Actors Discovered Doing A Completely Different Job

There's a well-worn cliché for how actors get discovered: They move to the big city with a suitcase full of dreams and a dollar in their pocket. They pay their dues until landing that first big break, and for many, that break never comes. But there are some major exceptions to the rule. Yes, every now and then, fame knocks on someone's door when they weren't expecting company.

From factory work to carpentry, and bussing tables to driving strippers, the following stars never expected to work a red carpet. Let's toast those ultra-rare actors who were plucked from their menial jobs and plunged right into the fame game. Who are they, and what unlikely path led these men and women to Tinseltown? 

Waiter-slash-actors, take note.

Ellen Pompeo poured cocktails at a New York bar

By any measure, actress Ellen Pompeo has done well for herself. In January 2018, she inked a two-year deal with ABC Studios, becoming the highest-paid actress on a television drama. (Take that, Emilia Clarke!) According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Grey's Anatomy star rakes in more than $20 million dollars a year, earning a gasp-worthy $575,000 per episode. "I'm 48 now," she told THR, "so I've finally gotten to the place where I'm okay asking for what I deserve."

That's an impressive turn of events for this former bartender, who toiled for years at the Soho Kitchen Bar and Grille. In 2005, Pompeo told Diane Sawyer she'd always wanted to pursue acting, but "didn't know how to go about it. And it came to me!" One night, a customer stumbled into the bar and told Pompeo she was a casting director at L'oreal. "Actually, I thought she was trying to pick me up at first," Pompeo admitted. "I'm always very, very leery. And she wasn't!"

Pompeo was immediately sent out on auditions. "And then I started getting work," she told Backstage in 2016. "It was a little backward for me. I was doing my survival job, but I wasn't really trying to act. I was thinking about trying to get into something more sensible. [Acting] found me. The signs were there that that's what I was meant to do."

Between Chris Pratt and Pompeo, we're starting to think there's something behind this whole waiter/actor paradigm. Thoughts?

​Steven Seagal taught aikido classes

Laugh at his acting chops all you want. It's Steven Seagal's karate chops that turned him into one of the '80s and '90s most ubiquitous action heroes. According to People, Seagal met notorious Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz while teaching aikido out of his dojo in West Hollywood. "I'm like a guru to him," Seagal told the Los Angeles Times in 1988.

The 6'4" giant had absolutely no acting experience, but that didn't faze the agent. According to former Warner Bros. President Terry Semel, "[Orvitz would] constantly say to me, 'Think of this guy.'"

At their surreal first meeting, Seagal reportedly dressed in a full aikido uniform and demonstrated his most dazzling catlike maneuvers. He said of that day: "When I met with [them], they told me, 'We'd like to make you part of the family here.'" 

When his blockbuster debut, Above The Law, hit theaters in 1988, Hollywood heavy hitters wasted no time hyping Seagal as the next Sylvester Stallone. "As soon as I saw Steven, I knew that, given the right vehicle, he could become a major star," gushed CAA agent Tony Ludgow. "Steven is smooth, powerful, and has this don't-mess-with-me presence. It's almost as if he's a manufactured human being."

Isn't it?

​Marilyn Monroe toiled in a munitions factory​

From the Department of "Anything Is Possible:" Marilyn Monroe, generally considered the most glamorous entertainer of all time, was discovered in a dingy California factory. On June 26th, 1945, Army photographer, Pvt. David Conover, received orders from his commanding officer (a certain Capt. Ronald Reagan) to capture women working the assembly line at the Radioplane Munitions Factory. 

"I came to a pretty girl putting on propellers and raised the camera to my eye," Conover wrote in his 1981 memoir, Finding Marilyn. "She had curly ash blonde hair and her face was smudged with dirt. I snapped her picture and walked on. Then I stopped, stunned. She was beautiful. Half child, half woman, her eyes held something that touched and intrigued me."

Well, those propellers propelled Monroe to stardom. At Conover's behest, his protégé quit factory work and approached a modeling agency. According to the New York Daily News, the agency hired her in 1945, and by 1946, she had a whopping 33 credits to her name by 1946. 

"I've always thought that Conover was the key figure in the transformation of Norma Jeanne into Marilyn," said Carl Rollyson, author of Marilyn Monroe: A Life of the Actress. "I think he was the first professional photographer, professional anything, to tell her she had a future as a model and actress. I think he unlocked something in her that had been waiting to be released."

Channing Tatum stripped for dirty dollars

After dropping out of Glendale State College, 19-year-old Channing Tatum worked a number of thankless jobs, including laying bricks and selling mortgages by phone. To keep things interesting, he abandoned the mainstream altogether, joining an all-male stripping revue under the stage name Chan Crawford

"I don't miss anything about stripping," he Magic Mike star People in 2017, recalling his G-stringed nights at a grotty club called Joy. "I stripped in Tampa for like 25 girls at best. It wasn't glamorous whatsoever." Talking to The Hollywood Reporter, Tatum confessed a good night usually meant earning "150 bucks." 

Strangely enough, Tatum's upward trajectory can be largely attributed to a mysterious "sketchy dude" who'd come watch him flop around in a canary-yellow thong. According to GQ, this "sketchy dude" took Tatum aside one night and said he should consider a career in modeling. Most people would've taken this as a tired pickup line, but Tatum isn't most people. He took the advice to heart and quickly scored a Pepsi commercial

His leading role in the 2006 dance spectacular Step Up followed. No wonder Tatum didn't mind when footage from his stripping days surfaced in 2009. "I had wanted to tell people," he admitted to GQ. "I'm not ashamed of it. I don't regret one thing."

Somewhere out there, some sketchy dude must be proud.

