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You'll Never Believe These Oscar-Nominated Actors' Big Breaks! See Them Side-by-Side Their First Roles

From Bradley Cooper in 'Sex and the City' to Jodie Foster in a Coppertone ad, here's a look back at these Oscar-nominated actors' first onscreen gigs

<p>Buena Vista Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection; Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images</p> Ryan Gosling.

Buena Vista Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection; Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Ryan Gosling.

Let's take a trip down movie memory lane!

The Oscars take place on March 10, a prestigious night that honors the best in film from the past year. Hollywood's biggest names will be in attendance, many of whom will be up for awards.

Maestro's Bradley Cooper, The Holdover's Paul Giamatti and Rustin's Coleman Domingo are among the talents nominated in the Best Actor category, while Poor Things' Emma Stone, Nyad's Annette Bening and Maestro's Carey Mulligan are among those nominated for Best Actress.

While it's hard to imagine these actors as anything other than the stars they are today, their Oscar-nominated roles aren't their first gigs. In fact, many of them didn't land leading roles until later on in their careers.

Related: Everything to Know About the 2024 Oscars

Giamatti, for example, looked back on his "funny career" when speaking to USA Today about the "tough times" which made him "wonder if it’s still worth doing." He explained, "But then I would get something I enjoyed, and it’s enough to keep you going until the next one... There’s a strange optimism and hope underneath it all.”

Others got their start in reality TV. For example, Stone — who won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2017 for her role in La La Land — made her onscreen debut in a singing competition. She's previously said, "I don't regret it for a minute."

Read on to learn where some Oscar-nominated actors and actresses made their onscreen debuts, from Bradley Cooper's role in Sex and the City to Jodie Foster's gig in 1965's Coppertone ad.

Bradley Cooper

<p>Max;Getty</p> Bradley Cooper in "Sex and the City" in 1999 side-by-side the actor in 2024

Max;Getty

Bradley Cooper in "Sex and the City" in 1999 side-by-side the actor in 2024

Bradley Cooper, who is nominated for Best Actor for his role as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro, made his onscreen debut in Sex and the City. He played "Jake the downtown smoker," a fleeting flirtation for SATC heroine Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker).

Cooper, who also directed the biographical drama about the iconic conductor, looked back on that early part of his career at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in February 2024. Specifically, he revealed why he ended up being “terrified” that he landed the role.

“I still remember it: I was Jake the downtown smoker,” he said of his sports-car-driving, downtown party boy character that appeared in a season 2 episode of the hit HBO series.

“I auditioned for it, and at that time I didn't really realize that you could ever get the job,” Cooper recalled. "Honestly, I thought that I had a job as a doorman at Morgans Hotel and then I was lucky enough to audition."

Despite Cooper's initial fears and hesitations, the experience ended up being “really fun,” and the actor affirmed that Parker "was incredible.”

When it was noted that this year will see the episode's 25th anniversary, he quipped that he feels "old" and added, “S---, I've been around, dude."

Related: 'Sex and the City' Stars Reveal the White Lie Bradley Cooper Told to Book Role Opposite Sarah Jessica Parker

Emma Stone

<p>VH1;Getty</p> Emma Stone on "In Search of the New Partridge Family" in 2004 side-by-side the actress in 2024

VH1;Getty

Emma Stone on "In Search of the New Partridge Family" in 2004 side-by-side the actress in 2024

Emma Stone, who is nominated for Best Actress for her role as Bella Baxter in Poor Things, made her onscreen debut in reality TV. She appeared on In Search of the New Partridge Family, a singing competition that aired in 2004 on VH1.

"It was totally, 100 percent a reality show," the actress told The Daily Beast of the series, which was based on the '70s hit show The Partridge Family.

The award-winning actress got her start covering songs like Pat Benatar's "We Belong" and Meredith Brooks’s ’90s empowerment anthem “Bitch." Let it be known that Stone won the entire competition.

"My mom had never pushed me to audition for anything, but she saw a commercial on TV for it and said, 'You look like Susan Dey a little, and just dyed your hair brown ... Why don’t you give this a shot? I have a weird feeling,'" Stone recalled.

"I did it and ended up winning. I don’t regret it for a minute," she made clear.

“You go in there rolling your eyes, thinking, ‘This is just a reality search competition,’ but then you’re there for seven weeks, and you just really, really want to win,” Stone previously said in an interview about the whole experience.

Ryan Gosling

<p>Buena Vista Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection; Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images</p> Ryan Gosling in The All-New Mickey Mouse Club in 1993 side-by-side the actor in 2024.

Buena Vista Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection; Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

Ryan Gosling in The All-New Mickey Mouse Club in 1993 side-by-side the actor in 2024.

