Here, then, is a big collection of stories about how famous people got discovered and turned into the names that we can all recognize. From modern stars to historic classics, there are plenty of interesting stories.
Natalie Portman Was Just Trying to Enjoy Some Fast Food
Born Neta-Lee Hershlag, Natalie Portman was enjoying a slice of pizza at eleven years old when a rep from Revlon discovered her.
Portman almost immediately told the rep that she wasn't interested in being a model, but she did want to get into acting. After a few summers of honing her acting chops in theater productions, she was off and running in the 1993 film “Leon: The Professional.” She was at first turned away for being too young for the role, but after a few more auditions she eventually got the part.
Kate Upton Just Answered the Call
What counts as a discovery? Is it when you first join the entertainment business or is it when you suddenly become bankable? Kate Upton is one of the latter since she had been “discovered” at a model casting call a few years before she really made it big.
Her sudden rise in popularity was all thanks to a video a friend took of Upton doing the “Dougie” dance in 2011. The video made it to YouTube, and it went viral. From there, Upton went on to appear on the covers of a few “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues,” and has had segments in “Vanity Fair.”
Mel Gibson Was Just Trying to Help Out a Friend
Mel got discovered when he was giving a friend a ride to an audition, yet ended up being the one who walked away with the role. How rude! The role was a villain on “Mad Max,” and he got it thanks to the fact he was in a fight the night before.
Some sources say it was a bar fight, others say Gibson had been mugged. When he returned to the set a few weeks later, the bruises and cuts had faded, revealing a handsome face. Naturally, he was then moved to be the main role in the movie and the rest is history!
Hugh Jackman Was Just Clowning Around
Before reaching Hollywood, Hugh Jackman had a pretty normal life. He was nothing more exciting than a high school gym teacher. He was also a party clown for a little while.
His career in entertainment began almost immediately after graduating – he got a phone call the same night of his graduation offering him a role on “Correlli.” Jackman considered himself the fool of his acting class, but he was able to apply himself and work his way up, eventually breaking out as the most famous member of the X-Men, Wolverine.
Johnny Depp Got a Little Help From a Friend
Johnny originally wanted to be a rock star, but we guess things didn't turn out the way he wanted them to. His friend, none other than Nicholas Cage, got him an audition for “Nightmare on Elm Street,” and the rest is pretty much history.
While it was Wes Craven who put him in the movie, it was his teenage daughter who singled out Depp for the role, which is what we call foreshadowing. If there's one thing we can learn from this story, is that we should listen to teenage girls more!
Katherine Heigl Was Spotted on Hair Care Products
Heigl got her start as a model before she had even hit double digits. When she was nine years old, she posed for pictures for her aunt's hair care products.
Those pictures made it to modeling agencies, and Heigl then signed with the world-famous Wilhelmina Models agency. From there, a career in commercials, then TV, then film, was almost guaranteed. Her breakout on TV came in 1999 on the science-fiction show “Roswell.” A few indie films later, Heigl got her biggest role as Dr. Izzie Stevens in the medical drama “Grey's Anatomy.”
Jourdan Dunn Just Went Shopping
Jourdan Dunn was discovered doing something that we all find ourselves doing on occasion – shopping at a department store.
It was a Primark store in London, and she was only sixteen, but there were still enough reasons for an agent from Storm Management to approach her and ask about modeling. Since her discovery, she's been in campaigns and shows for Calvin Klein, Victoria's Secret, and more. She was even the first black model to walk for Prada in more than a decade. Models.com declared her an icon, and she's also been called a supermodel.
John Wayne Has His Coach to Thank
John Wayne wasn't interested in acting. He attended University on a football scholarship in 1925. He, unfortunately, lost that scholarship thanks to an injury he sustained while going bodysurfing.
However, Wayne's coach was friends with legendary director John Ford, and Ford was able to cast Wayne as Ringo Kid in the Academy Award-winning western “Stagecoach.” The movie practically built the Western genre, making it one of the most popular for decades to come, and it also shot Wayne into the upper echelon of Hollywood, which is where he stayed until his death in 1979.
Peter Mayhew Put His Giant Feet in the Door
Unless you're a big Star Wars fan, this name might not ring any bells. If you are a big Star Wars fan, you know him as the actor who wore the Chewbacca suit for five of the movies. Before joining the series, he was a hospital orderly.
He was discovered by George Lucas when he appeared in a newspaper article about men with huge feet. And at 7' 3”, no doubt Mayhew has some huge feet. His first movie was actually “Sinbad and the Eye of Tiger,” because the filmmakers needed someone really huge to play the Minotaur in the movie.
Oprah Winfrey Just Read Some Lines
Yeah, even Oprah had to be discovered somewhere. It seems odd since so many of us have grown up with her. Oprah's rise to fame began when, at the age of seventeen, she was crowned Miss Fire Prevention.
