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The Early Acting Gigs of 20 Game of Thrones Stars

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Six seasons in, and we’re still no closer to figuring out who will win the battle for the seven kingdoms on HBO’s Game of Thrones. But here’s how some of the series’ stars (past and present) made a living before they were Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, Targaryens, and beyond.

1. EMILIA CLARKE // DAENERYS TARGARYEN

Before everyone’s favorite Khaleesi and mother of dragons embarked on her quest for the Iron Throne, Emilia Clarke starred in a commercial (above) for the charity Samaritans, which provides support to people in emotional distress.

She broke into TV with a guest role on an episode of the long-running BBC series Doctors in 2009 and playing Savannah in the Syfy channel’s Triassic Attack in 2010.

2. LENA HEADEY // CERSEI LANNISTER

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Long before she was a Queen or had to endure the world’s worst walk of shame, Lena Headey had her first on-screen role in the 1992 movie Waterland alongside Ethan Hawke and Jeremy Irons. The then-24-year-old actress played Young Mary Crick, whose character has a sex scene with Hawke’s and then eventually marries Irons’s.

3. RICHARD MADDEN // ROBB STARK

The dearly departed King of the North honed his craft on the BBC children’s comedy Barmy Aunt Boomerang. Madden played Sebastian, whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of his wacky Australian aunt, Boomerang … who is actually a ghost. Dragons and direwolves probably seemed downright normal after that.

4. GWENDOLINE CHRISTIE // BRIENNE OF TARTH

Before Christie swung a sword as the fiercest lady knight this side of the wall, she had bit roles in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (Classy Shopper 2) and The Time Surgeon (The Tape/”Victim”). She also played Lexi/Lucy in 12 episodes of the BBC series Wizards vs. Aliens. Check her out in the clip above.

5. IWAN RHEON // RAMSAY BOLTON

Iwan Rheon, who plays the bastard everyone loves to hate, cut his teeth on Welsh television. He made his onscreen debut playing Macsen White on the long-running Welsh soap opera Pobol y Cwm in the 2004 episode “OB Cafe”; two years later, he played Daniel on several episodes of the Welsh drama Caerdydd. Fans of the British TV show Misfits will recognize him as Simon Bellamy, a role he landed in 2009. When he’s not setting his hounds on people as Ramsay Bolton on Thrones, Rheon is making music; he released his first album in 2015.

6. JACK GLEESON // JOFFREY BARATHEON

Yes, Jack Gleeson is the little boy rescued by Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) in Batman Begins. You can also catch the boy who would be Thrones' psychotic King in 2007’s Shrooms, about three couples who go to Ireland to collect magic mushrooms and trip out (Gleeson played “Lonely Twin”), and in 2009’s A Shine of Rainbows as Seamus; you can spot him in the trailer above at around 46 seconds.

7. NATALIE DORMER // MARGAERY TYRELL

Before she was Renly, Joffrey, and Tommen’s Queen, Natalie Dormer made her debut on the first episode of ITV dramedy Distant Shores. She played “Mobile Woman,” a character who loudly talks on her cell phone on the bus and gets chewed out by the main character. You can see it all go down in the clip above.

Margaery isn’t the only queen Dormer has played; she lost her head as Anne Boleyn in The Tudors before booking Game of Thrones in 2012.

8. NIKOLAJ COSTER-WALDAU // JAIME LANNISTER

Before he played the Kingslayer, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau starred in the 1994 Danish thriller Nightwatch as Martin, who takes a night shift job in a mortuary to finance his law school education. Scary stuff ensues, as you can see in the trailer above.

9. AIDAN GILLEN // PETYR “LITTLEFINGER” BAELISH

Before taking on a character who is a skilled player in the game of thrones, Aidan Gillen had roles in a number of TV movies, hit the big screen as Aidan Lynch in Circle of Friends, and played Councilman-turned-Mayor Thomas Carcetti in The Wire.

