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10 Actors Who Had Really Weird Jobs before Finding Fame
Hollywood actors who found fame on the large screen or the small one weren’t always famous and successful throughout their entire lives. Well, unless they were child stars, that is. But for the ones who came into acting fame in adulthood—in their 20s and 30s and sometimes even later—they had to find a way to pay the bills and eke out a living before the glitz and glamor of Tinseltown called them. For many of them, they had to continue to find a way to scrap and hustle and survive even as they started getting low-paying, predictable, forgettable gigs within the entertainment industry.
This list is all about those jobs. In the following ten entries, we’ll explore the lives of actors before fame. Specifically, we’ll reveal what ten very famous A-list stars did to make ends meet before they got their big breaks in Los Angeles, New York, and beyond. The money may roll in easily for these ten actors nowadays, but it wasn’t always like that. As you’ll see when you read on, back in the day, they had to do some pretty weird stuff to keep their proverbial heads above water!
10 Brad Pitt
Before Brad Pitt made it big in Thelma & Louise and a host of other iconic roles on the silver screen, he was a chicken restaurant mascot. Wait, what? Did you read that right? Did we write that right? We did, indeed!
When Pitt was a young man desperately trying to fight through the maze of Hollywood’s audition process and casting decisions, he still needed to pay the bills and keep food in his tummy. So he turned to a fast food joint to make some consistent cash. And even though the job was a bit embarrassing, it gave him what he needed: a wage and time to practice his lines on the side.
For Pitt, the job was as stupid as being a mascot truly sounds: He worked for El Pollo Loco franchises in the Los Angeles area and dressed up as a chicken to get people excited about eating their food. El Pollo Loco is everywhere around L.A., so it’s no wonder Pitt was able to get a job there.
And ironically, it actually taught him a little bit about performing, too: That is, the need to fully commit to a role and sell yourself to your audience, whether it’s a serious gig on the big screen or a dumb side job as a chicken mascot.
9 Johnny Depp
Before reaching worldwide levels of fame and acclaim in Edward Scissorhands, Pirates of the Caribbean, and a million more movies, Johnny Depp was an unknown telemarketer. He had many weird jobs and forgettable gigs growing up in Kentucky. Soon after, he moved to Hollywood to try to make it big.
But the strangest job was as a telemarketing rep for a pen company. In that gig, he had to try to sell special pens to strangers over the phone. There were just two problems with the job: (1) Johnny was absolutely awful at it, and (2) he felt guilty that he was forcing people into what he thought was a scam.
“I marketed pens on the phone,” he recalled once in an interview years later about that pre-fame job. “But the beauty of the gig was that you had to call these strangers and say, ‘Hi, how ya doing?’ You made up a name, like, ‘Hey, it’s Edward Quartermaine from California. You’re eligible to receive this grandfather clock or a trip to Tahiti.’ You promise them all these things if they buy a gross of pens. It was just awful.”
Awful, indeed—but it also worked in Johnny’s favor. Because he made up names and backstories for himself like he was “Edward from California,” the actor got practice thinking quickly on the spot and creating false narratives, random character backstories, and all kinds of ideas about his made-up “identity.”
There’s no question all that helped him when it came time for a director to say “action!” Oh, and as a telemarketer? Depp only ever made one sale—and he was so embarrassed and ashamed at it that he immediately begged the customer to back out of the deal and pull out of the pen purchase.
8 Christopher Walken
Christopher Walken is known for taking on weird roles in Hollywood. Even in seemingly normal roles, he has a certain unspeakable quality about the delivery of his lines and the looks on his face that allow him to make things weird, fascinating, and mesmerizing. So it would make sense that he had a really strange job long before he ever became famous.
When he was 16 years old, Walken joined a traveling circus and became a lion tamer! This would have been in about 1959, when the New York City-born Walken left home, dropped out of school, and went off to find work taming some of the most notorious felines in the world. He was assigned to a lioness named Sheba, and he quickly got the hang of working with her while the circus traveled around to various cities.
“I didn’t run away; I just got a job as a trainee lion tamer,” Walken said of his unlikely gig years later. “Who’s going to turn that down? I would come into the cage and wave my whip, and she’d lazily get up and sit like a dog and maybe give a little roar. I like cats a lot. I’ve always liked cats. They’re great company.”