This took place in a local radio contest, the DJ at the radio station then asked Oprah to read some lines on tape. By the time she had read three sentences, the DJ had called in two other people to listen to her, and by the time she left the radio station, she had her first job in broadcasting.
Ben Stein Was Really Into Politics
Before his break into Hollywood, Ben Stein was all business. He served as a trial lawyer for the Federal Trade Commission, wrote speeches for multiple presidents, and taught politics, civil rights, and mass culture at more than one university.
Then something funny happened: John Hughes invited Stein to play Ferris Bueller's dry teacher, who repeatedly calls out the character's name. The deadpan tone and mind-numbing teaching style that Stein adopted for the movie catapulted him into the limelight. Since then, he's had constant work in the entertainment industry, from eye drops to movie roles, and everything in between.
Alexis Bledel Was Trying to Get Out of Her Shell
As a child, Alexis Bledel was shy and liked to keep to herself. In order to help her get past this a little bit, her mother encouraged her to try community theater.
She appeared in a few small productions, and that seemed to work – Bledel was scouted while shopping at a local mall and given work as a child model. From there, she moved on to the screens, making her television debut in the WB comedy-drama “Gilmore Girls,” where she played Rory Gilmore.
Anya Taylor-Joy Was Just Walking the Dog
Anybody who gives Anya Taylor-Joy a quick look can see that there's something unique about her. She almost looks like an alien but in a good way. Talent scout Sarah Doukas, who also discovered Kate Moss, happened to see ATJ walking her dog down the street, and that was how she got her first taste of the modeling life.
It took a little bit of time for her to make it into Hollywood, she started with the famous indie horror film “The VVitch,” but you might remember her as the chess phenom from “The Queen's Gambit.”
Harrison Ford Probably Made Some Nice Tables
Ford moved to Hollywood early, but he was unable to find much success. He taught himself to be a carpenter in order to support his family, and he landed a gig as a movie carpenter with “American Graffiti,” which was directed by None other than George Lucas.
Later on, Lucas was casting for his next movie, a space opera, and he saw Ford working as a carpenter at one of the film studios nearby. Lucas asked Ford to audition for the role of Han Solo, and the rest is Star Wars history. It also meant the end of Ford's carpentry career.
Adriana Lima Didn't Know She Was Shopping for Destiny
It's kind of a shame that the shopping malls are disappearing as lots of famous people got discovered there. That collection includes famous Victoria's Secret model Adriana Lima, who was doing a bit of shopping of her own when she was thirteen.
A talent scout approached her, and from there she was part of the modeling world. She won Ford's Supermodel of Brazil competition two years later (at fifteen!) and was on the way up from there. She retired from lingerie after the 2018 Victoria's Secret runway show, but she's still modeling.
David Boreanaz Went From Buffalo to Buffy Thanks to a Neighbor
While he lived in Buffalo, David Boreanaz was struggling. He only had a single acting role to his name (Kelly's date in “Married … With Children”) and didn't know what else to do. Then, he walked his dog past a neighbor's house. That neighbor happened to know producers who worked on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and suggested him for the important role of Angel.
Boreanaz's fortunes flipped almost right away, making him a hunk and an actor someone could rely on. This led to him getting one of the lead parts in “Bones,” which practically made him a household name.
Adrienne Houghton Sang for the Lord
Singers have to be heard to be discovered – most of the time, anyway – which means that if you want to be discovered, you have to belt it. That's what happened to Adrienne Houghton, who was doing little more than singing in her church choir when someone contacted the church, asking for possible backup singers.
That person was the Latin sensation Ricky Martin, who needed some singers to perform with him that evening. Houghton was chosen, and from there she started her rise to stardom.
Will Smith Wasn't Cutting It as a Rapper
At first, he wanted to be a rapper. His DJ name was The Fresh Prince, but his early albums weren't big successes. Smith went to The Arsenio Hall Show, hoping to give his career a boost, and there he met Benny Medina.
Medina knew of Smith and had an idea for a show inspired by his life. He introduced Smith to the show's producer, and Smith was able to get the role that made him a household name. From there it was on to critically acclaimed films that made him one of the biggest stars in the world.
Angus Cloud Was Not Living Euphorically
While he was earning just $7.50 an hour working at a Waffle House in Brooklyn, Angus Cloud had a lot more in his future. He was doing little more than walking down the street when a talent scout saw him and struck up a conversation. Cloud would eventually find himself moving to Hollywood, where he ended up getting the role of Fezco in the drama series “Euphoria.”
He was a classmate of his co-star, Zendaya, at the Oakland School for the Arts, where he studied Production Design. His film debut came in 2021, in the skate movie “North Hollywood.”
Naomi Campbell Was Just Chilling With Her Homies
Random chance plays into a lot of these discoveries, and that's best exemplified by Naomi Campbell's story. She was hanging out with her friends during a warm April afternoon when a Pennington Models scout suddenly came up to her and asked Campbell if she'd ever thought about modeling. Naomi was surprised and excited.
