The surprising earliest TV gigs of 18 Oscar-worthy actors

GettyImages emma stoneTommaso Boddi/Getty Images‘La La Land’ star Emma Stone’s first TV role didn’t quite make it to the finish.

Today, actors have become very proud of going back and forth between roles in movies and television.

But that hasn’t always been the case.

For most of Hollywood’s history, there has been a pretty deep divide between television actors and movie stars. There was no shame in getting one’s start in TV. But once one made the leap to movies, most never looked back.

As Oscar-winner and star of FX’s”The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” Cuba Gooding, Jr. told Business Insider, “When I started in the business, you did television and then when you got lucky you got a prestige project of a film.”

Many of today’s biggest movie stars followed that same career path, so we decided to take a look at the early careers of several recent Oscar nominees — from Casey Affleck to Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone  — for their earliest TV gigs.

Here’s a look at the small screen roles that started their Hollywood journey:

Ruth Negga first made waves on the Irish drama, 'Love Is the Drug,' in 2004.

Getty Images, Saffron Pictures

'Loving' actress Ruth Negga has been mistaken for British. Actually, her mother is Irish and her father is Ethiopian. Negga was raised in Ireland and later moved to Britain. Her first big role was on the celebrated Irish drama, 'Love Is the Drug.' In 2005, the series about finding and losing love won Ireland's top TV award for drama.

Casey Affleck was in the 1990 miniseries 'The Kennedys of Massachusetts.'

Getty Images; Orion Television

Before the 'Manchester by the Sea' actor was known for being part of the Hollywood Affleck dynasty, Casey Affleck played the role of young Robert Kennedy in the ABC miniseries about the family that's closest to American royalty, 'The Kennedys of Massachusetts.'

Watch Affleck as Bobby Kennedy in the clip below:

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Saoirse Ronan was on a few episodes of 'The Clinic' in 2003.

Getty Images, Radio Telefís Éireann (RTÉ)

Although Saoirse Ronan was born in New York City, the Oscar nominee for 'Brooklyn' and 'Atonement' moved with her parents to Ireland at age three. Six years later, Ronan appeared on a few episodes of one of the country's most popular dramas, 'The Clinic,' in 2003.

Watch her in a scene from 'The Clinic' below:

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Even before joining 'Growing Pains' in 1991, Leonardo DiCaprio belonged to another TV family.

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Even we thought that 'The Revenant' star Leonardo DiCaprio's earliest TV role was on ABC's 'Growing Pains,' but we were wrong. He actually starred in a 1990 series called 'Parenthood,' with David Arquette and Ed Begley, Jr. before that. This was NBC's first stab at a sequel to the 1989 Ron Howard movie. It only lasted a season. NBC tried 'Parenthood' again with a totally different cast in 2010 and got six seasons out of it.

Alicia Vikander was on a TV movie in Sweden called 'Min Balsamerade Mor.'

Getty Images, Metafor Media

Before she was Hollywood's 'it girl' for films like 'The Danish Girl' and 'Ex Machina,' Alicia Vikander starred in her first acting role at about 13 years old in her native Sweden on a TV movie called 'Min Balsamerade Mor,' which means 'My Embalmed Mother.' Playing one of the grieving daughters, the period film was shot partially in black and white.

See the young Vikander in 'Min Balsamerade Mor' below:

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Matt Damon was in a 1990 TV movie, 'Rising Son.'

Getty Images, Turner Home entertainment

Before 'The Martian,' the 'Bourne' franchise, and even 'Good Will Hunting,' Matt Damon's first lead role was in the 1990 TV movie, 'Rising Son.' Damon played the son to Brian Dennehy's character, an automobile factory foreman whose company is closing down due to Japanese competition.

Watch the 'Rising Son' trailer below:

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Jennifer Lawrence played a mascot in an episode of USA Network's 'Monk.'

Getty Images, USA Network

In a matter of a few years, Jennifer Lawrence went from wearing a gold bear uniform to winning golden statues. In 2006, the Oscar nominee for 'Joy' appeared on an episode of USA Network's 'Monk.' For an early career gig, her character, simply named 'mascot,' got a lot of screen time. Too bad, she wore a plush bear head most of the time.

Watch Lawrence on 'Monk' below:

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Andrew Garfield played the geeky neighbour on the 2005 British teen drama, 'Sugar Rush.'

