While talent and hard work are important, being in the right place at the right time is no less crucial. The stars on this list had no intention of becoming famous but were discovered in the most random places: parks, pizza parlors, sidewalks, and even the checkout counter at their local supermarket.
It’s hard to believe, but more than half of Hollywood was discovered entirely by mistake. Some were young, some were old, some were working 9 to 5, and some were homeless. Read through this list to discover the most bizarre celebrity discovery stories to date.
For many, appearing on the jumbotron is either awkward or exciting. But for Pamela Anderson, it was life changing. With an infectious, pearly white smile, lush blonde hair, and a Labatt’s Blue crop top, the star-to-be appeared on the big screen at a Canadian football game.
The crowd went wild and urged her to come down to the field! Shortly after, Labatt (the beer company), was so impressed by this anonymous beer lover that they decided to hire her as their “Blue Zone Girl.” Pam then moved on to Playboy and eventually landed a spot on Baywatch where she ran around with her tiny red suit.
Straight out of high school, Channing Tatum had two options – either to go to college on a football scholarship or join an all-male dance group in Tampa. Lured in by the second, more exotic option, Tatum disguised his name to “Chan Crawford” and spent his nights busting bold moves in front of an eager crowd.
During one of “Chan’s” shirtless, risqué nights, he was approached by a guy who was clearly impressed by Tatum’s pecks and suggested he pursue modeling. Tatum agreed to give the cameras a shot and managed to land a small part in a Pepsi ad.
Hulk Hogan’s wasn’t supposed to be an actor. He had his eyes set on sports, specifically baseball. He attracted scouts from the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds, but a painful injury put a halt to his pitching career. Hogan then moved on to his second passion, music.
He played bass with a band in Florida, and in one of their shows, one crazy fan yelled at him, “You would make a good wrestler!” Hogan took those words seriously and became a WWE legend. We know you might be wondering why a wrestler is on this list. But, come on, WWE is acting at its finest.
Before he starred as the rapping prince of Bel-Air, Smith was trying to break into the industry by spitting some lines of his own. He was part of a hip-hop duo called D.J. Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, where he was the MC, and D.J. Jazzy was the producing turntablist.
The duo’s album ended up being a flop, and Smith was left in a bit of a limbo. His girlfriend at the time encouraged him to attend the Arsenio Hall Show, and, as luck would have it, he met the real prince of Bel-Air, Benny Medina, there. One thing led to another, and suddenly, Smith was at producer Quincy Jones’s house auditioning in front of A-listers, politicians, and the head of NBC, Brandon Tartikoff.
Before becoming Vin Diesel, Mark Sinclair was a rebellious, little 7-year-old who broke into a theater along with a few of his friends. They planned on vandalizing the place when a woman stopped them and told them she would give them a script and 20 bucks, but on condition that they would attend the theater every day after school.
Diesel fell in love with the art and spent his high school years performing on stage. Even though he attempted the ordinary college route, he quickly dropped out so he could move to L.A. to make his dreams a reality. His first big break was Spielberg’s epic war film, Saving Private Ryan.
Long before his rum-drinking days as captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp had dreams of becoming a musician. Acting was out of the question, and the only reason he got into it in the first place was because he really needed to pay the bills.
He was looking for a job at a video store when he ran into Nicolas Cage. Cage glanced at Depp’s beautiful, youthful face and told him he should consider acting. He even offered to throw in a good word to his agent. Depp took him up on the offer and a few weeks later found himself auditioning for The Nightmare on Elm Street.
14-year-old Jennifer Lawrence was enjoying a fun family vacation in New York when a talent scout spotted her strolling around Union Square. As if having your teenage daughter approached by a middle-aged man wasn’t creepy, Lawrence’s mom gave him her number just like that.
Luckily, nothing but good came out of that risky exchange. The agent rang them a while later and said that modeling agencies are looking forward to seeing young Lawrence in person. Typical to her feisty character, Lawrence agreed to sign with a modeling agency on one condition: that they would let her act.