The woman was Beth Boldt, the head of the Synchro agency. Naomi's mother wasn't thrilled with the idea. After a test photo shoot, Naomi's mother allowed the modeling career to begin, as long as it didn't interfere with Campbell's schooling.
Lana Turner Was Playing Hooky
Most of the time there's no good reason to skip class. You're better off staying in school and learning about algebra or the civil war. Unless you're famous star Lana Turner, who decided she was too cool for school one day at the age of sixteen.
She took off and ended up at the soda fountain, enjoying a treat, but someone spotted her – Billy Wilkerson, a publisher for “Hollywood Reporter.” Lana Turner was already beautiful, and Wilkerson knew he had something great. Thus, Turner's rise to stardom began, all because she didn't want to have to sit in class.
Keira Knightley Just Looked Like Natalie Portman
Her first big role was that of a body double – and you've seen it, trust us. She was, in fact, the fake Queen Amidala in “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.” The character's name is known as Sabe, and she was cast purely for her physical resemblance to Natalie Portman, the true Amidala.
From there, she got more roles, such as Elizabeth Swan in the “Pirates of the Caribbean Movies.” Fun fact: Portman and Knightley looked so similar while on the set of Episode 1 that people frequently got them confused.
Bow Wow Had His Dogg Walking Him
If you have a favorite performer or entertainer of any kind, you might have daydreams of getting to meet this person, getting pulled on stage, and showing off your own chops. Bow Wow lived that dream, and it was when he was only six years old.
He was at a Snoop Dogg concert in Columbus, and the performance that young Mr. Wow gave was enough to impress both the crowd and Snoop Dogg. Snoop let him come backstage and gave him the nickname that would become his stage name.
Janet Leigh Was Hitting the Slopes
Even if the name doesn't immediately strike a chord, Janet Leigh's most famous movie certainly does. She was the star of Alfred Hitchcock's “Psycho.” Leigh is one of those celebrities that owe their big break to another celeb. In this case — Norma Shearer.
Shearer, a former MGM actress, frequented a ski resort where Leigh's parents worked and spotted Janet in a photo at the resort. A conversation began, and Janet Leigh would go on to become one of the biggest stars of the era, and also the mother of famous actress Jamie Lee Curtis.
Jennifer Aniston Just Needed Some Gas
She's currently one of the most famous women in the world thanks to her time on one of the most legendary sitcoms ever, but even the almighty Aniston had to be discovered somewhere. It almost didn't happen – it was all thanks to TV executive Warren Littlefield. Aniston, who had been in a number of failed comedy pilots, ran into Littlefield at a gas station on Sunset Boulevard and asked him if she would ever make it.
Littlefield encouraged her to keep going, and when he got the script for “Friends," he immediately thought of her.
Mila Kunis Was Just Trying to Fit in
Born in Ukraine during the Soviet era, Mila Kunis and her family won the Green Card lottery and were able to immigrate to the United States. At age nine, Kunis started taking acting classes after school to help adjust to the new country.
Her big break came from playing Jackie Burkhart on “That '70s Show.” She was only fourteen when she got the part, even though the producers were looking for someone who was eighteen. She told them she would be turning eighteen “on her birthday”...just not WHICH birthday. It worked out in the end.
Lewis Helim Can Thank a Random Burger Eater
We all get our start somewhere, and for male model Lewis Helim, that place was while he was serving burgers and fries in a Burger King in Liverpool.
A woman came in and asked for some paper to write something down, and she wrote down the email address for Select Model Management. We're unsure if she then gave him the address with the intention he should introduce himself, or if he just saw the address, but one way or another it wasn't long before he had signed on.
Justin Bieber Started Out on the Tubes
Everybody knows that the Biebs got his start young, but it turns out it was kind of a mistake. Music manager Scooter Braun was searching for a different artist on YouTube when he clicked on one of Justin's videos by accident.
Braun was struck by the young man's evident talent and started calling all the school districts in Ontario. This continued until Justin Bieber's mom called him trying to get him to stop. Braun then managed to convince both Biebers to get on a plane and visit him. It was the first plane either of them had ridden.
Norman Reedus Must Be One Charming Loudmouth
With a combination of scruffy, worn-out looks and a dose of charm, Norman Reedus seems to straddle the line between villain and hero in every project he's in. This is more or less how he was discovered, too, since his big break came when a producer went to an industry party. Reedus was there, and he was drunk and shouting at everyone.
However, he was doing it in such a charming, stylish way, that the producer pretty much offered him a role in a play immediately. It would take a while before he was killing zombies, but he was on the path.
Sharlto Copley Went From Bossing to Being Bossed
Sharlto Copley's “Discovery” came while he was already working in the entertainment industry. He was running a small production company. Then, a friend of his, writer and director Neill Blomkamp, asked him for a favor — to play a small role in a short test film — that test film and role blossomed into the lead role of the Oscar-nominated film “District 9.”
