15 Audition Tapes of Famous Actors Before They Hit It Big

Before they were deemed top-billing material, even the biggest names in Hollywood had to audition for jobs. Here are 15 early tapes that show why these unknown actors became household names. 

1. Scarlett Johansson

In 1994, an unknown, 11-year-old Scarlett Johansson auditioned for the role of Judy Shepherd in the family film Jumanji. She lost the role to already-established child actor Kirsten Dunst, whose performance in that year's Interview with the Vampire had already earned her a Golden Globe nomination.

2. Matthew McConaughey

In 2013, the Criterion Collection released exclusive audition tapes from Dazed & Confused for the film’s 20th anniversary. Matthew McConaughey had been invited to audition for the role of David Wooderson, the older burnout who hangs out with high school students, after a night of drinking with casting director Don Phillips in a bar in Austin, Texas. Phillips was in town to scout locations and local talent for the movie, and McConaughey caught his eye.

“There was this bartender I knew from film school who worked at the Hyatt and would give us a discount, so we went there,” McConaughey told Texas Monthly magazine in 2003. “And when we walk in, he’s there, and he goes, 'Hey, man, the guy down at the end of the bar is in town producing a film.' So I went down and introduced myself.” 

3. Brad Pitt

In the early '90s, Brad Pitt auditioned for the role of Chicago firefighter Brian McCaffrey in Backdraft, a part that Robert Downey, Jr. also auditioned for, but which ultimately went to William Baldwin. Interestingly, Baldwin was originally set to play the character of J.D. in Thelma & Louise, but he pulled out at the last minute to star in the bigger-budgeted Backdraft instead. The J.D. role eventually went to Pitt and launched his career. And both Backdraft and Thelma & Louise came out on the same weekend in May 1991.

4. Gwyneth Paltrow

Before Laura Dern landed the role of Dr. Ellie Sattler in the Steven Spielberg-directed Jurassic Park, Gwyneth Paltrow auditioned for the part of the lovely and smart paleobotanist. Paltrow didn’t have much experience on the big screen before her audition for the 1993 blockbuster. However, she appeared briefly as the young Wendy Darling in 1991’s Hook, which Spielberg also directed. She would later gain more recognition in the thriller Se7en, co-starring with Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt in 1995. 

Helen Hunt also auditioned for Dr. Sattler (and really looked the part in her tied-up button-down and khakis). Hunt had been a working actor for nearly 20 years by that point, but she gained the most stardom a couple of years later with her Emmy-winning role on the hit sitcom Mad About You. Additionally, both Paltrow and Hunt went on to win Academy Awards for best actress in Shakespeare in Love and As Good As It Gets, respectively.

5. Julia Roberts

Three years before her big screen debut in the film Satisfaction, Julia Roberts auditioned for the teen drama Seven Minutes in Heaven, which was released in 1985. She lost the part to Jennifer Connelly, who was more established in Hollywood at the time. Roberts became a breakout star after appearing in Steel Magnolias in 1989 and Pretty Woman in 1990. 

6. Seth Rogen

After winning the Vancouver Amateur Comedy Contest at age 16, Seth Rogen auditioned for producer Judd Apatow during a local casting call for Freaks and Geeks in early 1999. When he eventually landed the role of Ken Miller, his family relocated from Vancouver to Los Angeles so he could work on the TV show. James Franco, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, Busy Philipps, and Martin Starr all also auditioned and won co-starring roles on the cult hit.

7. Rachel McAdams

Although she made her on-screen debut in The Hot Chick in 2002, Rachel McAdams didn’t break out in Hollywood until she starred in both Mean Girls and The Notebook in 2004. McAdams intensely researched her character for the wealthy southern belle Allie Hamilton in The Notebook. She lived in Charleston, S.C. before the film started shooting to fine tune her southern accent, and attended extensive ballet and etiquette classes.  

8. Natalie Portman

In 1993, Natalie Portman auditioned for the lead in Léon: The Professional of Mathilda, an 11-year-old girl who witnesses the massacre of her family and befriends a middle-aged hitman to seek revenge. She landed the role and before the movie premiered, she changed her name from Neta-Lee Hershlag for privacy reasons, taking her grandmother's maiden name. She would also go on to star in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and win an Academy Award for her performance in Black Swan in 2010. 

9. Hugh Jackman

In 1999, the Tony-winning stage actor Hugh Jackman auditioned for the character of Wolverine in X-Men. While Jackman didn’t get the role at first, director Bryan Singer went back to audition tapes when Dougray Scott, the actor who was originally cast as Wolverine, got injured and had to leave the production. Singer re-watched Jackman’s audition tape and brought him back for a screen test and Jackman has now played Wolverine in seven X-Men movies (plus the two on their way). 

10. Megan Fox

Megan Fox was an extra on Bad Boys 2 when she caught director Michael Bay’s eye. He was so impressed that he asked her to audition for his next big movie. She won the supporting role of Mikaela Banes and appeared in Transformers and its sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

11. Aaron Paul

While Aaron Paul appeared in small parts on numerous TV commercials, music videos, and movies, he wasn't a household name until he landed the role of Jesse Pinkman on Breaking Bad in 2007. Paul's chemistry with co-star Bryan Cranston and his ability to pick up on showrunner Vince Gilligan’s dark sense of humor contributed to his eventual three-time Emmy winner status—originally, Pinkman's character was supposed to be killed off at the end of season one, but Gilligan realized that losing Paul would be a huge mistake. 

12. Emma Stone

Emma Stone landed her first leading role in the movie Easy A after director Will Gluck urged her to send in an audition tape of the film’s main character’s webcam confession. But, she didn’t like having so much control over the audition tape because she ended up redoing the scene multiple times until she felt it was perfect. 

