Forbes’ most recent list of top-paid actresses reported that Jennifer Lawrence made $18 million in 2018. "Wonder Woman" Gal Gadot made $10 million. But for most famous actresses, it wasn’t always that way. It’s hard to believe that one started out as a nanny and the other at Burger King. Like most people, they started at the bottom and worked their way up, taking odd jobs to make ends meet.
Stacker went through interviews from talk shows, biographies, and publications like The Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times to find the first jobs of 50 famous actresses. Data from Celebrity Net Worth and Bank Rate is also factored in to see just how far they’ve come. Some starlets seemed destined for fame, and others had to take on challenging gigs to earn celebrity status. Many actresses found a connection between their first jobs and acting, helping to mold these successful fan favorites into the stars we know and love.
The "Material Girl” worked as a cashier at Dunkin' Donuts in New York City, though she only lasted a week. Why was she fired? "I was playing with the jelly squirter machine,” she told Howard Stern in a 2015 interview.
Comedian Amy Poehler's first job in New York was serving ice cream to "whiny kids" at a Manhattan parlor. Her claim to fame back then was singing to birthday boys and girls, leading her fellow employees in a chant.
Longoria gushed about her time at Wendy’s in an interview with Latina.com. She started working there when she was 14, and continued for six years. She's even still in touch with her former manager. Soon after, a beauty pageant brought her to Hollywood, where she decided to stay and pursue acting. Today, the actress is worth $50 million.
Before she was an actress, Davis worked as a fashion model. After her Ann Taylor boss saw the crowd she’d attract pretending to be a mannequin in the display window, she hired her to do it full-time. "I had an uncanny ability to be still,” she said in an interview with NPR.
Octavia Spencer started off working as part of the production crew for films like "Tom and Huck” after graduating from Alabama University with a degree in English. After several directors urged her to audition, she landed her first role.
The international superstar made her first paycheck (in the form of tips) by sweeping hair off the floor of her mother’s hair salon, Headliners. She had been entertaining customers since the age of six. According to an interview in Essence, Knowles used the money to pay for a season pass to Six Flags.
Stone started acting at the age of 11, getting her first break on a reality show called "In Search of the Partridge Family.” In a video for Hollywood Reporter, the actress revealed that her first non-acting job was selling dog treats from Three Dog Bakery at a Los Angeles farmers market.
After Kunis’ family moved to the U.S. from the Ukraine when she was seven, her parents enrolled her in acting classes to improve her English. After booking her first job in a Barbie commercial, she got to keep the doll, which inspired her to keep working in the industry (in hopes of getting more free toys). She was cast in "That 70’s Show" at 14 years old.
During high school, Paulson worked a grand total of 24 hours at Circle Pizza. After calling her mom four times to ask how to spell "parmesan,” it was clear that the gig wasn’t for her.
Kaling described her first paid job as a babysitter in an interview for the Pennsylvania Conference for Women. While she admits to not being a natural with babies, she is grateful for the job as it pushed her to gain skills in something that did not come easy to her. "Becoming good at something you don’t particularly like was a good lesson to learn—and made me ache to get good at something I loved.”
Liu revealed to Entertainment Weekly in 2010 that her first job was at Baskin Robbins as an ice cream scooper in her early teens. "My right hand got much stronger than my left. It was horrifying.” She booked her first big movie in 1999: "Payback” with Mel Gibson.
The "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." actress told Business Insider that she first worked at her parents' restaurant as a cashier and a server. "That was how I earned my keep in my family," she says.
In a Rolling Stone cover story, Cyrus talked about going on tour with her famous father, Billy Ray. He would pay her ten dollars to pick up the various bras and panties women had thrown on the stage. "I’d get a really big one and be like, ‘Dad! I found your biggest fan,” says Cyrus.
“Shameless” fans will recognize Goreshter from her role as bartender Svetlana. At 16, she worked as a hostess at a Huntington Beach cafe across from the beach.
The star who jump-started her acting career in a TV show about a mysterious plane crash actually started off as a flight attendant. Lilly revealed to David Letterman that she actually didn’t enjoy her first job. “That job has no redeeming qualities. I didn’t like the people. I didn’t like the destinations.” At the height of her hatred for the occupation, she admitting to passing gas in the direction of an annoying passenger.
