10 Famous Actors Who Started Out in Commercials

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Actors' relationships with TV jingles are sort of like that old riddle: What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon and three at dawn? (Or maybe more like how we start in Pampers and end up in Depends.) Lots of well-known actors wind up paying the rent at the end of their careers doing commercials (think: Orson Welles "We will sell no wine before it's time"), but just as many, if not more, get their first big breaks doing them, too. The good news for us is, whether it's hawking dish soap or expounding on the wonders of Castrol motor oil, these slightly embarrassing moments are never more than a click away.

1. Lindsay Lohan

Her career may have fizzled in recent years, but there was a time when Lindsay Lohan appeared in just about every commercial calling for a preteen girl with freckles. Although she initially had little success landing roles, when it came time for an audition for a Duncan Hines commercial, Lohan told her mother that she would quit acting all together if she did not get the job. Her can-do attitude proved effective, and she was hired. She eventually went on to appear in over 60 commercials, including this Jell-O spot with Bill Cosby.

2. John Travolta

For a brief period in the early seventies, John Travolta seemingly made a living out of singing with men in the shower. He starred in a pair of athletic-themed commercials, one for Safeguard and the other for Band Aids, which feature his grinning self enjoying a well-deserved rinse with his teammates. BTW: the famous Band Aid tune was penned by none other than Barry Manilow.

3. Farrah Fawcett

Like countless other starlets, the late Farrah Fawcett was discovered when a Hollywood publicist saw her photo in a magazine and urged her to move to Los Angeles. It would be many years before she would receive a similar call from Aaron Spelling, producer of Charlie's Angels. In the meantime, the only work the Texas native could find was in commercials. And boy did she do plenty, from Ultra Brite Toothpaste to this now classic Noxzema shaving cream spot with Joe Namath.

4. Dakota Fanning

She may only be fifteen, but Dakota Fanning has been acting pretty regularly for most of her life. She attended a juvenile playhouse near her home in Georgia, where the children put on a play each week to show to their parents. Dakota immediately stood out and her parents were advised to take her on auditions in Los Angeles. Within six weeks of arriving in sunny California, the ambitious five-year old had beat out countless other children for a starring role in this national Tide commercial.

5. Leonardo DiCaprio

Unlike the majority of his A-list counterparts, who'd rather forget those loathsome days as lowly commercial actors, Leonardo DiCaprio continues to make a lucrative side living by appearing in Japanese car commercials. In this early spot for Honda, an enthused Leo declares, "It's a miracle!" before he and his Japanese girlfriend embark on a road trip. The techno version of "You Are My Sunshine" is priceless.

6. Tobey Maguire

Before he was battling the Green Goblin as Spiderman, Tobey Maguire considered becoming a professional chef. He enrolled in a drama class instead and booked his very first commercial for Doritos while still in eighth grade. Maguire recalled the experience: ""¦there were four days in a row of eating them, and I will tell you, I have not eaten many Doritos since." Perhaps his love of cooking came in handy after the shoot.

7. Wesley Snipes

Few actors desire to work exclusively in TV commercials. But that was certainly the case with Wesley Snipes when he was starting out. Rather than hone his acting chops in movies and TV, the star of Major League and the Blade movies simply wanted to act in commercials. "When it came to doing films, my biggest goal was to do a commercial," he recalled. Here's a parody of Snipes in a Levis commercial from the 80s.

8. Jodie Foster

The Academy Award winning actress began her career at the age of three as the Coppertone Girl. She would go on to make dozens of more commercial appearances before landing her breakout movie role as a teenage prostitute in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. Here she appears with Henry Fonda in a 1971 spot for the GAF Viewmaster.

9. Keanu Reeves

One would be hard pressed not to see Keanu Reeves in a commercial during the 1980s. His most memorable role was a spot for Coca Cola. The teenage Keanu played a biker who falls behind in a race but comes back to make a valiant second place finish. As Reeves recalled, he became frustrated during the shoot when the director asked him to take huge gulps of the soda on multiple takes. "I had the classic experience of having to drink the drink, like, six times with the director saying, 'OK, now grab the drink. You're the thirstiest guy in the desert and this is water.'" The coaxing paid off and Reeves was cast alongside Rob Lowe in Youngblood shortly after.

10. Tom Selleck

After a couple of failed appearances on The Dating Game in the late sixties, Tom Selleck turned to commercials. The star of Magnum P.I. never shied away from meatier roles in film and TV (he starred in six failed pilots before hitting it big with Magnum), but realized he had to supplement his income somehow if he wanted to continue acting. He appeared in commercials for Pepsi and this spot for Close Up Toothpaste.

Of course, there are so many more. What other jingles do you remember with young, soon-to-be stars in them?

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September 2, 2009 - 4:15am
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