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.”
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.
(Excerpt) Read More at: NickiSwift.com