11 movie stars who got their start on TV

by 8 years ago
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The next time you’re watching TV take a moment to consider the possibility that the low-rent star you’re watching today just might end up winning multiple Oscars tomorrow. I know, I know, it’s probably not going to happen for Ashton Kutcher but it just might happen for the unknown star of a show debuting on The CW. You never know. Just ask the eleven dudes and lady dudes on this list. They all started as “just” TV actors and somehow, someway, all managed to become A-List movie stars.

Photo credit: YouTube/FilmDistrict

Before she became a part of the infamous Brat Pack – and long before she was defiled by the Kutcher beast – Demi Moore did what most struggling young actresses do. No, not porn – well actually there was this one photo-shoot… but never mind that – but rather the wonderful world of soap operas. Yes, for a couple of years Demi Moore was just a struggling actress on General Hospital. Yet a a couple of years later, Demi was firmly entrenched as a member of a new-wave of actors who appeared poised to take over Hollywood. Most of them didn’t thanks to a variety of reasons, but Demi managed to wade through it all and emerged as perhaps the biggest star of all of them.

Photo credit: YouTube/Columbia Pictures

If you take a look at Ryan Gosling’s early career, it’s like reading the resume of a dude barely hanging on to a Nickelodeon career, not that of a guy well on his way to A-List stardom. The high-mark is probably his time on The New Mickey Mouse Club, and how sad is that? From there he went on to star in the show Breaker High which was so good that it landed him the much-coveted role as Young Hercules in, uh, Young Hercules. Yeah, that’s a thing that actually happened. Somehow, he survived all that without ending up in gay porn or something and became the star your girlfriend is obsessed with today. Young Hercules! Come on.

Photo credit: YouTube/FilmDistrict

Long before she was dancing naked for Mickey Rourke (Jesus, having to writhe all over Mickey Rourke should have earned her ten Oscars, or at least a purple heart or something.) Marisa Tomei was just a lowly cast-member on A Different World aka the spin-off of The Cosby Show. Yes, Marisa Tomei began her career playing second fiddle to such luminaries as Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy. She only lasted a single season on the show before being dumped. She then didn’t do anything for a couple of years and it probably seemed like her career was over. Then she landed a role in My Cousin Vinny and in 1993, the same year that A Different World finished up its inglorious run, she was walking on stage to accept an Oscar. Life is just weird sometimes.

Photo credit: YouTube/Fox Searchlight

Between 1971 and 1975, Tommy Lee Jones played Dr. Mark Toland on the soap opera One Life to Live. I just want you to think about that sentence for a moment. Read it again. Let it sink it. Picture it in your mind. Good. If you’re like me, you are now staring at your screen with your mouth agape because there is no way in hell I can picture Tommy Lee Jones as a soap opera actor. None. I would just assume that by the second day he’d be trying to read his lines and then look at the director and say “No. This is bullshit.” And yet he did this for almost five years! That’s half a decade! I can’t even deal with this so let’s just move on.

Photo credit: YouTube/Columbia Pictures

Multiple time Oscar nominee… lover of Heath Ledger… indie darling with cred oozing out of every pore… star of Dawson’s Creek. Wait… what? Yes, no matter how many critically acclaimed movies that nobody actually sees she makes, and no matter how much she tries to build herself a loft in the offices of IFC, Michelle Williams will always have the six years she starred on Dawson’s Creek hanging over her head. Frankly, it’s a minor miracle that she managed to escape the WB ghetto, doubly so when you consider that Dawson’s Creek is probably that network’s entire identity. And yet, she’s managed to rise above it. Imagine one of the Gossip Girl idiots pulling that off sometime in the next five years. Ridiculous, right?

Photo credit: YouTube/Weinstein Co.

This one just seems crazy to me. That’s probably because I am too young to remember Denzel as anything other than, well, than Denzel. And yet, his filmography tells me that he starred on St. Elsewhere from 1982-88. I just can’t picture it. In my mind it’s a totally different person. I mean, come on, he’s Denzel Washington! And Denzel Washington does not star on weekly network TV dramas. No, this never happened. Couldn’t have. Nope. Quit lying to me.

