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Watch these 10 Oscar nominees act in roles before they were A-listers

Before they graced our big screens as the A-list actors they’ve become, many of this year’s Oscar-nominated actors and actresses got their starts doing some interesting, sometimes hilarious, things. From cheesy commercials to minor (maybe even breakout) roles on sitcoms, here’s a look at 10 of the 2016 Oscar nominees from their earlier days.

Best Actor nominees

Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Luke Brower on Growing Pains

Before he outstretched his arms on the Titanic and won the hearts of women everywhere as a bona fide leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio, nominated for Best Actor for his role in The Revenant, had a recurring role on ‘80s and ‘90s family sitcom, Growing Pains. On the show, which starred Kirk and Candice Cameron (Fuller House), Tracey Gold, Alan Thicke, and Joanna Kerns, DiCaprio played a homeless boy taken in by the family. Shortly after, he snagged a lead role in This Boy’s Life with Robert De Niro, then captured Hollywood’s attention as a mentally handicapped boy in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, opposite Johnny Depp. The rest, as they say, is history. As we reminisce, check out a young and innocent DiCaprio in a scene from the sitcom that started it all.

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Dr. Tim Whatley, DDS on Seinfeld

Many of you already know about Bryan Cranston’s lead role as goofy patriarch Hal on early ‘00s sitcom, Malcolm in the Middle. The role for which he’s best known today – Walter White on Breaking Bad – is a much different dad than we saw portrayed through that comedy series’ six-year run. But did you also know Cranston appeared on another highly popular sitcom, even before Malcolm in the Middle? The versatile actor had a recurring role as Jerry Seinfeld’s dentist, Dr. Tim Whatley, on Seinfeld from 1994 through to 1997. Don’t believe us? Have a look at this clip from season six. Those comedic roles are a long way from bringing gangsters to their knees with one look as “Heisenberg,” a testament to his acting chops. In this latest nominated role, Cranston takes an even more dramatic turn, playing a popular Hollywood Communist screenwriter who ends up in jail and blacklisted.

Matt Damon, The Martian

Steamer Windsor in Mystic Pizza

We won’t bore you with the obvious: Matt Damon had a starring role in the film Good Will Hunting, which he also wrote alongside best friend Ben Affleck. Everyone knows that. But we bet you didn’t know that the actor, who’s nominated for Best Actor for his role in The Martian, had a one-line role in ‘80s coming-of-age cult classic film, Mystic Pizza, which starred a young Julia Roberts. Check out a clip below to see the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment where the actor got some insignificant screen time before becoming one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood.

Best Supporting Actor nominees

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

1989 Clearasil commercial

Today, he’s nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Spotlight. And that’s only the latest in a long string of recent Hollywood successes, including The Avengers and The Avengers: Age of Ultron, in which he plays Dr. Bruce Banner (a.k.a. The Hulk), Shutter Island, and Foxcatcher, to name a few. But back in 1989, a then 22-year-old Ruffalo was just a struggling, aspiring actor who took a gig for a Clearasil commercial in hopes of one day becoming a star. The clip was resurrected from obscurity during a recent appearance on The Tonight Show, where Ruffalo told host Jimmy Fallon that he got the gig because the director told him he “seemed like he came right off the street, like he didn’t know how to act at all.” Boy, were they wrong.

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Patrick Bateman in American Psycho

Many already know Christian Bale — nominated for Best Supporting Actor for The Big Short — for his role as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Or maybe you know him from 2013’s American Hustle. But one of his most impactful, earlier roles was playing the chilling investment banker/serial killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho in 1999. Did you know that the role almost went to his fellow nominee, DiCaprio? While both are stellar actors, we can’t quite picture anyone but Bale in scenes like the charming, yet terrifying one depicted here.

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

Contestant in The Big Breakfast modeling competition

Nominated for Best Supporting Actor in The Revenant, Tom Hardy and his buff body have been in a string of hot movies over the past decade, including RocknRolla, The Dark Knight Rises (as Bane), Inception, and Mad Max: Fury Road. But did you know that he, like many actors, was a model before he broke it big in Hollywood? The London-born 38-year-old even won a modeling competition called The Big Breakfast back in 1998 when he was just a lanky, long-haired, but clearly ambitious, 22-year-old. Check out him strutting his stuff in this clip, and telling the audience who his ideal modeling partner would be (spoiler: he actually picks two!)

Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Youth in Park in The Prisoner of Second Avenue

Before he was Rocky, Rambo, and overall action star extraordinaire, Sylvester Stallone reportedly started out in soft core porn. Wait, what? Don’t worry: we won’t include any clips from that reported gig (the movie was called The Party at Kitty and Stud’s and yes, he played Stud.) But also worth noting is that the Best Supporting Actor nominee for Creed moved up slowly but surely with a number of minor roles, both credited and uncredited. He finally got his big break in 1976 after writing the script for Rocky and successfully getting it made with himself in the starring role. As we all know, the story turned into one of the most iconic film franchises of our time. But, just a year before Stallone put pen to paper to create the fictional boxing legend, he had a bit part in the movie The Prisoner of Second Avenue, playing a passer-by on the street accused of stealing Jack Lemmon’s character’s wallet. And, well, hilarity ensues.

Best Supporting Actress nominees

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Stacy Hamilton in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

If you fall into the “millennial” category (i.e. born between 1982 and 1996), you probably know Jennifer Jason Leigh, nominated for Best Supporting Actress for The Hateful Eight, as the voice of Lisa in stop-motion film Anomalisa, for her recurring role in Weeds, or even films as far back as 1992, when she played the lead in thriller Single White Female. But in the ‘80s, the actress had a breakout role as Stacy Hamilton in the iconic teen movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High. That film, by the way, also featured another breakout star, and past Oscar winner, Sean Penn. (Note, you might find this clip slightly NSFW).

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

Kate McNab on Slings and Arrows

Thirty-seven-year-old Canadian actress Rachel McAdams is a chick-flick queen thanks to her roles in movies like The Notebook and Mean Girls. But the Oscar-nominee for Best Supporting Actress for Spotlight did some work on Canadian television before getting her big breaks in Hollywood. She even won a Genie Award for her role in 2003 comedy mini-series Slings and Arrows, about a theatre event called the New Burbage Festival, its actors, and a man struggling to bring it back to success. McAdams plays an apprentice actress; here she is in a scene from the show where she’s auditioning for a role.

Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Juliet Hulme in Heavenly Creatures

Based on this clip from her role in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures from way back in 1992, Kate Winslet isn’t just an immensely talented actress, but she also has a set of killer pipes. The Best Supporting Actress nominee for Steve Jobs belted out an a capella version of Sono Andati, an aria from La Boheme, in the movie. Her rendition, in fact, even made it to the film’s soundtrack. Three years later, her life would be forever changed, and she and DiCaprio forever linked by the acting gods, when she snagged the lead role of Rose in Titanic. And her star has been on the rise ever since: Winslet now has an impressive grand total of seven Oscar nominations to her name.

The 88th annual Academy Awards will air on Sunday, February 28 at 8:30 p.m. (EST).

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Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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