Oscar Nominees’ First Notable Roles

By Nadia Chaudhury | Seriously Random Lists | February 28, 2014 | Comments ()


Before you can become an astronaut and go into space with George Clooney, you have to be stuck on a bus that can’t go faster than 50 MPH. Or that’s at least what Hollywood has taught me. I didn’t include bit parts, television show appearances, or theater roles, and it’s worth nothing that two first-time nominees, Lupita Nyong’o and Barkhad Abdi, have never really been in anything before their stunning performances in 12 Years a Slave and Captain Phillips, respectively, so kudos to them. You’ve come along way, babies. Except you, Lupita and Barkhad. You were great from the start.

Christian Bale, nominated for Irving Rosenfeld, American Hustle
First known for: Jamie Graham, Empire of the Sun

Bruce Dern, nominated for Woody, Nebraska
First known for: Captain Bob Hyde, Coming Home

Leonardo DiCaprio, nominated for Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street
First known for: Arnie Grape in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Chiwetel Ejiofor, nominated for Solomon Northup, 12 Years a Slave
First known for: Peter, Love Actually

Matthew McConaughey, nominated for Ron Woodroof, Dallas Buyers Club
First known for: David Wooderson, Dazed and Confused

Amy Adams, nominated for Sydney Prosser, American Hustle
First known for: Ashley, Junebug

Cate Blanchett, nominated for Jasmine, Blue Jasmine
First known for: Elizabeth I, Elizabeth

Sandra Bullock, nominated for Dr. Ryan Stone, Gravity
First known for: Annie Porter, Speed

Judi Dench, nominated for Philomena, Philomena
First known for: M, Golden Eye

Meryl Streep, nominated for Violet Weston, August: Osage County
First known for: Linda, Deerhunter

Barkhad Abdi, nominated for Muse, Captain Phillips
First known for: n/a

Bradley Cooper, nominated for Richie DiMasio, American Hustle
First known for: Jeff, Wet Hot American Summer

Michael Fassbender, nominated for Edwin Epps, 12 Years a Slave
First known for: Bobby Sands, Hunger

Jonah Hill, nominated for Donnie Azoff, The Wolf of Wall Street
First known for: Seth, Superbad

Jared Leto, nominated for Rayon, Dallas Buyers Club
First known for: Angel Face, Fight Club

Sally Hawkins, nominated for Ginger, Blue Jasmine
First known for: Poppy, Happy-Go-Lucky

Jennifer Lawrence, nominated for Rosalyn Rosenfeld, American Hustle
First known for: Ree, Winter’s Bone

Lupita Nyong’o, nominated for Patsey, 12 Years a Slave
First known for: n/a

Julia Roberts, nominated for Barbara Weston, August: Osage County
First known for: Shelby Eatenton Latcherie, Steel Magnolias

June Squibb, nominated for Kate Grant, Nebraska
First known for: Helen Schmidt, About Schmidt

Nadia Chaudhury will always associate Christian Bale with Newsies.

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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned

  • theKelz

    Michael Fassbender...uuuum. Band of Brothers? 300? C'MON.

  • keaton

    I always remember Leo from the not so notable This Boys Life with De Niro-before his (breakout?) role in Whats Eating Gilbert Grape. And Christian Bale will forever be the perfect Laurie in Little Women.

  • Ben

    I recognize Fassbender more from his role as Stelios in 300 than from Hunger.

    "Persian: A thousand nations of the Persian empire will descend upon you. Our arrows will blot out the sun!

    Stelios: Then we will fight in the shade."

  • linnyloo

    I see someone else already caught it -- Amy Adams was hilarious in Drop Dead Gorgeous too.

  • Az

    I'm sorry but is this for movie roles only? Because JORDAN EFFING CATALANO.

  • Sean

    Bale gave the best performance by a kid EVER in Empire of the Sun. And he was far better in Out of the Furnace that he was in Hustle.

  • stella

    Newbies! I love that movie!

  • kinoumenthe

    Didn't the Emu get widely known during his stint on Alias ?

  • e jerry powell

    It's a little twisted of me in this particular moment, but I kinda want to bang Irving Rosenfeld in that picture. He reeks of testosterone, insolence and impudence.


  • Oh, that Judi Dench one made me laugh and laugh.