Dawson was also spotted on the busy streets of New York. The 15-year-old was chilling on the front porch of her Lower East Side apartment building when director Larry Clark and writer Harmony Korine walked by. They were initially scouting for locations but ended up finding a new cast member instead.
Struck by her strong presence, Clark sensed a real opportunity and offered her an audition. Writer Korine backed him up, joyously leaping and yelling, “Oh my God, I wrote this character for you without even realizing. I didn’t even know you. You’re perfect for this character, you have to come in!”
Straight out of dance class and craving a cheesy slice of pizza, 10-year-old Natalie Portman walked to the parlor nearby when, out of the blue, a Revlon representative approached her. Not even in her teens yet, Portman had a tender and captivating aura.
The Revlon rep asked her if she would be interested in modeling, and while most people would likely agree on the spot, Portman was a tad hesitant. She kept her cool by responding, “No, but I would like an agent.” Not long after, Portman landed her first significant role in the dramatic film, Léon: The Professional.
Mel Gibson had no intention of auditioning for a role in George Miller’s Mad Max. The only reason the Aussie actor was at the audition in the first place was to accompany his friend, Steve Bisley (who landed the part of Jim Goose). But the film’s casting crew weren’t going to let Gibson off the hook so fast. His face was just what the film needed.
Specifically, his face that had been bruised up from a brawl he got into the night before. Director George Miller thought Gibson’s “black and blue pumpkin face” was a perfect fit for a villainous role. A few weeks later, a cleaned-up Gibson came to audition and got cast as the film’s hero.
Imagine being spotted at just four years old. Sarah Michelle Gellar was still a toddler when a talent agent saw her eating at a restaurant in New York and fell in love with the little darling. Shortly after, she landed her first acting bit in the TV film “An Invasion of Privacy.”
Gellar went on to star in several small TV parts and commercials (rumor has it that McDonalds sued her after she appeared in a Burger King ad) until she finally got her big break as the hero in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Straight out of high school, Charlize Theron collected whatever little savings she had and drove to Hollywood, where she lived in a cheap hotel room. She met with various agents, but nothing seemed to click. Frustrated and disappointed, Theron took her anger out on a cash teller who refused to cash a check she got from her mom.
Their little brawl caught the attention of John Crosby, a talent agent who just happened to be close by. He calmed the young girl and, after a brief chat, offered to represent her. Within a year of working together, Theron landed her first role.
Matthew McConaughey could have easily followed in his father’s footsteps by getting a job in the oil industry. But, instead, he had his eyes on acting. His big break came at a hotel bar in Austin, Texas, where he ran into a producer who was impressed by McConaughey’s good looks and enthusiasm and helped him land an audition for the teen comedy Dazed and Confused.
Director Richard Linklater felt that McConaughey was too handsome to play the part of an old creep who parties with minors. But there’s nothing a little styling can’t fix, and with a clumsy mustache and a slick hairdo, McConaughey became the perfect David Wooderson.
Eva Mendes was pursuing a career in marketing when a talent agent came across a photo of her while scrolling through someone else’s portfolio. The agent couldn’t take his eyes off the Cuban beauty and insisted on meeting her.
Their chance encounter marked the start of Eva’s fruitful career. With the help of an acting coach, Eva slowly made her way into the business, starting with minor roles in Ghost Rider and 2 Fast and Furious 2, all the way to her award-winning role in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
Peter Dinklage is the ultimate Tyrion Lannister. Really, there’s simply no other guy who can play the sarcastic yet big-hearted character as he can. But before he became the witty imp, Dinklage was spending his days at the office working a standard 9 to 5 job.
“I still don’t know what the company did,” Dinklage revealed; “I just like, plugged information into a computer… I called in sick every Friday because I would go out Thursday night with my friends.” Dinklage took a huge leap of faith when he decided to quit and pursue acting. And we’re forever grateful that he did!
