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30 Famous Actors Who Had Minor Roles In Iconic Movies And Shows Before Hitting Their Big Time

Behind every famous actor is a completely unique story about how they “made it” in Hollywood. To gain a foothold in the film industry, they have had to try out a variety of roles, from extra roles, cameos, and supporting roles to iconic roles.
Here, we've compiled a list of actors who played small TV roles before hitting their big time. But what exactly are "small" roles? Well, it’s a bit nebulous, but in short, they weren't the star of the show. They might have had a regular role or maybe made an episode, or maybe if you blinked, you missed them. If they become TV stars, that's fine, but we focus on small roles that are stepping stones to glory. Keep reading for more details!

#1 Joey King: The Kissing Booth Movies.— The Suite Life of Zack & Cody

Source: Getty Images / Disney

It’s been so long since this The Kissing Booth actor starred in our fan-favorite show but yes, there was a time when Joey King also appeared in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody; and look at her now!

#2 Paul Dano: The Batman — Smart Guy

Source: Getty Images / Disney Channel

He may be familiar to you from his most recent portrayal of The Riddler in The Batman. But in an episode of Smart Guy, you most likely missed Paul Dano in his first performance as Nicholas, a basketball player on T.J.'s squad.

#3 Kat Dennings: 2 Broke Girls, Dollface, Wandavision — Sex and the City

Source: Getty Images / HBO

Long before she became famous for her role in "Wandavision" and "2 Broke Girls," Kat Dennings honed her acting chops in a guest role on season three of "Sex and the City." In the episode "Hot Child in the City," Dennings starred as 13-year-old Jenny Brier, who reached out to Samantha Jones (played by Kim Cattrall) to help run publicity for her over-the-top Bat Mitzvah.

#4 Dylan Minnette: 13 Reasons Why — Grey's Anatomy

Source: Getty Images / ABC

The star of the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why, Dylan Minnette appeared in an episode of Grey's Anatomy as a child with only one inner ear and went to the hospital for free help.

#5 Rachel McAdams: Mean Girls, The Notebook, The Time Traveler's Wife — The Famous Jett Jackson

Source: Getty Images / Disney Channel

Rachel McAdams may be known from Mean Girls, The Notebook, The Time Traveler's Wife, and many more. But did you know that she also played in an episode of The Famous Jett Jackson as Riley's sister.

#6 Kristen Stewart: Twilight, Spencer — The Thirteenth Year

Source: Getty Images / Disney

Kristen Stewart is a 30-year-old American actress and model, known for her work and wealth. She made her debut in the Disney television series The Thirteenth Year. Later, she also had great success in the film industry thanks to her role in Twilight and her recent role as Princess Diana in Spencer.

#7 Emma Stone: Easy A, The Help, and The Amazing Spider-Man movies — Malcolm in the Middle

Source: Getty Images / ABC

Before Emma Stone was starring opposite Ryan Gosling, she was a regular actress hitting up every family-friendly show in the early 2000s. Prime examples: Stone was on both The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Malcolm in the Middle. A year later, she'd star in Superbad.

#8 Jennifer Lawrence: The Hunger Games & Silver Linings Playbook — Monk

Source: Getty Images / USA Network

You got to know her from The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook. And in another case, Jennifer Lawrence in Monk plays the mascot at a school.

#9 Steven Yeun: Minari, The Walking Dead, and Sorry to Bother You — The Big Bang Theory

Source: Getty Images / Nickelodeon

He is well-known from his roles in Minari, The Walking Dead, and Sorry to Bother You. But you may have missed his role in an episode of The Big Bang Theory playing Sheldon's old roommate.

#10 Dianna Agron: Glee — Drake & Josh

Source: Getty Images / Nickelodeon

Dianna Agron who is mostly known for her role as Quinn Fabray on Glee. But few people know that the actress had a role in Drake & Josh playing the girl who went on a date with Drake and said she could fit her whole fist in her mouth.

#11 Mila Kunis: That '70s Show — Baywatch & 7th Heaven

Source: Getty Images / NBC / The WB / The CW

Mila Kunis, well known for her performance in That '70s Show. But few people know that the actress had a role in Baywatch when she played a schoolgirl named Annie and in 7th Heaven as Lucy's frenemy Ashley.

#12 Seth Rogen: Knocked Up, Pineapple Express — Dawson's Creek

Source: Getty Images / The WB

Now let's look back at Seth Rogen in Dawson's Creek, where he played a stonemason who traveled with Joey, Audrey, and Eddie to Los Angeles.

#13 Joseph Gordon-Levitt: 500 Days of Summer or 50/50 — Roseanne

Source: Getty Images / ABC

In addition to his known films as 500 Days of Summer and 50/50, at only 12 years old, Gordon-Levitt played George, one of D.J.’s (Michael Fishman) friends from school. He appeared in four episodes in season 5, 6 and 7.

#14 Ryan Gosling: The Notebook, Crazy, Stupid, Love, La La Land — Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Source: Getty Images / Nickelodeon

Long before he was making us swoon in The Notebook, Ryan Gosling was trying to save his younger brother from getting dragged to the depths of hell on Are You Afraid of the Dark?'s 1995 episode "The Tale of Station 109.1." Clearly this helped him nab his next role as Young Hercules.