Getty Images, Shine

Andrew Garfield may be the object of teen affection today, but the 'Hacksaw Ridge' actor played the 'stalker' neighbourhood kid on UK's Channel 4 teen drama, 'Sugar Rush.'

Watch a mashup of his scenes from 'Sugar Rush' below:

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Christian Bale starred in an NBC miniseries, 'Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna' when he was 12.

Getty Images, NBC

Long before Christian Bale donned the Batman cape and lured women to their death in 'American Psycho,' he was a precocious 12-year-old in his first on-screen role in the NBC miniseries, 'Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna.' In fact, that gig is how he caught the eye of Steven Spielberg and went on to star in Bale's first feature film, 'Empire of the Sun,' the very next year.

Watch Bale in a scene from 'Anastasia' below:

Emma Stone first had audiences' hearts racing on the 2007 TV series, 'Drive.'

Getty Images, Twentieth Century Fox

Before dancing around Hollywood in 'La La Land,' Emma Stone raced cross-country on the Fox series, 'Drive.' She didn't get very far as Fox canceled the show after airing just four episodes.

Watch Stone leave the competition in the dust on 'Drive' below:

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Ryan Gosling was a teen soap star on 90s Canadian show, 'Breaker High.'

Getty Images, Saban Entertainment

While Ryan Gosling is being celebrated for 'La La Land,' his big break was playing one of the students attending school at sea on Canadian (and later on UPN here in the US) teen soap, 'Breaker High' in 1998.

Watch Gosling on 'Breaker High' below:

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Rooney Mara, like many actors, was on an episode of 'Law & Order.'

Getty Images, Universal TV

Before playing an edgy hacker in 'Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' and taking on a love interest played by Cate Blanchett in 'Carol,' Rooney Mara's first TV appearance was on a 2006 episode of 'Law & Order: SVU.' She would later get into trouble after calling her storyline 'awful' and 'stupid.' She would later say her quote was taken out of context.

You can watch the episode on Hulu.

Eddie Redmayne was on a British series called 'Animal Ark' in 1998.

Getty Images, CITV

You know him now in coveted roles such as Stephen Hawking in 'The Theory of Everything,' which won him the Academy award and his Oscar-nominated turn in gender-bending 'The Danish Girl.' But in 1998, he was just a curious schoolboy on an episode of the British series, 'Animal Ark.'

Watch Redmayne on 'Animal Ark' here.

Michael Fassbender starred alongside 'Homeland's' Damian Lewis on HBO's 'Band of Brothers' in 2001.

Getty Images, HBO

A young Michael Fassbender appeared in the award-winning war drama, 'Band of Brothers' for HBO in 2001. Aside from being produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the miniseries also starred 'Homeland' and 'Billions' actor Damian Lewis, 'Office Space's' Ron Livingston, and New Kids on the Block singer-turned-actor Donnie Wahlberg.

Tom Hardy also starred on 'Band of Brothers.'

Getty Images, HBO

'Band of Brothers' was clearly a breeding ground for future stars. Like Michael Fassbender, Tom Hardy got his acting start on the 2001 HBO miniseries. At 24, Hardy brandished his guns way before doing so in 'The Revenant.'

Watch Hardy in a scene from 'Band of Brothers' below:

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Before 'Dawson's Creek,' Michelle Williams hit the beach on 'Baywatch' in 1993.

Getty Images, Tower 12 Productions

In her first on-screen role, 'Manchester by the Sea' star Michelle Williams was keeping the guys at bay on 'Baywatch.' She played a cool beach chick who caught the eye of none other than David Hasselhoff's TV son, Hobie (Jeremy Jackson), on two episodes.

Watch Williams make Hobie's day in the 'Baywatch' scene below:

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Denzel Washington was the original Doctor McDreamy on the groundbreaking 80s medical drama 'St. Elsewhere.'

Getty Images, 20th Century Fox Television

Move over Patrick Dempsey, Denzel Washington was giving viewers heart palpitations way before 'Grey's Anatomy.' He starred on the groundbreaking urban medical drama, 'St. Elsewhere,' on NBC from 1982 to 1988.

Watch Washington in this scene from 'St. Elsewhere' below:

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Cate Blanchett was on an Australian cop drama in the early 90s.

Getty Images, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Before she was Queen Elizabeth or starring in 'Carol,' Cate Blanchett was Mrs. Haines on the Australian cop drama, 'Police Rescue.' But this bit part in that TV series could've helped get her a role in the 1994 'Police Rescue' movie based on the series.

See Blanchett talk about the role on 'Police Rescue' below:

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