Giving Up The Day Job: Actors With Surprising Career Beginnings

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Some actors are born into the business, often quite literally – often their families are already in Hollywood, or sometimes they land a gig early on in a diaper commercial and never left the industry. Quite often, those who aren’t blessed with such fortune are so driven that they stop at absolutely nothing to break the industry, putting themselves through intensive film schools such as the New York Film Academy and accepting any gig that comes their way.


On the other hand, however, are actors who started out from less auspicious roots…

… here we present ten A-list actors whose early careers might just surprise you.


Warren Beatty – Rat Catcher

You probably know Warren Beatty as a critically acclaimed powerhouse of film: an Academy-award winning actor and director with a filmography stretching back to the 1950s. His mother was a drama teacher who pushed her kids toward stardom, so it’s only natural that Warren should find his way easily into acting, right?


Well, not exactly. Young Warren was actually so eager to get involved in theater that he would accept any job that would get him close to the stage, which is how he ended up being hired as the rat-catcher for the rodent-infested National Theater in Washington.


Gerard Butler – Law Student

This much-loved Scottish sex symbol never planned to be an actor. Instead, he attended Glasgow University to obtain a law degree. While there, his outgoing personality ensured his popularity, and he became the president of the legal society.


His acting career started when he was approached by an actor in a coffee shop and convinced to play in a stage play. Realizing he enjoyed acting, he continued to star in several small roles – and quite a few terrible movies – before his break-out role as the phantom in Phantom of the Opera.


Jon Stewart – Puppeteer

It’s not exactly surprising that Jon Stewart, the bitingly insightful political critic and talk show host, should have a degree in psychology. What is surprising is that he used that degree for a short period to work as a puppeteer, using the puppets to teach sensitivity toward people with disabilities.


He did eventually leave that job to start working as a stand-up comedian and, finally, television host, but his puppeteering proclivities do show up again from time to time in The Daily Show, where puppet versions of political figures sometimes make a cameo.


Mickey Rourke – Gambling debt collector

A hard-hitting action star famous for films like Rumble Fish and Sin City, Mickey Rourke has a long history of running afoul of fellow actors, directors and film crew. While his temper can be blamed in part on his history as a boxer, he also has a more criminal past.


In addition to a few less-than-glamorous roles, like a bouncer for a transvestite club, Rourke was hired by a New Yorker he calls “Uncle So-and-So” to be a debt collector. While on the job, he almost shot someone when his gun went off unexpectedly; he later lost his short-lived stint in organized crime when he failed to blow up a gas station.


Christopher Walken – Assistant lion tamer

If any actor deserves a strange job title, it’s Christopher Walken, one of the more eccentric figures in Hollywood. A versatile actor with roles in films as varied as Pulp Fiction and Click, he’s well-known for his on-stage menacing demeanor and his off-stage soft-spoken personality.


Aside from his soft-shoe dancing hobby and much-parodied deadpan acting style, Walken gets a few points for strangeness thanks to a teenage job in the circus. When he was 15, he was taken on as the lion tamer’s apprentice, playing the on-stage role of the tamer’s son. In interviews, Walken downplays the danger of the job, insisting that the elderly lion was really more like a dog.


Brad Pitt – Stripper chauffeur

Few actors have had as many embarrassing day jobs as Brad Pitt. You’d think that the handsome actor behind blockbusters like Interview with a Vampire, Fight Club, 12 Monkeys and World War Z could have succeeded on looks alone, but his road to stardom was filled with plenty of inglorious detours.


One particularly memorable odd-job was working as a chauffeur for strippers, driving them to bachelor parties, collecting the money, playing the music and catching their clothes. Luckily for him, this job paid off when one of the strippers referred him to an acting class she attended. The rest, as they say, is history.


Johnny Depp – KISS tribute band member

Before he was a sex symbol and beloved star of every Tim Burton movie, Johnny Depp was an aspiring rock star. He dropped out of school at 15 in pursuit of his music career. Throughout his teenage years, he scraped a mean living as a member of a KISS tribute band as well as a few other garage outfits, bringing in $25 per performance and occasionally opening for Iggy Pop or the B52s.

It wasn’t until Depp was 22 that he finally landed his role in Nightmare on Elm Street, which would help open the door for other acting roles in Cry-Baby, 21 Jump Street and Edward Scissorhands. 


Hugh Jackman – Party clown

Hugh Jackman is one of those actors who seems to be good at everything. Whether he’s bodybuilding, singing, or kicking ass as everyone’s favorite adamantium-clawed superhero, Jackman makes everything he does seem effortless. There’s just one thing he’s really bad at: Being a party clown.


While attending acting school in Australia, Jackman worked as a party clown, bringing in $50 for each birthday performance. Unfortunately, he wasn’t a particularly talented one. Jackman remarks that he remembers a 6-year-old complaining about his bad clowning, and he has to agree with him – he didn’t even know any magic tricks to liven up the show.


Clint Eastwood – Lumberjack

It’s hard to think of an actor more manly than Clint Eastwood. With an acting career spanning five decades and 66 films, the critically-acclaimed actor has plenty of experience in looking tough. Which should come naturally to him, since he’s got a long job history of difficult jobs including steelworker, firefighter and lumberjack.


After working several physically demanding odd-jobs, Eastwood joined the military and was an Army swimming instructor during the Korean War. Finally, upon his return, he used his G.I. Bill to pay for college, where he studied acting and eventually broke out as the tough-guy cowboy and dirty cop roles that made him famous.


Drew Carey – In the marine corps

A lot of actors have had embarrassing first jobs, but Drew Carey’s early career is surprising for an entirely different reason. The chubby bespectacled comedian is best known for his role in The Drew Carey Show and for hosting game shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? Which makes it all the more inconceivable that he was once a Marine.


After being kicked out of college for poor grades, Carey found his way into the military, where he served for six years and attained the rank of corporal. Once his time in the reserves was completed, he ended up working as a bank teller before working as a stand-up comedian in Las Vegas.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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