Gal Gadot and Elisabeth Moss, two of the top-paid actresses working in Hollywood today, both make millions of dollars annually. It’s hard to believe that one started out at Burger King and the other working a silent movie theater. Like many actors, they started at the bottom and worked their way up, taking odd jobs to make ends meet.
Stacker went through interviews from talk shows, biographies, and publications like The Hollywood Reporter and The New York Times to find the first jobs of famous actresses. Data from Celebrity Net Worth and Bank Rate is also factored in to see just how far they’ve come. Some starlets seemed destined for fame, and others had to take on challenging gigs to earn celebrity status. Many actresses found a connection between their first jobs and acting, helping to mold these successful fan favorites into the stars we know and love.
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Madonna: Dunkin’ Donuts cashier
The “Material Girl” worked as a cashier at Dunkin’ Donuts in New York City, though she only lasted a week. Why was she fired? “I was playing with the jelly squirter machine,” she told Howard Stern in a 2015 interview.
Amy Poehler: Birthday singer
Comedian Amy Poehler’s first job in New York was serving ice cream to “whiny kids” at a Manhattan parlor. Her claim to fame back then was singing to birthday boys and girls , leading her fellow employees in a chant.
Eva Longoria: Wendy’s burger flipper
Eva Longoria gushed about her time at Wendy’s in an interview with Latina.com. She started working there when she was 14, and continued for six years. She’s even still in touch with her former manager. Soon after, a beauty pageant brought her to Hollywood, where she decided to stay and pursue acting. Today, her net worth is $80 million .
Geena Davis: Human mannequin
Before she was an actress, Geena Davis worked as a fashion model. After her Ann Taylor boss saw the crowd she’d attracted pretending to be a mannequin in the display window, she hired her to do it full-time. “I had an uncanny ability to be still,” she said in an interview with NPR .
Mariah Carey: Pet shop worker
One of the world’s biggest divas wasn’t always worth $320 million . She revealed in an interview that her very first job was at a pet shop. She’d been talking voice lesson since the age of four, and was eventually signed to Columbia Records at 18.
Octavia Spencer: Production crew
Octavia Spencer started off working as part of the production crew for films like Tom and Huck after graduating from Alabama University with a degree in English. After several directors urged her to audition, she landed her first role.
Beyonce Knowles: Hair sweeper
The international superstar made her first paycheck (in the form of tips) by sweeping hair off the floor of her mother’s hair salon, Headliners. She had been entertaining customers since the age of 6. According to an interview in Essence , Knowles used the money to pay for a season pass to Six Flags.
Emma Stone: Dog treat seller
Emma Stone started acting at the age of 11, getting her first break on a reality show called In Search of the Partridge Family . In a video for Hollywood Reporter , the actress revealed that her first non-acting job was selling dog treats from Three Dog Bakery at a Los Angeles farmers market.
Mila Kunis: Barbie girl
After Mila Kunis’ family moved to the U.S. from the Ukraine when she was 7, her parents enrolled her in acting classes to improve her English. After booking her first job in a Barbie commercial, she got to keep the doll, which inspired her to keep working in the industry (in hopes of getting more free toys). She was cast in That ’70s Show at 14 years old.
Sarah Paulson: Pizza seller
During high school, Sarah Paulson worked a grand total of 24 hours at Circle Pizza. After calling her mom four times to ask how to spell “parmesan,” it was clear that the gig wasn’t for her.
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Mindy Kaling: Babysitter
Kaling described her first paid job as a babysitter in an interview for the Pennsylvania Conference for Women . While she admits to not being a natural with babies, she was grateful for the job, as it pushed her to gain skills in something that did not come easy to her. “Becoming good at something you don’t particularly like was a good lesson to learn—and made me ache to get good at something I loved.”
Lucy Liu: Ice cream scooper
Liu revealed to Entertainment Weekly in 2010 that her first job was at Baskin Robbins as an ice cream scooper in her early teens. “My right hand got much stronger than my left. It was horrifying.” She booked her first big movie in 1999: Payback with Mel Gibson.
Ming Na Wen: Server
The Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actress told Business Insider that she first worked at her parents’ restaurant as a cashier and a server. “That was how I earned my keep in my family,” she says.
Miley Cyrus: Bra and underwear collector
In a Rolling Stone cover story, Cyrus talked about going on tour with her famous father, Billy Ray. He would pay her $10 to pick up the various bras and underwear women had thrown on the stage. “I’d get a really big one and be like, ‘Dad! I found your biggest fan,'” says Cyrus.
Isidora Goreshter: Hostess
Shameless fans will recognize Isidora Goreshter from her role as bartender Svetlana. At 16, she worked as a hostess at a Huntington Beach cafe across from the beach.
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Evangeline Lilly: Flight attendant
The star who jump-started her acting career in a TV show about a mysterious plane crash actually started off as a flight attendant. Evangeline Lilly revealed to David Letterman that she didn’t enjoy her first job. “That job has no redeeming qualities. I didn’t like the people. I didn’t like the destinations.” At the height of her hatred for the occupation, she admitting to passing gas in the direction of an annoying passenger.
