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.