Ryan Gosling, who's nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Ken in Barbie, made his onscreen debut in The All-New Mickey Mouse Club at just 13 years old in 1993.

“I remember when we first got to the show, they sort of had all the kids perform for one another," Gosling recalled on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera were also cast on the show.

"I remember, it was Christina Aguilera and then Britney performed and I remember thinking, ‘Okay. They’re like, freakishly talented,'" Gosling continued. "I was used to working with talented people, but that was another level.”

Regardless, Gosling previously described his experience to Entertainment Weekly as "the greatest two years ever."

Annette Bening

<p>Universal Pictures;Getty</p> Annette Bening in "The Great Outdoors" in 1988 side by side the actress in 2024

Universal Pictures;Getty

Annette Bening in "The Great Outdoors" in 1988 side by side the actress in 2024

Annette Bening, who's nominated for Best Actress for her role as Diana Nyad in Nyad, made her onscreen debut in a TV commercial for Ore-Ida potatoes. The gig came amid her theater hustle when she was living in N.Y.C. at age 28.

"When I was living in New York and doing theater, I was trying to get commercials. I got one national commercial, which you're trying to get because those are the most lucrative," Bening recalled in a 1998 interview.

Though it didn't air, the actress booked a commercial for Arrid — "you know the underarm perspiration problem," Bening joked — before remembering the potato gig.

"It was MOS, meaning totally without sound. I was the mommy and it did air and I made some money from it," she said.

Unfortunately, Bening's spud stint isn't easy to track down today. However, her role as Kate Craig in The Great Outdoors — where she made her film debut in 1988 — is (pictured above)!

Carey Mulligan

<p>Universal Pictures;Getty</p> Carey Milligan in "Pride & Prejudice" in 2005 side by side the actress in 2024

Universal Pictures;Getty

Carey Milligan in "Pride & Prejudice" in 2005 side by side the actress in 2024

Carey Mulligan, who's nominated for Best Actress for her role as Felicia Montealegre in Maestro, made her onscreen debut in Joe Wright's film adaptation of the Jane Austen novel Pride & Prejudice in 2005. She played Kitty Bennet.

The then-aspiring film actress took it upon herself to make her name known by writing a letter to screenwriter Julian Fellowes after he visited her school. The connection led to her meeting casting directors — and ultimately, helped her land the part in Pride & Prejudice.

“I didn’t have any way into the industry. I didn’t know what my route in was,” Mulligan told AP in 2018. “Sometimes, I feel compelled to write to someone to tell them how brilliant they are. I wrote to Amy Adams after Arrival and I was like: ‘You are the best actress on the planet.’”

Fast forward nearly two decades — and a catalog of acclaimed film credits, numerous accolades and three Oscar nominations later — Mulligan told The Academy's A.Frame in February 2024 that she didn't "think of herself as an actress" until Maestro.

"With film, I think there was a part of me that had always been a little bit tentative through my career. And it was something that really annoyed me about myself as an actor, that I would pull back a bit," she explained.

It wasn't until she prepped for her role as Felicia alongside Cooper and an "amazing woman called Kim Gillingham" in a "dream workshop" ahead of filming Maestro. "I can't imagine another way of working... it did completely change things for me going forward," she said.

Robert De Niro

<p>Moviestore/Shutterstock;Getty</p> Robert De Niro in "The Wedding Party" in 1969 side by side the actor in 2024.

Moviestore/Shutterstock;Getty

Robert De Niro in "The Wedding Party" in 1969 side by side the actor in 2024.

Robert De Niro, who's nominated for his role as William Hale in Killers of the Flower Moon, made his film debut in Brian De Palma's The Wedding Party released in 1969.

Before solidifying himself as one of the biggest names in Hollywood with two Oscar wins, De Niro played Cecil in the black-and-white comedy filmed in 1963.

"Bobby came into a casting session and Will and I were in a loft on Broadway. He's the last guy in the room, very quiet and shy," De Palma recalled in a 2017 interview of De Niro's audition. "Then he said he had something he'd prepared in class."

De Niro performed a scene from Clifford Odets' play about the cab strike. De Palma said, "It was like you're watching Lee Jay Cobb rant in front of the union guys — we were like, 'Holy mackerel!'"

The duo went on to make three more movies together: 1968's Greetings, 1970's Hi, Mom! and 1987's The Untouchables.

Around the same time De Niro made his film debut, he was also an ambassador for AMC and appeared in a TV commercial for the film company in 1969!

Colman Domingo

<p>CBS; Mike Marsland/WireImage</p> Colman Domingo in "Nash Bridges" in 1999 side by side the actor in 2024.

CBS; Mike Marsland/WireImage

Colman Domingo in "Nash Bridges" in 1999 side by side the actor in 2024.