Whoopi Goldberg: Makeup artist (for the deceased)
On Oprah’s “Masterclass,” Whoopi Goldberg discussed her early job doing hair and makeup for the deceased at a funeral home. A licensed beautician, she took the job when she saw an ad in the newspaper. “You have to be a certain kind of person,” she says, “and you have to love people in order to make them worthy of a great send-off.”
Jennifer Lawrence: Babysitter
The Hunger Games star is reportedly worth $160 million , but it wasn’t always that way. Jennifer Lawrence started out babysitting , before she was discovered at age 14 in New York while on vacation with her family.
Kate Winslet: Cereal girl
Kate Winslet attended her first acting school at age 11, according to an interview in Rolling Stone . Though she wasn’t a huge fan of the school, it did help her book her first commercial, for Sugar Puffs cereal, when she was was 12.
Marilyn Monroe: Factory worker
Born Norma Jeane Dougherty, Marilyn Monroe worked in a California factory spraying down planes with fire retardant during World War II. She was discovered when an Army photographer snapped photos of her assembling a drone at the factory in 1944.
Anna Camp: Dance teacher
The Pitch Perfect actress used to teach cotillion classes in her native South Carolina before pursuing a fine arts degree. Her best friend’s mother hired her to teach ballroom dancing to small children when the future star was in eighth grade. She enjoyed the job, despite the low pay. “I got like, eight dollars,” she told Business Insider .
Tina Fey: Cheesesteak maker
In a Pride Source interview with fellow comedian Paul Rudd, Tina Fey talked about her first job working at her local swim club snack bar making cheesesteaks. Why’d she take the snack gig? So her mother could have free access to the pool, of course.
Jenna Fischer: Administrative assistant
That’s right, Pam Beasley herself sat behind a desk for seven years while auditioning in Hollywood. The Office actress told The Hollywood Reporter , “When I got my job on The Office , I bought the things that I used to really like having on my desk when I was a real administrative assistant.”
Cameron Diaz: Frozen yogurt scooper
Diaz told Goop that her first job was at TCBY Frozen Yogurt . She started modeling at age 16, and landed her first role in The Mask despite having no prior acting experience.
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Jodie Foster: Coppertone girl
Foster got her start working in commercials at the age of 3. Her first was for Coppertone sunscreen, and was the main breadwinner for her family by the time she could sign her name. Foster admitted to having a “not normal” childhood in an interview with Rolling Stone .
Gwyneth Paltrow: Toy store employee
In an interview with Goop, Paltrow’s own beauty company, the star talked about her first job at Penny Whistle Toys on Madison Avenue at 12 years old. She says her parents always made her have a job, which she attributes to the work ethic she’s known for today.
Margot Robbie: Restaurant worker
Margot Robbie revealed to Chris Pratt on Jimmy Kimmel Live that she started working in a restaurant at 10 years old. She started in the kitchen polishing silverware, then moved to dishwashing and serving, eventually ending up behind the bar at 14 (which probably wasn’t legal, according to the actress). Robbie began pursuing acting at 17, and landed her first role shortly after .
Goldie Hawn: Go-go dancer
When Goldie Hawn moved to New York to start her career, her first job was as a go-go dancer at The Peppermint Box in New Jersey, where she’d earn $25 a night. In an interview with People , she remembers having to ask men at the bar for rides when she couldn’t catch the Greyhound bus .
Michelle Pfeiffer: Retail worker
According to an early interview with The New York Times , Michelle Pfeiffer got her first job at 14 at a clothing store in the mall. Her father, who owned his business, educated his children on the importance of working at a young age. She worked at a Vons supermarket, and attended junior college before taking acting classes in Los Angeles.
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Krysten Ritter: Catalogue model
Krysten Ritter is known for her lead role in Jessica Jones , and got her start as a model. She told Metro News she was scouted as a teenager , which made school life difficult. She worked in catalogues and for Seventeen magazine, traveling to Japan and New York for jobs.
Gal Gadot: Burger King employee
The Wonder Woman star received offers to model at an early age. She told Rolling Stone , however, that modeling didn’t appeal to her, so she got a job at her local Burger King . Soon after, her mother entered her in the Miss Israel pageant, which she won.
Zooey Deschanel: Jazz club singer
The New Girl actress has always been an active musician (she’s part of the She & Him bad and wrote and performed the song for the show’s opening credits) so her first job at a jazz club comes as no surprise. According to an interview with NY Daily News , she got the gig when she was just 15 . She earned $70, which seemed like a lot of money at the time to the future television and film star .
Meghan Markle: Trash duty
She may be married to Prince Harry now, but Meghan Markle grew up doing chores just like the rest of us—including taking out the trash. During a speech in Australia during a royal tour, the former Suits actress explained that her first job (trash duty) helped shape her into the successful woman she is today. She also mentioned in an interview with Oprah that she worked at a frozen yogurt shop called Humphrey Yogart.
