Weirdest Celebrity Jobs Before They Were Famous
Most celebrities don't start out famous. Before making millions, they had to grind out the workday like everyone else. Many of them came from blue-collar backgrounds or had to take odd jobs to make ends meet.
Some of these jobs were non-traditional. Think beauty mortician, donning a chicken suit to sell fast food, selling time-shares or being a really bad short-order cook. And that's not all.
These are the strangest jobs celebrities had before they were famous.
Jack Nicholson: Angry Short-Order Cook
When Jack Nicholson was 18 and living in New Jersey, one of his first jobs was working as a short-order cook at a diner. Thanks to the famous actor's legendary temper, it didn't go well.
One day, Nicholson served a customer a pancake that "came out about three inches thick," Nicholson recalled. The customer turned to the fledgling actor and said, "What the hell is this?" Nicholson promptly lost his temper, smacked the pancake and yelled, "Make your own damn pancakes!"
That seemed to be the end of that gig.
Peter Dinkalage: Punk Trumpet Player, Data Entry Worker
Peter Dinklage studied acting in college and even tried to form his own acting theater in New York City with his friend, where they lived in a rat-infested apartment underneath the Williamsburg Bridge.
That dream failed, so Dinklage gave the music industry a go, finding a gig playing trumpet in a punk/funk band called Whizzy. That's also how he got his scar — by getting kneed in the head while jumping around on stage.
Of course, Whizzy couldn't pay his rent, either. So he took a nine-to-five cubicle job entering data for seven years, from the age of 22 until 29.
"I made people laugh, I smoked cigs with the guys from the mailroom. They didn't seem to mind that I called in sick every Friday because I would go out Thursday night with my friends and get drunk," Dinklage recalled.
At 29, he decided to quit that dead-end job and pursue his acting dreams full-time.
Geena Davis: Mannequin
Geena Davis once worked at an Ann Taylor clothing store and was a mannequin. She wasn't told to go be a mannequin in the window. It was her idea.
"One time, there was a window display where the mannequins were sitting at a table eating plastic food," Davis told NPR. "There was one empty chair, and I kept looking at the window."
Davis went over to the window and sat down with the mannequins, where she discovered that she had the "uncanny ability to be still."
"When I felt like their attention was drifting, I would move kind of like a robot," she said. "But then somebody said, 'Well, that's not an electric mannequin because it's not plugged in.'"
So the next day, she ran a small electric cord down her leg. The shop hired her to be a window mannequin on the weekends.
Margot Robbie: Subway Sandwich Artist
Margot Robbie is one of Hollywood's biggest stars, but before she became Harley Quinn, she worked a number of regular, low-paying jobs. She worked in restaurants, did some secretary work and worked in retail for two years. Most notably, she worked as a sandwich artist at Subway.
"I think I was really good at it, though, because I would really spread everything out to the edges evenly, the right amount of everything," she said on an episode of Hot Ones. But she doesn't eat there anymore.
"Now when I go to Subway and someone kind of throws it on right in the middle, puts a ton of sauce there, it kills me," she said. "I actually don't go there often anymore because I watch them make it badly, and I'm upset."
Johnny Depp: Pen Seller
Johnny Depp worked a variety of odd jobs before he landed his first gig on "A Nightmare on Elm Street." The worst among them was working as a telemarketer, selling pens.
"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,'" Depp recalled.
"You promise them all these things if they buy a gross of pens. It was just awful. But I actually think that was the first experience I had with acting.''
He also worked at a gas station, where he was fired after being tasked with fixing a car's alignment. The rear tire fell off as the car left the garage.
Brad Pitt: Dancing Chicken, Stripper Chaffeur
Today, you're unlikely to stand in a checkout line without seeing Brad Pitt's face staring back at you from the cover of at least one magazine. After decades in the business, Pitt has starred in several critically acclaimed movies like "Fight Club," "Legends of the Fall," and "Ocean's Eleven." He's been married to both Jennifer Anniston and Angelina Jolie and tried his hand at other passions like directing. But he got an unusual start in Hollywood.