Maybe they were, but even though he remembers that time fondly, he didn’t stick around for long. After months on the lion-taming circuit with the traveling circus crew, Walken walked away. He attended Hofstra University back on Long Island for a little while. Then, he dropped out and started studying dance and acting. Eventually, he graduated into consistent roles in film and television—and the rest is history!
7 Hugh Jackman
Before he became a famous actor known for his role in things like X-Men and his Tony Award-winning skills in live theater, Hugh Jackman got to practice his craft… as a birthday party clown! For a long time as a younger man, Jackman had a quirky and memorable (and, frankly, a little bit degrading) job as a birthday clown.
Jackman would hire himself out to children’s parties and make money while entertaining the kiddos. Now, at first, the job wasn’t so bad. It was honest work, it paid okay, and the very young children that Hugh was booking gigs to entertain were enthralled with his act. He learned to sell himself, entertain, juggle, and more.
“At a three-year-old’s party, I was the best,” he remembered about his talents years later. “I could juggle three things. I could juggle kind of anything, like swords, anything for three, but nothing more.” So, for a while, that went okay. And then he was hired out to start doing older kids’ birthday parties, too—and that didn’t work out as well.
At an eight-year-old’s party, his juggling trick fell flat on its face. Like, literally. Eggs fell to the ground, splattered, and left a pissed-off parent who had to clean up the mess and a very unimpressed older kid who wasn’t wowed by Hugh’s infant-focused routine. Thankfully, Jackman turned out to have a second (and far more lucrative) career waiting in the wings!
6 Matthew McConaughey
Alright, alright, alright… let’s clean out some chicken coops! When Matthew McConaughey was a young man studying law (at first) and then film, he won a Rotary scholarship that allowed him to travel somewhere around the world. He picked Australia and somehow wound up in a very small town called Warnerville that’s nestled in the middle of nowhere along the central coast of New South Wales.
There, McConaughey got a job supporting himself by cleaning chicken coops. It was a rural place, and nearly everybody in town had a farm or worked on one, so it made sense that McConaughey had to (literally) get his hands (very) dirty to fit in. And fit in, he did! Well enough that his year of cleaning chicken coops gave him enough money to surf on peaceful local beaches and chill out in the great outdoors in his free time.
Years later, McConaughey remembered his time cleaning out chicken coops in Australia very fondly—and in a manner now trademarked with his distinctive speech patterns and patented drawl. “Population 395,” he recalled of his year in Warnerville. “In the sticks, man. But I was cool with that. It was a very life-changing year because I was removed from all the crutches that I had in my life. I depended on myself—stumbled, fell, and survived. It was a great year getting to know myself. … I’m an extrovert, and it was a very introverted year, and it has a lot to do with what I am right now—one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
5 Whoopi Goldberg
Before she became famous for movies like Ghost, Sister Act, and its sequel—and decades before she transitioned to become the mainstay host helming The View nearly every single daytime TV morning—Whoopi Goldberg liked to play with dead people.
Okay, that’s not quite a fair characterization. Instead, we should say that she liked to play with their makeup! See, in her younger years, Whoopi became a licensed beautician. She had gone to beauty school, studied all the things she had to learn, taken the exams, and successfully licensed herself. And she was good at it!
But one day, she needed a job, and no beauty salons in her area were hiring. One place was, though: a funeral home. And they needed a mortuary beautician to put makeup on dead people in preparation for heartfelt and mournful family funerals. Needing to pay her bills, Whoopi jumped at the job. “I did hair and makeup on dead people,” Whoopi once casually explained in a 2015 video about her early life. “There was an ad in the paper! And I’m a licensed beautician as well because I went to beauty school.”
That said, working in a funeral home isn’t for everyone. And working specifically with dead people all day really, really isn’t for everyone. It takes a special kind of person to feel around in that tricky situation. “It’s a rough gig,” Whoopi remembered with the benefit of perspective—and fame. “You have to be a certain kind of person. And you have to love people in order to make them worthy of a great send-off.”
4 Angelina Jolie
When Angelina Jolie was a young woman, she dreamed of wanting to be one thing more than anything else in the world. That’s right. She wanted to be a… funeral director. Wait, what?! The world-famous actress and human rights activist actually got her start feeling the deepest depths of empathy because of an unfortunate funeral situation that she experienced as a young woman.
