Sharlto Copley – District 9
Director Neill Blomkamp and Copley had been friends since high school when he was cast in District 9. Originally he had no intention of doing the film, as he was already working in the entertainment industry as a small-time producer, but he was coaxed into the role after enough determination from Blomkamp.
Haing S. Ngor – The Killing Fields
Finding an actor to accurately portray the horrors of a genocide is a daunting task. Instead of bringing a trained actor in to attempt this feat, Ngor was cast. Ngor was hesitant to play the part as he actually had to traverse minefields and eat rats when he fled from Khmer Rouge captors. Ngor in turn would become the first Asian to win best supporting actor for his role.
Vinnie Jones – Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels
Jones is a certified [email protected]$$ that was actually a soccer enforcer taking on his tough guy role in movies. Director Guy Ritchie saw the potential in Jones and cast him in the movie, along with his then-unknown friend Jason Statham.
Rob Brown – Finding Forrester
Being cast opposite of the legendary Sean Connery was no easy feat. What makes it even more impressive from Brown is the fact that he had no prior acting experience aside from a role in a third school play. Brown initially showed up to a casting call to be an extra but landed the lead role after director Gus Van Sant found out that his background was eerily similar to that of the main character.
Stu Rutherford – What We Do in the Shadows
In the 2014 film “What We Do in the Shadows,” the IT guy named Stu is actually an IT guy names Stu. His role was initially brought on as a practical joke but the writers ended up making him an important role and fan favorite.
Jaye Davidson – The Crying Game
Davidson was a fashion model when he stumbled drunk into a party. Well someone gave him a phone number and asked him he would like to be in a movie. He didn’t even remember the encounter but called the number anyways as was cast as the transgender character Dil in the Crying Game.
Thomas Horn – Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Horn first appeared on Jeopardy! Kids Week and earned over $30,000 from the show. The producers of the movie saw him on the show and picked him to play the role of Oskar Schell, opposite of Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. The film received mixed reviews but Horn was acclaimed as gifted and very well cast.
Frank Silva – Twin Peaks
Silva was a set dresser on Twin Peaks when he inadvertently appeared in a shot on the show. Director David Lynch though he looked creepy enough to play the demonic “Killer BOB” and upgraded him to a cast member. Even after his untimely death, Lynch was able to use archival footage to keep him in the show.
Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips
Abdi was such a convincing Somali pirate that it is difficult to believe he had never acted a day in his life. While he was a chauffeur in Minneapolis, he responded to a local casting call for background characters before being cast opposite of Tom Hanks. His “Look at me. I am the captain now,” was even ad-libbed but has gone on to be the most famous line of the film.
Danny Trejo – Runaway Train
Trejo was an ex-con working as a youth counselor when he arrived on set of Runaway Train to help a young crew member who was battling a substance problem. The director asked Trejo is he would like to be an extra in a prison scene and, in true Danny Trejo fashion, he said yes. Trejo has gone on to be in nearly 150 movies and is known for saying yes to any role he is asked to play.
Harold Russell – The Best Years of Our Lives
Russell was a real-life veteran and double amputee before he entered Hollywood. He lost both of his hands in WWII but quickly mastered his prosthetic hooks and starred in a military training film. Shortly after he was offered a role to further showcase his abilities but he turned it down under the belief that he would fail. Fortunately he changed his mind as he ended up winning two Oscars for his role.
Darlene Cates – What’s Eating Gilbert Grapes
When you are opposite Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, you have to be on top of your game. That is what makes it so odd that Cates had never acted before. In fact, she was discovered after appearing on an episode of The Sally Jessy Raphael Show in 1992 called “Too Heavy to Leave Their House.” Screenwriter Peter Hedges saw Cates and knew that she was perfect for the role.
Sasha Lane – American Honey
Sometimes being in the right place at the right time is all it takes. Lane was a teenager roaming around Miami when she was approached by Andrea Arnold, writer/director of American Honey. She appeared opposite of Shia LaBeouf in the film and even won the Jury prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
R. Lee Ermey – Full Metal Jacket
In real life, Ermey was a drill instructor in the Marine Corps and served from 1961 until he was medically retired in 1972. He used his G.I. Bill to study at the University of Manila in the Philippines and appeared in several military movies as a technical advisor but it was his role as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in 1987 that sparked his acting career.