Early Roles for the Currently Famous

There are plenty of lists waxing nostalgic about revisionist history online. Some even border on irritating, know-it-all anecdotes to drop on people at parties. “Speaking of Denzel Washington,” the partygoer will undoubtedly interject during the ongoing debate about Malcolm X’s role as a historical figure, “did you know he was in Death Wish?”

For such situations, I offer the following, less reported early roles with which to retort. Because for every Leonardo DiCaprio in Growing Pains, there’s one of these:

Jim Caviezel firebombed Alcatraz — The Rock

It’s easy to miss the Person of Interest star/Jesus as the fighter pilot who drops a load of bombs on Alcatraz, blowing Nicolas Cage out of the water (something we’ve secretly all wanted to do). That may have to do with the pilot oxygen mask covering his face during most of his screentime.


Jack Black was struck by lightning/Defended Denis Leary — The X-Files/Demolition Man

X-Files fans won’t find it difficult remembering Black as the arcade-obsessed second banana to Giovanni Ribisi’s Electro in season three’s “D.P.O.” However, few recall his blink-and-you’ll-miss it turn as resistance leader Denis Leary’s right-hand man in Demolition Man. Covered in dirt and post-punk, apocalyptic gear, Black only sneers in one close-up after Stallone slaps his weapon away.  The film predicted Taco Bell being the only fast food restaurant in existence and President (not Governor, mind you) Schwarzenegger, but it never imagined its pudgy extra would go on to bigger things.


Mariska Hargitay is not eaten by a crocodile — Lake Placid

The biggest issue with Lake Placid is how few truly unpleasant characters (and there were many) got their comeuppance within the jaws of the lead creature. David E. Kelly’s obnoxious script is more interested in Ally McBeal-esque sniping than the monster itself. SVU‘s Hargitay appears early on as an adulterous museum employee, never to be seen again.


Seth Rogen was a dick — Donnie Darko

It’s not hard to miss Rogen’s pudgy form as one of two of Donnie’s high school tormentors; partly because the camera barely notices him and partly due to the distracting rat tail on his cohort (Alex Greenwald, lead singer of Phantom Planet).


Jake Gyllenhaal got his hair ruffled by Billy Crystal — City Slickers

Gyllenhaal has recently played numerous psychologically damaged roles, from his obsessed cop in Prisoners to his obsessed cartoonist-turned-crime-writer in Zodiac. None, however, could have been more difficult than acting as a delightful little moppett around Billy Crystal, a man whose appearance and persona suggest that he just wants to take Gyllenhaal to a baseball game and play a good round of “Gotcha nose” for an excruciatingly long time.


William H. Macy made a phone call — Law and Order (Pilot)

There have been numerous cast changes throughout Law and Order‘s 20 season run, but it’s first was William H. Macy’s A.D.A., whose one scene appearance in the pilot is overshadowed by his later role as a villain. Note to Law and Order fans: anytime there’s a soon-to-be-famous guest star on the re-run, they’re the ones what did the crime.


Jane Lynch solved the crime — The Fugitive

The early ’90s are a goldmine of actors trying to strike it big, and a role in 1993’s The Fugitive, one of the only action films to be nominated for Best Picture, must have seemed huge. It was the film, after all, that launched Julianne Moore into bigger and better things. Lynch would only toil in bit parts before hitting her stride in comedies in the past decade, though her role is pertinent here. As the eponymous character’s old doctor friend, Lynch uncovers the conspiracy sorrounding Devlin MacGregor’s miracle drug… *waves hand dismissively and sternly points at roomfull of onlookers* PROVASIC!


John Ritter was a beat cop — The Stone Killer

This Michael Winner/Charles Bronson vehicle has an irrestible premise, as mafia don Martin Balsam begins using shellshocked Vietnam vets to do his murderous bidding, as opposed to regular hitmen. Ritter has a small role as the first cop in the door, which, in a Bronson film, can only end well. Three’s Company star Normal Fell also appears.


Most of the cast of The Burning get killed by gardening shears — The Burning

Bob Weinstein’s only credited screenplay has become a cult favourite due to its excessive gore. Like all things Weinstein, it was fabricated to cash-in on a recent trend – in this case the slasher flick. It also features early roles for Holly Hunter, Jason Alexander, and Academy Award winner Fisher Stevens. The latter two are brutally dispatched on a raft with gardening shears.


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