Soap operas are pretty much a dying genre now, but there was a time when daytime television shows were a springboard to launch some of Hollywood’s biggest careers. Don’t think so? Here are 15 stars who got their big break on the soaps.
Brad Pitt may have turned heads as a hitchhiker in the 1991 movie Thelma & Louise, but the future Hollywood hunk began his acting career on daytime television. In 1987, the Curious Case of Benjamin Button actor appeared on two episodes of “Another World” as Chris. Pitt also appeared on an episode of “Growing Pains” that same year. He went on to have a hugely successful career in Hollywood and a successful dating life before settling down with Jennifer Aniston. Although that marriage didn’t work out, Pitt has found happiness with actress Angelina Jolie.
During the ’80s, David Hasselhoff became a household name in the U.S., largely due to the success of the hit television show “Knight Rider.” The Hoff became an international sensation, donning red swimming shorts in “Baywatch,” but a 22-year-old Hasselhoff actually got his start playing Dr. William “Snapper” Fisher Jr. on “The Young and the Restless.” The Baltimore native joined the cast in 1975 and stayed on for seven years before moving on to “Knight Rider.”
Meg Ryan became America’s sweetheart after starring in When Harry Met Sally… and Sleepless In Seattle but her first major role on a soap opera in the ’80s prepared her for her upcoming romantic movie roles. Ryan played Betsy Stewart in “As the World Turns” for several years beginning in 1982. Although she wanted to be an actress since childhood, Ryan attended college and was one semester shy of graduation before dropping out. The reason? Her acting career was taking off.
Before he snagged Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, hunky actor Josh Duhamel was honing his acting chops on ABC’s “All My Children.” The former model played Leo du Pres from 1999 to 2002 until his character was killed off. In true soap opera fashion, his body was never found. Dumahel starred in NBC’s hit drama “Vegas” before his role in the blockbuster franchise Transformers. Duhamel and wife Fergie recently announced they are expecting their first child.
Before starring in box office hits A Few Good Men and Strip Tease, actress Demi Moore sharpened her acting skills on ABC’s “General Hospital” as Jackie Templeton. Moore started with the long-running soap opera in 1982 and remained with the show for a year. Soon after, she landed her breakout role in the movie St. Elmo’s Fire. Moore went on to star in more than 30 films including the 1997 G.I. Jane where she famously shaved her head. Moore is in the process of divorcing third husband Ashton Kutcher. “General Hospital” recently celebrated 50 years on the air.
Ryan Phillpe may turn heads in Hollywood jogging around town shirtless, but in 1992 the hot actor made television history. Phillipe played Billy Douglas on ABC’s “One Life To Live,” the first gay teenager portrayed on a daytime soap opera. Phillipe left the show after a year and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career on the big screen. In 2011, Philipe returned to television on the fifth and final season of FX’s “Damages.”
Before she was strolling down Wisteria Lane in four-inch heels as Gabrielle Solis, Eva Longoria played Isabella Brana on “The Young and the Restless.” The Texas native’s guest appearance on ABC’s “General Hospital” led to her big break to play Brana in 2001. Longoria stayed with the daytime show for two years before she landed the role as Solis on the successful show “Desperate Housewives.” Fun trivia fact: Longoria’s first husband is “General Hospital” star Tyler Christopher.
Hollywood actress Julianne Moore has racked up accolades and award nominations since the start of her career. The British-American star played the dual role of half-sisters Frannie and Sabrina Hughes on “As the World Turns” from 1985 to 1988, earning her a Daytime Emmy. Moore made the transition to film soon afterwards and started racking up Oscar nominations for Boogie Nights, The End of the Affair, Far From Heaven and The Hours. Most recently, Moore portrayed Sarah Palin in HBO’s Game Change.
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Sarah Michelle Gellar scored minor parts in a few films in the late ’80s but it wasn’t until her major role on ABC’s “All My Children” in 1992 that Gellar’s career started to take off. Gellar played the daughter of Erica Kane, one of the most well known characters in soap opera history. As the evil Kendall Hart, Gellar earned a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Young Actor. Gellar left the show in 1995 and went on to star in the cult-favorite show “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” In 2011, the New York native retuned to “All My Children” but not as Kendall; she played a patient at Pine Valley Hospital.
Tommy Lee Jones
Tommy Lee Jones made his Broadway debut in 1969 but a few years later he was ready for the television screen. From 1971 to 1975, Jones played the moody Dr. Mark Toland on ABC’s “One Live To Live.” Shortly after his stint on daytime television ended, Jones found his way to Hollywood to pursue a successful film and television career. Most recently, Jones received numerous nominations for his portrayal of Thaddeus Stevens in 2012’s Lincoln.
Actress Marisa Tomei landed her first professional acting gig playing Marci Thompson on “As the World Turns” in 1984. The Brooklyn native was enrolled at NYU at the time and following her heart, Tomei decided to drop out of college to pursue her dreams. Her gamble paid off; Tomei earned an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 1992 comedy My Cousin Vinny, co-starring Joe Pesci. Tomei starred in last year’s Parental Guidance with Billy Crystal and Bette Midler.
Kevin Bacon danced into America’ hearts with his breakout role in the 1984 movie Footloose but before he laced up his dancing shoes, Bacon got his start on the soaps. For a year, the Philadelphia native played Tim “TJ” Werner on “Guiding Light” before turning to the silver screen to star in over 30 films. Because of his extensive acting career that spans into numerous genres, Bacon is the focus of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, a trivia game that links Hollywood actors to each other based on Bacon’s movies. Bacon currently stars in Fox’s “The Following.”
Many people remember a young Leonardo DiCaprio on the hit sitcom “Growing Pains,” but the Hollywood superstar actually got his start on a soap opera. In 1990, DiCaprio was cast as Mason Capwell on NBC’s “Santa Barbaba.” DiCaprio received critical acclaim for his role in the 1993 film What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. He went on to star in numerous blockbuster hits including Catch Me If You Can, Aviator and The Departed. When DiCaprio was five years old, the future Titanic star was kicked off of the show “Romper Room” for being too disruptive.
James Earl Jones
James Earl Jones is an acclaimed stage actor whose baritone voice helped land him numerous voice-over work over the years. Before he voiced the iconic words, “Luke, I am your father,” Jones made history on the soaps. In 1966, he was cast to play Dr. Jim Frazier on CBS’ “Guiding Light.” He then switched over to “As the World Turns” as Dr. Jerry Turner, making him the first Black male actor to take on a continuing role on a daytime soap opera.
Calista Flockhart is known for her role as the title character in the television show “Ally McBeal” but the petite actress actually made her television debut in 1989 as Elise the babysitter on “Guiding Light.” Flockhart went on to star on Broadway before returning to television. After “Ally McBeal” ended, Flockhart was cast in ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters.” Flockhart was actually offered the role of Susan Myers in “Desperate Housewives,” but after turning it down, the role went to Teri Hatcher.