After leaving Springfield, Missouri, and heading for Los Angeles, Pitt worked a few jobs to make ends meet. He drove limos for strippers, chauffeuring them to bachelor parties. He also moved refrigerators.
And, briefly, he paid the bills working for El Pollo Loco, a local Mexican eatery. While there, he dressed as a chicken and danced in the street to bring in customers.
Christopher Walken: Lion Tamer
When Christopher Walken was a teenager, he worked in a traveling circus, posing as the son of the circus owner and lion timer.
"It was just one big tent, and he was a lion tamer. He didn’t have any kids, but the bit was that I would dress up as his son in an identical outfit," Walken told Vanity Fair in 2012. "When he would finish his act, there would be one lion left, and I used to go in and have this lion do tricks. It was a female named Sheba, and she was very sweet. Like a dog, really. I would wave the whip, and she would run and sit up and roll over and do things."
Why a lion tamer? It was a job that "just looked too good to pass up," he explained to The New York Times.
Jennifer Aniston: Bike Messenger, Time-Share Telemarketer
Jennifer Aniston was born into the industry. Her father, John Anniston was a longstanding character on "Days of Our Lives," and her mother, Nancy Dow, was in several TV shows. But long before every woman in American asked for "The Rachel" at the hairdresser, Aniston was a struggling Broadway actress whose famous parents didn't approve of her career choices.
Despite what might seem like a leg up, neither of Anniston's parents wanted her to be an actress, leaving Anniston to rise through the ranks herself. And while she did, she took odd jobs to make ends meet.
The first job was a bike messenger. While promoting "Horrible Bosses," Anniston revealed she had the job for a mere two days before crashing into an open car door and quitting. She also worked as a waitress and telemarketer selling time-shares in the Poconos.
"I didn’t make one sale. I was terrible at it. I was like, ‘Why do we have to call people at dinnertime?'" she recalled to InStyle.
Hugh Jackman: Clown
Before Hugh Jackman was Wolverine, he was Coco the Clown. And he wasn't a very good one. The Australian actor was just trying to pay the bills — he didn't go to clown school or anything. He was just a guy who could juggle in a clown costume and was only entertaining for toddler birthday parties.
"I could juggle kind of anything, like swords,” he said. “Anything for three, but nothing more. No balloon animals. No magic tricks.”
But he did have one trick — letting kids beat him up.
"I looked in my bag, and I would sometimes juggle an egg, and I would break it in my hand," Jackman told Howard Stern, as transcribed by Cheat Sheet. "And I just got out three eggs, and it broke. And it ended up with the kids having the eggs, throwing them at me. And that was working! They loved it. And piling and beating the **** out of me."
Unfortunately, that was the last the world would see of Coco the Clown, because Jackman quit.
Clint Eastwood: Grocer, Lifeguard, Lumberjack
Clint Eastwood did not have a very strong work ethic. Growing up, Eastwood was expelled from high school for tearing up a field with his motorcycle.
Eastwood worked several odd jobs while living in California. He bailed hay and worked for California's forestry service, clearing brush and putting out fires. He worked at a steel factory, sold bonds, bagged groceries, worked as a lifeguard and even worked as a lumberjack and caddied at a country club.
One of the main reasons Eastwood was interested in acting? He thought it would be easy.
Rod Stewart: Screen Printer, Graveyard Worker
A long time before Rod Stewart became Sir Rod Stewart, rock star extraordinaire, he was a 15-year-old high school dropout who worked as a screen printer at the Shand Kydd wallpaper company. However, Stewart was colorblind, which led to him getting canned.
"That's always going to limit your possibilities in the wallpaper industries. If you are color-blind, one of the things you can't be is an aircraft pilot. One of the other things you can't be is a wallpaper designer," he wrote in his autobiography, "Rod."
