Before They Were Stars

(Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Actress Sandra Bullock
(The Blind Side, The Proposal, Miss Congeniality) • Previous job: Waitress, bartender, hostess, coat check girl • Payoff: Bullock has pretty much nailed the quadfecta of jobs that actors take on to support themselves while they’re acting and auditioning. All that variety of experience may have helped her in her film career, in which she’s played everything from an undercover FBI agent/beauty contestant to a software expert who has her identity erased to, most recently, a Memphis interior designer who adopts an African-American teen and helps turn his life around. Says career coach Jim Borland: “All the world’s a stage. Actors I’ve worked with often regard jobs they have to do before they get what they want as roles.” AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Clear Channel)
Lady Gaga
(Born This Way, Just Dance, Pokerface) • Previous jobs: In high school, when she was still known as Stefani Germanotta, the aspiring pop icon bused tables at a diner near her childhood home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Clear Channel)
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Clear Channel)
(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for MIU MIU)
Jeremy Renner
(The Avengers (May 4, 2012), The Town, The Hurt Locker) • Previous job: Make-up artist • Payoff: Before taking on roles as a macho bomb-defusing technician in Iraq and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Renner worked for a time as a make-up artist on production sets. “Instead of waiting tables, I got to put makeup on gals, which was kind of nice,” Renner told a celebrity website. Even today, Renner isn’t relying entirely on movies to pay the mortgage; he’s got a side business of remodeling and flipping houses, and does most of the work himself. So if acting proves to be an unreliable road – according to the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, 85 percent of actors are unemployed at any given time – Renner won’t sweat it. He can always remodel other stars’ houses. Or do their makeup. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for MIU MIU)
(Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for MIU MIU)
(Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Chelsea Handler
(Chelsea Lately, Girls Behaving Badly) • Previous jobs: Her first job was as a waitress at a Morton’s steakhouse in Los Angeles.
(Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
(Credit: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
George Clooney
Up in the Air, Ocean’s 11, ER) • Previous jobs: Men’s suit salesman, construction worker, theater cleaner • Payoff: Of course Clooney sold men’s suits! He’s still a salesman on the screen, only his inventory has changed. Whether he’s pitching a scheme to rip off a casino, a swordfishing trip in bad weather, or a politically risky newscast in Good Night and Good Luck, there’s no doubt the guy could sell ice to Eskimos. In Up in the Air, it’s pretty clear what he’s selling in that bar scene. But what you may not have known is that when he moved in with Aunt Rosemary Clooney in L.A. after dropping out of college, he paid for acting lessons by working construction and cleaning a theater (before that, he tried out for the Cincinnati Reds but didn’t make it past the first round). Perseverance pays off: Nowadays, Clooney vacations in a villa in Italy that he reportedly bought for $10 million.
(Credit: Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
(Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Aziz Ansari
(30 Minutes or Less, Funny People, I Love You, Man) • Previous jobs: He says his first job was as “a dishwasher at one of those Japanese places that cook on your table. Not too fun.”
(Credit: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
(Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
(The Mo’Nique Show, Precious, The Parkers) • Previous jobs: Phone sex line supervisor, bank teller, fast food joint worker • Payoff: The actress/comedienne/talk show host wins the odd job sweepstakes: Before her rise to the top, Mo’Nique worked on a phone sex line, monitoring the, uh, entertainers, and making sure they were keeping their customers satisfied. In addition to providing fodder for her humor – “I laughed all night,” Mo’Nique told The Insider – and management skills (“I actually had to connect the call and make sure [the operators] were doing the call properly,” she explained to The Advocate), the job helped her gain what Hollywood manager/producer Lou Pitts calls the value of “an experienced life.”
(Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
(Credit: Toby Canham/Getty Images)
Megan Fox
(Transformers, Jonah Hex, Jennifer’s Body) • Previous jobs: She wore a banana costume when she worked in a smoothie shop as a teen.