From there, Copley got one of the lead roles in the A-Team film, “Elysium,” “Chappie,” and more. We guess the lesson to take away here is to be friends with Hollywood writers and directors. It can't hurt your chances, after all.
Angie Harmon Owes It to the Hoff
Angie Harmon's discovery story almost sounds like it could be a joke. She, at the time a model and fledgling actress, got on a plane to discover she was sitting next to none other than David Hasselhoff.
During the plane ride, she ended up impressing him so he offered her the lead role in the “Baywatch” spin-off series, “Baywatch Nights.” While that show didn't exactly break into the atmosphere, Harmon was impressive enough to become one of the main characters on “Law & Order."
Channing Tatum Was... Entertaining
Tatum had the chance to head to college on a football scholarship, but he chose a somewhat different career path. He danced as a part of a male-only show in Tampa, going around to different clubs.
It was at one of those clubs, where someone Tatum described as a “sketchy guy” suggested he pursue a career in modeling. He got a part in a Pepsi ad, and from there he managed to get one of the leading roles in the 2006 movie “Step Up.” Women all around the world have this sketchy guy to thank.
Chris Pratt Was Just Serving Shrimp
Chris Pratt seemed like a cautionary tale for a little while. He was living in a van and waiting tables at a Bubba Gump Shrimp in Maui when a director, Rae Dawn Chong, spotted him. She cast him in her debut film, “Cursed Part 3,” which was a horrid movie overall, but it still gave Pratt his start.
It took some time for Pratt to go anywhere. Today, we all know him from his time as the sloppy and schlubby Andy Dwyer on “Parks and Recreation,” which led to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Jurassic World,” and much more.
Toni Braxton Had the Best Audience at a Gas Station
We all sing to ourselves. Sometimes it's just in the shower, sometimes it's while driving to work, and sometimes it's at home, but it seems we should all try to do it more often. Toni Braxton was singing to herself while filling up her car at a gas station when songwriter Bill Pettaway happened to be nearby.
He introduced himself, and from there Toni Braxton (as well as her sisters Traci, Towanda, Trina, and Tamar) were able to begin their music-making careers. Toni has gone on to do much more, including as an actress and a television personality.
Chloë Sevigny Was a Skater Girl
If you want to have the biggest chances of being “discovered,” it's best to live in one of two places: New York, or Los Angeles. Chloë Sevigny lived in the former and was doing something as innocuous as skateboarding around New York City's East Village neighborhood when she was seventeen. A fashion editor spotted her and approached her with a request for a modeling shoot.
Sevigny agreed, and two years later – in 1994 – she was cast in her first film role in “Kids.” Since then she's had roles in bigger projects like “Boys Don't Cry,” “American Psycho,” and “American Horror Story.”
Brad Pitt Crashed Someone Else's Audition
It seems almost impossible that Brad Pitt might not have been discovered since he's one of the few that combine real, incredible acting talent with enduring looks. He was discovered when a female friend of his was on her way to an audition and needed someone to play her lover.
In a strange twist of fate, however, it was Pitt that caught the eye of an agent, and he encouraged Pitt to start breaking into the acting biz. He worked on his skills, and then he was able to make it big with his role in “Thelma and Louise.”
Tricia Helfer Was Literally Just Standing There Waiting
Tricia Helfer was doing what millions of teens around the world did at the time, and for plenty of time afterward; standing in line for the movies. At the age of seventeen, Tricia Helfer was spotted by a modeling agency scout while in line to see a flick in her hometown of Alberta, Canada. Just a year later she won Ford Models' Supermodel of the World contest.
After ten years of stunning the fashion world, she retired from modeling and moved into acting. She's most famous for her role as “Number Six” in the re-imagined version of “Battlestar Galactica.”
Jennifer Lawrence Was Just a Kid on Vacation
A native of Kentucky, Lawrence and her family were walking around Union Square during a vacation in New York when a talent agent spotted her. The agent convinced the family to let Jennifer, then fourteen, do a cold read for a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercial, and they loved her.
She quickly moved into teen modeling before making the jump to the screen with an acting role on “Monk.” Since then, she's become a bona fide Oscar winner and a Hollywood A-lister with roles like Katniss Everdeen. She's also gotten plenty of acclaim for her work in the indie drama “Winter's Bone” in 2010.
Mandy Moore Just Got the Best Package Delivery
Lots of these celebs are discovered by people in the biz, like talent agents, directors, or other actors. Mandy Moore, on the other hand, was discovered by a FedEx delivery man. The kind delivery man was able to give her a connection to the head of Urban A&R at Epic Records, where she started her career.
By the time she was fifteen, Mandy had recorded an album and was opening for the likes of 'NSync and The Backstreet Boys. Apparently, it's all about who you know. Or who delivers your packages.
Bill Withers Had No Demo Buyers
With hits that have stirred the soul of people across the generations, the world would be much different – much worse – without Bill Withers. He was in the Navy until 1965, and he relocated to Los Angeles in 1967 to start his career in music.