He then worked blue-collar jobs helping an electrician, building picture frames and at a graveyard. But he didn't work as a gravedigger. That's more of an urban legend. Instead, he measured out grave plots with pieces of string — but he only did that for "a few hours."
John Hamm: Skin-Flick Set Dresser
Cinemax used to be called "Skinemax" for a reason — the premium cable channel used to produce a whole lot of softcore adult films (not any more, though). Someone needed to dress all the sets.
In 1995, a couple of years after graduating from college, John Hamm moved to Los Angeles with nothing but a Toyota Corolla with a bad fuse and $150. Desperate for work, he asked a friend for help. She offered him her job as a set dresser.
"I said, 'I don’t know how to do that.' She says, 'It’s not that hard. They’ll hire anybody,'" Hamm told Esquire. "She says, 'It’s just soul-crushing for me. I can’t do it.' I said, 'Soul-crushing: That sounds amazing. I’ll do it.'"
And yes, it was soul-crushing.
Gwen Stefani: Blizzard Queen
If you're an elder millennial, Gwen Stefani likely sang your high school soundtrack, as songs like "Don't Speak" and "Just a Girl" were everywhere from the mall to prom in the early 2000s.
Since going solo from No Doubt, Stefani has stayed in the public consciousness, recording her own songs and serving as a coach on "The Voice."
But Stefani didn't start out as a pop-punk idol. In fact, as she revealed in a promo for "The Voice," Stefani's first job was slinging blizzards at the local Dairy Queen while in high school.
From there, she worked at a department store makeup counter, long before making it big.
Matthew McConaughey: Sand Trap Raker, Armadillo Hunter
When Matthew McConaughey was young, he worked at the Oak Forest Country Club in Longview, Texas, where he had to rake sand traps. The club had 77 sand traps, and McConaughey worked the night shift, starting his day at around 3 a.m. and working his way around the course with a headlamp.
But the most fun part — according to McConaughey — was shooting armadillos. Because the animals were destroying the green, the greenkeeper gave McConaughey a .22 rifle to make the pests disappear.
Joe Pesci: Hairdresser
Joe Pesci didn't get into acting until he was 33, and then it was only for a role in a low-budget crime flick called "The Death Collector." He abandoned acting altogether until 1979, when Martin Scorsese called him up and offered him a role in "Raging Bull."
Before the legendary tough guy was a legendary tough guy, Pesci was a barber. He worked at Mike's Barber Shop in Belleville, New Jersey, where he cut hair in the 1960s and 1970s.
He even owned his own saloon in Nutley, which he named Studio 548. He would often stop cutting hair to tell jokes or act out a story.
Madonna: Nude Art Model
Madonna seemed to drop into the male-dominated music scene of the 1980s with a bang, creating number-one hits (and seemingly endless controversies) right out of the gate. From "Papa Don't Preach" to the firestorm created by the music video for "Like a Virgin," Madonna has been making headlines (and bank) for a very long time.
In truth, her career did happen pretty fast. While attending college in Michigan, Madonna received a grant to learn at dance school in New York where her instructor convinced her to quit school and practice dance full-time.
It didn't take long for Madonna to find her voice, but in her early days in New York, she did odd jobs like wait tables at the Russian Tea Room and pose as a by-the-hour nude artist.
Samuel Jackson: Social Worker
Samuel Jackson grew up in Washington, D.C., and Chattanooga, Tennessee. As an only child, with a stutter, he learned to replace his stammering with curse words.
He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, where he found a love for acting. It was also where he and several other students held some college board members hostage, demanding more people of color be hired. Morehouse was and is a predominantly Black college, although it was staffed by mostly white people.
He was arrested and suspended for two years. During his suspension, he worked as a social worker in Los Angeles.
Hulk Hogan: Bassist
Before Hulk Hogan was flexing pecs and dropping legs in the wrestling ring, he was Terry Bollea, a college dropout who played bass for a couple of bands in Florida. He played with a band called Koco and with a band called Rukus.
