Not every celebrity becomes a star right out of the gate. Most have to spend years building their craft and going to fruitless audition after fruitless audition, often working as waiters or fast food workers at the same time.
However, not every struggling actor spends their pre-success years flipping burgers or waiting tables; many had full careers before transitioning into entertainment. Here are the weirdest jobs your favourite celebrities worked before they were famous.
27. Megan Fox – Banana smoothie mascot
Actress and model Megan Fox has said she’s only ever had one ‘normal’ job: she worked at a smoothie bar in Florida before becoming a Hollywood star. However, even her stint behind a cashier till had an unorthodox element to it.
“Once a week, usually on Fridays, someone had to dress up as a fruit, a piece of fruit – and go and stand out by the highway,” she recalled in a 2012 interview with Ellen DeGeneres. “I was a banana, a giant banana.” DeGeneres then proceeded to prank Fox, as an actor dressed up as a banana crept up behind the pair and made Fox jump.
26. Ray Liotta – Cemetery worker
Long before he was cast in Field of Dreams (1989) and Goodfellas (1990). The late and beloved actor Ray Liotta was once a student at Miami University. Here, he and his room-mate found summer jobs at the local cemetery, Hollywood Park. “They needed kids to do a lot of the gardening, and set-up for funerals, and wait in the bushes while the last rites are being administered, and then after the people left we’d lower the bodies in the ground,” he has recalled.
“Like every human being who’s not religious, I have a big fear of death, and I won’t say that job got rid of it but it got me closer to the reality of death — seeing it every day, burying bodies,” he noted. “It’s not going to be fun.” Reminiscing about his first ever job, Liotta also quipped: “It was a good job — I had a lot of people under me.”
25. Whoopi Goldberg: Morgue beautician
Out of all the professions actors sometimes have before side-stepping into Hollywood, beautician or make-up artist is one of the more common. It may not surprise you, then, to know that before she became a multi-award winning actor, author and talk show host, Whoopi Goldberg attended beauty school and became a fully certified beautician. Goldberg’s clients were not made up of teenage girls at a shopping mall’s beauty counter, however.
Instead, Goldberg accepted a position at a funeral home, styling the hair and doing the make-up of those who had sadly passed on. Despite going on to work multiple jobs at once when she became a household name, Goldberg has always maintained that her work at the funeral home was the hardest she had ever done. She went on to say in interviews that being a morgue beautician is a “rough gig” that “takes a certain kind of person”.
24. Charlize Theron: Ballerina
When it comes to professions that children want to be when they grow up, actor is very near the top for many. However, there is one job that is considered to be the gold standard for kids around the globe: ballerina. Before she transitioned into film work, working as a professional ballerina was Charlize Theron’s dream too.
When she was 16 years old, Theron moved from South Africa to New York, and began attending the prestigious Joffrey Ballet School while also working as a model. Theron was committed to completing her training and becoming a ballerina, until a knee injury shattered her dreams and forced her to consider a career change. She was told by her mother that she could either go home to South Africa and sulk, or come up with a new plan in America; she chose to move to L.A and pursue acting.
23. Danny DeVito: Corpse hairdresser
Danny DeVito has made a career off of being a pretty offbeat celebrity, so it makes sense that he’s had more than a few odd jobs in his time. Maybe the oddest, though, was when his older sister signed him up for hairdressing classes, and insisted he get certified and become a fully-fledged stylist for his New Jersey community. After a few months cutting the hair of sweet old ladies in the salon, DeVito was contacted by a funeral home.
The funeral home asked DeVito to consider a slight career change, and asked him to start giving the final haircuts to the old ladies who had passed away. DeVito has said in interviews that he actually preferred cutting the hair of the dead, even if it was a bit morbid, because they didn’t complain as his living customers did. Despite his surprisingly positive response to cutting the hair of the passed on elderly, DeVito passed on the morgue hairdresser job in favour of acting as soon as he could.