Colman Domingo, who's nominated for Best Actor for his role as Bayard Rustin in Rustin, made his onscreen debut in the San Fransisco-based television hit Nash Bridges in 1997.

"I got my AFTRA card first, then my SAG card. It was for a show called Nash Bridges," the actor told Backstage in an interview. "I was a recurring criminal every season."

Domingo, who's gone on to star in major titles across television and film, got his start in theater. "My first union card was at Berkeley Repertory Theatre on a touring show for Theatre for Young Audiences called The Yellow Boat," the two-time Tony-nominated actor shared with the outlet.

Minor roles in series like Nash Bridges and True Crime bridged Domingo's acting transition from the stage to screen in the late 1990s. He also appeared in independent films such as 2000's Desi's Looking for a New Girl, 2003's Kung Phooey and 2006's Freedomland.

Domingo's breakthrough role was playing Victor Strand in AMC's Fear the Walking Dead during its 2015 and 2023 run. He also gained critical acclaim for his role as Ali on HBO's Euphoria, winning the Emmy Award in 2022 for outstanding guest actor in a drama series.

Paul Giamatti

<p> Paramount Pictures;Getty</p> Paul Giamatti in "Private Parts" in 1997 side by side the actor in 2024.

Paramount Pictures;Getty

Paul Giamatti in "Private Parts" in 1997 side by side the actor in 2024.

Paul Giamatti, who's nominated for Best Actor for his role as Paul Hunham in The Holdovers, made his onscreen debut as Heckler #2 in the Linda Evans TV movie romcom She'll Take Romance in 1990.

The actor has been open about his humble beginnings as an actor, nabbing any gigs he could get when trying to break into the entertainment industry. During an interview with Movie Maker, Giamatti recalled his role as "Man in Sleeping Bag" in a 1994 episode of NYPD Blue.

“We were in a squatters village below the Manhattan Bridge. I was lying in real human feces," the actor revealed. "A real lunatic who lived there in a huge drainage pipe of some kind would crawl out occasionally and pelt me with debris. They had to pay him a lot to stay in his pipe. Good for him.”

On top of it all, Giamatti was convinced that he blew his bit.

“I had one line. Something like, ‘I don’t know nothin’ man.’ I screwed it up. I sat around all day,” he said. “At one point I got thrown off the set by a P.A. who thought I was a real ‘man in sleeping bag.’ I was nervous, disoriented.”

Eventually, Giamatti landed the role of "Pig Vomit" in 1997's Private Parts (pictured above). In February 2024, the actor spoke with Howard Stern — whom he had worked closely with on the film — about the gig that in part helped launch his career.

“I’m not kidding when I say I credit you totally [for helping launch my career],” Giamatti told Stern on the radio hosts' eponymous talk show, adding that he'd mention him in his Oscars acceptance speech should he win the award. “I have no idea what I’d say, [but] I’ll thank you. I’ll do that for sure,” he said.

Emily Blunt

<p>ITV/Shutterstock; Michael Buckner/Penske Media via Getty</p> Emily Blunt in "Henry VIII" in 2003 side by side the actress in 2024.

ITV/Shutterstock; Michael Buckner/Penske Media via Getty

Emily Blunt in "Henry VIII" in 2003 side by side the actress in 2024.

Emily Blunt, who's nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Kitty Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer, made her onscreen debut in the TV movie Boudica in 2003.

"I remember the first TV thing I did. It was a TV show called Boudica," Blunt said during a Film Independent interview in January 2024. She recalled her specific blue outfit and the "really bad braids" she had to wear for the part.

Blunt went on to explain an "embarrassing" moment she had while filming, being that it was her first time working on a movie set. She recalled "really projecting" when reciting her lines — meanwhile, the boom mic over her head effortlessly picked up her sound.

That same year, Blunt played Catherine Howard in the TV miniseries King Henry VIII (pictured above). In 2006, the actress had her breakthrough role in The Devil Wears Prada opposite Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.

Jodie Foster

<p>CBS via Getty; Hector Vivas/Getty</p> Jodie Foster in "Mayberry R.F.D." in 1970 side by side the actress in 2024.

CBS via Getty; Hector Vivas/Getty

Jodie Foster in "Mayberry R.F.D." in 1970 side by side the actress in 2024.

Jodie Foster, who's nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Bonnie Stoll in Nyad, made her onscreen debut at age 3 as the little girl in a Coppertone ad in 1965.

The gig was secured thanks to her mother, Evelyn “Brandy” Almond, who brought Foster on an audition for the sunscreen brand meant for her brother Buddy, then 9. But Foster ended up stealing the show.

