15 Oscar-Nominated Actors Who Started Out on Soap Operas

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YouTube

Daytime soap operas aren’t as popular as they used to be, but there was a time when soon-to-be movie stars regularly honed their skills with the kind of over-the-top emotional melodrama that you can only find on daytime television. Here are 15 of them.

1. TOMMY LEE JONES

From 1971 to 1975, Tommy Lee Jones played the suave Dr. Mark Toland on One Life to Live. Throughout his four-year run, Jones’s character became less stable and more evil, transforming from an affable M.D. to a shifty con artist. Dr. Toland was eventually shot in the head, freeing Jones up to pursue a career in movies like Coal Miner's Daughter, JFK, No Country for Old Men, and The Fugitive, which earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1994.

2. JULIANNE MOORE

In 1985, Julianne Moore got her big break on As The World Turns, where she played the dual role of half-sisters Frannie and Sabrina Hughes, and earned a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Ingenue in a Drama Series for her efforts in 1988. She left As The World Turns for a career on Broadway later that year. "I gained confidence and learned to take responsibility," Julianne Moore said of her time working in daytime television. She returned to As The World Turns in a very brief cameo appearance during the soap opera’s final season in 2010. Earlier this year, the five-time Oscar nominee became a bona fide Oscar winner for her work in Still Alice.

3. LEONARDO DICAPRIO

One year before he landed a recurring role on Growing Pains in 1991, Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on NBC's Santa Barbara. He played the young Mason Capwell in only one episode, but moved on to make appearances on Roseanne and the short-lived sitcom Parenthood. In 1993, DiCaprio landed his first two starring roles on the big-screen in This Boy's Life with Robert De Niro and What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, which earned him his first of five Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture as one of the producers of The Wolf of Wall Street in 2014.

4. WILLIAM H. MACY

While he started his acting career on the stage with playwright David Mamet, William H. Macy made an appearance on Another World in 1982. He played the character Frank Fisk and was credited as “W.H. Macy.” Macy later received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1997 for his breakout performance in Fargo.

5. MARISA TOMEI

After attending Boston University for only one year, Marisa Tomei landed a recurring role on As The World Turns in 1983. She played ditzy teen Marcy Thompson, who married a prince, Lord Stewart Cushing, and moved to England, where she became Lady Marcy Cushing. Tomei left As The World Turns in 1985 when she received a series regular role on the sitcom A Different World in 1987.

6. ELLEN BURSTYN

Although Ellen Burstyn began her acting career on Broadway in 1957, she also worked on television throughout the 1960s. She starred as Dr. Kate Bartok on the daytime soap The Doctors in 1964. At the time, she was credited as "Ellen McRae,” but changed her name when she married actor/writer Neil Burstyn. Since making the transition to films, Burstyn has received six Oscar nominations, beginning with 1971's The Last Picture Show and most recently for 2000's Requiem for a Dream (she won in 1975, for Martin Scorsese’s Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore)

7. JAMES EARL JONES

At age 35, James Earl Jones appeared as two separate doctors in two different daytime soaps in 1966. First he played Dr. Jerry Turner on As The World Turns and then he played Dr. Jim Frazier on Guiding Light. Five years later, he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for The Great White Hope.

8. MELISSA LEO

Melissa Leo made her on-screen debut as Linda Warner on All My Children in 1984. Leo remained a cast member until 1988, when she took a role on the short-lived TV Western The Young Riders. Leo later pursued a career in film, where she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 2009 for Frozen River and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Fighter two years later. 

9. KEVIN KLINE

After establishing a traveling acting company during the early 1970s, Kevin Kline settled in New York City and appeared as the character Woody Reed on the now-defunct Search For Tomorrow on CBS in 1976. He later left the daytime soap for a career on Broadway and eventually on the big screen, where he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1989 for the comedy A Fish Called Wanda.

10. NAOMI WATTS

Naomi Watts’s career began on television in Australia during the early 1990s. She appeared in a number of sitcoms and commercials before landing a recurring role on the daytime soap Home and Away in 1991. Ten years later, she made her mark on Hollywood with her breakout role in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Since then, she has received two Academy Award nominations for Best Actress for her work in  2003's 21 Grams and 2012's The Impossible.  

11. SUSAN SARANDON

At the beginning of her career, Susan Sarandon spent two years on two different daytime soaps. In 1971, she appeared as Patrice Kahlman on the short-lived A World Apart, then landed a role as Sarah Fairbanks on Search for Tomorrow the following year. She left daytime television to appear in Billy Wilder’s film adaptation of The Front Page in 1974 and played Janet Weiss in The Rocky Horror Picture Show a year later. Of the five Oscar nominations Sarandon has received throughout her career, she has won one: Best Actress in 1995's Dead Man Walking.

12. BRAD PITT

In 1987, Brad Pitt made a two-episode appearance as Chris, a basketball playing teen, on Another World. Later that year, he landed a meatier recurring role on the primetime soap Dallas. Brad Pitt eventually gained Hollywood stardom as J.D. in Thelma & Louise in 1991 and a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for his performance as the deranged Jeffrey Goines in 12 Monkeys in 1996. Of his five Oscar nominations, Pitt has only one once—in 2014 for Best Picture as a producer of 12 Years a Slave

13. MORGAN FREEMAN

During the early 1980s, Morgan Freeman appeared on two daytime soap operas before taking up a career in movies. In 1981, he played Cicero Murphy on Ryan’s Hope. The following year, he landed the role of Dr. Roy Bingham on Another World, where he remained for two years. Throughout his career, Freeman has been nominated for five Academy Awards; in 2005, he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for Million Dollar Baby.