22. Taylor Swift: Christmas tree exterminator
Taylor Swift has been working towards becoming a musical megastar ever since she was nine years old. In order to make her dream come true, she began participating in local musical theatre and spending her weekends singing at festivals when she was still a young kid. However, while she was learning guitar, taking singing lessons and developing the skills that would later catapult her to the top of the country music charts, Swift was also working on her family’s Christmas tree farm.
Despite sounding incredibly quaint, working on the Christmas tree farm was apparently a lot of hard work. It mostly consisted of chopping down the trees for customers, bagging them up and hauling them to people’s cars. The young Taylor obviously couldn’t help with these jobs but, still needing to contribute to the family business, she was in charge of spraying down the trees with pesticides to stop them from being overrun by bugs or disease.
21. Christopher Lee: Intelligence officer
Christopher Lee might be most famous for making his mark on iconic characters like Count Dracula, Saruman and Lord Summerisle, but the story of his life actually includes a stunning amount of diversity. As well as acting in hundreds of movies, Lee also found the time to record several albums. He mastered styles as varied as opera and symphonic metal, and even released two heavy metal Christmas albums.
As a young man, Lee volunteered to fight for the Finnish Army against the Soviet Union, and later trained to fly fighter jets. When his optic nerve failed during his penultimate training flight, Lee offered to join the RAF intelligence service to make himself useful. During the Second World War, he was even attached to the precursor of the SAS, but always declined throughout his life to discuss the missions he was sent on.
20. Bette Midler: Pineapple processing worker
Over the years, Bette Midler has become synonymous with a certain type of high camp musical glamour. From her earliest roles to her later performances, she has always embraced bawdy, loud and unapologetic characters that match her powerful voice and distinctive personality. The energy and humour that infuses all Midler’s work are also present in her real life, as she was voted most talkative and most dramatic in her high school yearbook.
Midler was raised in Hawaii by two Jewish parents from New Jersey, who named her after the legendary Bette Davis. The young Bette soon strived towards the profession of her namesake, but not before spending several months working at a pineapple processing plant. She only stayed as long as she needed to in order to save up money to move to New York and start her career, and then she was gone.
19. Pierce Brosnan: Fire eater
Pierce Brosnan has built a career on playing stoic and handsome heroes, from James Bond to Robison Crusoe to Sam Carmichael in Mamma Mia! However, his first forays into entertainment were a lot less refined. After Brosnan left school at 16, he stumbled across a performer at an open workshop who was earning tips by teaching other people to eat fire. Brosnan was suitably enchanted, and asked the stranger to teach him the trick as well.
Brosnan’s experience learning to eat fire and entertain people inspired him to study for three years at the Drama Centre London. Brosnan later said of that period of his life: “When I found acting, or when acting found me, it was a liberation. “It was a stepping stone into another life, away from a life that I had, and acting was something I was good at, something which was appreciated. That was a great satisfaction in my life”.
18. Johnny Depp: Telemarketer
Throughout his career, Johnny Depp has played countless characters, often of the whimsical or unusual variety. He has played everything from an introvert cursed with scissors for hands, to Wonderland’s maddest hatter, to a rockstar pirate haunting the high seas. Far less rock ‘n’ roll was one of Depp’s earliest jobs; he was a telemarketer, selling pens over the phone to businesses and individuals.
Depp didn’t exactly take to the position and hated it almost from his first moment in the job. In fact, he only made one sale the entire time he worked there. He actually made a sale on his very first phone call, proving himself to be a pretty good telemarketer, but he immediately undid all of that work. Having sold a woman a shipment of pens over the phone, Depp then promptly talked her out of buying them. He then quit the job on the spot.
17. Barack Obama: Ice cream scooper
From 2009 to 2017, Barack Obama held the highest office in the land. Given that Obama eventually achieved enormous success, it’s a little funny to imagine him working any sort of ordinary job, even when he was younger. Despite that, Obama’s first job was as an ice cream scooper Baskin-Robbins in Honolulu, a job that he worked while attending school.
Obama has spoken about his time slinging ice cream often, saying it instilled in him “responsibility, hard work and balancing a job with friends, family, and school.” However, despite looking back on his first job with a lot of fondness, Obama has also admitted that it wasn’t all rainbow sprinkles and free sundaes. Not only did Obama once admit that scooping ice cream is “brutal on the wrists”, but he also confessed that he had completely lost his taste for ice cream after “one too many free scoops”. Poor guy.
