The very nature of acting means that most of Hollywood’s biggest names, at one point or another, have considered an alternative career. For some, these pre-fame careers were fleeting. For others, they lasted far longer than they would have liked.
In this list, we look at ten examples of bizarre jobs actors had before they were famous. Some may come as a surprise. Others, in the grand scheme of things, may make perfect sense.
An actor’s pre-fame life is incredibly important. It provides them with an opportunity to develop life experience, a valuable commodity in a profession that requires its stars to inhabit a huge variety of diverse characters.
What’s clear from these examples is that many actors are driven by a desire to do something exciting with their life, something to write home about. However, some of the names on this list were driven to their weird and wonderful alternative careers out of sheer necessity. Hollywood isn’t cheap, after all. From the breakout star who worked in a morgue or the character actor who started life in the travelling circus, this list looks at some of the most bizarre pre-fame jobs in Hollywood.
10 bizarre jobs actors had before they were famous:
1. Sean Connery – Milkman
Yes, the man a director once described as having the walk of a jaguar, apparently prowled the streets of his native Edinburgh in a milk float before he was famous.
Born Thomas Sean Connery on August 25, 1930, he was raised by a factory worker father and domestic cleaner mother. He left school without any qualifications at 13 and worked as a milkman, a lifeguard, and had a stint in the royal navy before becoming well-read and pursuing his acting career.
2. Angelina Jolie – Funeral Director
Following the death of her grandfather, Angelina Jolie, already a budding actor, decided to study a course in funeral direction. “It sounds like this very strange, eccentric, dark thing to do but in fact I lost my grandfather and was very upset with his funeral,” she said in an interview.
Whilst she obviously went on to be an incredibly successful Hollywood Actor, Jolie’s backup career was founded on a desire to make a unique difference in the world.
3. Christopher Walken – Lion Tamer
When Christopher was 16 he worked in a travelling circus owned by a man called Terrell Jacobs, who was a lion tamer. Because Jacob didn’t have children of his own, he developed an elaborate act where he pretended Walken was his son. The pair dressed in matching outfits and would perform an act featuring over a dozen lions.
Remembering that death-defying act, Walken said: “There would be one lion left, and I used to go in and have this lion do tricks. According to Walken, the lion was a female called Sheba, who was “very sweet. Like a dog, really.”
4. Jon Hamm – Set Dresser in the adult film industry
Long before he was Don Draper, Jon Hamm worked as a set dresser on a number of porn films. Hamm was 25 at the time and got the job as a last resort: “I’d lost my catering gig,” he began. “I was like, ‘I need a job.’ My friend said, ‘You can have my job. I’m doing set dressing.’ I said, ‘I don’t know how to do that.’ She says, ‘It’s not that hard. They’ll hire anybody. … It’s just soul-crushing for me. I can’t do it.’ I said, ‘Soul-crushing: That sounds amazing. I’ll do it.’”
But, on asking for more details about the role, Hamm was given a surprising answer: “And she’s like, ‘It’s for these Skinemax soft-core titty movies.’ I asked, ‘What do you do?’ She hands me this bucket with all of her tools in it and says, ‘You just move shit around. Do whatever they want you to do.”
5. Harrison Ford – Carpenter
Technically speaking, Ford was already a jobbing actor by the time he decided to start working as a carpenter. The career change was a reaction to being cast for dead-end bit-parts, so he taught himself carpentry to support his family instead.
He learned his craft from books borrowed from the Encino library. The reason Ford was hired for Star Wars so early in the production was that George Lucas had met him whilst he was installing a wooden door at Francis Ford Coppola’s house. What are the chances?
6. Steve Buscemi – Firefighter
This one is a testament to the incredible spirit of one of Hollywood’s finest actors. Although Buscemi is known for playing gangsters and bizzaros, he once had a career as a firefighter. He took the FDNY civil service test when he was 18, and used to work as an FDNY firefighter in downtown Manhattan in the 1980s.
When 9/11 happened, he was already a successful actor but made the decision to return to the service, working 12-hour shifts for several days alongside other firefighters, searching for survivors in the rubble from the World Trade Center.
7. Terry Crews – Court Room Sketch Artist
Before Crews was a football player or an actor, he was an artist. During an interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Crews told the host: “My first job in entertainment, I drew courtroom sketches for the worst murder case in Flint, Michigan history.”
His art skills were such were that his high school headteacher secured him an art scholarship. “I had an art scholarship before I had a football scholarship,” he explained.
8. Whoopi Goldberg – Beauty Technician in a morgue
Long before ‘Ghost’, Whoopi Goldberg worked as a beauty technician in a morgue. “I did hair and makeup on dead people,” she once told Oprah. “There was an ad in the paper! And I’m a licensed beautician as well, because I went to beauty school.”
However, the job wasn’t to last. “It’s a rough gig,” she continued. “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.”
9. Gabourey Sidibe – Phone Sex Operator
Before her starring role in Precious, Gabourey Sidibe worked for a phone sex company. During her three years with the company, she pretended to be a 21-year-old girl named melody.
“I was actually pretty good at it. I did it for two months before I was promoted,” she said in an interview, going on to say that she believed helped prepare her for her acting career.
Hugh Jackman – Clown
As a 20-year-old Jackman worked as a clown for kid’s birthday parties. His stage name was Coco the Clown, but unlike most people in the profession, he didn’t know any magic tricks.
“I am really bad at magic,” he once said in an interview with USA Today Jackman has said that he mostly worked birthday parties for three and four-year-olds. Birthday’s for eight-year-olds were out of the question, however, as they were far too critical for Jackman’s liking.