Pamela Anderson was a fitness instructor

Never one to stay in the shadows, Pamela Anderson had a brush with fame at the exact moment she was born. According to the Los Angeles Times, she made her Earthly premiere on July 1, 1967, at 4:08 a.m., thus becoming the first child born on Canada's 100th Anniversary. The country collectively wigged, decreeing Anderson "The Centennial Baby." Not wanting to rest on her laurels, a 6-year-old Anderson pursued modeling, scoring a popular library poster cheerfully encouraging kids to read. But greener pastures beckoned...

How many acting careers have been launched via Jumbotron? By our count, only one. While employed as a fitness instructor, a 22-year-old Anderson was attending a B.C. Lions game when her gateway to fame fell open. It all started when an enterprising stagehand flashed her visage on the stadium screen. Wearing a strategically-scissored Labatt's Beer tee, she made quite the impression. Reps at Labatt's took notice, and immediately hired her as a spokesmodel.

"My career only took off because of one football game," she told the Daily Mail in 2008. "Playboy called and offered me a cover just like that. I thought it was funny. ... Then I moved to LA and I haven't looked back." 

The takeaway? Success is all about being in the right place at the right time, and in the right clingy top.

Josh Duhamel was a model employee –– in the mailroom

If Josh Duhamel writes a memoir, he should consider the title From Mailroom to Multiplex. After following a girlfriend to Los Angeles in 1998, the North Dakota native had a tough time making ends meet. "For about two years, I did modeling," he told Backstage in 2004. "I didn't make a lot of money doing it." 

Lady Fortune smiled down on Duhamel the day he met Jim Vytlacil, a mailroom clerk at Don Buchwald and Associates Talent Agency. Vytlacil asked if he wanted to make some dough by stuffing head shots into envelopes and distributing them throughout the agency.

"I did it," Duhamel told Backstage, "and one day one of the agents asked me if I wanted to be an actor. I said yes, thinking it's got to be easy and not realizing how much work it actually took. So they started sending me out." Duhamel endured several awkward auditions, and agents starting losing faith. "I felt like crawling underneath the couch," he said of one particularly painful experience. Refusing to give up, he obsessively studied actors such as Jack Lemmon to "figure out what separated the good ones from the bad." 

His determination paid off: Duhamel eventually landed the plum role of Leo du Pres on All My Children, earning a Daytime Emmy Award in 2002. It's a truly inspiring story that almost makes up for Transformers: The Last Knight.

​Without George Lucas, Harrison Ford would still be a woodworker

If Harrison Ford seems grumpy, it might be because he never asked for this. Though he'd taken on a few bit roles — appearing in Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation and George Lucas' American Graffiti — Ford was happily employed as a carpenter when the role of a lifetime fell in his lap. 

"I had helped George Lucas audition other actors for the principle part," he revealed in a Reddit AMA in 2015, "and with no expectation or indication that I might be considered for the part of Han [Solo], I was quite surprised when I was offered the part. My principal job at the time was carpentry."

According to Ford, he was burning the midnight oil at Goldwyn Studio (constructing a portico for Coppola's office) when Lucas and Richard Dreyfuss popped their heads in. "I spent a few minutes chatting with them, and that was it," he told Rolling Stone. That's when producer Fred Roos asked Ford to read alongside hundreds of actors auditioning for a new film. "The story that I know is that there were two threesomes that they narrowed it down to, and I was in one of them," Ford said. "I had no idea that that was a potential situation. They asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said, 'Sure, why not?'"

That's it, folks. "Sure, why not?"

Brad Pitt, stripper escort extraordinaire

Everyone starts somewhere. For Brad Pitt, "somewhere" happened to be a car teeming with strippers. During an interview with The Actor's Studio in 2012, Pitt opened up about the various odd jobs he'd endured before making it in Hollywood. He delivered refrigerators. He dressed as a chicken for fast-food chain El Pollo Loco. And he drove gaggles of exotic dancers to really gross bachelor parties.

"It was an odd job," he told host James Lipton. "There's a place called The Job Factory where people listed odd jobs they needed for a little while and you'd go and sign up. It said, 'Drive strippers.' I said, 'I got a car.' My job was to go to the place and get the assignment, then go to the girl's apartment, pick her up, and drive her to the party."

One night, he struck up a conversation with a brand-new girl who mentioned her boy toy was an actorly sort. "I didn't know any actors," Pitt said. "This was the closest I'd gotten to someone who actually worked." The stripper recommended an acting couch to Pitt, and this proved a highly formative moment in his life.

"This girl — I'd never met her before — was in an acting class taught by a man named Roy London," he revealed at Newsweek's 2007 Oscar Roundtable. "I went and checked it out, and it really set me on the path to where I am now."

Chris Pratt waited tables at a shrimp joint

He's one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, but Chris Pratt's life wasn't always such great shakes. In the late '90s, the Jurassic World star lived in a beat-up van in Maui alongside some dude named Zeb. At 19, Pratt was broke, homeless, and taking wet-nap showers. "We just drank and smoked weed and worked minimal hours," he told The Independent in 2014. "Just enough to cover gas, food, and fishing supplies." 

He worked a number of odd jobs (including stints as a "not-very successful" stripper and door-to-door coupon salesman) until a gig at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. changed his life forever. "They love a gregarious waiter who will get in your face," he told Entertainment Weekly.

In fact, when Pratt got into Rae Dawn Chong's face, the actress/director clocked her server as a star in the making: "She said, 'You're cute. Do you act?' I was like, f*** it, 'Goddamn right I act! Put me in a movie!'" And ... she did. The film was never released, but Pratt found the experience so exhilarating, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting full-time. 

"We see thousands of actors a year," casting director Venus Kanani told The New York Post. "Chris has an intangible quality. You want to watch him, know him, and hang out with him." 

You also want him to bring you the pan-seared tilapia with lobster butter sauce. Or is that just us?