Photo credit: YouTube/Warner Bros.

Similar to Denzel, it’s almost incomprehensible to think that George Clooney was anything other than the suave Hollywood alpha male he is today, and yet the dude spent the first ten years of his career begging at the doors of crap like The Facts of Life. Hell, even his big break, the thing that finally catapulted him to fame was a TV show – ER. George Clooney is a goddamn movie star. He is perhaps the movie star. He does not do crappy TV shows. And yet, he not only did them, that was his entire career for more than a decade. This would be like the dude who played Tague on Friends becoming the Hollywood alpha male in another decade. Who? Yeah, exactly.

Photo credit: YouTube/Fox Searchlight

Yeah, I think we all know that Bruce Willis got his start on Moonlighting, but again this is just one of those things that seems weird in retrospect. Actually, from everything that I have read – again, I am too young to have actually experienced this firsthand and he’s always been John McClane to me – it was weird as hell for people to see the lead of a sorta-cheezy show like Moonlighting transform almost instantly overnight into badass John McClane of Die Hard fame. I guess it would sort of be like the male lead from The New Girl becoming a giant action hero almost overnight. I don’t even know how you would take something like that seriously. And yet, Bruce Willis pulled it off.

Photo credit: YouTube/Summit

I decided to group these dudes together because they all got their start in the same place, on NBC’s Freaks and Geeks. That’s kind of amazing. I can’t think of another show that has spawned that much star power, that has taken so many complete unknowns and launched them like that. It’s even crazier when you consider that the show didn’t even last one full season. It’s an awesome show and you should all try to watch it but it’s true, the show was canceled after only a little more than half a season. I was watching an episode the other day and these three were all walking together in a scene, Franco, Rogen and Segal side by side, and I was struck that NBC would do some seriously heinous shit to have these three together on a show today. James Franco alone could launch any show he wanted for any network. To be honest, half this list could have just been people who started on Freaks and Geeks. Shit, a young, unknown Shia Labeouf even shows up in an episode.

Photo credit: YouTube/Fox Searchlight, Magnolia, Disney

Everyone forgets since he’s such a huge star today – maybe the biggest in the world – but back in the early ‘90s, Leonardo DiCaprio was just that one kid from Growing Pains. Or maybe you knew him from his role on Parenthood (the first Parenthood, the one based on the movie, not the one today that is based on the movie that… oh nevermind.) Or maybe from his role on the soap opera Santa Barbara. The point is, is that this was a dude headed for a journeyman career, not a career as, well, as Leonardo DiCaprio. And then he went full retard in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and nothing was ever the same. Later he appeared was Titanic which, uh, was kind of a big deal. In five years, Leo went from being the homeless little urchin sidekick to Kirk freakin’ Cameron in Growing Pains to absolute mega-stardom.

Photo credit: YouTube/Warner Bros.

Tom Hanks has had an incredible career, one of the greatest of all time in Hollywood, and yet it’s been a weird career. For the last twenty years or so he has been the Tom Hanks who wins Oscars and makes blockbusters in his spare time. But before that he was the Tom Hanks who made romantic comedies and lighthearted fare that did good box office but didn’t exactly point to a career as a mega-star. And then even before that, he was the Tom Hanks who starred in the cross-dressing sitcom farce Bosom Buddies. Now that’s an unlikely career trajectory. It’s just too weird to consider. And yet, that’s exactly what Tom Hanks pulled off. Perhaps nobody personifies the theme here better than Hanks and that’s why he’s number one on this list.

Photo credit: YouTube/Warner Bros.

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TAGSArbitrary RankingsBruce WillisDemi MooreDenzel WashingtonfeaturedGeorge ClooneyJames FrancoJason SegalLeonardo DiCaprioListsMarisa TomeiMichelle WilliamsMovie Stars on TVRyan GoslingSeth RogenTom HanksTommy Lee Jones