society in Edinburgh, Scotland. He also worked as a coffin polisher before getting into acting.
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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 the indie music enclaves of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York.
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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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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.
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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 Mobile Man of the Month. He has since been asked to be the head of two major Hollywood studios.
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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 in New York. 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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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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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 (which never released) called “Cursed: Part 3,” and Pratt found his life’s passion.
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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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Tim Allen: Drug dealer and 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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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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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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Jon Stewart: Puppeteer
Though he’s best-known for news satire, Jon Stewart was employed by the government to put on puppet shows. He performed for kids to make them more sensitive to the needs of the disabled, sharing in an interview, “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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Jimmy Fallon: Supermarket cleaner
“Saturday Night Live” 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.
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Bill Murray: Chestnut roaster
Bill Murray had some unsurprisingly odd jobs (emphasis on the odd) before striking it big. He described in an Esquire interview 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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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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Harry Shum Jr.: Dancer
The “Glee” and “Crazy Rich Asians” actor got his start as a backup dancer for various pop acts including Beyoncé, 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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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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