When her beloved grandfather died, pre-fame Angelina and her family were very upset with how the funeral was carried out. They felt that his memory wasn’t honored in the manner in which they were hoping for. They were also left miffed at the funeral industry as a whole. And so, she quickly sprung into action with thoughts of doing it differently.
In a 2011 interview with Bob Simon for 60 Minutes, the A-list actress recalled how bizarre it seems now to think of her becoming a funeral director. “It sounds like this very strange, eccentric, dark thing to do,” she said to Simon in the understatement of the year. And yet the unfulfilling funeral of her grandfather stuck with her for a long, long time.
“I was very upset with his funeral,” she also recalled in the interview. She went around asking family members if she could get funds to start a funeral business and completely alter how death is addressed in the modern age. “If this acting thing didn’t work out, that was going to be my backup,” she concluded to Simon in the sit-down. You know, technically, there’s still time for her to reach her dream!
3 Sean Connery
Let’s keep the theme going with death and the afterlife as a place for jobs of future stars for at least one more celeb on this list, shall we? The A-lister in question this time around is none other than one of the most famous James Bond leads of all time: Sean Connery.
Way back in the day, when Connery was a much younger man, he worked at a funeral service spot in Haddington, Scotland. A man named Ronald Stark and his uncle ran a few businesses out of that spot, including a woodworking shop, a wagon manufacturing plant, and a coffin and mortuary service. Sean fit in perfectly with that last gig and had a successful job for a while polishing, cleaning, and bleaching coffins!
Recalling in a newspaper interview years later about what that job was like, Connery first credited his boss with being able to, uh, “fit” people for coffins in a very efficient way. “[Mr. Stark] had an uncanny ability to visually size-up clients for their coffins,” Connery recalled. So, that’s creepy! The newspaper article went on to reveal how Stark’s coffin shop conned the living, mourning relatives of the recently deceased into maybe paying a bit more for their coffins than they should have.
“Mr. Connery also revealed that during his time as a coffin polisher, he had regularly bleached mahogany coffins to make them look like oak,” the paper reported. Of course, Connery himself died in late 2020, just a few months after his 90th birthday. Did he fall for the same bleached mahogany trick he’d foisted upon others decades before?
2 Danny DeVito
And we’ll continue the coffin-themed deathly reveals of past celebrity jobs with yet another funeral-related gig! This time around, it’s actor Danny DeVito. He may still be a beloved actor in his old age, and he may have had many an iconic role in a million different movies and television shows (and, uh, perhaps a Jersey Mike’s commercial or two), but one of his earliest jobs was as a hairdresser at a morgue!
In December 2022, DeVito appeared on the “Always Sunny” podcast along with several of his fellow cast members from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. While chatting on the show, he casually recalled how he used to serve as a hairdresser for dead women before breaking into the world of fame and fortune.
The gig started innocently enough. At the time, DeVito had a knack for beauty and some training in how to style hair. One thing led to another, and a hairstyling client of his passed away one day. The family had long loved how he cut her hair, so they asked DeVito if he might be able to style her hair for her funeral and the afterlife. He agreed to do so out of love and respect for his late client.
That was such a hit, then, that other hair clients heard about it and started asking through the grapevine if he could do more. “Consequently,” DeVito explained matter-of-factly on the late 2022 podcast, “I did several.” Creepy!
1 Jim Carrey
It’s very difficult to imagine Jim Carrey doing anything other than acting. The comedian-slash-film star has been making the world laugh for decades now. He is an incredible performer who commits fully to every single role and has a knack for doing voices, faces, impressions, and more—with perfect comedic timing to boot. But while Carrey was always funny, even as a young boy growing up in and around Toronto in the 1960s and 1970s, he wasn’t always on the fast track to stardom.
In 1978, at just 16 years old, Carrey was forced to leave school to help his impoverished family support themselves. Striking out on his own to find a way to make money, the Liar, Liar actor lived in a tent at one point. And for more than two years, he made money working as a janitor in a factory.
That’s right—the man behind The Mask, Ace Ventura, and a million other funny things spent day after day after day cleaning out toilets and sinks and urinals for more than two years of his life. Concurrently, though, he was honing his stand-up act. In 1979, he started doing comedy in Toronto-area clubs. By the end of 1980, he was finally able to make a good enough living doing it that he could quit his janitorial job. Not a moment too soon on that one, if you ask us!