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Actors Who Were the Lead in Their First-Ever Roles

Most performers start with minor roles and get bigger. These actors started their acting careers with a bang!
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So many people dream of getting their big break right off the bat. While that doesn’t happen all too often, it’s still possible. Just look at these 15 actors; they were cast as leads in their first film or television roles. And you’d be surprised where some of them started compared to where they are now. From Pirates of the Caribbean to Marvel to Harry Potter, there’s no telling where these actors will show up next.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan in ‘Never Have I Ever’

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan in Never Have I Ever
Netflix | NBCUniversal | Universal Television | 3 Arts Entertainment | Original Langster | Kaling International, Inc.

An open casting call went out for Devi, the lead in Mindy Kaling’s Never Have I Ever, and Maitreyi Ramakrishnan snagged the lead role out of thousands of applicants. She has since starred in the show for two seasons, with a third coming out later this year and a fourth expected next year.

Other than Never Have I Ever, she’s voiced Zipp Storm in the My Little Pony franchise since the start of 2022. She also voiced Priya in Turning Red, which was released earlier this year. Maitreyi will also appear in The Netherfield Girls in the future as Lizzie Bennet.

Auli’i Cravalho in ‘Moana’

Auli'i in Moana, Crush
Disney | Hulu | Animal Pictures | American High | Depth of Field Productions | 3 Arts Entertainment | LD Entertainment

Auli’i is the only person on this list whose debut was in animation rather than a live-action film or show. She auditioned for Disney’s Moana with no voiceover or professional acting experience but snagged the role nonetheless.

She reprised the role of Moana in Ralph Breaks the Internet and starred in The Little Mermaid Live! She’s also gone on to star in NBC’s Rise, Hulu’s Crush, and Netflix’s All Together Now. She’ll also star in Hailey’s On It! next year and The Power (premiere date unknown).

Alaqua Cox in ‘Hawkeye’

Alaqua Cox in Hawkeye
Marvel | Disney

Alaqua Cox is just getting started after appearing in Hawkeye last year. Her role as Maya Lopez, AKA Echo, was technically an antagonist, but I can’t wait to see where she goes in the spin-off focused on her, titled Echo.

Alaqua has been applauded for her casting by Marvel as she is deaf and Native American, like her Marvel character. While on set, her costars, Jeremy Renner and Hailee Steinfeld, learned American Sign Language to better communicate with her.

See related: Ranking the New MCU Shows So Far

Jason Statham in ‘Lock, Shock and Two Smoking Barrels’

Jason Statham in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; Hobbs and Shaw
Columbia TriStar | Gramercy Pictures | PolyGram Filmed Entertainment | Summit Entertainment | The Steve Tisch Company | SKA Films | HandMade Films | Universal | Chris Morgan Productions | Seven Bucks Productions

Jason Statham got his start in the same type of role that he’s known for – as Bacon, a tough-as-nails character, from 1998’s film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Another actor that got their start in this film is Vinnie Jones.

Since that movie, Statham has only been in several films, voiced characters in video games, and appeared in a handful of music videos. His most notable roles include Deckard Shaw in the Fast & Furious franchise, Lee Christmas in The Expendables, and Frank Martin in the Transporter movies.

Rupert Grint in ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’

Rupert Grint in Harry Potter, Servant
Warner Bros. | Heyday Films | 1492 Pictures | Apple | Blinding Edge Pictures | Escape Artists | Dolphin Black Productions

That’s right, Rupert Grint’s portrayal of Ron Weasley was the first time he was ever on camera. Before he was cast at 11, Grint had only been in school and local stage productions. But that didn’t stop him from auditioning, and we couldn’t be happier with his take on the character.

Rupert’s last movie role was in 2015, but he has another one out next year called Knock at the Cabin. He also currently stars in Servant as Julian Pearce and will appear in the upcoming anthology show Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.

Emma Watson in ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’

Emma Watson in Harry Potter, Little Women
Warner Bros. | Heyday Films | 1492 Pictures | Sony | Columbia Pictures | Regency Enterprises | Pascal Pictures

Yes, we have another Harry Potter entry on this list. Emma Watson’s first role ever was as Hermione Granger. The character will always be Watson’s first and most iconic role, but her career didn’t stop there. We got to watch her grow up from a bright witch to a Disney princess over two decades.

After Harry Potter ended, Emma went on to star in several films, including the live-action Beauty and the Beast and 2019’s Little Women. In addition to acting, Watson has graduated from university, started various social campaigns, and ventured into modeling.

Zendaya in ‘Shake It Up’

Zendaya in Shake It Up, Dune
Disney | It’s a Laugh Productions | Warner Bros. | Legendary Pictures

I know we always talk about Zendaya, but how could we not? She’s been a star from the moment she was cast in Shake It Up. After the show ended, she stuck with Disney for a few more projects, most notably K.C. Undercover, which made her one of the youngest producers in Disney history.

Since leaving Disney Channel, Zendaya competed on Dancing with the Stars, appeared as MJ in the Spider-Man MCU movies, and starred as Marie in Malcolm & Marie. She is also set to appear in Dune: Part Two after having barely any screen time in the first film. She also stars in Euphoria, on which she is also an executive producer.

