20 Celebrities Who Started Out In Commercials
Whilst plenty of celebrities lend their faces to famous brands, the world of advertising has also kickstarted some of the most famous Hollywood careers. What’s more, many stars started out in adverts that were wildly different from the roles they enjoy today.
From military recruitment schemes to Clearasil face washes, here are 20 celebrities whose early days in advertising might surprise you.
20. Mark Ruffalo – Clearasil
Mark Ruffalo has appeared in some great films in his time, including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Shutter Island.
Of course, Ruffalo is probably best known today for appearing in various Marvel films as Bruce Banner/the Hulk.
But before Ruffalo became an Avenger, he was busy promoting Clearasil Double Clear, a skincare product designed to reduce spots.
The 1989 ad sees the future star ‘zapping’ away zits on his face using the cleanser.
Recalling this first acting gig on the Jimmy Fallon show in 2016, Ruffalo revealed that the ad’s director handed him a rather backhanded compliment once he got the job.
According to Ruffalo, the director told him “I really really liked what you did because you just seem like you came right off the street, like you don’t know how to act at all.”
19. Elisabeth Moss – Excedrin migraine relief
Elisabeth Moss has starred in some pretty intense dramas in her time, be it The Handmaid’s Tale or Mad Men on TV or The Invisible Man on the big screen.
Before she appeared in such screen hits, however, Moss made a living the doing odd commercial job.
One of Moss’ early jobs included this 2002 ad for Excedrin, the migraine relief medicine.
Her talent truly does shine through in the advert – you’d be forgiven for thinking Moss was a legitimate migraine sufferer.
The ad was enduringly popular, and continued to earn Moss a decent salary while she looked for a more stable acting gig.
She found such a gig in 2006 when she was cast as Peggy Olson in Mad Men, Moss’ breakout show.
18. Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Pop-Tarts
Joseph Gordon-Levitt stole everyone’s heart back in 2009 with his portrayal of Tom in 500 Days of Summer.
Before then, Gordon-Levitt had appeared in a smattering of TV and film roles – notably, he had a supporting role in cult classic film 10 Things I Hate About You.
But the actor’s first few roles were actually in commercials. After appearing in a local production of The Wizard of Oz at the age of four, Gordon-Levitt was scouted and encouraged to audition for various commercial jobs.
His first job was on a Pop-Tarts commercial in 1991, which saw him make his on-screen father Pop-Tarts for breakfast.
The budding young actor also appeared in commercials for Sunny Jim peanut butter, Cocoa Puffs cereal, and Kinney Shoes.
Gordon-Levitt comes across as a truly captivating and warm presence even as a kid, so it’s no surprise that he was picked to advertise so many different products.
17. Morgan Freeman – Listerine
“The taste people hate” is a truly bizarre choice for a tagline – but then Morgan Freeman can make anything sound good.
This 70s ad sees Freeman explain that the powerful Listerine taste gives him confidence that the product is working – which makes a lot of sense.
“You say you hate it but you keep on using it?” his baffled colleague asks.
“Well, yeah! Think if it didn’t taste so strong, it wouldn’t be working,” Freeman responds.
Freeman goes on to explain that the mouthwash has the power to kill germs that cause bad breath.
It’s no surprise Freeman found success with commercial work – his warm, distinctive voice could sell anything.
16. Ben Affleck – Burger King
Ben Affleck has appeared in hits such as Good Will Hunting, Argo and a handful of DC films as Batman – but his initial acting roles were a lot less glamorous.
Affleck got his start in acting by playing a ‘delivery boy’ in an old Burger King commercial.
The ad features Affleck receiving a call from a girl who has the wrong number.
She asks Affleck for a chef salad – and he obliges and picks one up for her, despite not actually being a Burger King employee.
It’s implied that Affleck plans on introducing himself to the girl (there’s a shot of him preening in the car mirror).
Unfortunately, he’s ultimately forced to leave the salad at the girl’s door when his dad calls and tells him to come home.
15. Leonardo DiCaprio – Bubble Yum
Leonardo DiCaprio is undoubtedly one of the best actors of modern times – whether he’s portraying a Wall Street stockbroker or loved-up Romeo, he always dazzles on screen.
Before he was catapulted into the limelight, DiCaprio appeared in a number of low-key commercials.
At 14, DiCaprio appeared in a Bubble Yum commercial in the late 80s, sporting his trademark floppy blonde hair.
He went on to appear in several other commercials, including one promoting Japanese Suzuki cars.
He didn’t stop there: Leo also advertised Kraft cheese, Fred Meyer clothing, and Apple Jacks cereal.
DiCaprio made his first big non-commercial breakthrough in 1990 when he was hugely praised for his performance in sitcom Parenthood.
14. Dakota Fanning – Tide
You’d be forgiven for being surprised that Dakota Fanning is only 26 years old, given how much she’s already achieved as an actor.