16. Brad Pitt: Restaurant mascot
Actors gravitating towards fast food or restaurant gigs as they struggle to make a name for themselves is a pretty well-tread cliche. With that said, for Brad Pitt, that stereotype was actually his reality, and it was a way weirder experience than you might expect. Before working his way into the public eye with guest appearances on sitcoms and supporting roles in horror movies, Pitt worked at a restaurant called El Pollo Loco.
This of course sounds like a pretty normal entry-level position for a struggling actor to make some money in between auditions. However, Pitt’s job responsibilities included way more than simply taking orders, frying chicken or wiping down tables. Instead, Pitt spent his working hours dressed in a giant chicken suit, wandering the streets near the restaurant and attempting to draw in new customers.
15. Hugh Jackman: PE teacher
When it comes to the popular imagination, gap years are thought to be all about rest and relaxation. Gap years are supposed to be about taking time to travel and learn more about yourself between school and university or work. Even if a gap year includes work, it is supposed to be casual work to fund a holiday or university, not the beginnings of a career.
Despite all this, when Hugh Jackman decided to take a gap year in order to recuperate from public school and plan his next move, he didn’t go for any of the usual gap year jobs. Instead of opting to become a bartender or a waiter, or being paid obscenely small amounts to star in commercials or pose for stock photos, Hugh Jackman became a PE teacher. For a whole year, the future Wolverine spent a year teaching sports to a group of kids at an English public school, before going on to university.
14. Chris Pratt: Stripper
In his time before finding major success on Parks and Recreation as the adorkable Andy, Chris Pratt truly lived the life of a struggling actor. He once had free headshots taken by a stranger who invited him to his house, made him take a shower and then vanished off the face of the Earth once the pictures were taken, never to be seen again. Pratt even got recruited into a bizarre quasi-pyramid scheme, which ended in him running a business he knew nothing about from an empty office with exactly three employees.
Perhaps most unusually of all, though, Chris Pratt also spent some time working as a stripper when he was just 18. Needing to make some money to fund his acting dreams, Pratt balanced working at several clubs at once, and very much enjoyed the work. Speaking about the experience, Pratt said: “I was always a very much naked person. I loved to always get naked. I was very free, so I thought, I may as well get paid!”
13. Steve Buscemi: Firefighter
Nowadays, Steve Buscemi is best known for appearing in a number of critically acclaimed movies, from Reservoir Dogs to Fargo and The Death of Stalin. However, before he had established himself as both a versatile performer and a talented voice actor, Buscemi had a few different day jobs to help him pay the bills. Most notably, from 1980 to 1984, Buscemi worked as a firefighter in the Little Italy area of New York.
Despite only working the job for four years before moving on, the profession has remained an important part of his life ever since. After the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001, Buscemi returned to his old firehouse and pulled a week of 12-hour shifts, digging through rubble and looking for survivors. He was also once arrested for protesting the closure of another New York firehouse.
12. Christopher Walken: Circus clown and lion tamer
Though it took him a while to make it onto our screens, Christopher Walken’s career in entertainment began when he was very young. When he was just 16 years old, he worked at a touring circus managed by Tyrrell Jacobs, a legendary lion tamer. Among his other duties, Walken also had to pretend to be Jacobs’ son, a lion tamer who had followed in the footsteps of his dad.
Walken has spoken extensively in interviews about the lion he worked with, a female called Sheba that was almost “more like a dog”. He went on to say that all he would have to do was raise his whip, and Sheba would “run and sit up and roll over and do things.” These early experiences entertaining an audience only cemented the idea that acting was something Walken could do for a living, even if he spent many decades as more of a “jack-of-all-trades.”
11. Tom Hanks: Peanut and popcorn salesman
Lots of celebrities have a brand that can be easily summed up, and Tom Hanks’ is wholesome and all-American. Therefore, it’s pretty unsurprising to know that one of Hanks’ first jobs was as a food vendor at a baseball stadium. When he was just a young teenager, Hanks made his money selling hotdogs, peanuts and popcorn to rowdy fans of America’s favourite sport. It might sound idyllic, but the young Tom Hanks didn’t exactly enjoy his job, and as an adult, he has warned others about the dangers of the job.
