Natalie Portman

Then and Now: Famous Actors’ Earliest Performances

Isn’t it fun to learn about Hollywood stars’ lives from before they were famous? Meryl Streep and Sandra Bullock were cheerleaders in high school, and a surprising number of now-famous leading men cleaned restrooms to pay the bills. Equally fun is checking out some of these stars’ early works in films that may have—but often didn’t—get them their lucky breaks. Here are a selection of movie stars and some of their earlier works that are worth a look —and a laugh.

Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman

Next time you plan to buy DVDs, take a look at this talented actress’ back titles. Long before she led the cast in the critically acclaimed“Black Swan,” Portman performed in several other movies. Her first feature film was the 1994 English-language French thriller “Leon: The Professional,” when Portman was just a young teen. In this, she played a girl whose family was killed by a hitman. In the blockbuster “Star Wars” prequels, Portman plays Queen Amidala. But did you know those weren’t her first science-fiction films? In 1996, she also played the role of the U.S. president’s daughter in the 1996 Tim Burton film “Mars Attacks!”

Jack Black

Comedian Jack Black is now well-known for his “King Kong” and “Shallow Hal” performances, as well as his voice work in the animated “Kung Fu Panda” series. The now 43-year-old Black started acting as a teen. He first worked on commercials and TV shows but soon began appearing in movies. You can see him in small parts in some 1990s films, including “Waterworld,” “Dead Man Walking,” and “Bio-Dome.” He also had a role with Natalie Portmanin “Mars Attacks!” In the 2000s, he broke out into larger roles, starting with 2000’s John Cusack vehicle “High Fidelity.”


Ryan Gosling

Ryan GoslingSoft-eyed Canadian Ryan Gosling is so popular now he’s sparked his own Internet meme. But before he was saying “hey girl” to all of your Facebook friends, he was a child TV star. He played on “The Mickey Mouse Club” and broke onto the big screen with a series of smaller roles. His first feature film was a Canadian teen movie called “Frankenstein and Me” in which Gosling’s character helps a friend try to bring a dead body back to life. Then, he had a supporting role in “Remember the Titans,” a movie about football. His next movie would be the one to garner him some critical acclaim: he played the conflicted main character in “The Believer.”

Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie has been a Hollywood A-lister for years, and her name has become even more prominent because of her humanitarian efforts and famous relationship with Brad Pitt. However, she wasn’t always able to command the lead role. She started out as a child actor, playing her first role with her father, actor Jon Voight, in “Lookin’ to Get Out.” As a teenager she modeled but got back into acting seriously after the low-budget “Cyborg 2” came out in 1993. Her first successful film as an adult was “Hackers,” though she followed that film with a few that aren’t so recognizable today, such as “Love is All there Is” and “Foxfire.”

Matt Damon

Matt Damon

Superstar Matt Damon worked with Angelina Jolie, in the 2006 thriller “The Good Shepherd.” And, movie lovers are unlikely to have missed his first blockbuster, the 1997 “Good Will Hunting,” which he performed in as the title role and co-wrote with buddy Ben Affleck. He’s had dozens of successful, critically acclaimed movies since, but if you’re browsing early 1990s movies, you might recognize him in a small one-liner role in 1988’s “Mystic Pizza,” a coming-of age film starring Julia Roberts. He was also an Army lieutenant in “Geronimo: An American Legend,” an executive in “Chasing Amy,” and a lawyer in “The Rainmaker.”

Drew Barrymore

Another former child actor, Drew Barrymore has acted in more than 50 TV and movie productions. Her first, and wildly successful film was “E.T.” in which she played cute little sister Gertie. Although that film was popular—and still is today—she also performed in several obscure films. For example, she was the Fantasy Girl in 1991’s Motorama and Vampire Victim No. 1 in “Waxwork II: Lost in Time.”


Natalie Portman Image by Josh Jensen from Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Natalie Portman – Black Swan) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ryan Gosling image from Flickr’s Creative Commons by friskytuna

Matt Damon image from Flickr’s Creative Commons by <3.xsecondstar.


About the Author

Ardie Freeman is an avid blogger, movie watcher and gardener. She lives in L.A. and keeps tabs on what’s happening in Tinseltown for a variety of websites.


Vivid Times

This article is written by Vivid Time Staff member.