Won’t forget, can’t regret. What they did before stardom.
Some A-Listers built their careers on typecasting, others on diversity. Here’s a reminder of a few experimental roles before they became household names.
Morgan Freeman, Street Smart (1987)
Morgan Freeman is well-known as the white-suited God in Evan Almighty or the face of patience as Red in the Stephen King adaptation, The Shawshank Redemption. Here he’s a Times Square pimp with carryovers of ’70s Blaxploitation Cinema. It’s Freeman as a woman slapper who totes a gun at Christopher Reeve. The Academy loved it.
Jennifer Lopez, The Cell (2000)
Ranked 34 on Forbes’ ‘Most Powerful Celebrities’ this year, Jennifer Lopez has carved an acting career out of romantic comedies. Fourteen years ago she appeared in The Cell, an atypical Sci-Fi thriller with Candyman-style surrealism, helping it gross $104M as a psychotherapist who uses futuristic technology to literally get inside her patients’ minds. It’s a performance and a genre that often impresses those who recognise her as Selena or The Wedding Planner.
Ian McKellen, The Indian Tales of Rudyard Kipling (1964)
The original tape of Sir Ian McKellen’s TV debut in an episode of The Indian Tales of Rudyard Kipling was found in a private American historical collection but it was almost lost forever. Craftily, ‘The Tomb of His Ancestors’ escaped the BBC’s tape-wiping habits of the 1960s. It’s set in the days of the British Raj and he’s a little trickier to spot without his silver hair and Gandalf gaze.
Emilia Clarke, Triassic Attack (2010)
Mother of Dragons and slated to play Sarah Connor opposite Arnie in the next instalment of the Terminator franchise, Terminator: Genesis, Emilia Clarke’s first movie role tamed dinosaurs for the Syfy channel. In Triassic Attack, three reanimated fossils traumatise a local town and Clarke tries some ceremonial chanting and stick-shaking of the B-movie variety (1.17).
Christian Bale, Little Women (1994)
Renowned for choosing gritty, often physically-demanding scripts (The Machinist, American Psycho, The Fighter), Christian Bale was a wholesome romantic with curtained hair in this drama set in the 19th century. His perfectly devoted Laurie proposed to Winona Ryder’s Jo with the line, ‘I have loved you since the moment I clapped eyes on you. What could be more reasonable than to marry you?’, only to be declined.
Keanu Reeves, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Keanu Reeves is mostly known for his pensive, somewhat humourless roles (My Own Private Idaho, The Matrix, Constantine). These are fun to contrast with the Keanu that time-travelled as Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan, who punned ‘heavy metal’ as he air-guitared in medieval knights’ armour and self-satisfyingly called the Socrates ‘So-crates’. Reeves has even promised to reprise this role in a third Bill & Ted.
Sandra Bullock, Bionic Showdown: Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman (1989)
One of Hollywood’s most versatile actresses, Sandra Bullock has credits in almost every genre but tends to stick to romcoms and blockbusting weepies. Before Gravity, the only Sci-Fi movie she made was for TV in 1989, Bionic Showdown: Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman. As a next-generation bionic, she did bicep curls effortlessly and speedran in ‘80s slo-glo graphics.
Kate Winslet, Get Back (1992)
Another all-purpose actress and Walk of Fame honoree, Kate Winslet was confined to British TV series before breaking into film with Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994). In the family comedy Get Back, she played the working-class daughter of Ray Winstone with her signature upper-class accent completely intact.
Maggie Smith, Go To Blazes (1962)
Typecasting in recent decades has made Dame Maggie Smith a household name for stern, sharp-faced figures (The Secret Garden, Sister Act, Downton Abbey). Against these, she’s almost unrecognisable in Go To Blazes, a comedy that cast her as the beautiful and flirtatious Chantal, swanning along with a novelty French accent.
Helen Mirren, Age of Consent (1969)
‘The Hottest Dame’ Helen Mirren went nude at 22 for her first major film and flirted with the topic of underage sex in the ‘60s as Cora Ryan, the muse of an ageing artist. She is seen living wild on a deserted island on the Great Barrier Reef with an overbearing grandmother and a crush on the man who paints naked portraits of her.
24 Sept – 5 Oct 2014 Piccadilly Circus, Central London