(Credit: Toby Canham/Getty Images)
Credit: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
James Cameron
Avatar, Titanic, Terminator) • Previous jobs: Truck driver • Payoff: Before he landed a film job, Cameron was a truck driver writing scripts on the side: “I remember pulling the truck over to the side of the road and hiding behind a billboard to write for 20 minutes, hoping that the other drivers wouldn’t see me,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. But what jump-started Cameron’s career was his frustration when he first saw Star Wars in 1977: Cameron felt that was a movie he should have done, and with friends, he quickly filmed a science fiction short. That led to a job as a miniature model maker for the Roger Corman studios, then a job in special effects.
Credit: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
(Credit:  Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
Nick Cannon
92.3 Now, America’s Got Talent, Drumline) • Previous jobs: At age 17, Cannon says his mom “made me get a job at like, Wienerschnitzel.” He reportedly worked at the drive-thru, but was fired after spending too much time telling jokes to customers over the microphone.
(Credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images)
(Credit:  Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
Morgan Freeman
(Invictus, Shawshank Redemption, Electric Company) • Previous job: Air Force mechanic • Payoff: “I knew as a teenager what I wanted to do,” Freeman, who turned down a drama scholarship to Jackson State University to enter the Air Force, told “I got sidetracked because I also thought I wanted to be an adventurer.” But during his military stint, Freeman’s dreams of becoming a fighter pilot hit reality: “I was 21 years old when I had the opportunity to sit in a plane and say, this ain’t it. There was only one other choice in my life and that was acting.” Says Danziger: “You have to follow your passion. Spending 30 years in a line of work that you don’t love is the biggest mistake you can make.” Nonetheless, Freeman has had ample occasion to draw on his military experience over the course of his illustrious career, having played, among other roles, a black soldier in the Civil War, a brigadier general dealing with the outbreak of a deadly disease, and even the leader of the Free World himself. (Oh, and he played God, but for that role, he didn’t need a plane to get around.)
(Credit: Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
Amanda Seyfried
(Red Riding Hood, Mama Mia!, Mean Girls) • Previous jobs: Seyfried said her first job was working as a waitress in a nursing home. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
(Credit: Mark Von Holden/Getty Images)
Quentin Tarantino
(Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, Resevoir Dogs) • Previous job: Video store clerk • Payoff: In his early 20s, Tarantino famously started working at a video rental store in Manhattan Beach, a job that that allowed him to watch movies all day and talk about them with customers and colleagues, including future fellow writer and director Roger Avary. Nothing like getting paid to do what you would otherwise be doing for free.
(Credit: Mark Von Holden/Getty Images)
(Credit:  Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Joel McHale
(Spy Kids: All the Time in the World, Community, The Soup) • Previous jobs: McHale says he took on a variety of odd jobs, including work as a caddie and a stint at a wine shop, before his television career took off.
(Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
(Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Musicians Joel Madden and Benji Madden
(Good Charlotte) • Previous jobs: The brothers worked a variety of minimum-wage jobs, including stints at a pizza parlor and time spent shampooing hair at a Maryland salon. AFP PHOTO / Frederic J. Brown (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
(Credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
Russell Simmons
(Def Comedy Jam, Def Jam Records) • Previous jobs: The only 9-to-5 job he’s ever held was a stint at an Orange Julius in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village during his senior year of high school. Simmons has said that he lasted barely two months before he was fired.
(Credit: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
America Ferrera
(The Good Wife, Ugly Betty, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Real Women Have Curves) • Previous jobs: Ferrera started waitressing after high school in order to pay for head shots and the expenses of her budding acting career. (Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images)
(Credit: Toby Canham/Getty Images)
Tom Colicchio
(Top Chef, ‘wichcraft Restaurant – San Francisco) • Previous jobs: The judge and producer on Bravo’s “Top Chef” got his official start at age 13, when he got a job as a snack-bar cook.
(Credit: Toby Canham/Getty Images)

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