On Oprah’s “Masterclass,” Goldberg discussed her early job doing hair and makeup for the deceased at a funeral home. A licensed beautician, she took the job when she saw an ad in the newspaper. “You have to be a certain kind of person,” she says, “and you have to love people in order to make them worthy of a great send-off.”
Winslet attended her first acting school at age 11, according to an interview in Rolling Stone. Though she wasn’t a huge fan of the school, it did help her book her first commercial (for Sugar Puffs cereal) when she was was 12.
Adams told Entertainment Tonight that working at Hooters was a “great job out of high school.” She worked her way up from hostess to waitress, and saved up for college. The actress says she never imagined she’d go from employee at Hooters to an award-winning Hollywood star.
Born Norma Jeane Dougherty, Marilyn Monroe worked in a California factory spraying down planes with fire retardant during World War II. She was discovered when an Army photographer snapped photos of her assembling a drone at the factory in 1944.
The “Pitch Perfect” actress used to teach cotillion classes in her native South Carolina before pursuing a fine arts degree. Her best friend’s mother hired her to teach ballroom dancing to small children when the future star was in eighth grade. She enjoyed the job, despite the low pay. “I got like, eight dollars,” she told Business Insider.
In a Pride Source interview with fellow comedian Paul Rudd, Fey talked about her first job working at her local swim club snack bar making cheesesteaks. Why’d she take the snack gig? So her mother could have free access to the pool, of course.
That's right, Pam Beasley herself sat behind a desk for seven years while auditioning in Hollywood. "The Office" actress told The Hollywood Reporter, "When I got my job on 'The Office,' I bought the things that I used to really like having on my desk when I was a real administrative assistant."
Diaz told Goop that her first job was at TCBY Frozen Yogurt. She started modeling at age 16, and landed her first role in “The Mask” despite having no prior acting experience.
Foster got her start working in commercials at the age of three. Her first was for Coppertone sunscreen, and was the main breadwinner for her family by the time she could sign her name. Foster admitted to having a “not normal” childhood in an interview with Rolling Stone.
In an interview with Goop, Paltrow’s own beauty and wellness company, the star talked about her first job at Penny Whistle Toys on Madison Avenue at 12 years old. She says her parents always made her have a job, which she attributes to the work ethic she’s known for today.
Robbie revealed to Chris Pratt on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" that she started working in a restaurant at 10 years old. She started in the kitchen polishing silverware, then moved up to dishwashing and serving, eventually ending up behind the bar at 14 (which probably wasn’t legal, according to the actress). Robbie began pursuing acting at 17, and landed her first role shortly after.
When Hawn moved to New York to start her career, her first job was as a go-go dancer at The Peppermint Box in New Jersey, where she’d earn $25 a night. In an interview with People, she remembers having to ask men at the bar for rides when she couldn’t catch the Greyhound bus.
According to an early interview with the New York Times, Pfeiffer got her first job at 14 at a clothing store in the mall. Her father, who owned his business, educated his children on the importance of working at a young age. She worked at a Vons supermarket, and attended junior college before taking acting classes in Los Angeles.
Ritter is known for her lead role in “Jessica Jones,” and got her start as a model. She told Metro News she was scouted as a teenager, which made school life difficult. She worked in catalogues and for Seventeen magazine, traveling to Japan and New York for jobs.
The “Wonder Woman” star has been hailed as one of the most beautiful women in the world, so it’s no surprise that she received offers to model at an early age. She told Rolling Stone, however, that modeling didn’t appeal to her, so she got a job at her local Burger King. Soon after, her mother entered her in the Miss Israel pageant, which she won.
The “New Girl” actress has always been an active musician (she wrote and performed the song for the show’s opening credits) so her first job at a jazz club comes as no surprise. According to an interview with NY Daily News, she got the gig when she was just 15. They earned $70, which seemed like a lot of money at the time to the future television and film star.
She may be a part of the royal family now, but Markle grew up doing chores just like the rest of us—including taking out the trash. During a speech in Australia during a royal tour, the former “Suits” actress explained that her first job (trash duty) helped shape her into the successful woman she is today.