Pratt was living in a van in Maui, spending lazy nights on the beach with friends and busy days waiting tables at the Bubba Gump Shrimp when he was approached one day by actress and director Rae Dawn Chong. As he cleaned her table, the director looked up at Pratt and offered him a role in a horror movie she was directing.
While the movie sucked too much to ever be released, Pratt caught the acting bug and decided to stay in L.A. He spent the next few years waiting tables, eating off peoples’ plates, and running from audition to audition until he finally landed his breakthrough role as Bright Abbot in Everwood.
In the ‘90s, Ashton Kutcher was busy jotting down notes at the University of Iowa, where he was majoring in biochemical engineering. One laid-back evening, Kutcher went out for a beer with friends when he was approached by Jeff and Mary Clare, the duo behind Mother Model Management.
“Mary walked up to me and said, ‘You need to do this,'” Kutcher revealed; “So, I entered a fresh faces contest.” His undeniably handsome face triumphed over the rest. He won the contest, dropped out of school, and turned to modeling before landing his role as the loveable airhead Michael Kelso on That ‘70s Show.
Before he discovered his talent, Jason Statham was an unpolished gem who sold jewelry on the streets of London to pay the rent. On one of Jason’s ordinary workdays, he was spotted by a talent agent who was impressed by his gruff look. One thing led to another, and Statham found himself auditioning for Guy Ritchie’s debut film.
Statham was precisely what Ritchie needed to finalize his cast for Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Funny enough, Statham was recruited to more or less play himself – a street vendor who sells fake jewelry. He landed the part and became one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars.
Before becoming Hollywood’s iconic sex-symbol, Marilyn Monroe (born as Norma Jeane) worked in a factory for the U.S. military. During that period, photographers used to tour the factories and snap inspirational pictures of female workers. Marilyn Monroe happened to be one of those morale-boosting ladies.
When photographer David Conover spotted the perky brunette, he knew that she had pin-up model written all over her. He encouraged her to pursue modeling, and it was a no-brainer for small-town Norma Jeane. She quit the factory and signed with a modeling agency shortly thereafter.
For some, trips to Ikea usually end with a new couch; for others, they end with a new career. Haley Joel Osment was wandering around Ikea in Burbank when he came across a casting table with two women taking pictures of all the youngsters in the store (ahh… the good old ‘90s, before stranger-danger was a thing).
“They took a Polaroid, and nobody thought anything of it until we got called to do a cattle call at one of those kids’ commercial things,” the actor told Vulture. Osment landed a gig for Pizza Hut, which, incredibly, attracted the attention of Forrest Gump’s casting director.
After four failed comedy pilots, Jennifer Aniston was exhausted, disheartened, and about to call it quits when she ran into TV executive Warren Littlefield at a gas station on Sunset Boulevard. Littlefield reassured her that everything would be okay and later on handed her the script for Friends.
Thus, her reign as Rachel Green began. Fun fact: Aniston was almost cast for SNL, but (thankfully!) she rejected it to pursue her role on Friends. That was probably the most brilliant career move she made.
In the 8th grade, Zac Efron’s drama teacher encouraged him to take his dreams beyond the school’s walls and look for an agent in L.A. He started auditioning for different roles and stuck with it until he ultimately scored his breakthrough role as team captain in Disney’s High School Musical.
“Getting a job is like beating a casino,”Efron told San Luis Obispo’s The Tribune. Well, the actor sure won the jackpot when he landed the part of Troy Bolton. He sang, dribbled the ball, and won the heart of not only Vanessa Hudgens, but millions of fans worldwide.
Ellen Pompeo worked long nights as a bartender in Miami, Florida when she was approached by a casting director with a keen eye for talent (and beauty). At first, she thought he was just a random guy trying to hit on her, but the more she listened to what he had to say, the more she was convinced to give it a shot.
