From Background Faces To Leading Actors: Big Stars Who Started Out As Extras

Every big celebrity from John Wayne to Ben Affleck had to start somewhere! The life of an extra is not known to be glamorous, but it is a solid way to temporarily make ends meet or get one’s foot in the door to the entertainment industry.

Some of the following mega-stars went as far as winning Emmys, Golden Globes, and Academy Awards down the line. For them, starting out as extras was the gateway to building a successful career in the worlds of film, music, and television.

Coming To American Stardom

cuba gooding in coming to america

Before he went on to become an Oscar winner, Cuba Gooding, Jr. was an extra in Eddie Murphy’s classic comedy Coming to America in 1988. Did you notice him in getting his hair clipped in the barbershop scene with all of the other Eddie Murphy characters?

While Gooding Jr. didn’t have any lines, he mastered facial reactions during the scene where Murphy plays four characters at the same time. He’s listed in the credits as “Boy Getting Haircut.” It was his first acting gig.

You won’t believe where Renee Zellweger got her start.

The Genesis Of Phil Collins… As An Extra!

Beatles album cover
Pinterest/All Things George Harrison!

Phil Collins was just a 13-year-old lad in Camden when he played an extra in The Beatles’ A Hard Days Night. He can barely be seen in the closing segment of the film. Collins, of course, later found fame as a member of the band Genesis before embarking on a successful solo career.

Phil Collins has a mild beef with Paul McCartney: “I met him when I was working at the Buckingham Palace party back in 2002,” Collins told The Sunday Times. “…I had a first edition of The Beatles, by Hunter Davies, and I said, ‘Hey, Paul, do you mind signing this for me?’ And he said [to his wife], ‘Oh, Heather, our little Phil’s a bit of a Beatles fan.’ And I thought, ‘You [expletive] [expletive].’ Never forgot it.”

If You Build It, An Acting Career Will Come

Kevin Costner And Gaby Hoffmann In 'Field Of Dreams'
Photo by Universal/Getty Images

Boston besties Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were extras in the Field of Dreams classic scene at Fenway Park. They were only teenagers in the summer of 1988.

When Ben Affleck was working on the 2002 spy thriller The Sum of All Fears he joked to director Phil Alden Robinson, it’s “nice working with you again.” Robinson clearly had no idea what could possibly referring to, and Affleck explained that he and Damon were among the thousands of extras at Fenway. Small world!

The next actor was in a Woody Allen film

Subway Thug #1

sylvester stallone on the subway
Pinterest/Linda Johnson Woowoo

Before he conquered what became known as the "Rocky Steps" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Sylvester Stallone was an extra in Woody Allen’s film Bananas. In the screen grab above, Stallone played "Subway Thug #1" as a mugger annoying Woody Allen on the subway in the film.

Stallone also got his Travolta on as an extra in the 1971 psychological thriller, Klute, as a disco patron (though uncredited). Jane Fonda won her first Academy Award for this film.

Bridget Jones: High School Hazer

Renee Zellweger in Dazed and Confused
Gramercy Pictures

There are a handful of pre-fame actors who made their debut in Dazed & Confused (Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, and Parker Posey, to name a few), but the future Oscar winner with the least amount of screen time was Renee Zellweger.

Zellweger was an uncredited extra in the film and can be seen siphoning beer into a funnel for a high school buddy in the bed of a blue truck. She was originally considered for the part of Darla, Parker Posey’s character.

"Hi, Rad"


Marilyn Monroe was given her first speaking role in 1947 for an obscure musical comedy called Scudda Hoo! Scudda Hay! Marilyn worked for months as an extra on multiple films before she was given her first bit part in the film (a bit is a minor speaking role in a film).

The words spoken for her big screen debut were hardly earth-shattering: Her character, Betty, walks down the steps of a small-town church and says “Hi, Rad” to the main character played by June Harver.

The next beauty meets a nasty death in this horror flick.

Death By Tentacle

Pinterest/M Wilcox

Rocking those ’90s rail-thin caterpillar eyebrows, Charlize Theron got her start as an extra in the horror flick Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest. She plays a follower of Eli in the film and meets a rather gruesome death when an evil tentacle enters her [insert sick green-faced emoji here].

You can spot Theron in a scene when the priest tries to convert the children to his religion. After her few seconds of screen time in Children of the Corn III, Theron went on to act in roles in Pulp Fiction and 2 Days in the Valley.

An Extra In Music Videos And The Big Screen

Channing Tatum at a vodka promotional event
Photo by Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

Channing Tatum was an extra in Steven Spielberg’s sci-fi epic War of the Worlds. Tatum is one of many people chaotically running around in the scene when the church broke in half. He was originally supposed to have a brief speaking role as a church boy in the film, but his part ended up on the cutting room floor.

Prior to Magic Mike fame, Tatum was an extra dancer in Ricky Martin’s "She Bangs" music video. According to IMDB he only got paid $400 for a seven-day shoot.

"Girl in Fountain Line"

kristen stewart in

In 1999, young eight-year-old Kristen Stewart played an extra in the Disney Channel Original Movie (DCOM) The Thirteenth Year. Her mother was a script supervisor for the film.

In Stewart’s "Girl in Fountain Line" part, she and a group of students waiting for their turn to drink from the water fountain look perturbed at the main character (a merman) who seems to be taking his sweet time glugging it all down. It was the Twilight star’s first role.

Bruce Willis With Hair!

bruce willis smiling in a suit

Bruce Willis played an extra in the background sitting in a courtroom in Paul Newman’s 1981 film The Verdict. The casual viewer might not recognize him at first because he’s got a full head of hair! Tobin Bell (Jigsaw from the Saw horror movies) was an extra in the same scene sitting in the courtroom.

