Even Hollywood’s most celebrated actors had to pay their dues—sometimes by starring in a zit cream commercial. Here are 20 early roles of this year’s Academy Award-nominated actors.
1. MATT DAMON
In 1988, at the age of 18, Matt Damon—who won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1998 for Good Will Hunting—made his feature film debut as a dopey rich kid in Mystic Pizza.
2. JENNIFER LAWRENCE
At age 16, Jennifer Lawrence got her start by playing the mascot for a high school basketball team in a 2006 episode of Monk. Though she donned a lion costume for the bulk of the appearance, she did manage a few seconds of face time toward the end of the episode.
3. LEONARDO DICAPRIO
In 1989, Leonardo DiCaprio made his television debut on The New Lassie. He played Glen, a BMX-riding kid in two episodes.
4. CATE BLANCHETT
Before she became one of the most celebrated actresses of our time, Cate Blanchett began her impressive career on the Australian primetime drama Police Rescue in 1993. The future Oscar winner appeared as Mrs. Haines in one episode before joining the cast of the Australian mini-series Heartland one year later.
5. TOM HARDY
Tom Hardy made his on-screen debut playing Private John A. Janovec in two episodes of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' 2001 miniseries, Band of Brothers. Later that same year, Hardy had a small role in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down.
6. BRIE LARSON
's Brie Larson made her television debut on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as a Girl Scout in two comedy segments that aired in November of 1998. In 2003, Larson landed her first starring role, in the Disney Channel movie Right on Track; she played Courtney Enders, a young girl who wants to get into junior drag racing with her sister.
7. MICHAEL FASSBENDER
Michael Fassbender made his television debut in the second season of the BBC One drama Hearts and Bones in 2001. He played a love interest, “Hermann the German,” for a three-episode stretch. Like Tom Hardy, Fassbender's big break came later that year when he appeared in seven episodes of Band of Brothers.
8. ROONEY MARA
Rooney Mara got her start in movies completely by accident. While visiting her sister, Kate Mara, on the set of the straight-to-DVD horror sequel Urban Legends: Bloody Mary in 2005, the director needed people to fill up a classroom scene. Although Rooney had no interest in being in the movie, Kate volunteered her reluctant sister, which led to her debut performance as "Classroom Girl #1."
9. SYLVESTER STALLONE
In 1970, Sylvester Stallone made his feature film debut in The Party at Kitty and Stud's, which subsequently became known as Italian Stallion. He played the titular Stud in the softcore adult film when he was starting out as an actor in New York City. Stallone only agreed to star in the movie as a last resort, as the 24-year-old was in danger of being evicted from his apartment.
"It was either do that movie or rob someone because I was at the end—at the very end—of my rope,” Stallone told Playboy in 1978. “Instead of doing something desperate, I worked two days for $200 and got myself out of the bus station."
10. SAOIRSE RONAN
In 2003, when she was nine years old, Saoirse Ronan had a recurring role on the Irish primetime medical drama The Clinic. She played the character Rhiannon Geraghty in four episodes over the course of two seasons.
11. EDDIE REDMAYNE
After beginning his career on the stage in London, last year's Best Actor (who's nominated again this year for The Danish Girl) Eddie Redmayne made his television debut on the young adult TV series Animal Ark in 1998. He made his big-screen debut opposite Toni Collette in 2006's Like Minds.
12. JENNIFER JASON LEIGH
At age 14, Jennifer Jason Leigh made her television debut during the third season of the detective television series Baretta in 1977. She played Marcie, a banker’s drug-addicted daughter. She also had an uncredited role in the 1976 movie The Spy Who Never Was as "Girl Playing with a Rubber Ball," though audiences never got to see her face.
13. CHRISTIAN BALE
At age 12, Christian Bale played a young Alexei Nikolaevich, the only son of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, in the 1986 made-for-TV movie Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna. The following year marked his breakout role as the lead in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun.
14. RACHEL MCADAMS
In 2001, a 23-year-old Rachel McAdams made her TV debut as "Beth Swanson" in the pilot for Shotgun Love Dolls on MTV. The pilot episode followed the adventures of Beth, an ordinary teenager who wakes up one morning to find herself in an alternate universe where she’s the newest member of an all-girl crime fighting team. Needless to say, it didn't get picked up for a full season. Fun Fact: Shotgun Love Dolls also marked an early role for Malin Åkerman, who played Rock Candy.
15. BRYAN CRANSTON
Bryan Cranston’s earliest credited role was on Lifetime's anthology drama Crisis Counselor in 1982. He played Sam, a bisexual man who gets caught cheating on his pregnant wife.
16. CHARLOTTE RAMPLING
In 1964, Charlotte Rampling made an uncredited appearance as a nightclub dancer in A Hard Day’s Night for director Richard Lester. The following year, she made another uncredited appearance—this time as "Water Skier"—in The Knack ... and How to Get It, also for Lester.
17. MARK RUFFALO
In 1989, a 22-year-old Mark Ruffalo starred in a Clearasil Double Clear commercial. Later in the year, he appeared in the anthology series CBS Summer Playhouse as Michael Dunne, the son of a New York columnist, in the episode titled “American Nuclear.” The series aired during the summer and featured unsold TV pilots in the hopes of getting picked up for series. Television viewers would call a 1-800-number to pick their favorites for CBS’ fall lineup.
18. KATE WINSLET
Although she made a small appearance on a TV show called Shrinks in 1991, Kate Winslet made her major television debut on the British sci-fi series Dark Season at age 16 later in the year. Winslet played the character Reet for six episodes, including the pilot. In 1994, she made her movie debut opposite Melanie Lynskey in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures.
19. MARK RYLANCE
Bridge of Spies
' Mark Rylance, a first-time Oscar nominee, made his television debut in the two-part, made-for-TV movie Wallenberg: A Hero's Story in 1985. A 25-year-old Rylance played the character of Nikki Fodor in the Emmy Award-winning Holocaust film.
20. ALICIA VIKANDER
At age 13, Alicia Vikander appeared in the 2002 TV movie Min balsamerade mor (My Embalmed Mother) for Swedish television.