Pompeo managed to land small parts in ads for Citibank and L’Oreal, but acting was her real passion. She ran from audition to audition until she ultimately snatched the role of her life as Meredith Grey in the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy.
Harrison Ford worked as a carpenter to make ends meet. Little did he know, building doors for a living would end up opening an especially lucrative one – the door to his role as Star War’s Hans Solo. While Ford had already appeared in 1973’s “American Graffiti,” it was only after he was hired to build a door for director George Lucas’s studio that he was cast for his iconic part.
By building furniture for Hollywood moguls, Ford carved his way to stardom and won the hearts of many with his outstanding performances in films like Indiana Jones, Blade Runner, and, of course, Star Wars. Today, it’s practically impossible to imagine anyone else play the Millennium Falcon captain, Hans Solo.
17-year-old Sofia Vergara was enjoying a sunny day at the beach with her loved ones when a talent scout spotted her. He insisted on snapping a polaroid of the Columbian beauty and, in a matter of a few months, helped her land a Pepsi commercial.
Through the years, Vergara has appeared on numerous TV shows and commercials, but her most memorable role (at least in the U.S.) is, hands down, the role of Gloria on Modern Family. The series would not be the same without Gloria’s accent and spicy attitude.
Evangeline Lilly was discovered entirely by chance by a Ford Models’s agent. She was walking on the streets of Kelowna, B.C., when she was approached by a scout who urged her to give modeling a try. Lilly took the agent’s business card, but it took a while for her to make the call.
She ultimately rang them up and started to land minor roles in commercials and TV shows, including a non-speaking role in Smallville. Her big break finally came in 2004 when she was cast as Kate Austen in the epic drama Lost.
Real-life cowboy Wilford Brimley was working on a ranch when his friend and fellow actor Robert Duvall convinced him to try out acting. His reasoning was simple: Brimley was a legit horse-riding blacksmith, so all he really had to do to get into a Western film was just to be himself.
Thankfully, Brimley took his advice. He first found work as a stuntman and a riding extra for several Westerns and ultimately landed the role of his life as blacksmith Horace Brimley (he even kept his last name!) on the endearing ‘70s show, The Waltons.
At just nine years old, Heigl’s big brown eyes and gentle features were already turning heads. Her aunt wasted no time and sent a couple of her niece’s photos to modeling agencies. Within a few short weeks, the preteen landed her first modeling gig in a magazine ad.
The child star began by making less than $100 an hour in catalogs for Sears and went on to become one of the most loveable and well-paid starlets in all of Hollywood. From romcoms to serious dramas, Heigl is one diverse actress. Thanks, auntie, for pushing Heigl into the spotlight!
John Wayne fell into some trouble as a young student after he suffered an injury and was disqualified from his college football scholarship. Without enough money to pay for his education, the actor’s future wasn’t looking as bright anymore. He decided to take some time off to save up and landed a job at Fox Studio.
Sure enough, it ended being the job of his life. Wayne quickly forgot about school and took advantage of his position at the studio to propel himself to stardom. He grew close with director John Ford and eventually landed his first acting gig in the Western Stagecoach.
Estella Warren isn’t your ordinary model-turned-actress. She’s a three-time champion for Canada’s national swimming team. The skilled athlete has been swimming since she was 12, and the only screen she ever thought she would appear on was the one that aired the Olympics.
But Estella is just too pretty to go unnoticed. She was discovered by Rhonda, the owner of Broadbelt & Fonte Models, who then introduced her to the owner of American Models, who then introduced her to fashion photographer Ellen Von Unwerth, who booked her a photo shoot for Italian Vogue.
Danny Trejo’s career got off to a rocky start. He had a tough time finding his place in the world, and his impulsive actions landed him in prison several times. With the help of an organized program, he was able to break free from his bad habits and eventually found work as a youth drug counselor.
His work with teenagers led him straight to the set of Runaway Train, where he helped one of his patients deal with his cocaine addiction. In a fortunate turn of events, the author of the film, Edward Bunker, had done time with Trejo in the past, so he decided to give his old inmate a part.