    I'd have gone for Daisy Arujo in Mystic Pizza (1988) for Julia Roberts.

  • She is tattooed on my brain from that movie even though I've never seen it. When I was a kid and we couldn't afford the Impulse Pay-per-View movies, I'd watch the preview reels. Julia Roberts shrieked "Bring home the POOOOR, Portuguese girlfriend.. shake up the FAMILY a little??!!" approximately 17 times an hour. Yeah, I probably shoulda gone outside more.

  • We had HBO back in the 80s, when I swear they only ran three movies a month. (They didn't get the nickname "Hey, Beastmaster's On!" for nothing.) So while I did actually see Mystic Pizza in its entirety, I know this phenomenon.

  • Gigi Agius

    Cate Blanchett's may be known from Elizabeth but her first notable role was as Lucinda in Oscar and Lucinda. Or did that not get a release in the US? (I was living in Australia when it came out)

  • Thank you. I've been trying to remember the name of that movie all week, yet not Googling it.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Limited release, I think. It was a lovely and odd movie.

  • Elisabeth Forsythe

    " . . . you have to be stuck on a bus that can’t go faster than 50 MPH . . . " Slower than 50 MPH, once the bomb is activated! It's called Speed, not Moderately Fast! :)

  • christhebloke

    Um... if a bus can't go faster than 50 mph without blowing up, why would it be in a movie called Speed?

  • Elisabeth Forsythe

    I clearly should have scanned the comments more closely before posting mine!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Mmmm.mmmm...Mystic Pizza and Love Potion #9.

    Now I see if anyone else noted as such. I KNOW people already commented on Judi Dench.

  • AvaLehra


    Sorry I got yelly, but yes! That stupid ass movie -- I love it.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Bullock sprang as a fully-formed goofy tomboy from the forehead of Hollywood, and we love her for it.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    I won't recognize a list that groups Chiwetel Ejiofor with Love Actually. Kinky Boots, people, that was his breakout role, not some bizarre British ensemble rom com.

  • theKelz

    Serenity too. But Love Actually was before Kinky Boots (that wonderful amazing lovely movie ermagerd)...ergo, that's his earliest recognizable role.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Oh, I'm not arguing earliest, I'm arguing "notable". I don't think anyone remembers him from what was essentially a nothing role as a semi-cuckold.
    I thought "notable" meant a movie where you said "who is that?" and I feel like in Love Actually he's lost among an all star cast.

  • Billybob

    Dirty Pretty Things. Him and Audrey Tautou. Critical acclaim. Screw Love Actually (except the parts with Bill Nighy).

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Loved that movie too. I would have been fine with that. My biggest problem with Love Actually on the list is: Did anyone go away from that movie thinking about him? It was all about Keira, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Liam Neeson and of course Nighy...

  • grr arrgh

    I actually only recognized him in Love Actually based on Serenity. "Oh my god, The Operative?" Still need to see Kinky Boots and Dirty Pretty Things though.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    He was so good as the Operative I was actually praying Mal wouldn't kill him. I know that makes me a terrible brown coat, but I loved him.

  • grr arrgh

    To me, he was so good I couldn't wait for Mal to kill him. I think paralyzing him and making him realize that his idea of utopia was actually a nightmare was good enough. ..Now I really want to watch Serenity.

  • Mrs. Julien

    ...not some bizarre charming and bizarrely divisive British ensemble rom com.

    I fixed it for you.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Sorry, that movie lost me when Colin went to America to get whores, or whatever the hell that storyline was about. But I recognize I am vastly in the minority on this movie.

  • chanohack

    I forgive everything because I love Natalie and the drummer kid. But seriously, I fast-forward through all of Uncle Jaime; I hate Uncle Jaime.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Uncle Jaime was a shit, I want to murder Colin and, I find Alan Rickman unspeakable for what he did to Emma Thompson (though that storyline didn't bother me)!

    Oh, and I wouldn't mind comforting poor Liam Neeson...

  • Mrs. Julien

    It always hets people up around these parts, as I'm sure you're aware.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Indeed. I posted the Jezebel take-down of the movie on my Facebook page and I got a viciously angry message from one of my acquaintances that said, in part "you are a horrible angry woman that obviously has never experienced love!" So I know that people are fiercely protective of that film.
    And to be fair, I have never experienced Love Actually Brand Love (TM), in that no one has ever chased me through an airport, brought me to England as a sex toy, or proposed to me in spite of not speaking my language...

