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20 Early Roles of This Year’s Oscar-Nominated Actors

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Even Hollywood’s most celebrated actors had to pay their dues—sometimes by starring in a zit cream commercial. Here are 20 early roles of this year’s Academy Award-nominated actors.

1. MATT DAMON

In 1988, at the age of 18, Matt Damon—who won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 1998 for Good Will Hunting—made his feature film debut as a dopey rich kid in Mystic Pizza.

2. JENNIFER LAWRENCE

At age 16, Jennifer Lawrence got her start by playing the mascot for a high school basketball team in a 2006 episode of Monk. Though she donned a lion costume for the bulk of the appearance, she did manage a few seconds of face time toward the end of the episode.

3. LEONARDO DICAPRIO

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In 1989, Leonardo DiCaprio made his television debut on The New Lassie. He played Glen, a BMX-riding kid in two episodes.

4. CATE BLANCHETT

Before she became one of the most celebrated actresses of our time, Cate Blanchett began her impressive career on the Australian primetime drama Police Rescue in 1993. The future Oscar winner appeared as Mrs. Haines in one episode before joining the cast of the Australian mini-series Heartland one year later.

5. TOM HARDY

Tom Hardy made his on-screen debut playing Private John A. Janovec in two episodes of Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks' 2001 miniseries, Band of Brothers. Later that same year, Hardy had a small role in Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down.

6. BRIE LARSON

Room's Brie Larson made her television debut on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno as a Girl Scout in two comedy segments that aired in November of 1998. In 2003, Larson landed her first starring role, in the Disney Channel movie Right on Track; she played Courtney Enders, a young girl who wants to get into junior drag racing with her sister.

7. MICHAEL FASSBENDER

Michael Fassbender made his television debut in the second season of the BBC One drama Hearts and Bones in 2001. He played a love interest, “Hermann the German,” for a three-episode stretch. Like Tom Hardy, Fassbender's big break came later that year when he appeared in seven episodes of Band of Brothers.

8. ROONEY MARA

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Rooney Mara got her start in movies completely by accident. While visiting her sister, Kate Mara, on the set of the straight-to-DVD horror sequel Urban Legends: Bloody Mary in 2005, the director needed people to fill up a classroom scene. Although Rooney had no interest in being in the movie, Kate volunteered her reluctant sister, which led to her debut performance as "Classroom Girl #1."

9. SYLVESTER STALLONE

In 1970, Sylvester Stallone made his feature film debut in The Party at Kitty and Stud's, which subsequently became known as Italian Stallion. He played the titular Stud in the softcore adult film when he was starting out as an actor in New York City. Stallone only agreed to star in the movie as a last resort, as the 24-year-old was in danger of being evicted from his apartment.

"It was either do that movie or rob someone because I was at the end—at the very end—of my rope,” Stallone told Playboy in 1978. “Instead of doing something desperate, I worked two days for $200 and got myself out of the bus station."

10. SAOIRSE RONAN

In 2003, when she was nine years old, Saoirse Ronan had a recurring role on the Irish primetime medical drama The Clinic. She played the character Rhiannon Geraghty in four episodes over the course of two seasons.

11. EDDIE REDMAYNE

After beginning his career on the stage in London, last year's Best Actor (who's nominated again this year for The Danish Girl) Eddie Redmayne made his television debut on the young adult TV series Animal Ark in 1998. He made his big-screen debut opposite Toni Collette in 2006's Like Minds.

12. JENNIFER JASON LEIGH

At age 14, Jennifer Jason Leigh made her television debut during the third season of the detective television series Baretta in 1977. She played Marcie, a banker’s drug-addicted daughter. She also had an uncredited role in the 1976 movie The Spy Who Never Was as "Girl Playing with a Rubber Ball," though audiences never got to see her face.

13. CHRISTIAN BALE

At age 12, Christian Bale played a young Alexei Nikolaevich, the only son of Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, in the 1986 made-for-TV movie Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna. The following year marked his breakout role as the lead in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun.

14. RACHEL MCADAMS

In 2001, a 23-year-old Rachel McAdams made her TV debut as "Beth Swanson" in the pilot for Shotgun Love Dolls on MTV. The pilot episode followed the adventures of Beth, an ordinary teenager who wakes up one morning to find herself in an alternate universe where she’s the newest member of an all-girl crime fighting team. Needless to say, it didn't get picked up for a full season. Fun Fact: Shotgun Love Dolls also marked an early role for Malin Åkerman, who played Rock Candy.

15. BRYAN CRANSTON

Bryan Cranston’s earliest credited role was on Lifetime's anthology drama Crisis Counselor in 1982. He played Sam, a bisexual man who gets caught cheating on his pregnant wife.

16. CHARLOTTE RAMPLING

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In 1964, Charlotte Rampling made an uncredited appearance as a nightclub dancer in A Hard Day’s Night for director Richard Lester. The following year, she made another uncredited appearance—this time as "Water Skier"—in The Knack ... and How to Get It, also for Lester.

17. MARK RUFFALO

In 1989, a 22-year-old Mark Ruffalo starred in a Clearasil Double Clear commercial. Later in the year, he appeared in the anthology series CBS Summer Playhouse as Michael Dunne, the son of a New York columnist, in the episode titled “American Nuclear.” The series aired during the summer and featured unsold TV pilots in the hopes of getting picked up for series. Television viewers would call a 1-800-number to pick their favorites for CBS’ fall lineup.

18. KATE WINSLET

Although she made a small appearance on a TV show called Shrinks in 1991, Kate Winslet made her major television debut on the British sci-fi series Dark Season at age 16 later in the year. Winslet played the character Reet for six episodes, including the pilot. In 1994, she made her movie debut opposite Melanie Lynskey in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures.

19. MARK RYLANCE

Bridge of Spies' Mark Rylance, a first-time Oscar nominee, made his television debut in the two-part, made-for-TV movie Wallenberg: A Hero's Story in 1985. A 25-year-old Rylance played the character of Nikki Fodor in the Emmy Award-winning Holocaust film.

20. ALICIA VIKANDER

At age 13, Alicia Vikander appeared in the 2002 TV movie Min balsamerade mor (My Embalmed Mother) for Swedish television.

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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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15 Wonderfully Wise Quotes From Judy Blume
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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.

1. ON BEING ONE OF THE MOST BANNED AUTHORS OF THE 20TH CENTURY

“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

2. ON THE EFFECTS OF CENSORSHIP

“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

3. WHY SHE WORRIES ABOUT KIDS THESE DAYS

“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

4. ON BEING A WRITER

"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

5. ON WRITING

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

— From a 2014 Interview with The Guardian

6. ON THE CREATIVE PROCESS

“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

7. ON DEALING WITH REJECTION

"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

8. ON YA AUTHORS AND BOOKS

“[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

9. ON THE PROS AND CONS OF TWITTER

“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

10. ON GETTING KIDS TO READ

“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

11. ON HER LITERARY INSPIRATIONS

“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

12. ON "MARGARET" AND TEENAGED JUDY

“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

13. ON HOW BOOKS HELP US COMMUNICATE

“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

14. ON THREE THINGS THAT WOULD SURPRISE US ABOUT HER

“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

15. ON REVISITING OLD CHARACTERS

"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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