After serving as an extra in The Verdict and other films, Willis found fame in TV’s "Moonlighting" and went on to become an action star through the Die Hard movies.

The next actress didn’t get “lost” playing an extra forever…

From High School Girl to Stranded On An Island

lilly in freddy and jason

A lot of these actors seem to get their start in horror flicks, and Lost star Evangeline Lilly is no exception. Lilly was an extra in the 2003 slasher film Freddy vs. Jason. She plays a high school student and can be spotted by the lockers in the hallway looking fearful as another girl discusses her Freddy Krueger nightmare to a friend about 26 minutes into the film.

It didn’t take long for Lilly to land a starring role in Lost, which premiered just a year later in 2004.

“I Forgot My Mantra”

jeff goldblum as an extra
YouTube/banana man

Like Sylvester Stallone, another actor who got his start in a Woody Allen film is American treasure Jeff Goldblum. He can be seen speaking to someone on the phone at a party in Allen’s famous 1977 movie Annie Hall. Goldblum is credited as “party guest” and has one line he says on the phone, “I forgot my mantra.”

Goldblum isn’t the only cameo in Annie Hall. Others include Paul Simon, Christopher Walken, Sigourney Weaver, Shelley Duvall, and John Glover.

Michael Bay almost got in trouble for this

A Minor In A Club Scene

Actress Megan Fox Appears At Forever 21 To Promote Frederick's Of Hollywood
Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage

Megan Fox had actually worked on a Michael Bay film prior to starring in his Transformers movie franchise alongside Shia LaBeouf. She played an extra in Bad Boys 2 in a club scene and is credited as "Stars-and-Stripes Bikini Kid Dancing Under Waterfall."

Here’s what she had to say about Michael Bay and her part in Bad Boys 2 on Jimmy Kimmel: "They said, ‘You know, Michael, she’s 15, so you can’t sit her at the bar and she can’t have a drink in her hand.’ So his solution to that problem was to then have me dancing underneath a waterfall getting soaking wet. And that’s… At 15 and I was in tenth grade. So that’s sort of a microcosm of how Bay’s mind works."

The next actor got fired from ‘Heaven’s Gate’

Fired As A Cock Fighter

willem dafoe as an extra in the background
Twitter/Will McCrabb

Despite a cast of familiar faces like Jeff Bridges, Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Rourke, and Christopher Walken, Heaven’s Gate bombed in the theaters. Willem Dafoe was cast as an extra cock fighter in the film and worked on set for months, but director Michael Cimino fired him for laughing at another extra’s joke.

Dafoe recalls, "One day we were doing a lighting set-up for a long time; basically eight hours standing in place, and a woman told me a joke in my ear and I laughed at a moment of silence. Cimino turned around and said, ‘Willem step out,’ and that was that. I was the lamb for sacrifice."

A Solid Right Hook To Stardom

james dean in a locker room scene

James Dean, on the left of the photo wearing white, played an extra as a boxer’s ‘second’ in the comedy film Sailor Beware in 1951. The film starred Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Dean is uncredited as a guy in the locker room but had one line, saying, “That guy’s a professional!”

While trying to build an acting career in Hollywood, Dean worked as a parking lot attendant at CBS Studios in between gigs and auditions.

Teenage George Clooney

George Clooney dressed as a settler

George Clooney started his acting career as an extra at only 17 years old in the 1978 NBC miniseries Centennial. The show was filmed in his hometown of Augusta, Kentucky. Clooney, his buddies from high school, and even his high school sweetheart were all extras together on the set.

The miniseries starred Raymond Burr (most well known for playing the villain in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window) and followed a group of early US settlers as they explored the new world.

"High School Guy" Seth Cohen

Adam Brody at an event
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Adam Brody, who reached fame when he played Seth Cohen on the hit series The O.C., was an extra credited as "high school guy" in American Pie 2. It was his first time acting in a film.

After American Pie 2 Brody worked as a valet at the Beverly Hills Hotel to make money in between auditions. His big break came in 2013 when he was offered the role of Seth in The O.C. Seth Cohen, of course, came to be one of the most lovable characters in television history.

"Thirty Points for Gryffindor!"

Julianne Hough was an extra in a Harry Potter film
Instagram/Julianne Hough

“Remember that one time when I was 11 and a Gryffindor?” wrote Julianne Hough in a throwback post on Instagram in 2017. The Dancing with the Stars celebrity was an extra in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001 along with her brother Derek.

So how did she end up at Hogwarts? Hough explained that she went to a performing arts school in London where it was typical for most students to participate as extras in a variety of films.


MGM/UA Home Entertainment

Austrian-born American Arnold Schwarzenegger has had quite the journey from being crowned Mr. Universe in 1967 to starring in the Hercules and Terminator films to even becoming governor of California (aka “the Governator”).

Schwarzenegger and his enormous muscles made his debut in film as an extra in Hercules in New York and The Long Goodbye. In The Long Goodbye, a Robert Altman-directed film noir based on Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same title, he played an uncredited henchman.

John Wayne: Attorney at Law?

john wayne as an extra

John Wayne was an extra in a couple of films in the 1920s while working as a prop man at Fox Studios. At the time, The Duke was just paying the bills while studying to be a lawyer at USC.

His appearance as an extra in Mother Machree, in particular, was significant because it was when he first met director John Ford. Ford later went on to direct Wayne in several motion pictures. Years later he recalled how meeting John Ford was a pivotal moment in his life: “He was my mentor, my ideal, and I made up my mind, I wanted to be like him.”