Fanning has been modelling and acting for most of her life (she actually began by attending a playhouse in Georgia where children put on weekly plays).
It was immediately clear that Fanning had star potential, and her parents were encouraged to let her audition for bigger gigs in LA.
At just five years old, Fanning was cast in a Tide commercial. It was the first of many acting jobs for the young talent.
In 2000, she appeared alongside music legend Ray Charles in a commercial promoting the Georgia Lottery.
Fanning went on to land her first significant role in NBC drama ER, where she played a young car accident victim with leukaemia.
13. Tobey Maguire – Atari Lynx
Before he scaled skyscrapers and battled the Green Goblin as Spider-Man, a young Tobey Maguire was considering taking extra economics classes.
However, his mother saw he had acting potential and offered him $100 if he took extra drama classes instead.
Maguire agreed and was quickly recognised for his talent, soon landing work acting in commercials promoting everything from video games to juice.
Maguire nabbed his first paid job in a Doritos advert while he was still in eighth grade.
Maguire recently recalled the experience, saying: “there were four days in a row of eating them, and I will tell you, I have not eaten many Doritos since.”
While Maguire began to embark on his acting career he struck up a friendship with another aspiring star – Leonardo DiCaprio. The two are still firm friends.
12. Farrah Fawcett – Schick dryers
Farrah Fawcett was discovered by chance when a Hollywood publicist saw her photo and encouraged her to move to LA and embark on a movie career.
It took Fawcett many years to secure her breakthrough role as Jill Munroe on Charlie’s Angels.
But Fawcett wasn’t short of work by any means – she was constantly busy filming commercials for a whole range of brands.
She promoted everything from Ultra Brite toothpaste, to Noxzema skin products, to Schick hair dyers.
In 1972 she appeared alongside Tom Selleck in an advert for Dubonet liquor – Selleck too went on to become a movie star.
Fawcett’s days of advertising came to an end after she caught the eye of Aaron Spelling, who went on to cast her in Charlie’s Angels.
11. Lindsay Lohan – Duncan Hines
Lindsay Lohan’s career may have slowed down in recent years, but back in the 90s she was extremely in-demand.
If a commercial needed to feature a young, innocent-looking girl, Lohan was often the first port of call for any casting directors.
Her first TV appearance was on a Duncan Hines cake commercial in 1993 when she was just seven years old.
Lohan was so determined to get the role that she told her mother she would quit acting for good if she didn’t get the job.
Thankfully, she did secure the part. She went on to appear in over 60 TV commercials for big brands like Pizza Hut and Wendy’s.
Lohan was also a successful child model and worked with brands such as Calvin Klein Kids and Abercrombie.
10. Jennifer Lawrence – My Super Sweet Sixteen
Jennifer Lawrence shot to stardom in the early 2010s when she starred as Katniss in the Hunger Games series.
Since then, she’s had a successful career and has been nominated for four Academy Awards, going on to win one in 2013.
Her first paid job was way back in 2005, however, as she featured in a short promotional video for MTV’s series My Super Sweet Sixteen.
The video sees a disco ball smash into Lawrence’s birthday cake, splattering her and other partygoers with icing and sponge.
Lawrence then throws a small tantrum, screaming and shouting like a true spoiled 16-year-old diva.
It’s likely no one else in the ad thought they were in the company of a future Oscar winner!
9. Robert De Niro – The AMC Ambassador
Robert De Niro is nothing short of an acting legend, with a whole host of impressive movies and awards to his name.
But before he was Hollywood’s go-to for any slick gangster role, he was making a humble living by appearing in ads.
In this ad for AMC’s Ambassador car, De Niro drives to his family home to show off his flash new wheels.
His mother protests at the lavish purchase, arguing that it must have been wildly expensive.
But De Niro – or “Joey,” as he’s called in the commercial – assures her that it was surprisingly affordable.
He then offers to take his parents for a spin in his new ride. It’s a far cry from De Niro’s usual ‘tough guy’ roles, that’s for sure.
8. Jodie Foster – Coppertone
Jodie Foster was a familiar face on TV long before she starred in The Silence of the Lambs.
In fact, she was only three years old when she made her first ever commercial, playing the ‘Coppertone Girl.’
The 1965 commercial was for suntan lotion brand Coppertone, the leading sun care brand in the United States.
The brand was well-known for its distinctive fragrance and its logo of the Coppertone girl, a cartoon girl with blonde pigtails.
In this somewhat dated advert, families enjoy the seaside whilst lathering on copious amounts of suntan lotion.
The slogan for the product was: “Don’t be a pale-face – use Coppertone!” Another was “Tan, don’t burn with Coppertone.”
7. John Travolta – US Army
Before Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction, this Golden Globe-winning actor performed with a touring company in the musical Grease and had a minor part in the medical drama Emergency!