  • Mrs. Julien

    I also like the 2005 Pride and Prejudice with Kiera Knightley and velvet -voiced Matthew Macfadyen.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Eh, I'm a Persuasion girl, so P&P adaptations don't get me too passionate.

  • kinoumenthe

    I love both of those.
    Matthew Macfadyen is so much better as a brunette, too…

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    I think Macfadyen can do what he wants as long as he keeps that voice.
    However, I'm persnickety about my Persuasion. No Rupert Penny Jones, It must be Ciaran Hinds or no sale.

  • JustOP

    American Hustle was good, but I remember it hinging directly on Bale/Adams performances. Not sure if I agree with the decision regarding Cooper/Lawrence.

  • k reads

    I'd say the first thing Bruce Dern became known for was shooting John Wayne in the back in the movie The Cowboys. It was a pretty big deal at the time.

    He did a number of notable movies before he got to Coming Home - Black Sunday, King of Marvin Gardens, The Great Gatsby (with Robert Redford).
    But, yeah, killing John Wayne was a biggie.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    He killed a lot of people early in his career, I remember him from Marnie too.

  • k reads

    He was good at playing villains and he played a lot of them. (Although my favorite early Dern was his comedic role in Support Your Local Sheriff. Very funny.)
    But killing John Wayne was huge and followed him for years. He still talks about how he was known as the man who killed The Duke and the impact that had on his career.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Support Your Local Sheriff (and Support Your Local Gunfighter) are amazing! James Garner is one of my favorites!

  • Siege

    Garner is a goddamn national treasure. (Also, his biography is surprisingly entertaining.)

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Really? What is it called?

    Robert Mitchum's biography is basically my favorite book, so I'd love to read another great celebrity story.

  • Siege

    The Garner Files: A Memoir. It's ghost written by Jon Winokur, who is good on his own, so it's pretty great.

  • ZbornakSyndrome


  • k reads

    Nothing makes me happier than to see either playing on TCM and know that I am set for the night.

  • HerGuyWednesday

    Same. That's the movie I think of as early Dern.

  • Berry

    Oh, and Amy Adams was the sexy purse girl in The Office that Jim dated. And Pam was jealous. And the Jim broke up with her in a really shitty way.

    ETA Not trying to suggest that these were the roles that made Fassbender, Hawkins and Adams famous. I'm really just typing, 'cause I'm drunk and don't want to go to bed yet, but can't concentrate on books or movies. You know how it is.

  • Lucie

    The cheerleader from Drop Dead Gorgeous too!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    That was her break!

  • Berry

    I just went to wikipedia to find this Psycho Beach Party of wich Zbornak speaks, and it told me that she was in Drop Dead Gorgeous, but I can't really remember her in it at all.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    It's a terrible movie, but it cracks me up every time I watch it.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Oh god, when she was using the beer can seared to her hand as an ashtray, I just about fell off the couch laughing.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    I know people that would probably do that, so yeah, pretty freakin' funny.

  • Lucie

    She was blonde back then. In the movie, she and her boyfriend were all over each other in almost every scene.


  • Alicia

    You know, it's eerie how much she resembles an old friend of mine as a blonde.

  • Berry

    Big hair and dry-humping? I remember that! That was Amy Adams? Wow.

  • Mrs. Julien

    She made a strong impression of me. It was a "WHO IS THAT?" moment. Mind you, I thought that about Vince Vaughn in Swingers and look how that turned out.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    She will forever be Marvel Ann from Psycho Beach Party for me!

  • BWeaves

    Where we first know these actors from is going to come down to a "Get off my lawn" contest. What really matters is what was their first actual acting job for which we can find proof.

    EX. George Clooney. Return of the Killer Tomatoes


  • Mrs. Julien

    The Facts of Life

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    Golden Girls (I know, shocking!). Especially since that's one of my favorite episodes.

  • Berry

    Hair. (Meaning, that's some hair Clooney is sporting there, not that he was also in Hair at some point of his career. I'll stop now.)

  • lillie

    Most of these were not these peoples first known roles. Not sure if it was done on purpose or if zero research was done...