Foster made more commercials and guest appearances in TV shows — making her professional acting debut in the TV series Mayberry R.F.D. (pictured above). She became especially close to her mom at the time, as Almond managed her daughter’s career.

“We’re inseparable,” Foster told PEOPLE in a 1980 interview. “We’re a team. If it weren’t for me, she wouldn’t have anything. And if it weren’t for her, I would be nothing.”

In 1976, Foster earned her first Academy Award nomination for Taxi Driver. In 1989 and 1992, she won the Oscar for Best Actress for The Accused and Silence of the Lambs, respectively. In 1995, she was nominated in the category for Nell.

When speaking with This Morning, the actress recalled the "nostalgia" she feels with her fifth Oscar nomination, 58 years into her career.

"When I was a kid, we'd all go running into my mum's room to her bed. We had a black and white TV and we'd all watch the Oscars as kids," she explained. "I never thought that I would be a part of that community, so it's a big thing."

Robert Downey Jr.

<p>United Artists; Frazer Harrison/Getty</p> Robert Downey Jr. in "Pound" in 1970 side by side the actor in 2024.

United Artists; Frazer Harrison/Getty

Robert Downey Jr. in "Pound" in 1970 side by side the actor in 2024.

Robert Downey Jr., who is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Louis Strauss in Oppenheimer, made his film debut at age 5 in the movie Pound in 1970. He played "Puppy" in the film directed by his father, the late Robert Downey Jr. Sr.

"Pound is a film that my dad got the financing for," Downey Jr. told Vanity Fair in July 2023. "I think the investors thought he was making a documentary about pounds and animal shelters. And then he said, 'No, no. It's a live action thing and I'm casting people to play the dogs.'"

"Next thing you know, we're shooting it and these character actors of all shapes and sizes are playing various dogs. And then I played a puppy," he said.

Downey Jr. went on to recall that his "earliest memories" as a kid included "cameras, being on sets, being on stages, being on location to the point where it almost seemed like life was kind of making a movie and kind of being a kid at the same time."

Danielle Brooks

<p>Netflix;Getty</p> Danielle Brooks in "Orange is the New Black" side by side the actress in 2024.

Netflix;Getty

Danielle Brooks in "Orange is the New Black" side by side the actress in 2024.

Danielle Brooks, who's nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Sofia in The Color Purple, made her onscreen debut in TV movie Modern Love in 2012, per her bio on IMDb. Shortly after, she landed her breakout role in Orange is the New Black in 2013 (pictured above).

Brooks, who played Tasha "Taystee" Jefferson in the hit prison drama series, received praise for her role on the show which ran for seven seasons until its finale in 2019. Since her breakthrough role, she's gone on to become an EGOT contender.

“When I reflect on all the moments in my life that have been highlights,” Brooks told the Washington Post about getting into Juilliard, booking Orange Is the New Black and landing the role of Sofia on Broadway and in the film. "None of it’s come with ease. None of it has been smooth sailing.”

Related: Danielle Brooks Reacts to Becoming an EGOT Nominee After Her Color Purple Oscar Nod

Brooks recalled her early years auditioning (and nonetheless hustling) when speaking to the New York Times in February 2024. "I was hitting the audition pavement hard and desperate before Orange Is the New Black," she said.

"I remember going to a 1 p.m. audition for a Broadway show, and in my head, I was like, 'I don’t want the director to be hungry during my audition and thinking, OK, when’s lunch?' So I brought in a veggie plate," she explained. "Totally didn’t get a callback."

Brooks admitted to the outlet that she was "just throwing everything at the wall" at the time. She revealed that she wasn't "taught how to audition" when she was at Juilliard.

"I had to learn as I went and made a lot of mistakes," Brooks said. "But the universe works how it’s supposed to, and I needed all of the no’s so that I could figure it out."

America Ferrera

<p>HBO;Getty</p> America Ferrera in "Real Women Have Curves" in 2002 side by side the actress in 2024.

HBO;Getty

America Ferrera in "Real Women Have Curves" in 2002 side by side the actress in 2024.

America Ferrera, who's nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Gloria in Barbie, made her film debut in Real Women Have Curves in 2002. That same year, she starred in the Disney Channel original movie Gotta Kick It Up!

In January 2024, Ferrera reminisced about Real Women Have Curves and what it was like to watch herself in it for the first time. The actress told PEOPLE that the 2002 Sundance Film Festival was “the first time I ever saw myself on screen."

At the debut of her breakout film, which won a jury prize at the 2002 fest, Ferrera remembered celebrating “with a packed audience as they laughed and cried and applauded and then gave us a minutes-long standing ovation.”

She added, “That moment changed my entire world. I was getting to live out my wildest dreams. I'll never forget it.”

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