Rachel Zegler in ‘West Side Story’

Rachel Zegler in West Side Story
20th Century Studios | Amblin Entertainment | TSG Entertainment

Rachel Zegler burst onto the scene in song and dance as Maria in West Side Story last year, but she’s nowhere near done with her acting days. After a slight debacle with the Academy Awards this year, she’s moved on and has three more projects already in the works.

Later this year, she’ll appear in DC’s Shazam: Fury of the Gods in an unknown role. Disney also snatched up the actress to portray its first princess, Snow White, in a live-action movie. She’s also signed on to voice Princess Ellian in Spellbound, which has no release date yet.

Maisie Williams in ‘Game of Thrones’

Maisie Williams in Game of Thrones, The Owners
HBO | Warner Bros. | Television 360 | Grok! Television | Generator Entertainment | Startling Television | Bighead Littlehead | RLJE Films | Signature Entertainment | XYZ Films | Logical Pictures | Wild Bunch | Blue Light

We watched Maisie Williams grow up as Arya in Game of Thrones. However, she’s not letting that big franchise stop her from paving a new path for herself. Her latest roles were as Mary in 2020’s The Owners and as Cammie MacCloud in 2021’s Gen:Lock.

In addition to acting, Maisie started Daisy Chain Productions, co-developed the app Daisie, and is Advisor and Creative Strategist for Contact. She also presented a TEDx talk in 2019 on her experiences growing up acting and in the spotlight.

Josh Brolin in ‘The Goonies’

Josh Brolin in The Goonies, Dune
Warner Bros. | Amblin Entertainment | Legendary Pictures

You might know him best as Thanos from the Avengers movies or maybe from Dune as Gurney Halleck. But did you know Brolin got his start in the film industry in The Goonies as Brand? Since the movie’s release in 1985, the actor hasn’t slowed down his career in any way.

Some other notable roles from Brolin are Jonah Hex in DC’s Jonah Hex movie and Young Agent K in Men in Black III (okay, maybe that was just notable to me, but still). He has an upcoming film that he’s acting in and producing called Brothers, but there’s no release date yet.

See related: Most Comics-Accurate Casting in the MCU

Barbra Streisand in ‘Funny Girl’

Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl, The Guilt Trip
Columbia Pictures | Rastar | Paramount | Skydance Productions | Michaels/Goldwyn

Moving on to Josh Brolin’s stepmother (which I didn’t know until recently), let’s talk about Barbra Streisand’s movement from stage to film acting. Streisand originated the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway, so it was an obvious choice to have her reprise the role in the movie as her first film role.

She went on to reprise the role again in Funny Lady in 1975, starred in the film adaptation of Hello, Dolly!, and starred in the second film iteration of A Star is Born. Streisand’s last film role was in 2012 in The Guilt Trip, but she is still putting out music.

Frances McDormand in ‘Blood Simple’

Frances McDormand in Blood Simple, Olive Kitteredge
Circle Films | River Road Productions | Foxton Entertainment | HBO | As Is | Playtone

When Frances McDormand transitioned from stage to film, nobody knew it would catapult her to stardom almost immediately. Before starring as Abby in Blood Simple, she had been an understudy for Painting Churches at Lamb’s Theatre for a few months.

Her role in Blood Simple was only the start of a long and diverse filmography that goes from Pixar to Transformers to Shakespeare film adaptations. Her latest film role was in The Tragedy of Macbeth in 2021 as Lady Macbeth. Frances also voiced God in Good Omens.

Johnny Depp in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’

Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Pirates of the Caribbean
New Line Cinema | Media Home Entertainment | Smart Egg Pictures | Disney | Jerry Bruckheimer Films

Johnny Depp was born to be an actor, and it’s no surprise he managed to snag a significant role in Nightmare on Elm Street without any film experience. After the film, he went on to star in the television series 21 Jump Street and work with Tim Burton on several films.

We all know him best as Captain Jack Sparrow, but he sadly wouldn’t return to the role if it was offered back to him. In addition to acting, Depp founded Infinitum Nihil (a production company) and formed a rock band (Hollywood Vampires) in 2015.

William Hurt in ‘Altered States’

William Hurt in Altered States, Black Widow
Warner Bros. | Marvel | Disney

In his very first role, William Hurt scored the lead role in Altered States in 1980. Following that, his career boomed, and he went on to star in several films before appearing as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Thaddeus Ross, starting with The Incredible Hulk.

Hurt’s last film role was in The King’s Daughter opposite Kaya Scodelario and Pierce Brosnan. Hurt died from cancer at 71 on March 13, 2022. He has one more film coming out in the future, in which he voiced Stephen Holstrom, titled Pantheon.

Jamie Lee Curtis in ‘Halloween’

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween, Halloween Kills
Aquarius Releasing | Compass International Pictures | Falcoln International Productions | Universal | Miramax | Blumhouse | Trancas International Pictures | Rough House Productions

Did you think I would forget the Queen of Horror herself, Jamie Lee Curtis? Her first film role was in Halloween, following in her mother’s steps of starring in horror movies. Jamie has since reprised this role 12 times so far, with the thirteenth film coming out later this year.

See related: Every Movie Sequel Hitting Theaters in 2022

Laurie Strode has been Curtis’s most iconic role to date, but you’re bound to see her appear in several film genres besides horror. She starred in Disney’s Freaky Friday in 2003, Knives Out in 2019, My Girl in 1991, and You Again in 2010.