  • JoannaRobinson

    I disagree. Nadia said notable and I think, for the most part, she nailed the notable roles to the wall.

  • lillie

    I guess I read it as first known role, which in that case, there are other movies I'd have picked for most of them. But yes, there is a difference between "known" and "notable".

  • Berry

    And Fingersmith for Sally Hawkins.

  • BabyBearStrikesAgain

    I know this is film and not TV, but Chiwetel Ejiofor was in Firefly before Love, Actually.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    He actually was in Serenity, the movie. So it counts.

  • But he was in Dirty Pretty Things, which came out a year before Love, Actually.

  • BabyBearStrikesAgain

    You're totally right. This is so wrong but I keep forgetting Serenity was a movie and not an episode of Firefly.

  • Sean

    Well, the movie really was just a really big TV episode.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    The pilot was called Serenity, too, at least on the DVD. Maybe that's where your confusion comes from.

  • iamahammerheadshark

    Also, Chiwetel was in Love Actually first in 2003. Serenity came in 2005. But the real point is that he should really be way more famous and beloved. And in a perfect world this list would make his notable role Dirty Pretty Things (2002) because not nearly enough people saw it in this one.

  • Berry

    I first knew Fassbender as the sexy bad guy in this not really good British paranormal series called Hex. But he didn't stay long. And after he left, the series went from not really good to actually bad.

  • ZbornakSyndrome

    HEX! Oh god I planned my weekend around BBC America's airing of that stupid show!

  • Berry

    It was pretty stupid. But Fassbender gives good tortured demon, so there was that.

  • llp

    I am the same age as Christian Bale, and managed to develop a healthy crush on him in Empire of the Sun. That was my first exposure to John Malkovich, as well.

  • Chris

    Am I the only one who remembers Christian Bale as Yum Yum in Mio http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M... ? It's a few months older than Empire of the Sun. Apparently! It also had Christopher Lee as bad-ass evil Lord Kato.

  • llp

    I do not recall that movie. That's cool!

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Yeah, high 5! I love the Welsh Lullaby, and I remember reading all about him in my Weekly Reader.

    And that movie is one of the first I remember making me cry. That blood running down the sword onto the orange...

  • llp

    That was a pretty spectacular movie, I still think.

  • Sean

    Absurdly underrated movie.

  • Bernal William M

    Bruce Dern has a huge body of commendable work (see "Black Sunday" '77 to name just one) before "Coming Home". I know he's not going to win for "Nebraska" but Dern has been a rock solid performer for decades.

  • Lloyd_The_Bartender

    King Of Marvin Gardens! great movie! a little weird but ... great.

  • Siege

    He'll always be Joe Danby from "Support Your Local Sheriff!" to me.

  • He is always Long Hair from The Cowboys to me.

  • I'm feeling really old after reading this list because I remember quite a few of these from things much longer ago.

  • BWeaves

    I remember Bruce Dern from Silent Running, playing cards with Huey, Dewey and Louie. And I remember him from every freaking western that was on TV in the 1960s.

  • thatstrangewoman

    Are you kidding me with Bruce Dern? Yes, to Silent Running, but also...
    Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, They Shoot Horses Don't They, The Great Gatsby, The Cowboys (my father still hasn't forgiven him for shooting John Wayne in the back) and Hang 'Em High. Before I was ten I had seen these in my household.

  • lillie

    Jared Leto was first and always will be Jordan Catalano and to suggest otherwise is just trolling.

  • iamahammerheadshark

    I think both Leto and also DiCaprio were pretty recognizable for their TV roles before the film roles in the article. Let's never forget DiCaprio on Growing Pains.

  • Berry

    He leans great.

  • lillie

    And Julia was in Mystic Pizza and the rocker chic movie with Justine Batemen before Steel Magnolias.

  • e jerry powell

    Thank you. Mystic Pizza wasn't exactly a bit part. I choose to disregard Satisfaction, though.

  • lillie

    Satisfaction was pretty awful, if I remember. I loved Mystic Pizza and you're right, that was no bit part. Fun fact, it WAS Matt Damon's film debut though.

  • And Liam Neeson was in Satisfaction (he and Julia were A Thing then), tying neatly into Pajiba's "Non-Stop" review.

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