24 Actors Talk About Their First Roles
You're supposed to strive to always make a good first impression, but it's not always possible when you're a young actor and any job is a good job. Everyone has to start somewhere.
While interviewing an assortment of actors recently, we asked them to recount their first-ever onscreen performances, which included fleeting appearances in TV pilots that never aired, foreign car commercials, spots on Law & Order (of course), and more.
Some are unfortunately not available to view no matter how hard you scour the Internet, but the ones that are out there are priceless.
William H. Macy
"It was a TV pilot called Spider. I lived in Chicago and I believe I was a cop. I had one line, maybe two. That was my first time on camera. The pilot didn't go."
"It was National Lampoon's Senior Trip. It was the lead in this National Lampoon movie. It was random. It was a big get for me at that time because it was my first job ever on camera. At the time I was like, 'This is fantastic!' Nowadays comedy for me has to be character-driven, not this goofball joke setup kind of thing."
"I was in a commercial for Hartford Bank. It was important. To be cast in anything was a vote of confidence. Around that same time, I played a very small role in the television show Ed. I spent all day doing a scene with John Slattery and Julie Bowen. One of the most fun things about being on The Big Bang Theory over the past few years has been having Mad Men and Modern Family on, too. To have my first TV episodic experience with those two people, and they've been so successful at the same time that The Big Bang Theory has found its own success... It's been a sweet story. We tried to pitch that as a press story and nobody bit."
"It was called Who Shot Patakango?. I think Sandra Bullock was in it. I believe it did come out. It was my first movie role and I remember going out for my call time on the subway because I lived in New York and I threw up when I got there. I was so nervous that I was going to be on camera. I'd never been on camera before. I played some teacher. I remember that but I don't remember what it was about or anything. I never saw the movie and I will never see it."
"The Libertine. I never did commercials. I never did anything before that. I was just in drama school before."
"I was in a Japanese car commercial. They cast a bunch of Americans. This was way before SNL—I was living in LA doing stand-up, probably around 2003. They flew us all to Tokyo, business class, and put us up in a hotel. The whole commercial was us dressed like lunatics in weird neon mesh outfits, sitting in a car dancing to the song 'Let's Groove.' We shot it for seven or eight straight hours. No lines, so we easily could have not been American. I can never hear that song again without having terrible flashbacks and going into conniption fits."
"A friend needed a baby to come out a drawer in a movie. I can't remember what it was called. There was this politician who had this trophy baby and the idea was that he would spring him out of the desk when he needed to pose for various photos and then shove him back in the drawer. So I was the baby in the drawer and would come out waving my British flag, supporting the prime minister. It was some British TV thing. It was incredibly small but fun."
"It was on the show called Onion SportsDome on Comedy Central. I played "Frat Friend." It was a five-line role. Which is funny because it's probably not that dissimilar from the role I'm now playing on How to Get Away With Murder."
"I did an episode of Third Watch many years ago. 2004. I played a schoolteacher who had bright red hair and was being stalked by some bomber. They sent me to Frederic Fekkai and dyed my hair bright orange. To this day I cannot believe I allowed anybody to do that to me. I had red hair for like half a year. It was my first television job so I was ready to do anything to get the job."
"When I was a kid I was modeling and I was living in Milan. So it was an Italian Uncle Ben's rice commercial when I was 15. It was weird. I was walking through the piazza at the Duomo, which is a big church in Milan. And that sold Uncle Ben's rice for some reason. When I quit modeling, because I didn't like it, and started acting, I booked an MCI commercial. I was a princess who had to hold a bullfrog in my hand and kiss the frog. It was the first audition I ever went on in America. People have tried to find that commercial online but you can't find it."
"I was in a show called The House of Eliott, which was a BBC TV show. I played an artist's model and I was terrified and shaking. They bleached my hair and it all fell out."
"It must have been Down the Shore, which was actually a Fox show. And now I'm going to be appearing in a Fox show, Gracepoint. It was a long time ago."
"I was at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and I was a checkout boy for Giant Eagle, which is a local grocery store, in a commercial. It was just regional. But it was a commercial that paid my way through college."
"Before and After with Meryl Streep. I had one scene and I was edited out. I had thought I had made it and I told everybody. I brought a girlfriend to the movie—she was an actress—and I was like 'I'm in this movie and I'm with Meryl Streep.' And I was no longer in it. The relationship didn't work out. But the experience was fun."
I got mostly edited out of the worst Ang Lee movie, called Taking Woodstock. I had a couple lines. I played a guy who was a stoner named Artie Kornfeld, so like a Jewish stoner. I couldn't even get that right. But six weeks in upstate New York in July—a blast! I ended up with two lines in the movie and you know what one was? It was: 'You got my keys?'"
"I was in a pilot for CBS called Cutty Whitman and I played Deputy Sheriff Molly Ann Sikes. It was a long time ago. It was my first on-camera gig. I was so thrilled. It was exciting and it was a very big part. It was going to be for a TV show but it didn't get picked up. I have it on some crazy VHS tape somewhere."
"It was The Brady Bunch. That's how I got my Screen Actors Guild card. I played Pat Conway, the cheerleader who Greg chose to become head cheerleader. It was so much fun."
"I was nine and I played a little rebel girl [on a show] in the town I grew up in. It was great. I was like 'Cool, there's candy and I get to hang out with adults!' This is why I'm still doing it—because I associate acting with candy."
"It was The Practice. A guest-starring role. I was on the stand and Lara Flynn Boyle was interrogating me. It was crazy, but it was fun. I was so young."
"I did commercials and modeling in sixth grade. Really not the time when you're supposed to have your picture taken. But my first real role with lines was Law & Order. I was in sixth or seventh grade. Everyone in the world has been on Law & Order and I was one of them. I remember watching Law & Order one time and my doorman from New York was on. It's the joke that everyone has been on it. The footage has been shown to me on talk shows a few times."
"I started out in France. I was still in drama school and I played a girl who got into a car accident for some really bad French TV show. I had to be confronted with the guy who hit my car. It was pretty bad. I had to lie the entire time because I said I'd been acting before and I'd done it before, but literally I had never been in front of a camera. The director figured it out after take two, like 'What are you playing over here? The camera is over there.' It took a while to get where I am now."
"The first thing I ever did was a Miller's Outpost commercial. That was the time when you would record huge swaths of time on the VCR to see if you could get it and see it. There was no such thing as online. But my first legit gig, I was the host of a skateboarding show on Nickelodeon called SK8-TV, which you can see."
"I never booked any commercials. I was in Deck the Halls, the movie with Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito. Literally if you blink, I'm gone. I was screaming about something in the background. That was the first time I was in something. It was weird to see it."
"It was Mary Ryan on Ryan's Hope, a soap opera. I was 19 years old and I played the heroine. I was absolutely confident. I will tell you this—television to me was like water off a duck's back. I trained for the theater and my intention was to work only in the theater, but television knocked on my door early. So I was looking at it with half an eye and I slid into it. I danced into it with the greatest of ease. It turns out, it was the better glove."
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.