He had to self-fund a demo and had zero success shopping it around to the major labels. One day, out of the blue, he landed a meeting with Clarence Avant, who had just founded the indie label Sussex Records. He offered Withers a record deal. Both Withers, and Sussex, would go on to become stars.
Rihanna Was Creating Her Own Chances
Rihanna and a couple of friends had formed a small girl group and then ran into record producer Evan Rogers, who was vacationing in Barbados, the singer's home. She and the other two girls convinced him to give them an audition, but he only had eyes for Rihanna.
Her natural skill, beauty, and persona combined to create a clear-cut future star. She later went on to meet Jay-Z and signed a record deal with Def Jam. Good thing that the record producer was there, or we never would have her!
Victor Manuelle Was Randomly Called on Stage
Before he was famous in any meaning of the world, Victor Manuelle was already well known among his friends and classmates as a singer and performer. That all changed when salsa singer Gilberto Santa Rosa visited. Santa Rosa invited Manuelle to sing on stage with him, and at the urging of his classmates, Manuelle did so.
Thus, Santa Rosa was impressed with the young boy's vocal abilities, as well as Manuelle's ability to freestyle over the music. While many of his caliber may have ventured into acting, Manuelle has remained a musician grounded in salsa music.
Charlie Hunnam Was Blowing Kisses
Charlie Hunnam was still working his way through film school when he had a chance encounter with a production manager of a TV show. He was a little tipsy, he was shopping for shoes on Christmas eve, and he blew a kiss to the production manager – who worked on what he called the only TV show to be really shot in the north of England.
To his surprise, the production manager approached him and asked him about acting. From there, Hunnam was able to appear in “Sons of Anarchy” and make his way into the industry.
Rosario Dawson Was Literally Sitting at Home
From films to movies to voicing video game characters, Rosario Dawson has plenty of work, and it's all thanks to director Larry Clark. He was taking a walk while working on his controversial indie film “Kids,” and happened to spot Dawson and her friends hanging out on her front porch.
He approached her and asked her to audition, and she ended up nabbing one of the lead roles, despite having zero acting experience. Since then she's gone on to appear in famous films such as “Sin City,” “Men in Black II,” and “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”
George Sanders Got an Advice From a Friend
While he's now known for winning the Oscar for his role in “All About Eve,” Sanders first worked at an advertising agency. Another employee (who just so happened to be future star Greer Garson) suggested that Sanders try his hand at acting.
His upper-class accent and smooth, bass voice allowed him to be cast as both sophisticated and villainous characters – sometimes both at once. You might remember him from Disney's “The Jungle Book” as the voice of Shere Khan.
Shawn Mendes Was Always De-Vine
Vine is long gone, but there's one lasting impact the short-lived social media platform had beside the mountain of memes it left behind – Shawn Mendes. He posted videos of himself singing and playing the guitar on Vine, and he ended up gaining a massive following. This eventually caught the attention of artist manager Andrew Gertler, who reached out to Mendes and brought him to Island Records.
With over sixty-eight million followers on Instagram, you can be sure that Mendes is glad he took the leap – and he was only fifteen when he started!
Danny DeVito Literally Looked the Part
This exceptionally diminutive actor has appeared as both heroes and villains, and his story is plenty strange. While working for his sister at a salon, he was looking for a professional makeup instructor and found himself at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
From there he started acting, and the story goes that James L. Brooks, co-creator of “Taxi” had a specific look in mind for the role of Louie De Palma. He drew a sketch, handed it to his assistant, and the assistant found Danny DeVito.
Mary Steenburgen Was Just Doing Her Desk Duty
We got a lot of things thanks to Jack Nicholson, and it's also thanks to him that we have Mary Steenburgen, an actress that you've almost certainly enjoyed at one point, even if she doesn't have an A-list name. Jack Nicholson was casting for his 1978 comedy western (also his directorial debut) and saw Steenburgen inside Paramount's New York office.
At the time, Steenburgen was an unknown actress, but she would quickly garner awards for her roles, including Both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for a supporting role in “Melvin and Howard.”
Danny Trejo Was Doing the Responsible Thing
Just looking at the guy can tell you Danny Trejo didn't have the standard Hollywood story. After years of being heavily involved in bad substances, Trejo sobered up and found work as an AA counselor.
One day, a mentee asked Trejo to come to the set of a prison film he was filming to help avoid a relapse. When the director saw Trejo's ultra-rugged tough-guy look, he asked Trejo to step in as an extra. This led to bigger and bigger roles, including starring in movies that basically just use his legendary cool as a selling point.
Vin Diesel Got a Role Instead of a Criminal Record
Before Vin chose his high-octane stage name, he was Mark Sinclair, and he got his start in a New York City theater, but he wasn't doing what you'd expect.
He and his friends broke into a theater one night, but when they were caught, the artistic director ended up giving Diesel a role instead of calling the cops. A number of theater productions later, Vin moved to Los Angeles, where he made a short film about his experience as an actor with an “ethnic” look. From there, he got his first big role as a soldier in “Saving Private Ryan.”