10. LIAM CUNNINGHAM // DAVOS SEAWORTH

Liam Cunningham made his onscreen debut in a 1992 short film called Public Toilet. A year later, he appeared in his first feature film, the family adventure Into the West, playing a police officer.

11. RORY MCCANN // SANDOR “THE HOUND” CLEGANE

Prior to playing the fire-fearing, murder-loving Hound, Rory McCann got his break in a couple of hilarious Scott’s Porage Oats commercials, the first of which is above (you can see the second one here). You might also recognize the 6' 6" actor as Michael Armstrong in Edgar Wright's Hot Fuzz (2007):

12. ALFIE ALLEN // THEON GREYJOY

Before becoming Reek, Alfie Allen—younger brother of singer Lily Allen—had roles in films like Elizabeth (1998), Atonement (2007), and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). He also appeared in three episodes of the 2008 miniseries Casualty 1907, which used records from the archives of the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel to bring the patients and doctors of the Victorian-era hospital back to life. Allen played Nobby Clark; you can see him in the role in the video above.

13. CARICE VAN HOUTEN // MELISANDRE

In 1999, the actress who was once Stannis Baratheon's right-hand-sorceress starred in the Dutch TV movie Suzy Q, which followed a weekend in the life of a bizarre family in the 1960s. You can see a clip above.

14. CONLETH HILL // LORD VARYS

Prior to playing Westeros's scheming eunuch, Conleth Hill sang as an Irish tenor in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in 1993. You can get a good look at him in the video above, around the 5:50 mark.

15. NATHALIE EMMANUEL // MISSANDEI

Before she booked Thrones, the future right hand lady of the Khaleesi appeared on the British soap opera Hollyoaks from 2007 to 2010, playing the boy crazy wild child Sasha Valentine. In one story arc her character overdosed on heroin and slipped into a coma. Watch her bring the drama in the clip above (which has some NSFW language).

16. NATALIA TENA // OSHA

Playing a wildling in Game of Thrones isn't Natalia Tena's first foray into fantasy; the actress is perhaps best known for her role as Nymphadora Tonks in the Harry Potter series. But her first big screen role was when she was a teenager, playing Ellie in Chris and Paul Weitz’s Oscar-nominated About a Boy (2002). You can see her at the 1:07 mark in the clip above.

17. ROSE LESLIE // YGRITTE

Before playing Jon Snow's Wildling lover on Thrones, Rose Leslie was a member of Downton Abbey's downstairs crew (she was the housemaid who wanted to become a secretary). But her first TV role was on the documentary series Locked Up Abroad. She played Kim, a lady with less-than-honorable intentions who convinces her boyfriend to come to Peru while she runs a drug smuggling job (NSFW language in the episode). You can check her out above.

18. SIBEL KEKILLI // SHAE

Before she landed the role as Tyrion Lannister’s lady-for-hire, Sibel Kekilli won two Lolas—the German award equivalent of an Oscar—in 2004 and 2010. She also had a role in the 2004 German film Kebab Connection, about a man of Turkish descent who wants to direct the first German kung-fu movie. You can see Kekilli at the 1:01 mark in the trailer above.

19. RICHARD BRAKE // THE NIGHT’S KING

Richard Brake only made a couple of appearances as The Night’s King in seasons four and five of Thrones, but each one was chilling. (Stuntman Vladimir Furdik has taken over the role for season six.) Brake got his start in 1993 on an episode of the Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie series Jeeves & Wooster playing a reporter. You might also recognize him as Joe Chill—yup, the guy who kills Bruce Wayne’s parents—in Batman Begins. You can see him at 2:25 in the clip above.

20. JACOB ANDERSON // GREY WORM

Fans of Broadchurch will recognize this leader of the Unsullied as Dean Thomas, Chloe Latimer’s boyfriend. Before that, Anderson made his TV debut in the British soap opera Doctors; he played Ryan Garvey for one episode in 2007.

