1. Jon Hamm worked the softcore porn circuit.
At just 20 years old, Jon Hamm had lost both of his parents and was couch surfing at various friends’ houses in Missouri. He didn’t end up heading out to LA until he was 24—arriving in an old Toyota and $100, which were essentially his only worldly possessions at the time. He worked as a waiter and a softcore porn movie set designer. It would be years until he secured his iconic role on Man Men, and even then, his main goal when he signed on was to finish paying off his student debt.
2. Harrison Ford was hired to renovate George Lucas’s office.
Harrison Ford faced severe bouts of clinical depression throughout his college years. He was first introduced to acting during the last quarter of his senior year, when he took up a drama class to get over his shyness. He graduated and pursued a pilot’s license, but eventually taught himself how to be a carpenter in order to support himself and his family. When he was in his 30s, Ford was asked by George Lucas to help expand his office. Lucas would sometimes ask Ford to read lines with the actors who were auditioning; and Ford ended up impressing Lucas so much, that he was cast in a small indie film called Star Wars.
3. Kristen Wiig sold hot dogs at the mall.
Before Gilly graced your television every Saturday night, Kristen Wiig spent her 20s working at a plastic surgery clinic (she drew clients’ post-surgery bodies) in Arizona, folding clothes at Anthropologie, selling peaches at a farmer’s market, babysitting, dabbling in floral design, and selling hot dogs at the mall. It took a decade of supporting herself on odd-job income before she was hired by Saturday Night Live.
4. Samuel Jackson numbed the pain of unemployment with drugs.
Samuel Jackson struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction early on in his career. It was so detrimental to his ability to act and function, he was replaced in two different Broadway productions. He tried supporting himself by working as a camera stand-in for Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show and performing in random on-stage productions in New York, but he was never fully able to kick his addiction until he was 41. Literally the day after he left rehab, he started work on Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. He was 46 when he was cast in Pulp Fiction.
5. Steve Carell sold his soul to fast food chicken.
Initially, Steve Carell had set his sights on pursuing law school after college. He credits not being able to answer “Why do you want to be an attorney?” on one of his law school applications to be the turning point in his life that pushed him towards acting. After he graduated, Carell worked temporarily as a mail carrier—complemented with odd acting jobs through Second City, which included making a spectacular commercial for Brown’s Chicken. Carell was in his mid-30s when he moved to New York (with Stephen Colbert!!) to join The Daily Show as a correspondent. And the rest is history.
6. Jeremy Renner worked as a make up artist just to pay his electric bill.
Jeremy Renner was 36 when he finally landed his life-changing role in The Hurt Locker. Throughout his 20s, Renner was a struggling actor living on $5 a week and consuming a strict diet of noodles, doughtnuts, and McDonald’s. There was a period of 8 months where he lived in his tiny LA apartment with no electricity because he couldn’t afford to pay the bill. He took up waiting tables and working as a make up artist to get by.
7. Tyler Perry ate Ramen noodles when he wasn’t living on the street.
Nowadays, Tyler Perry’s name is on almost everything. But in his 20s, Perry lived in a 200-square-foot apartment in downtown Atlanta, where he slept on a mattress and ate mainly Ramen noodles. He had just escaped a childhood of poverty and abuse in New Orleans, and spent his days holed up in his tiny studio apartment writing plays. By the time he was 28, he was actually living on the streets and was completely broke.
8. Kathy Bates reduced herself to working as a singing waitress.
Before becoming an award-winning actress, Kathy Bates graduated from SMU with a theater degree and moved to New York City. She spent her post-graduate years as a cashier at the Museum of Modern Art and as a singing waitress at a Catskill resort. Her breakthrough into the film industry happened when she was 42 and cast in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery.
9. Morgan Freeman was literally a “starving artist.”
Today, he’s one of the highest grossing actors in Hollywood. But before Morgan Freeman’s velvety voice enraptured you in theaters, he spent his 20s starving for days without food. He moved to LA at 22 and became a transcript clerk at LA City College and went on to participate in such minor roles in films and theatrical productions, that he, Morgan Freeman, wasn’t even credited for them. He was 52 when he got the career-defining role in Driving Miss Daisy.
10. Hillary Swank lived in a car with her mom.
Hillary Swank experienced her early 20s by living in a car with her mother. She would go on to win an Oscar at the age of 25 for Boys Don’t Cry, a film production for which she was only paid $75 per day.
11. Alan Rickman helped actors put their tights on backstage.
Alan Rickman majored in art in college and continued working throughout his 20s in graphic design. He abruptly decided to quit one day and sign up for acting classes; supporting himself by working as a costume dresser (meaning he would help theater actors get dressed backstage in between their scenes). It was almost 20 years later that he caught his big cinematic break as the villain opposite Bruce Willis in Die Hard.