Rod Stewart Had a Harmonica Standing by
Before he was Rod the Mod, Rod Stewart was a fence erector and laborer at Highgate Cemetery in England. One day, in January 1964, Stewart saw Long John Baldry, a blues singer and musician, at a railway station.
Stewart pulled out his harmonica and performed a blues song by Howlin' Wolf. Baldry was impressed by the young Stewart's musical skills, and the two got to talking. Baldry invited Stewart to sit in with his group, eventually discovering that Stewart could sing, as well. Before long, Stewart was an official member of the group and was working his way toward stardom.
Ellen Pompeo Was an Advice Away From Bartending to Acting
Ellen Pompeo was just getting by working as a bartender in SoHo in New York City in the 90s. A casting agent entered the bar and started giving her acting advice. Ellen suspected this was flirting, but when she took the advice she started landing commercials and minor television roles, such as in “Law & Order” and “Friends.”
Film roles came next, including a highlight as Jake Gyllenhaal's love interest in “Moonlight Mile” and playing opposite Luke Wilson in “Old School.” However, major breakout success didn't hit until she was cast as Meredith Grey, the titular character in “Grey's Anatomy.”
Matthew McConaughey Was Just Going Out for Drinks
The year was 1992. Matthew McConaughey and his college girlfriend headed to the Hyatt hotel bar to get discounted drinks, and met casting director Don Phillips. McConaughey and Phillips talked for hours, up until they got kicked out of the bar.
Matthew got the hotel manager to apologize for such a heinous act, and Phillips was impressed enough to ask him to audition for a minor role in “Dazed and Confused.” McConaughey got the role, and from there he was on to bigger and better things, such as his first big role, the leading man in “A Time to Kill.”
Christie Brinkley Was Just Sending Some Mail
Appearing on an unprecedented three consecutive “Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues” covers, Christie Brinkley was the biggest name in modeling for a long time. She was the face of CoverGirl for over 25 years, has over five hundred magazine covers to her name, and even inspired a lot of the music of one of her husbands, Billy Joel. So where was she discovered?
At a post office in Paris, where she was studying art. Photographer Errol Sawyer captured her image and sent it to the Paris branch of the Elite Modeling Agency, and the rest is history.
Marilyn Monroe Was Working With Actual Bombshells
To think that Marilyn Monroe was ever anonymous seems strange, but we all have to start somewhere. In fact, it was at a munitions factory during World War II that this iconic figure was first discovered. She wasn't even going by Marilyn Monroe at the time – her birth name was Norma Jean.
She was photographed for a piece about women who help with the war effort, and from there she went on to be one of the most famous sex symbols in the world. From movies to music to candid snapshots, everything she did was sold like hotcakes.
Bruce Willis Credits His Stutter
While Bruce's big break story isn't all that particular – he auditioned for shows and movies and got them – the details are a little more exciting.
You see, he has had a stutter since the age of nine. He was shy and nervous about it, but somehow managed to get a part in his high school's production of “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.” As soon as he stepped on stage, the stutter was gone. He knew he wanted to pursue acting at that point. He even gave credit to his stutter for his success at comedic acting.
Jay-Z Collabed His Way to MTV
Living in the Marcy Projects, Jay-Z was looking for any way to escape the poverty and violence that was everywhere around him. He started his music career and ended up collaborating with the slightly older rapper, Jaz-O.
They recorded the song “The Originators,” and started to build a name for themselves. They sang it on an episode of “Yo! MTV Raps,” which was the beginning of Jay-Z's recognition in rap circles – and it was only up from there.
Burt Reynolds Was Forced Into a Plan B
Most actors want to be on the big screen, but Burt Reynolds was far more interested in ruling the gridiron. He got a football scholarship to Florida State University and was drafted by the then-Baltimore Colts, but a career-ending injury shattered his dreams. Ruggedly handsome even as a young man, Reynolds tried his hand at acting, and won a scholarship to the Hyde Park Playhouse in New York.
A television contract wasn't too long after, and then his role in the 1972 film “Deliverance” made him one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood.
Pamela Anderson Went From the Jumbotron to Showbusiness
It was the 80s and Pamela worked as a fitness instructor. One day, she went to a B.C. Lions football game. For a pair of reasons we think you all understand, she got put up on the jumbotron, which prompted a cheering crowd. The response was so memorable that the Labatt company hired her as a spokesmodel!
She moved on to “Playboy,” and then switched to acting. Her big break came on none other than “Home Improvement,” where she was the original Tool Time Girl. Most of us became huge fans of hers during her “Baywatch” era.
Evangeline Lilly Was Approached by Her Future on the Street
Evangeline Lilly was at first hesitant to join the entertainment industry when a Ford Models agent spotted her on the streets of Kelowna, British Columbia. After the agent explained how lucrative modeling and acting could be, Lilly was a little more interested. To earn money for college, she started working on TV commercials.