14. KATHY BATES

In 1977, Kathy Bates made her TV debut on The Doctors. In 1984, she appeared on All My Children as Erica Kane’s (Susan Lucci) cellmate Belle Bodelle. Though her stint on the latter was short, her story arc as a frightening and crazy prison inmate was memorable among fans—and might very well have prepared her for her Oscar-winning turn as Annie Wilkes in 1990's Misery.

15. ALEC BALDWIN

Before he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in The Cooler in 2003, Alec Baldwin started his professional acting career on the daytime soap The Doctors in 1980. He played Billy Aldrich, a character who was killed by two separate men, unbeknownst to each other, at the same time. Baldwin left The Doctors in 1982 and in 1984 landed a recurring role on the primetime soap Knots Landing.

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

10 Surprising Facts About Wham!’s 'Last Christmas'

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Michael Putland/Getty Images

Over the course of his illustrious career, George Michael gave the world many gifts. One that keeps on giving is “Last Christmas,” the 1984 holiday classic by Wham!, Michael's pop duo with Andrew Ridgeley. “Last Christmas” is such a uniquely beloved song that it inspired a 2019 film of the same name. That’s just one interesting part of the “Last Christmas” story. Read on for 10 fascinating facts about this seasonal synth-pop favorite.

1. George Michael wrote "Last Christmas" in his childhood bedroom.

“Last Christmas” was born one day in 1984 when George Michael and Wham! bandmate Andrew Ridgeley were visiting Michael’s parents. While they were sitting around watching TV, Michael suddenly dashed upstairs to his childhood bedroom and composed the modern Xmas classic in about an hour. “George had performed musical alchemy, distilling the essence of Christmas into music,” Ridgeley said. “Adding a lyric which told the tale of betrayed love was a masterstroke and, as he did so often, he touched hearts."

2. “Last Christmas” isn’t really a Christmas song.

There’s nothing in “Last Christmas” about Santa, reindeer, trees, snow, or anything we typically associate with the holiday. Rather, the song is about a failed romance that just happens to have begun on December 25, when Michael gave someone his heart, and ended on December 26, when this ungrateful person “gave it away.”

3. George Michael wrote and produced the song—but that’s not all.

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By the time Wham! recorded “Last Christmas” in August (yes, August) 1984, Michael had taken full control of the group. In addition to writing and producing the song, Michael insisted on playing the Roland Juno-60 synth in the studio. “George wasn’t a musician,” engineer Chris Porter said. “It was a laborious process, because he was literally playing the keyboards with two or three fingers.” Michael even jangled those sweet sleigh bells himself.

4. “Last Christmas” didn’t reach #1 on the UK charts.

As the movie Love Actually reminds us, scoring a Christmas #1 in the UK is a really big deal. Unfortunately, “Last Christmas” didn’t give Wham! that honor. It stalled at #2, and to this day it has the distinction of being the highest-selling UK single of all time to not reach #1.

5. George Michael sang on the song that kept “Last Christmas” at #2.

“Last Christmas” was bested on the UK charts by Band Aid’s “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” an all-star charity single benefiting Ethiopian famine relief. Michael sang on “Do They Know It’s Christmas,” and was so committed to the cause that he donated his profits from “Last Christmas” to helping the African nation.

6. George Michael was sued for plagiarism over “Last Christmas.”

In the mid-1980s, the publishing company Dick James Music sued George Michael on behalf of the writers of “Can’t Smile Without You,” a schmaltzy love song recorded by The Carpenters and Barry Manilow, among others. According to Chris Porter, the recording engineer on “Last Christmas,” the suit was dismissed after a musicologist presented 60-plus songs that have a similar chord progression and melody.

7. "Last Christmas" has been covered by a lot of other artists.

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Jimmy Eat World, Hilary Duff, Good Charlotte, Ariana Grande, Carly Rae Jepsen, Gwen Stefani, and Taylor Swift are just a few of the artists who’ve covered “Last Christmas” over the years. The strangest rendition may be the 2006 dance version by the Swedish CGI character Crazy Frog, which reached #16 on the UK charts.

8. Some people make a concerted effort to avoid hearing “Last Christmas.”

While millions of people delight in hearing “Last Christmas” every year, an internet game called Whamageddon encourages players to avoid the song from December 1 to 24. The rules are simple: Once you hear the original Wham! version of “Last Christmas” (remixes and covers don’t count), you’re out. You then admit defeat on social media with the hashtag #Whamageddon and wait for your friends to suffer the same fate. Note: The rules prohibit you from “deliberately sending your friends to Whamhalla.”

9. “Last Christmas” finally charted in America following George Michael’s death in 2016.

Back in 1984, “Last Christmas” wasn’t released as a commercial single in the United States, and therefore it wasn’t eligible for the Billboard Hot 100 chart. However, Billboard changed its rules in 1998, and in the wake of George Michael’s unexpected death on Christmas Day 2016, the song finally made its Hot 100 debut. In December 2018, it reentered the charts and peaked at #25.

10. George Michael was involved in 2019's Last Christmas movie.

November 2019 saw the release of Paul Feig's Last Christmas, a romantic comedy inspired by the song starring Game of Thrones's Emilia Clarke. Producer David Livingstone came up with the idea while George Michael was still alive, and when he pitched the pop star on the project, he was given the greenlight—with one condition: Michael stipulated that actress and author Emma Thompson write the movie. Thompson co-authored the story and the screenplay, and she even wound up playing a supporting role.