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15 Heartwarming Facts About Mister Rogers
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Though Mister Rogers' Neighborhood premiered 50 years ago, Fred Rogers remains an icon of kindness for the ages. An innovator of children’s television, his salt-of-the-earth demeanor and genuinely gentle nature taught a generation of kids the value of kindness. In celebration of the groundbreaking children's series' 50th anniversary, here are 15 things you might not have known about everyone’s favorite “neighbor.”

1. HE WAS BULLIED AS A CHILD.

According to Benjamin Wagner, who directed the 2010 documentary Mister Rogers & Me—and was, in fact, Rogers’s neighbor on Nantucket—Rogers was overweight and shy as a child, and often taunted by his classmates when he walked home from school. “I used to cry to myself when I was alone,” Rogers said. “And I would cry through my fingers and make up songs on the piano.” It was this experience that led Rogers to want to look below the surface of everyone he met to what he called the “essential invisible” within them.

2. HE WAS AN ORDAINED MINISTER.

Rogers was an ordained minister and, as such, a man of tremendous faith who preached tolerance wherever he went. When Amy Melder, a six-year-old Christian viewer, sent Rogers a drawing she made for him with a letter that promised “he was going to heaven,” Rogers wrote back to his young fan:

“You told me that you have accepted Jesus as your Savior. It means a lot to me to know that. And, I appreciated the scripture verse that you sent. I am an ordained Presbyterian minister, and I want you to know that Jesus is important to me, too. I hope that God’s love and peace come through my work on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

3. HE RESPONDED TO ALL HIS FAN MAIL.

Responding to fan mail was part of Rogers’s very regimented daily routine, which began at 5 a.m. with a prayer and included time for studying, writing, making phone calls, swimming, weighing himself, and responding to every fan who had taken the time to reach out to him.

“He respected the kids who wrote [those letters],” Heather Arnet, an assistant on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2005. “He never thought about throwing out a drawing or letter. They were sacred."

According to Arnet, the fan mail he received wasn’t just a bunch of young kids gushing to their idol. Kids would tell Rogers about a pet or family member who died, or other issues with which they were grappling. “No child ever received a form letter from Mister Rogers," Arnet said, noting that he received between 50 and 100 letters per day.

4. ANIMALS LOVED HIM AS MUCH AS PEOPLE DID.

It wasn’t just kids and their parents who loved Mister Rogers. Koko, the Stanford-educated gorilla who understands 2000 English words and can also converse in American Sign Language, was an avid Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watcher, too. When Rogers visited her, she immediately gave him a hug—and took his shoes off.

5. HE WAS AN ACCOMPLISHED MUSICIAN.

Though Rogers began his education in the Ivy League, at Dartmouth, he transferred to Rollins College following his freshman year in order to pursue a degree in music (he graduated Magna cum laude). In addition to being a talented piano player, he was also a wonderful songwriter and wrote all the songs for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood—plus hundreds more.

6. HIS INTEREST IN TELEVISION WAS BORN OUT OF A DISDAIN FOR THE MEDIUM.

Rogers’s decision to enter into the television world wasn’t out of a passion for the medium—far from it. "When I first saw children's television, I thought it was perfectly horrible," Rogers told Pittsburgh Magazine. "And I thought there was some way of using this fabulous medium to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen."

7. KIDS WHO WATCHED MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD RETAINED MORE THAN THOSE WHO WATCHED SESAME STREET.

A Yale study pitted fans of Sesame Street against Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood watchers and found that kids who watched Mister Rogers tended to remember more of the story lines, and had a much higher “tolerance of delay,” meaning they were more patient.

8. ROGERS’S MOM KNIT ALL OF HIS SWEATERS.

If watching an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood gives you sweater envy, we’ve got bad news: You’d never be able to find his sweaters in a store. All of those comfy-looking cardigans were knitted by Fred’s mom, Nancy. In an interview with the Archive of American Television, Rogers explained how his mother would knit sweaters for all of her loved ones every year as Christmas gifts. “And so until she died, those zippered sweaters I wear on the Neighborhood were all made by my mother,” he explained.