Her friends pushed her to try harder, and her agent ended up getting her an audition for the TV show “Lost.” She got the part of Kate Austin, and from there the sky was the limit – she's also appeared in Marvel movies and the Hobbit series.
Nick Jonas Was Just Out for a Haircut
Just like any of us, Nick Jonas has to get his hair cut every once in a while. This was true even when he was a child, and that's where his story in the entertainment industry began. His mom had taken him to a hair salon, and someone happened to overhear him singing.
That someone was a talent manager, and from there this Jonas's path was set. He became a child Broadway star by the time he was a teenager, and he signed his first record deal at the age of eleven!
Kate Moss Was Working on Her Tan
The thing about a lot of supermodels is, they're eventually going to be discovered. Incredible beauty will give you that. Kate Moss, one of the biggest supermodels of the nineties was only fourteen when she was discovered by Sarah Doukas, the founder of Storm Model Management.
Kate and her family were on a vacation to The Bahamas in 1988. She's now a businesswoman and fashion designer as well as a famous face of beauty. “Time” named her one of the world's most influential people in 2007.
Morgan Freeman Lived His Childhood Dream
He's played everything from God to a lifetime convict in a prison, but before all that, Morgan Freeman was a big fan of the movies. As a kid, he would save up all his cash to see the new films. He always knew what he wanted to do, but things weren't that simple.
He first pursued a career in the U.S. Air Force. When that came to an end, Freeman moved to Los Angeles and took classes at the Pasadena Playhouse. From there it was pretty standard – he auditioned, he got roles, he got famous.
Haley Joel Osment Was Just Getting Some Furniture
When most of us go to Ikea, we're there to get some cheap, basic furniture, try out some meatballs, and get lost forever and ever. For young Osment, however, it was his big break. When he and his family went to a Burbank location, there was a casting table set up to take Polaroids of kids visiting the store.
Osment sat at the table and gave his best smile, and he was later contacted for a Pizza Hut commercial audition. From there, the casting director of “Forrest Gump” got interested. After that, it was movies like “The Sixth Sense,” and “A.I. Artificial Intelligence.”
Ashton Kutcher Was Just Out for Some Booze
While studying engineering at the University of Iowa in 1996, Ashton Kutcher went out to a bar with a few friends. For some reason, a talent agent also happened to be in for a drink at the same time, and he convinced Kutcher to enter a modeling competition.
Kutcher won the contest, and then it was on to New York to sign with an agency. His success at modeling was short-lived, but he did appear in Calvin Klein and Abercrombie & Fitch ads before landing a star-making role in “That '70s Show” in 1998.
Jason Statham Was Spotted Selling Some Bling
The bald-headed action hero is a regular sight in high-octane films these days, but before he made it big, Statham was selling knockoff jewelry on London street corners. From there – somehow – he got a modeling gig.
After that, he got in contact with director Guy Ritchie, who wrote him into his movie “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” as a black market jewelry dealer. It was a good way for Jason to ease his way into working in front of the camera.
Sofia Vergara Was the Ultimate Beach Bunny
This Colombian beauty was doing little more than enjoying a day on the beach with her family when a talent scout happened to cross her path.
Even at seventeen, the scout could see she had star potential. He snapped a pic of her (with her permission, of course), and less than a year later Vergara was the star of a Pepsi commercial. After that, came a series of television roles, culminating in her long-running role of Gloria on “Modern Family.” All because she was doing something that millions of people do every day.
Taraji P. Henson Was Dealing With National Security
Lots of actors and actresses work menial jobs while trying to break into the glitz and glamor of the entertainment district, but how many worked at the Pentagon? At least one: Taraji P. Henson.
Since her family lived in the Washington D.C. area, many of them also had jobs connected to the government, so it wasn't too hard. While she was only a receptionist, she still had to have security clearance. By night, she worked as a singing waitress on a dinner cruise ship, the “Spirit of Washington.” Her first big break came with the comedy-drama “Baby Boy” in 2001.
Alden Ehrenreich Was Working on a Bar Mitzva Project
Every young performer dreams of being discovered by one of the big names in the industry, but for Alden Ehrenreich, that dream came true. He and a few others filmed a comedic video for a friend's bat mitzvah, which plenty of other people saw during the celebrations.
One of those people was none other than one of the most famous directors of all time — Steven Spielberg. He started with the show “Supernatural,” but recently he's been in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and the Coen brothers' film “Hail, Caesar!”
Lee Ermey Started as an Off-Screen Consultant
If you've seen Stanley Kubrick's seminal war film “Full Metal Jacket,” you're familiar with Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, played by R. Lee Ermey, who buried his new recruits in insults so withering no one could stand up to him. Ermey was originally just there to give technical advice to the film, but Ermey put together a tape of him ranting at several extras as people hurled tennis balls at him. The tape ran for some time.