When Bates first moved to New York to pursue an acting career, she took on odd jobs to get by. She worked as a singing waitress, and revealed in Daily Actor that she worked as a payroll clerk at the Museum of Modern Art. Bates said that part of her job was counting all the coins and rolling them up to take to the bank.
After quitting school to pursue acting, Wiig quickly realized that making it in Los Angeles was going to be more difficult than she thought. She told the New York Times that she immediately started working at clothing store Anthropologie to make ends meet. Luckily for “Saturday Night Live” fans, she nailed her 2005 audition, and went on to become one of the most beloved cast members in the show's history.
Wilson knew she wanted to be an actor from a young age, so she began working at a local cinema while pursuing her career. She told ABC that she even continued to work there when her first movie, “Fat Pizza,” came out (as she wasn’t getting paid “the big bucks” quite yet). People would come out of the movie and realize the girl who sold them their their popcorn was also in the film.
The comedian, talk show host, and “Finding Nemo” actress landed her first gig as a cashier at JCPenney in her hometown of Metairie, Louisiana. On a 2012 episode of “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” she went back to the same store where she got her first job and worked a shift.
The talk show host told fans via Oprah.com that her first job was at a grocery store next to her father’s shop in Nashville. Talking to customers was frowned upon—something that went against Winfrey’s nature. Luckily, she landed a gig shortly after at a local radio show, and went on to become one of the wealthiest women in the world.
In a 2009 interview with Elle Magazine, Gaga discussed her first job as a server in Manhattan. “I was really good at it,” she says. “I always got big tips!” She even compared the job to what she does best now—performing—saying that she wore high heels every day, told stories, and did her best to keep things romantic for guests on dates.
At 16, Alley started her first job as a housekeeper in her hometown of Wichita, Kansas. In 2009, the OWN Network followed her to the house where she used to work, where Alley proves that she’s still got the skills.
While Mirren was attending convent school in England, she worked as a carnival barker (also known as “blagging”) on the weekends. Her job consisted of trying to convince people to play her carnival darts game, which she talked about on the "Late Show with Stephen Colbert."
Known for her lead roles in “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” Moss told The Hollywood Reporter that she used to work in a silent movie theater in Los Angeles before her acting career took off.
Britton (known for “Friday Night Lights” and “Nashville”) discussed her former retail jobs at The Gap and The Limited in an interview with E! News at the 2013 Emmy Awards. “It's all about folding. I'm a terrible folder,” said the actress. She didn’t make it long in retail, and ended up working as an aerobics instructor to supplement her acting jobs.
The “Scandal” actress recalls her time working as a substitute teacher in New York during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Although she enjoyed it very much, she had to give it up after her breakout role in “Save the Last Dance” because her newfound fame was distracting the students.
Dunham discusses her first job selling expensive children’s clothes at a shop in Manhattan in her memoir “Not That Kind of Girl.” She attributes the boring task of folding baby leggings as her inspiration for her web series “Delusional Downtown Divas,” which jump-started her career.
The “Jane the Virgin” star had a unique job qualification before her acting career took off. She specialized in nannying for twin babies, a job that required a three-month training program. In a piece for Interview Magazine, Rodriguez talks about how being a certified twin specialist helped her pay the bills in a big way. “Let me tell you, you make a killing. It’s outrageous,” she says.
Wiley worked as a bartender before landing the role of Poussey on Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black.” She tells Flare that she realized that she had really made it when people started recognizing her, as she continued to bartend all the way through the first season. She recently won a Primetime Emmy for her performance in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Messing reminisced about her first job as a babysitter in a recent issue of InStyle Magazine. The “Will and Grace” actress used the money to buy records (“back then we didn’t even have CDs,” she says). In high school, she worked at a beach concession stand selling hot dogs, fries, and ice cream during the summer.
17-year-old Blonsky was scooping ice cream at Coldstone Creamery when she found out she’d landed the role of Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray” opposite John Travolta and Zac Efron. Coldstone Creamery employees traditionally sing for tips, making it the perfect first job for the budding musical theater star.