Kathy Bates: Payroll clerk
When Kathy Bates first moved to New York to pursue an acting career, she took on odd jobs to get by. She worked as a singing waitress , and revealed in Daily Actor that she worked as a payroll clerk at the Museum of Modern Art. Bates said that part of her job was counting all the coins and rolling them up to take to the bank.
Kristen Wiig: Anthropologie employee
After quitting school to pursue acting, Kristen Wiig quickly realized that making it in Los Angeles was going to be more difficult than she thought. She told The New York Times that she immediately started working at clothing store Anthropologie to make ends meet. Luckily for Saturday Night Live fans, she nailed her 2005 audition, and went on to become one of the most beloved cast members in the show’s history.
Rebel Wilson: Popcorn maker
Rebel Wilson knew she wanted to be an actor from a young age, so she began working at a local cinema while pursuing her career. She told ABC that she even continued to work there when her first movie, Fat Pizza , came out (as she wasn’t getting paid “the big bucks” quite yet). People would come out of the movie and realize the girl who sold them their their popcorn was also in the film.
Ellen Degeneres: JCPenny cashier
The comedian, talk show host, and Finding Nemo actress landed her first gig as a cashier at JCPenney in her hometown of Metairie, Louisiana. On a 2012 episode of The Ellen Degeneres Show , she went back to the same store where she got her first job and worked a shift.
Oprah Winfrey: Grocery store clerk
The talk show host told fans via Oprah.com that her first job was at a grocery store next to her father’s shop in Nashville. Talking to customers was frowned upon—something that went against Winfrey’s nature. Luckily, she landed a gig shortly after at a local radio show, and went on to become one of the wealthiest women in the world .
Lady Gaga: Server
In a 2009 interview with Elle magazine, Gaga discussed her first job as a server in Manhattan . “I was really good at it,” she says. “I always got big tips!” She even compared the job to what she does best now—performing—saying that she wore high heels every day, told stories, and did her best to keep things romantic for guests on dates.
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Kirstie Alley: Housekeeper
At 16, Alley started her first job as a housekeeper in her hometown of Wichita, Kansas. In 2009, the OWN Network followed her to the house where she used to work, where Alley proved that she’s still got the skills.
Helen Mirren: Carnival barker
While Helen Mirren was attending convent school in England, she worked as a carnival barker (also known as “blagging”) on the weekends. Her job consisted of trying to convince people to play her carnival darts game, which she talked about on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert .
Elisabeth Moss: Silent movie theater worker
Known for her lead roles in Mad Men and The Handmaid’s Tale , Elisabeth Moss told The Hollywood Reporter that she used to work in a silent movie theater in Los Angeles before her acting career took off.
Connie Britton: Retail worker
Britton (known for Friday Night Lights and Nashville ) discussed her former retail jobs at The Gap and The Limited in an interview with E! News at the 2013 Emmy Awards. “It’s all about folding. I’m a terrible folder,” said the actress. She didn’t make it long in retail, and ended up working as an aerobics instructor to supplement her acting jobs.
Kerry Washington: Substitute teacher
The Scandal actress recalls her time working as a substitute teacher in New York during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Although she enjoyed it very much, she had to give it up after her breakout role in Save the Last Dance because her newfound fame was distracting the students.
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Lena Dunham: Children’s clothes seller
Lena Dunham discusses her first job selling expensive children’s clothes at a shop in Manhattan in her memoir Not That Kind of Girl . She attributes the boring task of folding baby leggings as her inspiration for her web series Delusional Downtown Divas , which jump-started her career.
Gina Rodriguez: Twin nanny
The Jane the Virgin star had a unique job qualification before her acting career took off. She specialized in nannying for twin babies, a job that required a three-month training program. In a piece for Interview magazine, Rodriguez talks about how being a certified twin specialist helped her pay the bills in a big way. “Let me tell you, you make a killing. It’s outrageous,” she says.
Samira Wiley: Bartender
Samira Wiley worked as a bartender before landing the role of Poussey on Netflix’s Orange is the New Black . She tells Flare that she realized that she had really made it when people started recognizing her, as she continued to bartend all the way through the first season. She went on to win a Primetime Emmy for her performance in The Handmaid’s Tale .
Debra Messing: Babysitter
Debra Messing reminisced about her first job as a babysitter in an issue of InStyle magazine . The Will and Grace actress used the money to buy records (“back then we didn’t even have CDs,” she says). In high school, she worked at a beach concession stand selling hot dogs, fries, and ice cream during the summer.
Nikki Blonsky: Ice cream scooper
Nikki Blonsky was 17 years old and scooping ice cream at Coldstone Creamery when she found out she’d landed the role of Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray opposite John Travolta and Zac Efron. Coldstone Creamery employees traditionally sing for tips, making it the perfect first job for the budding musical theater star.
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