Surprising Early Roles For Big Actors 

Last Updated on February 23, 2023

Everyone has to start somewhere and exactly where that place may be is often of pretty dubious quality or (at the very least) rather surprising for some of today’s biggest names in the film industry. For example, we all know Jennifer Aniston had her start with Leprechaun, a film she’d probably rather forget (although we think it’s a lot of fun). Now, with current streaming services pulling all kinds of older films and television shows into their libraries, fans can get the chance to see some of those questionable choices that most likely were made to pay the bills. Here are a few of our favorite surprising early roles: 

Elisabeth Moss in Surburban Commando (1991) 

Surprising Early Career Moves of Big Name Actors: Elisabeth Moss suburban commando

While not her very first credit, this is the Mad Men & Handmaid’s Tale star’s first feature film and it’s a doozy. For anyone not familiar with it, it’s an action comedy starring Hulk Hogan as an alien who crash-lands on Earth and ends up living in a suburban family’s backyard shed. This is the kind of movie that is so bad, it’s good. It co-stars Christopher Lloyd and Shelley Duvall as the parents stuck with Hogan who is attempting to do good. In a small part only credited as “Little Girl”, Moss gets a few minutes of screen time, some of it with Hogan. She does get lines and manages quite well considering how silly this whole film is. This 1991 film doesn’t take itself seriously and neither should you. 

Sarah Paulson in American Gothic (1995-1998) 

Sarah Paulson American gothic

Now the queen of horror series, reigning under the power of Ryan Murphy, Paulson actually get her start in genre TV. Both then and now, her work is stellar. Many horror fans seem to have forgotten one of her earlier credits, her sixth in fact, was on the short-lived American Gothic, playing a teenage girl who just so happens to be hiding a secret (that won’t be spoiled here just in case a watch of the series is of interest). This series ran from 1995-1998 and then again and again on late night television into the early 2000s. From creator Shaun Cassidy, the series also had the talent of Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert as part of the behind the camera crew, and starred a very young Lucas Black, Gary Cole, and Paige Turco. Paulson comes in as the sister to Black’s character. She’s not a lead, but her part weighs heavily on the story. Paulson’s work here is creepy and really gets under the skin, showing talent for the odd and unusual, something she is well-known for these days. 

Neve Campbell in Catwalk (1992-1993) 

neve campbell catwalk, early roles

While the series ran from 1992 to 1995, Neve Campbell only appeared on 24 episodes early in its run, following a small part in The Kids in the Hall and an uncredited role on My Secret Identity. Campbell had yet to hit it big with Party of Five or The Craft and Scream in 1996. In Catwalk, she played Daisy McKenzie, one of the young adults in the series who try to make it big as a pop group. This Canadian series may be better known to Canadian teens of the 1990s, but it’s definitely worth looking for if one is a fan of Campbell and only knows her work from Party of Five on. Here, she was charming, vulnerable, and really added something to the cast, making her departure before the end of the series one that was felt by viewers and cast alike. The series is markedly 1990s with music and fashion that scream Toronto-of-the-Era. The fact that it was criticized for content back then is one that may look a bit odd these days considering what is on television now, but back in 1992, this PG-rated series was pushing the boundaries of its original airing station YTV which was aimed at kids during the day.  

Courteney Cox in Masters of the Universe (1987) 

Courtney Cox masters of the universe, early roles

Like her fellow Scream castmate above, Cox already had a career before joining the franchise that would make her a huge name with horror fans (while at the same time becoming a megastar on TV with Friends). Her work early on in her career included a lot of television series (including Family Ties), one ultra famous Bruce Springsteen music video (“Dancing in the Dark”), and in 1987 she got started with her feature film work with two movies: Down Twisted (from the late Albert Pyun) and Masters of the Universe. Now, MotU came out second, but it is really the one that is of interest here. Her work in this is something to be remembered. The film is far from great and enters the realm of so-bad-its-good (much like Suburban Commando above) pretty fast once the opening credits roll. Some could say this is her Leprechaun, the movie she might want to forget, but for fans, it’s proof that she was open to trying almost anything and that she gave her all no matter the content of the film. Considering some of the scenes she is involved in here, the fact that she was able to stay in character and give a more than decent performance says a lot about her professionalism and her acting capabilities. Of course, this is not her best work, but it sure is fun to watch. 

Keanu Reeves in Rush Rush (1991) 

Reeves was on already well on his way to a well-established career in 1991 with credits in the first two Bill & Ted movies, Point Break, My Own Private Idaho, River’s Edge, Best Movie You Never Saw faveYoungblood, and so many more, but his presence in a music video this far in career seems like an odd choice. However, watching the video, it is possible that his participation may have had something to do with the time period the video took place in and the definitive James Dean homage his character was to be in a take on Rebel Without a Cause that was adapted for the song’s needs. The music video was long rumored to have been directed by George Lucas, but those rumors were unfounded and only based on the fact that Lucasfilm Commercial Productions was involved in the production of the video.  

What are some of your favorite early roles for big stars? Let us know in the comments. 

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