“I knew that if I had the control I was going to do it over and over and over and over because you don’t want to send something and be like, 'That is the best I can do,'" Stone has said. “I knew I was never going to feel that way. So, I did that for a couple hours. It’s like a one-minute monologue, and I did it over and over and over.” 

13. Robert De Niro

In 1971, Robert De Niro auditioned for the role of the hot-headed gangster Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. While the role ultimately went to James Caan, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, De Niro landed the role of the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II two years later, and won his first Oscar for the part.

14. Leonardo DiCaprio

When he was 15 years old, Leonardo DiCaprio auditioned for a role on the short-lived TV version of The Outsiders in 1990. He landed a small part in the pilot episode, but Fox canceled the show a few weeks after it premiered. DiCaprio went on to appear as a regular cast member on the TV shows Parenthood and Growing Pains before making the leap to the big screen with This Boy's Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993. 

15. Miley Cyrus

At age 11, Miley Cyrus sent the Disney Channel an audition tape for the TV show Hannah Montana. Cyrus originally auditioned for the best friend role, but Disney producers liked her on-screen presence and natural charisma, so they asked her to re-audition for the lead role. Cyrus flew to Hollywood to audition in person and producers offered her the star-making lead.

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10 People Who Have Misplaced Their Oscars
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Getty Images

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.


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.”


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.


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.


“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.”


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 ...


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."


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.


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.


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.


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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15 Wonderfully Wise Quotes From Judy Blume
Evan Agostini, Getty Images
Evan Agostini, Getty Images

Judy Blume was the queen of the YA novel before the concept even existed, inspiring generations of passionate fans—and a fair share of dissenters—in her nearly 50-year career. Here are just a few of our favorite thoughts about books, writing, and life from the iconic author, who turns 80 years old today.


“I’ll tell you what I make of that—that censors, those who want to censor, they don’t come after books until they know that kids really like them, and once kids like a book, it’s like, ‘There must be something wrong with this book, because why do the kids like it.’ You look at the banned books and you’ll see that they’re popular books with kids.”

— From a 2012 interview with PBS


“But it's not just the books under fire now that worry me. It is the books that will never be written. The books that will never be read. And all due to the fear of censorship. As always, young readers will be the real losers.”

— From Blume's official website


“Yes, I was a great daydreamer. You know what I worry about? I worry that kids today don't have enough time to just sit and daydream. I was a great pretender, always making up stories inside my head. Stories and stories and stories, but I never told anyone.”

— From an interview with Scholastic


"Everybody who writes fiction draws from their own life, but if it ended there, it would be very boring. When I talk to kids and they say, 'How do you become a writer?', well, I don't know that you become a writer: you just are. I always had stories, they were always there inside my head."

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian


"Writing saved my life. It saved me, it gave me everything, it took away all my illnesses.”

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian


“I don't understand the creative process. For years I would say one thing when kids would ask where I got my ideas. Because I was forced to think up something even though I don't really know. And now I'm just saying to people, 'I don't know. I don't understand how it works. How do I know?'”

— From an interview with January Magazine


"It's all about your determination, I think, as much as anything. There are a lot of people with talent, but it's that determination. I mean, you know, I would cry when the rejections came in—the first couple of times, anyway—and I would go to sleep feeling down, but I would wake up in the morning optimistic and saying, 'Well, maybe they didn't like that one, but wait till they see what I'm going to do next.' And I think you just have to keep going."

— From a 2011 interview with NPR


“[My husband] George and I listened … to the first Hunger Games and we loved it. And we couldn’t wait to get my car and come home. And when we came home, I’m not sure if we’d quite finished, and we sat in the car until we finished. I did not read any of the others. I had no interest in Twilight. But I did see the first movie.”

— From a 2014 interview with Lena Dunham through KCRW


“I like it. It’s a tremendous—I don’t want to say waste of time, but it also … what can I say? I enjoy reading the people I follow and discovering new people. It’s a lot of fun. I get a lot of laughs from it. And it connects you; it’s nice.”

— From a 2013 interview with Vanity Fair


“Whatever gets them excited about reading is good! If you want them to read my books don't tell them so. Maybe just leave around a paperback with a new cover and say, 'I'm not sure you're ready for that.'"

— From a 2013 Reddit AMA


“I was so inspired by Beverly Cleary's funny and wonderful books. And also, Louise Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy. And E. L. Konigsberg's first book, Jennifer Hecate. And my favorite books from when I was young, the Betsy-Tacy books.”

— From an interview with Scholastic


“Margaret is fiction, but based on the kind of twelve year old I was. Growing up, we did have a club like The PTKs. And Margaret's interests and concerns were similar to mine. I was small and thin when thin wasn't in. I was a late developer and was anxious to grow like my friends. Margaret was right from my own sixth grade experience. I wanted to tell the truth as I knew it.”

— From an interview with Scholastic


“I’ve never really thought in terms of taboos. I think that books can really help parents and kids talk together about difficult subjects. I’ve always felt that way. The parent reads the book. The kid reads the book and then they can talk about the characters instead of talking about themselves. You know there’s a connection even if you don’t talk about it when you read the same books.”

— From a 2014 interview with Lena Dunham through KCR


“I’m phobic about thunderstorms. Writing is incredibly hard for me. I’m not the world’s best mother, though kids always assume I must be. And I love a good cupcake. (I know, that makes four things, but I’m hungry and wishing I had that cupcake.)”

— From a 2012 interview with Smithsonian Magazine


"I don't want to rewrite anything. My characters are who they are. For years, people have written and asked me to let Margaret go through menopause. And it's like, 'Hey guys! Margaret is 12 and she is going to stay 12. That's who she is.' No, I don't want to rewrite any of them."

— From a 2018 interview with NPR


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