Kubrick was so impressed that he slotted Ermey into the drill sergeant role. Ermey had been in other roles, but none so large and memorable.
Tracy Chapman Can Thank Her Classmate
While a student at Tufts University in Massachusetts, Tracy Chapman was already building up her musical repertoire. However, she wasn't ready to show it to people just yet. That changed when her classmate, Brian Koppelman, took one of her demos and sent it to his father, Charles, a music executive. Charles Koppelman immediately got on a plane to visit Tracy and watch her perform, eventually signing her to his label.
It's thanks to this theft that we all get to enjoy “Fast Car,” which is regarded as one of the best songs of all time by some.
Eva Mendes Was Spotted in the Background
Eva Mendes might have one of the strangest discovery stories out of all of them. Her neighbor had submitted a portfolio to try and get noticed, but the agent looking over the portfolio only had eyes for the girl that had been captured in the background of one of the shots – Eva Mendes.
The agent contacted Eva, who began her artistic career with the direct-to-video horror film “Children of the Corn V: Fields of Terror.” However, Mendes wasn't happy with her performance, leading her to hire an acting coach, which helped her get her big break in 2001 with the film “Training Day.”
Zac Efron Has His Teacher to Thank
Thanks to the “High School Musical” series, Zac Efron has been a favorite of teens everywhere. Without any kind of training, he got his first role at age eleven with a local theater production. His eighth-grade drama teacher encouraged him to aim higher, and he began auditioning for TV and movie roles.
Eventually, he found his way to Disney, and he's been a big part of Hollywood ever since. He's said that getting a career in Hollywood is like beating a casino, but this man had an ace up his sleeve.
Sarah Michelle Gellar Was Just Having Dinner
Some people just have that look, and there's nothing they can do about it. Sarah Michelle Gellar, AKA Buffy the Vampire Slayer, certainly had the look. When she and her family were out eating dinner in a New York restaurant, a talent scout approached the family to have Sarah audition for the 1983 movie “Invasion of Privacy.”
Gellar was four years old at this time, but her career continued, eventually culminating in big roles such as the lead of “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” “Cruel Intentions,” and the aforementioned Buffy.
Karlie Kloss Was Doing It for Charity
Karlie Kloss was discovered in Missouri at the age of thirteen. She was part of a charity fashion show when a talent scout spotted her. She relates that she had never even been on an airplane before that – and is that weird?
Most of us aren't on airplanes by that age, we feel. While walking the runway for Calvin Klein, she was more worried about getting her chemistry homework done than strutting her stuff. She reports that her trip to New York all felt like one Cinderella moment after the next.
The Weeknd Was Making His Dreams Come True on YouTube
The Weeknd, real name Abel Tesfaye, is a big star now, but when he started posting videos of himself singing onto his YouTube channel (known as xoxxxoooxo), nobody had the slightest clue who he was. Soon, though, he started to gain a decent following. He eventually started going by his stage name, but that didn't clear up much. His first hit was “What You Need,” and it gained enough traction for Drake to see it.
Drake tweeted a link to The Weeknd's first mixtape, “House of Balloons,” and from there it seemed as if the Superbowl was in Abel Tesfaye's future.
Gisele Bündchen Was Doing It for the Trip
Bündchen's start in the modeling industry was none other than a ploy to get a free trip to São Paulo. Bündchen joined a modeling course, which ended with the said trip, and during the first meal there (at a Mcdonald's), a modeling agent picked her out from among the more than fifty girls in attendance.
Bündchen was only thirteen years old at the time, and her hometown, the small Horizontina, Brazil, didn't really get many fashion magazines – in fact, she had never even seen one before.
Daniel Radcliffe Had to Get His Parents' Permission
Radcliffe already had some acting skills, and had played the titular character on the TV miniseries “David Copperfield.” The Harry Potter producer had asked Radcliffe to audition for the big part, but his parents were reluctant since it would be such a huge amount of time – remember, Radcliffe was only twelve when he filmed the first movie.
Amazingly, he and his family sat behind the producer at the movies one day, and the discussion they had afterward convinced the parents to at least let Radcliffe audition. Things clearly went well from there.
Tippi Hedren Made Quite an Exit
While she was living in Minneapolis, all it took was getting out of a cab for a talent agent to discover her natural good looks and grace. If you can look good getting out of a cab, you can look good doing anything.
Amazingly, this led to Hedren appearing in ads and commercials for a diet beverage called Sego. At the same time, Alfred Hitchcock was looking for a Grace Kelly replacement and happened to see the ad on TV. Her very first motion picture was “The Birds.”
Charlize Theron Made a Scene at the Bank
Theron has one of the best stories we've heard so far. When she was eighteen she moved from South Africa to Hollywood to try and get into the industry.
She was about to run out of cash when she visited a bank and got frustrated with an annoying teller. With her voice raised, she attracted all kinds of attention, including from a talent agent. The agent also had to help her open an account and cash a check. Just a few months later, Theron had her first feature film acting gig, in “Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest.”