Not only was he robbed twice while attempting to shell peanuts, but the atmosphere was not as friendly and upbeat as he had hoped. During the short time he was working there, Hanks managed to cultivate a serious rivalry with the adult professional vendors, who apparently held pretty serious grudges when it came to the teenagers just trying to make some pocket money.
10. Jon Hamm: Adult film set dresser
John Hamm has had a pretty fortunate acting career. Not only has Hamm won featured roles in TV hits like Good Omens and Parks and Recreation, he’s also appeared in blockbuster movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Baby Driver. However, Hamm has always maintained that two things are true of his career: he will never get another role as good as his starring role in Mad Men, and that dressing the sets of adult movies was the worst job that he has ever had.
In the late 1990s, Jon Hamm’s full-time job was sourcing props and locations for adult films, and it’s safe to say that it wasn’t his life’s calling. Hamm has unsurprisingly avoided bringing the job up in most interviews, but he has called it a “soul-crushing” gig on a few occasions. Fortunately, Hamm’s career is solid enough that he will probably never have to go back to set dressing again, or at the very least he’ll be able to get a set dressing job in a more reputable genre.
9. Mick Jagger: Mental hospital porter
After an incredible six decades, Mick Jagger still holds the title of being one of the biggest rock stars in the world. Most anecdotes that involve the Rolling Stones frontman also include words like hotels, televisions and broken windows. Thanks to his impenetrable rock star image, it’s difficult to imagine Mick Jagger ever having a normal job or school life, but he actually had both.
Before he found fame strutting his stuff on stage, Mick Jagger worked as a porter at Bexley Mental Hospital. He made a fairly paltry salary doing so, earning just four pounds and ten shillings per week, which he used to put himself through university at the London School of Economics. The experience wasn’t a pleasant one, but it did inspire a couple of the Rolling Stones’ most famous hits, such as 19th Nervous Breakdown and Mother’s Little Helper.
8. Ashton Kutcher: Cereal dust sweeper
There are a lot of weird jobs available when you’re just starting out in employment and trying to make money, but none as weird as Ashton Kutcher’s first role. Kutcher’s first-ever full-time position had the hilarious title of cereal sweeper… which is exactly what it sounds like. Kutcher accepted the job in order to put himself through college, where he was planning on studying biochemical engineering.
It might sound silly, but Kutcher’s responsibilities really just extended to sweeping up the debris that collected on the floor of the cereal factory where he worked. Thankfully, Kutcher didn’t have to remain in the role for long, since he eventually abandoned his plans for university in favour of a modelling career. The modelling unsurprisingly paid much better than his cereal sweeping gig, and it allowed him to move into a quickly flourishing acting career.
7. Lucy Liu: Aerobics instructor
If any celebrity truly knows the value of struggle and hard work, then Lucy Liu does. Her parents both had to work multiple jobs while Liu was growing up in New York, in order to support both her and her two siblings. Liu inherited that work ethic, and took similar steps to ensure she stayed financially solvent while pursuing an acting career. From the moment she decided to take acting seriously, Liu began working three separate jobs, in order to give her the money she needed in order to spend time auditioning.
During the week Liu worked as a secretary, while on weekends she worked as an aerobics instructor during the day and a hostess at a restaurant at night. Speaking to the Seattle Times, Liu said: “I knew I needed money if I was going into acting because I was probably not going to be making a lot of money off the bat.”
6. Gerard Butler: Lawyer
Given the box office success Gerard Butler has enjoyed over the years, it might be difficult to imagine him dedicating his life to anything other than acting. However, for much of his early life, his main passion was actually the law, which he eventually intended to make a living in by practising full-time. Before playing such famous figures as King Leonidas of Sparta, Butler was actually the president of the Law Society at the University of Glasgow.
