Origins:50 Hollywood Stars who started off in television shows #AtoZChallenge

Dr Roshan Radhakrishnan
For me, there is one major reason why I appreciate Hollywood over Bollywood and it is an observation I first made as a child. Two decades later, sadly the same persists.

It is simply that in Bollywood, talent often gets pushed aside in favour of family backing and looks. You very rarely get to see or hear stories of people starting off as television actors going on to make it huge in Bollywood. Take away Shahrukh, Vidya Balan & the highly underrated Madhavan and the list runs dry pretty fast. After that, it is all children/nephews of actors or producers who 'inherited the acting talent.'

In Hollywood, the ratio actually goes the other way. 
You need to prove your talent from the ground level up, be it theatre, Broadway or television. So many of the stars in Hollywood whom you laud today struggled with nothing more than part-time roles in often forgettable television shows. They worked their way up to reach where they are today - Oscar and Emmy award winners.

So which movie stars am I talking about? 
Whom all do you imagine had their ORIGINS FROM TV SHOWS before reaching Hollywood? The list may surprise you.

Pierce Brosnan - Remington Steele

Playing suave and cool came pretty naturally for this future James Bond as he played a crook helping solve crime in this detective show.

Bruce Willis - Moonlighting

I still say this is his best role, even better than Die Hard's John McClane, especially after the last two movies.

Russell Crowe - Neighbours

Fun fact: Neighbours jump started many an Aussie career besides that of our Gladiator Maximum. Others include Jesse Spencer (blonde doctor from House MD) , Liam Hemsworth & Chris Hemsworth, Guy Pearce, Margot Robbie, Natalie Imbruglia & Kylie Minogue.

Mel Gibson - The Sullivans

Ah yes, even Mel needed an Australian soap opera to start his career.

Hugh Jackman - Correlli

Well, Hugh said no to Neighbours, actually! He ended up choosing the far less successful Correlli. It worked for him though - that is where he would meet his future wife.

Will Smith - Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

You knew he would make it big someday after watching this comedy. Guy had talent from a very young age.

Halle Berry - Living Dolls

Out of money and forced to briefly live in a homeless shelter, she lapsed into a coma during shooting of the show Living Dolls due to diabetes.

Joseph Gordon Lewitt - 3rd rock from the sun

Never would have imagined that know-it-all alien would end up as a pivotal icon of the Batman trilogy.

Tom Hanks - Bosom Buddies

As a guy dressed in drag, no less. Seriously. That is where the magic began.

Patrick Stewart - Coronation Street

Can you imagine Professor X landed his first TV role in 1967 and 20 years later was still considered an 'unknown British actor' when he became the captain of the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation?

John Travolta - Welcome Back, Kotter.

Those bell bottoms were meant to be rocked by him.

Leonardo Di Caprio - Parenthood, Santa Barbara, The New Lassie, Growing Pains

After being noticed from tv ads, Mr Inception finally got his first break on television. And he's never looked back ever since.

Clint Eastwood - Rawhide

What kind of show do you suppose he debuted in? Yup, you guessed it. A western!

Mila Kunis & Ashton Kutcher - That 70's Show

It warms my heart to see that two decades later, they found love in each other's arms in real life.

Robin Williams - Mork & Mindy

God bless this man and the number of people he made smile through his pure gift of comic timing. 

Johny Depp - 21 Jump Street

Well sure, he played a five minute role of a young kid who was among the first to be killed in the original 'Nightmare on Elm Street' movie but he finally landed a major role with 21 Jump Street.

Denzel Washington - St Elsewhere

Started of as a doctor. Don't think he ever played a doctor again once Hollywood called.

George Clooney - ER

Ah, goody. Another doctor in the house.

Brad Pitt - Another World, Dallas

When George Clooney is in this list, can his buddy be far away?

Morgan Freeman - Another World, The Electric Company

Like Depp, he has an inconsequential small role in one film prior to finally getting a role which lasted in a television show.

Ryan Reynolds - 2 guys & a Girl

He always had good comic timing. Which is why we forgive him for Green Lantern.

Ryan Gosling - The Mickey Mouse Club

Mind you, this was a star packed cast. You had a young Ryan, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Justin Timberlake on the same show! That's what I call identifying talent young.

Jim Carrey - The Duck Factory.

Darned if I know what that is! 

Helen Hunt - The Mary Tyler Moore show, The Bionic Woman, The Facts of Life, Mad About You

Before she went mainstream, she had quite a few roles to play on television.

Michelle Pfeiffer - Fantasy Island

She was rejected for the role of one of Charlie's Angels. Seriously, who rejects Pfeiffer?

Rebecca Hall - The Chamomile Lawn

She was barely eight when she started off. The Prestige actress has gone far since then.

Micheal Douglas - The Streets of San Francisco

Micheal Douglas started off as an officer of the law in the streets, solving crime week after week before Hollywood called.

Jennifer Garner - Alias

She actually had some other minor roles in television but being part of the spy show Alias finally got her noticed.

Jennifer Lawrence - Monk, Medium

Yes, that is a young Jennifer Lawrence in a bear suit attacking poor Adrian Monk. Oh Adrian!

Jennifer Aniston - Molloy

Yes, the third Jennifer on this list too began on television with the short lived series Molloy.
She used to be a telemarketer and a waitress - just like Rachel in FRIENDS - before that.