Wrestlers frequented one particular club in Daytona where Hogan was playing. Wrestler Jack Brisco was there one night while Hogan was on stage and figured that a guy his size could make good money in the pro wrestling industry — and make Brisco money as well.
The rest is history.
Tom Hanks: Hot Dog Slinger, Bellhop
Tom Hanks, in his own words, was "an underachieving student with lousy SAT scores," he wrote in a New York Times op-ed.
And as a 14-year-old underachieving student with crappy SAT scores living in California, he worked at the Oakland Coliseum, selling hotdogs, peanuts and other ballgame snacks as a vendor at A's games.
Hanks also worked as a bellhop for the Oakland Hilton Hotel, where he moved bags for celebrities like Cher.
Harrison Ford: Carpenter
Harrison Ford almost quit acting before getting picked for "Star Wars."
He first picked up acting during his senior year in college, and then only to overcome his shyness. After entering the field, Ford did receive a meager contract of $150 a week with Columbia. But he ticked off the vice president of Columbia at the time, Jerry Tokofsky, with his first appearance as a bellboy in a 1966 movie called "Dead Head on a Merry-Go-Round." Ford only had one line — "Paging Mr. Ellis" — but he delivered it so poorly that Tokofsky effectively told Ford that he was done.
Ford then went back to his fall-back job as a self-taught carpenter. It's also what got him the role as Han Solo. Ford had worked on "American Graffiti" with George Lucas, but Lucas was dead set on not recasting anyone from that film for his upcoming picture. However, the hiring director knew Ford would be perfect for the role, so she hired him to build a door at Lucas' production office during a casting call.
Ultimately, Lucas rehired him.
Whoopi Goldberg: Mortuary Beautician, Bricklayer
Before Whoopi Goldberg was the psychic in "Ghost" or playing Guinan on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," she worked as a mortuary beautician.
"I did hair and makeup on dead people,” she recalled. "It was a rough gig. 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.”
Goldberg also worked as a bricklayer. "I needed the money, and I needed to work. So I figured I would rather lay bricks than lay men for money," she once said.
Ed O'Neill: Busboy, Steel Worker
Before he was regaling the world about scoring four touchdowns in one game as Al Bundy, Ed O'Neill was studying history on a football scholarship at Ohio University. He had dreams of becoming a professional football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, although he didn't make the cut.
With his football days behind him, O'Neil worked as a high school social studies substitute teacher, as well as a busboy at restaurants, earning $40 a shift "on a good night" and as a bartender.
And before all of that, when he was 14, he worked at a steel mill, "slagging in the open hearth and helping the boilermakers," he told Wealthsimple Magazine.
Al Pacino: Janitor
Al Pacino might have risen to the ranks of Godfather, but this Hollywood giant had a rocky start in life. Raised in the Bronx by his mother and grandparents after his parent's divorce when he was a toddler, Pacino largely grew up poor. He dropped out of the High School of Performing Arts at 17, battled with a drinking problem and got arrested before finding his footing in the acting industry.
In between high school and learning to become a method actor, Pacino worked a lot of odd jobs. He was a busboy for a time. And a clerk.
But notably, he was also a janitor, making a modest living.
Ashton Kutcher: Cereal Sweeper, Blood Donor
Ashton Kutcher grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He didn't have the easiest childhood. His parents divorced when he was 16, and his brother, Michael, had cerebral palsy. As a teenager, Kutcher broke into his high school to steal money but was arrested. Hopes for any anticipated scholarships were dashed, but he enrolled at the University of Iowa.
To help pay for his college, Kutcher took a job at a General Mills plant, working in the cereal department, sweeping cereal dust off the factory floor. He also sold blood for money.
His big break came when a modeling scout discovered him.