9. HE WAS COLORBLIND.

Those brightly colored sweaters were a trademark of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, but the colorblind host might not have always noticed. In a 2003 article, just a few days after his passing, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that:

Among the forgotten details about Fred Rogers is that he was so colorblind he could not distinguish between tomato soup and pea soup.

He liked both, but at lunch one day 50 years ago, he asked his television partner Josie Carey to taste it for him and tell him which it was.

Why did he need her to do this, Carey asked him. Rogers liked both, so why not just dip in?

"If it's tomato soup, I'll put sugar in it," he told her.

10. HE WORE SNEAKERS AS A PRODUCTION CONSIDERATION.

According to Wagner, Rogers’s decision to change into sneakers for each episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was about production, not comfort. “His trademark sneakers were born when he found them to be quieter than his dress shoes as he moved about the set,” wrote Wagner.

11. MICHAEL KEATON GOT HIS START ON THE SHOW.

Oscar-nominated actor Michael Keaton's first job was as a stagehand on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, manning Picture, Picture, and appearing as Purple Panda.

12. ROGERS GAVE GEORGE ROMERO HIS FIRST PAYING GIG, TOO.

It's hard to imagine a gentle, soft-spoken, children's education advocate like Rogers sitting down to enjoy a gory, violent zombie movie like Dawn of the Dead, but it actually aligns perfectly with Rogers's brand of thoughtfulness. He checked out the horror flick to show his support for then-up-and-coming filmmaker George Romero, whose first paying job was with everyone's favorite neighbor.

“Fred was the first guy who trusted me enough to hire me to actually shoot film,” Romero said. As a young man just out of college, Romero honed his filmmaking skills making a series of short segments for Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, creating a dozen or so titles such as “How Lightbulbs Are Made” and “Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy.” The zombie king, who passed away in 2017, considered the latter his first big production, shot in a working hospital: “I still joke that 'Mr. Rogers Gets a Tonsillectomy' is the scariest film I’ve ever made. What I really mean is that I was scared sh*tless while I was trying to pull it off.”

13. ROGERS HELPED SAVE PUBLIC TELEVISION.

In 1969, Rogers—who was relatively unknown at the time—went before the Senate to plead for a $20 million grant for public broadcasting, which had been proposed by President Johnson but was in danger of being sliced in half by Richard Nixon. His passionate plea about how television had the potential to turn kids into productive citizens worked; instead of cutting the budget, funding for public TV increased from $9 million to $22 million.

14. HE ALSO SAVED THE VCR.

Years later, Rogers also managed to convince the Supreme Court that using VCRs to record TV shows at home shouldn’t be considered a form of copyright infringement (which was the argument of some in this contentious debate). Rogers argued that recording a program like his allowed working parents to sit down with their children and watch shows as a family. Again, he was convincing.

15. ONE OF HIS SWEATERS WAS DONATED TO THE SMITHSONIAN.

In 1984, Rogers donated one of his iconic sweaters to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Winning an Oscar is, for most, a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Unless you’re Walt Disney, who won 22. Nevertheless, owning a little gold guy is such a rarity that you’d think their owners would be a little more careful with them. Now, not all of these losses are the winners' fault—but some of them certainly are, Colin Firth.

1. ANGELINA JOLIE

After Angelina Jolie planted a kiss on her brother and made the world wrinkle their noses, she went onstage and collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as Lisa in Girl, Interrupted. She later presented the trophy to her mother, Marcheline Bertrand. The statuette may have been boxed up and put into storage with the rest of Marcheline’s belongings when she died in 2007, but it hasn’t yet surfaced. “I didn’t actually lose it,” Jolie said, “but nobody knows where it is at the moment.”

2. WHOOPI GOLDBERG

In 2002, Whoopi Goldberg sent her Ghost Best Supporting Actress Oscar back to the Academy to have it cleaned and detailed, because apparently you can do that. The Academy then sent the Oscar on to R.S. Owens Co. of Chicago, the company that manufactures the trophies. When it arrived in the Windy City, however, the package was empty. It appeared that someone had opened the UPS package, removed the Oscar, then neatly sealed it all back up and sent it on its way. It was later found in a trash can at an airport in Ontario, California. The Oscar was returned to the Academy, who returned it to Whoopi without cleaning it. “Oscar will never leave my house again,” Goldberg said.