Benedict Cumberbatch - Heartbeat

You thought I was going to say Sherlock, weren't you? He's actually been on television for an entire decade prior to that!

Paul Rudd - Sisters

He's been in our television screens for more than twenty five years now. Good to see him make it big (P.S. That was not an Ant-Man joke. I swear!) 

Jack Nicholson - I don't know

No, seriously. I really don't know. His bio notes him as having uncredited television roles before slowly struggling his way up over decades.

And then we have directors like Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott,  Robert Altman, Alan Taylor, Joss Whedon, the Russo brothers, & Edgar Wright (the last 4 have all done duty in the successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, including the 2 Avenger movies & the soon to be released Captain America: Civil War. Looks like Marvel has a type. A very successful type!)

Look at that list one more time. It is a sheer powerhouse of talent. The best of the best.

Just goes to show, that in the end, talent will shine.

To see all the shows  I have talked about till date, please CLICK HERE.

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Let me know what you think.

  1. Moonlighting and Remington Steele were must watch for me every week. I always liked Bruce Willis in Moonlighting than in Die Hard. Wonderful list.

    1. Totally agree... he never got the right role which showcased his awesome comic timing when in Hollywood

  2. There is a channel here called Hits that screens old and new Hit TV sitcoms.... Happened to watch some of these people s television debut there.... Lot of inspiring stories there

    1. So many many inspiring stories of struggle before making it big.. seriously

  3. That's quite a list of Hollywood actors making it big and charming the audience. A hatke post:)

    1. Thanks.. yes, was looking to move things around and not stick to the regular format

  4. Omg! Doc absolutely hats off for compiling this jaw-dropping list! Like you said how different the scenario is in Hollywood in comparison to Bollywood! Some of the names I knew had made the transition from small to big screens, many came as a surprise. Jackman, Clooney, Pitt, Freeman, Hanks were all surprises!
    Great post!
    @KalaRavi16 from

    1. Thanks.. yes, this was a real labour of love. took quite a lot of searching and hunting and confirming facts...

  5. Loved this, especially because I wasn't familiar with all these shows (some may not have been showed in the U.S., where I live). Helen Hunt in Mary Tyler Moore, one of my favorite all time shows? That I will have to look up. Shared this on Facebook and Twitter so my friends could enjoy, too.

    1. I honestly havent seen MTM yet people seem to have a very high opinion from all that I've read on it.. should check it out.
      And thanks for sharing

  6. wow it's really amazing to read how they all started. When I first heard Wolverine sing in Emmy awards and tap dance... I realised how incredibly talented the actors are and how much they have struggled to reach these heights.

    A Whimsical Medley
    Twinkle Eyed Traveller

    1. Exactly... that's a real good example. Many of these actors started off in theatre and then moved up slowly..

  7. I love these little seed-stories! (And also, your recipes! :)

  8. That was a lot of useful information you shared about the Hollywood stars

  9. Amazing list to share I love horror n fiction. Tom cruise is my favourite,n hats off for compiling this amazing list

  10. That's quite a list! I didn't know Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood and Micheal Douglas were TV stars at some time. As for, Jack Nicholson - I think he was born acting! As Good As It Gets is one of my all-time favorite Nicholson movies!

    Modern Gypsy

    1. Jack Nicholson struggled for decades actually before making it big... who would have thought seeing the legend he became.

  11. What an awesome list of these stars. I love Hollywood cos their work is a piece of art. It has a story, brilliant acting and what ever they do it's is much better than the Bollywood drama.

    1. Agreed... they do not overdo it the way Bollywood does and as you can see, they seek out talent

  12. Woah! That is quite a list! Nice compilation Doc. And yes in India your lineage matters more than acting skills.

    1. you have to wonder how many true actors missed out

  13. Such big names in the show but haven't seen it.
    Tina from
    The Sunny SIde of Life
    Twinkling Tina Cooks

    1. We all miss them because they were inconsequential actors at that time

  14. I used to live for Remington Steele in those days! :) I find him the best Bond so far! Pierce Brosnan <3!! :D

    Tom Hanks looks soo cute :D
    Unbelievable the number of people who've started off from television!

    1. Exactly... so many wonderful actors struggled and came through the ranks...

  15. How much research did you do for this one, Doc!

    Seriously though, I agree with what you said about Hollywood stars making their way up, whoever they are. Or should I say whoever their parents are. I used to read bios of random people on wiki (I still do sometimes) and in Hollywood, I noticed everyone's parents had regular, normal jobs. Even if they were famous, the kids didn't get anything on a platter.

    And that pic of kid Ryan Gosling. Awww my heart just melted!

    1. trust me... more research than i would like... searched and went through a lot of bios before finishing this list!

  16. OMG!! Tom Hanks!!!

    And Ryan Gosling. How can someone look so goddamn sexy while being just 12 or 13!

  17. Benedict Cumberbatch was already on TV for a decade before Sherlock? You gotta be kidding me! When I started watching the Hollywood series, I realized they were so much fun and every episode shows the hard work done behind all those times!

    That's quite a list you summed up doctor!


    1. Thanks.. it was hard work, I agree.
      And yes, he's been around since 2002. So many actors struggled for decades before getting a break

  18. That's an exhaustive list. And fascinating too! I love that pic of the young Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera . In fact I loved them all. Can't imagine anyone else other than Bruce Williss as John McClane. Same goes with Will Smith, Johny Depp..oh, I cannot state them all! Well researched!

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