After graduating with honours, Butler even managed to secure himself a position as a trainee lawyer at an Edinburgh law firm, but that, unfortunately, didn’t last long. Butler spent his time working at the firm slacking off, and spent most nights staying out late and drinking heavily, which eventually led to him being fired one week before he qualified as a lawyer. It was a crushing time for the future Hollywood star, but it did motivate him to move to London and pursue his acting dreams, something for which we are all thankful.
5. Adrien Brody: Birthday magician
There are a couple of professions that all kids aspire to at one point or another: ballerina, astronaut, postman, magician. Adrien Brody really got to live the dreams of kids everywhere when he was younger, as he was a birthday magician from the age of eight. Brody began studying magic when he was just seven years old, attending professional magic camps and learning from high-profile magicians.
Brody earned $50 from his first-ever magic gig, and credits the world of top hats and vanishing bunny rabbits for his eventual interest in acting. Speaking about his formative experiences at magic camp, Brody said: “I definitely see parallels between acting and magic and performance. You are given a trick and a basic synopsis about what the reveal is and then you make up a story and your own pattern.” Brody went on to say: “You have a monologue and you create an illusion. Something is happening that is not necessarily happening. As a kid it was pretty cool to fool all the adults.”
4. Tim Allen: Drug dealer
Not everything you can do to make money counts as a legitimate profession, which is why Tim Allen didn’t find a career until he became an actor. Before he became a Hollywood darling for starring in movies like The Santa Clause or Galaxy Quest, Allen’s way of making a living was decidedly more illegal. Throughout his college years and into his early adulthood, Allen got by by transporting various illegal substances across the border… until he got caught.
Allen operated within a group of 20 people who were all involved in his drug smuggling operation, but when he was caught at the airport with a suitcase of something he shouldn’t have had, he took the fall for everyone else involved. This led to an almost three-year stint in jail, which Allen said was essential in teaching him “how to shut up” as a young adult. Allen was completely reformed when he eventually left prison, and set out to find a more legal profession – which is how he ended up as one of the most recognisable names in American comedy.
3. Bob Ross: Drill sergeant
The late Bob Ross is one of the warmest celebrity personalities to have ever lived, with an inviting, down to Earth persona that has made him a hugely successful teacher. It’s almost impossible to imagine Ross doing anything other than standing at an easel, let alone doing a job that ran contrary to his chilled-out demeanour. For much of his life, though, Bob Ross made a career for himself in the US Armed Forces.
Ross enlisted in the United States Air Force when he was just 18, and slowly worked his way into the rank of Master Sergeant. During this time, Ross also had to work as a drill sergeant, yelling at new recruits to keep their bunks clear and their guns clean. Ross hated his time working as a drill sergeant so much that after his retirement from the Armed Forces, he swore that he would never scream again.
2. Jason Lee: Professional skateboarder
A lot of celebrities have previous jobs and lives that are surprising, and completely at odds with their later persona. However, Jason Lee does not fall into that category, as who he was before he became an actor makes perfect sense. In the late 80s and early 90s, Lee was a professional skateboarder, one who competed in numerous competitions and even founded his own skateboard company.
Lee founded Stereo Skateboards in 1992, along with fellow professional skateboarder Chris ‘Dune’ Pastras. Lee was such a prolific skateboarder that his voice and likeness are even featured in Tony Hawk’s Project 8. Though he does not compete anymore, Lee still works with charitable causes that deal with skateboarding, and it has remained a core part of his brand.
1. Ozzy Osbourne: Slaughterhouse worker
Ever since his first Black Sabbath album in 1970, Ozzy Osbourne has cultivated a reputation for being dark and spooky. Given that his nickname is literally the Prince of Darkness, the fact that he used to work in a slaughterhouse might not be that surprising. What is surprising is that Osbourne didn’t resent the work, and in fact really seemed to enjoy it.
Speaking about the work, Osbourne has said: “It wasn’t because I was killing animals. It was because when you’d finished the kill you could go home.” Osbourne went on to say: “You’d get there at six in the morning and, depending on how many cattle you had to kill, sometimes you’d be back home three or four hours later. So you had the rest of the day off. That was better than working nine to five in an office.”