3. OLYMPIA DUKAKIS

When Olympia Dukakis’s Moonstruck Oscar was stolen from her home in 1989, she called the Academy to see if it could be replaced. “For $78,” they said, and she agreed that it seemed like a fair price. It was the only thing taken from the house.

4. MARLON BRANDO

“I don’t know what happened to the Oscar they gave me for On the Waterfront,” Marlon Brando wrote in his autobiography. “Somewhere in the passage of time it disappeared.” He also didn't know what happened to the Oscar that he had Sacheen Littlefeather accept for him in 1973. “The Motion Picture Academy may have sent it to me, but if it did, I don’t know where it is now.”

5. JEFF BRIDGES

Jeff Bridges had just won his Oscar in 2010 for his portrayal of alcoholic country singer Bad Blake in Crazy Heart, but it was already missing by the next year’s ceremony, where he was up for another one. He lost to Colin Firth for The King’s Speech. “It’s been in a few places since last year but I haven’t seen it for a while now,” the actor admitted. “I’m hoping it will turn up, especially now that I haven’t won a spare! But Colin deserves it. I just hope he looks after it better.” Which brings us to ...

6. COLIN FIRTH

Perhaps Jeff Bridges secretly cursed the British actor as he said those words, because Firth nearly left his new trophy on a toilet tank the very night he received it. After a night of cocktails at the Oscar after-parties in 2011, Firth allegedly had to be chased down by a bathroom attendant, who had found the eight-pound statuette in the bathroom stall. Notice we said allegedly: Shortly after those reports surfaced, Firth's rep issued a statement saying the "story is completely untrue. Though it did give us a good laugh."

7. MATT DAMON

When newbie writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck took home Oscars for writing Good Will Hunting in 1998, it was one of those amazing Academy Award moments. Now, though, Damon isn’t sure where his award went. “I know it ended up at my apartment in New York, but unfortunately, we had a flood when one of the sprinklers went off when my wife and I were out of town and that was the last I saw of it,” Damon said in 2007.

8. MARGARET O'BRIEN

In 1945, seven-year-old Margaret O’Brien was presented with a Juvenile Academy Award for being the outstanding child actress of the year. About 10 years later, the O’Briens’ maid took the award home to polish, as she had done before, but never came back to work. The missing Oscar was forgotten about when O’Brien’s mother died shortly thereafter, and when Margaret finally remembered to call the maid, the number had been disconnected. She ended up receiving a replacement from the Academy.

There’s a happy ending to this story, though. In 1995, a couple of guys were picking their way through a flea market when they happened upon the Oscar. They put it up for auction, which is when word got back to the Academy that the missing trophy had resurfaced. The guys who found the Oscar pulled it from auction and presented it, in person, to Margaret O’Brien. “I’ll never give it to anyone to polish again,” she said.

9. BING CROSBY

For years, Bing Crosby's Oscar for 1944’s Going My Way had been on display at his alma mater, Gonzaga University. In 1972, students walked into the school’s library to find that the 13-inch statuette had been replaced with a three-inch Mickey Mouse figurine instead. A week later, the award was found, unharmed, in the university chapel. “I wanted to make people laugh,” the anonymous thief later told the school newspaper.

10. HATTIE MCDANIEL

Hattie McDaniel, famous for her Supporting Actress win as Mammy in Gone with the Wind, donated her Best Actress Oscar to Howard University. It was displayed in the fine arts complex for a time, but went missing sometime in the 1960s. No one seems to know exactly when or how, but there are rumors that the Oscar was unceremoniously dumped into the Potomac by students angered by racial stereotypes such as the one she portrayed in the film.

An earlier version of this post ran in 2013.

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