This week, we read about one of Rooney Mara’s first acting gigs, as a guest on Law & Order: SVU . She’s not proud of the moment, calling the role “ridiculous,” which, let’s be honest, it probably was. But there’s not necessarily any shame in that. After all, many great (or at least famous) actors started out doing bit parts in cheesy movies and TV shows, especially in horror flicks, crime procedurals and soap operas. Inspired by Mara, we’ve decided to take a look at some of the most notorious (and unknown) early roles of actors and actresses who have stood the test of time. Obviously, every actor has to start somewhere, so there are an unlimited number of these, but these are our personal favorites — be sure to chime in with your own in the comments!
Clint Eastwood in Revenge of the Creature, 1955
No, Clint Eastwood was not always a rugged, scary older gent — there was a time when he was a Bowie-ish figure in his early 20s. Let’s be fair though: that time was in black and white. In an uncredited screen role, and his first known appearance on film, Eastwood plays a lab technician in the sequel to Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Sylvester Stallone in The Party at Kitty and Stud’s, 1970
Stallone, unlike many of the other actors on this list, made his film debut in a starring role. Also unlike many of the other actors on this list, that film was a softcore pornography film. The actor later called the film “horrendous” and explained himself by saying, “It was either do that movie or rob someone because I was at the end – at the very end – of my rope. Instead of doing something desperate, I worked two days for $200 and got myself out of the bus station.” Couldn’t he have just entered into a boxing match or something?
Michelle Williams on Baywatch, 1993
Knowing the refined Michelle Williams today, we never would have guessed that her first role was running down the beach in her bikini at age 13. Dawson’s Creek we’ve already made our peace with, but that wouldn’t be for five more years.
Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984 In his much-talked-about first screen role, we see a lot of Johnny Depp’s belly before he gets sucked into the bed. We know it was early, but we think even a completely green Depp should have been better than being just another teenage victim in a slasher flick.
Jack Black in Bob Roberts, 1992
One of Black’s first roles was a bit part as a zealous teenager in this mockumentary based on a character Tim Robbins played on SNL in ’86. It’s completely weird to see him this young, since he seems to be one of those magical people who have always been and always will be exactly as they are. Helen Hunt, Susan Sarandon, and John Cusack also have small roles in the film.
Tom Hanks in He Knows You’re Alone, 1980 Yes, the unimpeachable Tom Hanks got his start in a cheesy slasher film. Supposedly, his role was originally written to be killed off, but the director liked him so much that he rewrote the movie so as to let him escape. Don’t worry, his next feature film was Splash.
Jack Nicholson in The Cry Baby Killer, 1958
Nicholson’s film debut, which was released when he was just 21 (and as far as we’re concerned, barely recognizable), came complete with one of our favorite cheese-tastic taglines ever: “YESTERDAY a Teenage Rebel… TODAY a mad-dog slayer!” Chilling.
Brad Pitt on Another World, 1987
After several uncredited walk-on roles, notably one of the preppie dudes in Less Than Zero, Pitt was given his first speaking role, appearing in two episodes of the soap opera Another World.
Harrison Ford in Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round, 1966
Harrison Ford is young and smooth-cheeked, but completely recognizable in his first, uncredited screen appearance as a bellhop in this crime drama starring James Coburn.
Demi Moore in General Hospital, 1982-1983
Another actor who got her start on a soap, Demi Moore had worked as a model and acted in a couple mostly unknown films before she got her big break playing Jackie Templeton on General Hospital.