Bryan Cranston: Paperboy
It seems Walter White has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. As a star on the hit shows "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Breaking Bad," Bryan Cranston has won Emmy after Emmy after Emmy. But the actor has also had a lifelong work ethic.
Cranston got his start in the working world at the age of 12, as a paperboy on his Schwinn Stingray bicycle.
As he told The Wall Street Journal, "I had these two big canvas bags, dual bags, and I used to stuff newspapers in them and then wrap the bags around the handlebars. I'd ride the neighborhood and get as close to the porch as I could. Back in those days, they didn't wrap the papers in any kind of plastic or anything, so the company would call you if the paper landed on the lawn or got wet or anything."
Morgan Freeman: U.S. Air Force Mechanic
Today, Morgan Freeman's iconic voice is the defining factor of many Hollywood blockbusters. Freeman has appeared in — or narrated — dozens of movies, won awards, and earned all kinds of prestige. But at a young age, Freeman wasn't so sure he wanted to be an actor.
Despite getting a partial scholarship for acting, Freeman decided to skip college and join the U.S. Air Force, dreaming of becoming a fighter pilot. The Air Force had other plans, though, and Freeman's first real job was a radar technician and mechanic on the ground.
It wasn't long until he realized he wasn't doing the job he really loved, and left to head to Hollywood and try acting again.
Kanye West: Gap Retail Worker and Telemarketer
Long before Kanye West was on the path to becoming a billionaire, he worked at the Gap when he was 15 years old.
"I loved the fabrics, I loved the colors, I loved the proportions. Abercrombie was too expensive for me and the Gap was too expensive for me. Even though I worked at the Gap, I didn't get enough hours to get a discount because I was a part-time employee, because I went to high school," he wrote for Paper Magazine in 2015.
After he dropped out of college, he worked for a single day as a restaurant busboy, but quit. Then West worked as a telemarketer while living with his mom and working on his music.
Lupita Nyong'o: Celebrity Wrangler
Born in Mexico City to Kenyan parents, Lupita Nyong'o has been acting off and on since she was a kid. In 2014, while studying for her masters at the Yale School of Theater, Nyong'o was tapped to star in "12 Years a Slave," for which she won an Oscar.
She's also appeared in TV roles in an MTV-produced Kenyan show, directed, and became the first black ambassador for Lancome in 2014. In 2019, she wrote a children's book.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, her first paying job was in the movies. In 2005, when she was in her early 20s, she worked in production for several films, making coffee runs and ensuring the actors on set were happy.
Eva Longoria: Headhunter
Born in South Texas, this "Desperate Housewives" star was always determined to make something of herself. Today, she's sort of a jack-of-all-trades. Part actress, part career woman, part marketing genius, Longoria has done it all from TV shows to hawking "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter."
And that's largely by design. Longoria set out for Hollywood at a young age, determined to star in soap operas. Because, as she told Texas Monthly, that's what her parent's watched on TV.
Given her drive and pure ambition, it is likely no surprise that Longoria's first real job wasn't at a Dairy Queen or as a clerk. It was working as an assistant to a headhunter in Los Angeles. Longoria was there to make contacts, the kind that could rocket her to the moon.
Daisy Fuentes: Weather Girl
Depending on your age, if we say "Daisy Fuentes" to you, you're likely to think of one of two things: MTV VJ or clothing designer. Back in the early days of MTV, Daisy Fuentes was MTV's first Latina VJ. Starting in her early 20s, Fuentes hosted on-location events for MTV, like festivals in San Antonio, Texas, or the all-important MTV spring break bashes.
Don't remember the early MTV days? Then you'll likely think of Kohl's. As a grown-up, Fuentes traded her daisy dukes and elbow-rubbing with celebrities to design a clothing line for Kohl's, where she sells about $300 million worth of goods each year.
But Fuentes, unlike some celebrities, didn't get her start in a local fast-food joint. In college, she was tapped to be a weather girl for a local TV station. A job she held until going to MTV.