Still Travolta’s first significant screen role came in 1973, when he starred in a commercial to encourage young people to join the US military.
In the advert, Travolta appeared as a young soldier bringing home a salary of $288 per month.
“You may not even have to spend it,” the commercial says, coaxing viewers to sign up. “Your housing is free.”
“And you get 30 days paid vacation a year. What are you gonna do with that 288 dollars every month?”
“You’ll think of something.” The ad then cuts to Travolta driving away in a flash car. Travolta also appeared in a commercial for Safeguard Soap.
6. Paul Rudd – Super Nintendo
For fans of Clueless and Ant-Man, the youthful face in the advert above will seem very familiar.
Super Nintendo helped to get Rudd’s career started, casting him as the face of their brand in their 1991 ad campaign.
Rudd’s character stands transfixed as he plays F-Zero, Sim City and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past at an abandoned drive-in movie theatre.
Rudd ends up drawing a crowd of fascinated onlookers who similarly appear enthralled by the games.
The ad proudly claimed that “no one else creates this kind of experience, because no one else creates these kinds of games.”
That no doubt came as a kick in the teeth to Sega, Nintendo’s biggest rivals in the early 1990s.
5. Meg Ryan – Burger King
Meg Ryan, who achieved massive success in the 80s and 90s thanks to When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, started out in acting with a 1982 Burger King commercial.
Starring alone, she advertises a Burger King giveaway of cash prizes while flashing a beaming smile.
Called the Aren’t You Hungry For A Whopper? game, the giveaway featured a huge range of prizes for entrants to win.
Patrons of the fast food joint were given the chance to win a Whopper burger; a Coke; $1,000; $5,000; or a staggering $1 million.
You can tell from the advert that Ryan is destined for great things – her warmth and effusive personality clearly demonstrate that she’s got star potential.
Of course, Ryan did ultimately go on to star in an array of successful films following her brief stint as the face of Burger King.
4. Steve Carell – Brown’s Chicken
Nowadays, Steve Carell is best known for his portrayal of Michael Scott on NBC’s hit show The Office.
But before he landed any big acting roles, Carell starred in an ad for fast food joint Brown’s Chicken.
The ad sees Carell fix up a sign reading ‘Cholesterol Free Cooking’ outside the restaurant – only for the wind to blow away everything but the word “free.”
As crowds flood to the restaurant, Carell remarks “the response has been better than we anticipated.”
He then does a double-take, anxiety creeping into his voice as he realises that the sign now reads ‘free.’
Given the success of The Office, Carell is now one of the most recognisable stars of the screen, so it’s fascinating to catch a glimpse of him pre-stardom.
3. Keanu Reeves – Coca-Cola
He found his breakthrough in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but in the early 1980s, Keanu Reeves had just dropped out of high school with no film credits to his name.
Among his earliest roles was a Coca-Cola commercial, in which Reeves plays a keen young cyclist.
The ad sees Reeves compete in a cycling competition where his father encourages him to keep going with the help of a glass of Coke.
In an interview with James Corden, Reeves praised the scene as a “real-world, working experience” and said he shaved his legs for the occasion.
“It was like a three-day shoot,” he explained on Corden’s show. “So for me it was a great experience.”
“You’re going from school, from study, to the real world, to practical […] it was real-world, working experience.”
2. Tina Fey – Mutual Savings Bank
Before she became a critically-acclaimed comedian and Saturday Night Live star (not to mention the screenwriter behind Mean Girls), Tina Fey was in this rather bizarre 1995 commercial for Mutual Savings Bank.
The gauche ad sees Fey promote the Mutual Savings Bank’s high interest rates. It’s fair to say she was better in Mean Girls.
Back in 1995, Fey was honing her comedy skills with the improvisational comedy troupe Second City.
She supported herself financially with her day job as a receptionist at an Illinois YMCA.
Fey eventually landed regular gigs at the Improv Olympic in Chicago, before getting hired as a writer for Saturday Night Live in 1997.
She’s since won numerous awards for her work and has left her days advertising banks far behind her.
1. Mila Kunis – Glitter Hair Barbie
Best known for her roles in the psychological horror film Black Swan and the comedy Bad Moms, Mila Kunis comes from a Ukrainian family that relocated to Los Angeles when she was seven years old.
Only two years later, having learned English from scratch, Kunis was successful in her very first audition – for a Glitter Hair Barbie commercial.
Kunis was an instant hit and quickly began building up a portfolio of TV work after her success on the Barbie commercial.
Notably, in the mid-90s Kunis appeared on another commercial for girls’ accessories brand Lisa Frank.
The ad sees her and two friends gush over a range of colourful Lisa Frank products.
Although she’s only a teenager in these ads, it’s clear that Kunis was always destined for stardom with her palpable determination and enthusiasm.