#15 Dakota Fanning: Uptown Girls, The Cat in the Hat, and Charlotte's Web — Friends

Source: Getty Images / NBC

Dianna Agron who is mostly known for her role in Uptown Girls, The Cat in the Hat, and Charlotte's Web. But few people know she made an appearance on season ten of the television series Friends, playing the role of Mackenzie, a young girl who is moving out of the house Monica and Chandler are buying.

#16 Jessica Chastain: The Help & Take Shelter — Veronica Mars

Source: Getty Images / UPN

She is a gifted individual who is also quite intelligent. And it appears that most of her time these days is spent shifting from Oscar-worthy movies to Oscar-worthy movies. Although, believe it or not, this A-list actor did once appear on the small screen.

#17 Lin-Manuel Miranda: In the Heights — How I Met Your Mother

Source: Getty Images / CBS

Before his hip-hop history lesson, Hamilton, made him the biggest name on Broadway, Lin-Manuel Miranda appeared in an episode of How I Met Your Mother’s final season that is also told entirely in rhyme. He even gets to drop a few sick verses as a bus patron initially annoyed by Marshall’s incessant use of homonyms to put his infant son to sleep while en route to Barney and Robin’s wedding.

#18 Simon Helberg: The Big Bang Theory — A Cinderella Story

Source: Getty Images / Warner Bros. Pictures

You most likely recognize him from playing Howard on The Big Bang Theory. But did you know that Simon Helberg had a minor role in this modern day fairy tale classic? The Big Bang Theory star played the role of Terry, a super dorky guy living in his own little world.

#19 Jane Lynch: Glee — Married... with Children

Source: Getty Images / Fox

Lynch used to appear on the program as a wealthy woman at the hotel Bud worked at right before Valentine's Day. Maybe you recall, she was looking for a date at the time. Anyway, we now like her on Glee and Criminal Minds. Lynch has won several honors, including the People's Choice Award, Golden Glove Award, Primetime Emmy Award, and SAG Award.

#20 Ashley Tisdale: The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and the High School Musical movies — Donnie Darko

Source: Getty Images / Pandora Cinema

I'm guessing you know from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and the High School Musical movies. But did anyone realize Ashley Tisdale was in the movie Donnie Darko? She is playing a student.

#21 Octavia Spencer: The Help and Ma — Spider-Man

Source: Getty Images / Sony Pictures Releasing

Octavia Spencer, most recognized for her roles in Ma and The Help. Also, Octavia Spencer may be seen in Spider-Man as a woman who tries to dissuade Peter from attending a professional wrestling match.

#22 Adam Scott: Parks and Recreation — Boy Meets World

Source: Getty Images / ABC

Parks and Recreation's Adam Scott had a recurring role in Boy Meets World as one of John Adams High School's bad boys, Griff. His time as Griff was one of Adam's first acting gigs. In the series, John Adams High's main bully, Harley, was shipped off to a prep school. To fill the void, Griff was added as his replacement.

#23 Scarlett Johansson: the MCU films — Home Alone 3

Source: Getty Images / Hughes Entertainment

Home Alone 3 is one of Johansson’s first movies, and at the time of filming, she was only five years older than her daughter is now. In the family comedy, Johansson played Molly Pruitt, the main character’s older sister.

#24 Ben Affleck: Good Will Hunting, Pearl Harbor, and Gone Girl — the Vampire Slayer movie

Source: Getty Images / 20th Century Fox

Ben Affleck is one of the most highly respected actors today. He’s still celebrated years later for his roles in movies like CGood Will Hunting, Pearl Harbor, and Gone Girl, and regularly asked about his short-lived role of Batman in the DCEU. But it’s not often that he’s asked about an early acting appearance in 1992’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer when he played Basketball Player.

#25 John Cho: the Harold & Kumar movies — The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas

Source: Getty Images / Universal Pictures

Here's John Cho who's best known for playing Harold in the Harold & Kumar movies with his role in The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas when he played a parking valet.

#26 Johnny Galecki : The Big Bang Theory — National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Source: Getty Images / John Hughes Entertainment

Galecki portrayed Rusty Griswold in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the son of Clark (Chevy Chase) and Ellen (Beverly D'Angelo) Griswold. He is now reviving National Lampoon's Vacation as a television program. Together with one of his Big Bang Theory coworkers, Johnny Galecki is already at work on a new comedy.

#27 Jessica Alba: Fantastic Four, Valentine's Day, and Good Luck Chuck — Camp Nowhere

Source: Getty Images / Buena Vista Pictures

Here's Jessica Alba who you know from starring in many box office hits like Fantastic Four, Valentine's Day, and Good Luck Chuck and besides, her small role in Camp Nowhere.

#28 Brie Larson: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Short Term 12, or in the MCU films — 13 Going on 30

Source: Getty Images / Sony Pictures Releasing

Many people are unaware that a young Brie Larson made a brief appearance in the movie 13 Going On 30. Prior to her involvement in 13 Going On 30, when she makes an early appearance as a member of the "Six Chicks" clique, the actress had previously acted in a number of films and TV episodes, including Touched By An Angel.

#29 Abigail Breslin: Little Miss Sunshine, My Sister's Keeper, and Definitely, Maybe — The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement

Source: Getty Images / Disney

Here's Abigail Breslin who's best known for her early films including Little Miss Sunshine, My Sister's Keeper, and Definitely, Maybe and she also played a small role as an orphan in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.

#30 Kiernan Shipka: Mad Men and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina — Monk

Source: Getty Images / USA

And lastly, here's Kiernan Shipka who's best known for her roles in Mad Men and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and also as a kid customer in an episode of Monk.
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