As all performers know, no one just starts off as an actor and waits for the role of their dreams to land straight in their lap. It’s more of a constant work in progress, involving bit-part jobs and side hustles while they audition for and secure better and better roles.
But not all actors start out in Los Angeles coffee shops or as West End ushers. Some actors, including many of the world's most famous stars, got their big break after some unbelievably unusual first jobs.
One of the weirdest would be Christopher Walken, famous for starring in movies like The Deer Hunter and Saw. At age 15 Christopher joined a travelling – and was briefly a lion tamer. Amazing as that spotlit first job might seem, Walken would later describe one of the lions, named Sheba, as “really more like a dog.” Still, not a bad experience to include on a CV.
There seems to be something about lions. Before he assumed roles as a one man army in Rambo and ran up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Rocky, Sylvester Stallone was also dabbling with big cats. He had the slightly less glamorous role of cleaning up the lion cages at the Central Park Zoo while waiting for his career to take off.
Not all actors were out there taming lions and scooping up their poop. Megan Fox, in what she's described as "the only real job" she ever had, was once a mascot for a smoothie shop in Florida. On an episode of Ellen, she described how she'd don a banana outfit, hopping around in front of the store to attract customers.
Meanwhile, Hugh Jackman had a job that complemented his natural comedic tendencies. For a period of about three years, and for $50 per show, you could hire Jackman as a clown. “I just love making a fool out of myself,” he said of that period of his career. “I was Coco the Clown and I had no magic tricks and I remember a six-year-old standing up at a party saying ‘Mummy this clown is terrible, he doesn’t know any tricks’ - and he was right." He probably should've asked for an autograph anyway.
Elsewhere, Whoopi Goldberg, who you'll know from Sister Act, briefly working as a phone sex operator. “When I was younger, the money was great,” she said. “But now, people would know my voice.” It was at around this time that she secured her beautician license. Yet she was hired not as your everyday parlour worker – but as a mortuary beautician.
And the slightly morbid past jobs don't end there. Angelina Jolie’s job before becoming an incredibly successful Hollywood performer was as a funeral director. Apparently, after the passing of her grandfather, Jolie 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. Even as her career in show business went from strength to strength, Jolie’s always had the funeral business to fall back on – founded on a desire to make a unique difference in the world.
And finally, we come to one of the most iconic actors of the past half-century. Before cursing the presence of snakes and making the Kessle Run in less than 12 parsecs, Harrison Ford was a humble 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.
It must have been fate that he took up carpentry because the reason Ford was hired for Star Wars so early in production was that George Lucas had met him while he was installing a wooden door at Francis Ford Coppola’s house. Truly the work of the force.
It seems there are no set rules for bit-part side hustles while you're working on your acting career. From lion tamers to clowns, many performers will do whatever job they can to pay the bills. And odd as they may seem, some of these first jobs likely gave these world-class performers a boost – in confidence or skills – that sent them on their way to success.