During an interview with Steve Merchant in 2008, Louis C.K. joked that the aspiring actors in the audience of Inside the Actor’s Studio who asked the actors the questions were starting from nowhere, and would never themselves make it into the business. “You’ll never be famous,” Louis said. “There’s no way you asked Sean Penn a question and then you’re going to be huge.” A few years later, 2014’s American Hustle (and irony) found Louis co-starring with Bradley Cooper, who had actually done that very thing in 1999. He had asked a question from the Actor’s Studio audience – and quite literally asked it of none other than Sean Penn.
In that same year, on that same show, Cooper also asked a question of Robert De Niro. Cooper then went on to star with De Niro in Limitless (2011), Silver Linings Playbook (2012) – and American Hustle. Add to this the fact that American Hustle gave Cooper his second Oscar nomination, and Louis should probably have been hospitalized for that burn.
Louis was right on one count, however. Cooper’s status as a genuine leading star was secured with The Hangover in 2009, but by this point he had already built a fairly extensive filmography (which we’ll just pretend for everyone’s sake does not include All About Steve). It had been a slow process, but Cooper hadn’t exactly come from nowhere.
When you are cast into one of the most guaranteed blockbusters of the movie year, from a fairly average role in a TV show that depends on actors being changed when the producers think no-one’s looking, and characters lurking shadily around corners and sleeping with their daughters-in-law – that is coming from nowhere. And this is exactly what happened to British actor Ben Hardy, who in January of this year announced that he was leaving soap-opera Eastenders for a role in Bryan Singer’s much anticipated X-Men: Apocalypse. Hardy was closely followed by fellow Eastender Sam Strike, who in February announced on Twitter his own recruitment to a major Hollywood role. Even J.J. Abrams is reportedly casting as many unknown actors as he can for Star Wars: Episode VII (provided Jar Jar Binks doesn’t make another appearance, Abrams could animate the whole movie with Smurfs and no-one would mind. Or notice.)
The path to stardom may traditionally require a CV full of toil, YouTube worthy mistakes and Films That Shall Not Be Named, but quantum leaps from obscurity into instant stardom do actually happen more than we might realize.
So, from Middle Earth and Asgard, to showing up at auditions the morning after a bar fight, here are 10 actors who went from fameless to famous in one short step.