Up until 2007, Christoph Waltz was a struggling actor who tried his best to keep his family afloat. He managed to pay the bills by doing minor TV roles and behind-the-scenes stage work, but his career really took off when he met the one and only Quentin Tarantino.
His incredible performance in Inglourious Basterds kick-started his Hollywood career and made him one of the most loved and appreciated actors in the industry. Tarantino once admitted, “It’s true that if I couldn’t have found someone as good as Christoph, I might not have made Inglourious Basterds.”
Having connections certainly paid off for Alden Ehrenreich, whose father was the accountant of none other than Steven Spielberg. Spielberg noticed the young boy’s talent after seeing him play with his daughter in a silly bat mitzvah video the two created.
“I thought he had a lot of promise in comedy,” Spielberg mentioned; “I didn’t know he was going to rogue [into] drama. He was so funny in this video, I thought, ‘I have found the next really funny comedian.’”
Kristen Wiig ran into acting completely by chance. She attended the University of Arizona and took an acting class just so she could fulfill a course requirement. But Wiig’s teacher spotted her talent on the spot and urged her to pursue it.
Luckily, Wiig took her teacher’s advice and relocated to L.A., where she became a member of the Groundlings, a group of improvisational comedians. She finally broke into the industry when she landed a spot on Saturday Night Live, where she starred as a cast regular for six years.
This South African talent is one of the few stars who actively tried to get into acting. Sharlto Copley spent his childhood performing in school plays and continued studying drama all through college. But he had to put his acting dreams aside for a while to invest in his TV production company.
The ambitious, young businessman co-founded a few companies, and by the age of 24, he was South Africa’s youngest TV producer. Director Neill Blomkamp worked for him at the time, and their years working together paid off. Blomkamp ended up casting him as the lead in District 9.
When you think of a struggling actor, you think of Sylvester Stallone. The guy spent days sleeping at a New York bus station, and even tried to sell his dog for money (he couldn’t afford to feed him). He ended up selling his buddy for $25.
If it wasn’t for a boxing match between Mohammed Ali and Chuck Wepner, we’re not sure if Stallone would have made it out alive. The star drew inspiration from that epic match, and wrote the script to his masterpiece, Rocky, which he sold for $35,000, under one condition – that he would play the lead.
Morgan Freeman’s voice was meant to be heard. The guy has, arguably, one of the best voices for narration. But before becoming Hollywood’s beloved star, Morgan Freeman was out there flying planes in the U.S. Air Force. He enlisted right after high school, but after a while, he realized it was far from what he wanted.
Acting was his true passion. So, Freeman moved to Hollywood in 1959 and went from landing minor roles to major roles to award-winning ones. The actor is a living example that it’s certainly never too late to follow your dreams. His big break came at the age of 52!
Many actors go through extensive training to learn how to shed a few tears. But not Meryl Streep. With her raw natural talent, she’s considered somewhat of an oddity. “I don’t think anyone ever taught Meryl acting,” a drama teacher from Vassar once said; “She really taught herself.”
Incredibly, the Oscar darling didn’t have her eyes set on acting. She appeared in a few school plays but never considered it a realistic career choice. She even contemplated studying law for a while. But it was Robert De Niro’s outstanding performance in Taxi Driver that made her change her mind. The film impacted her so much that she began going to auditions straight after.
Mandy Moore used her sweet, angelic voice to earn money by singing at local sporting events. After collecting enough cash, the aspiring singer bought herself some studio time to record a few of her own demos. During one of her recording sessions, a FedEx deliverer happened to drop by and deeply moved by her voice, decided to pass her demo to one of his friends at Sony Music.
The chance encounter proved fruitful! The FedEx guy’s connections helped Moore score a contract with Sony’s Epic Records label, and by the age of 15, she had already recorded an album and was the opening act for bands like ‘NSync and the Backstreet Boys.