Actors who had successful careers prior to acting
Jim Spellman / Getty Images

Actors who had successful careers prior to acting

“Don’t quit your day job!” This is something skeptics say often, but some actors did not heed that advice. Many actors had success in other fields when their acting careers started to take off. Here are some of the actors who left other gigs by the wayside to keep us entertained.

 
1 of 20

Ken Jeong

Ken Jeong
Rich Polk/Getty Images for Disney

You are probably at least somewhat aware of Jeong’s story. If you aren’t, the fact he starred in a sitcom called “Dr. Ken” should give you a clue. After getting his medical degree, Jeong worked as an internist for several years before starting to do stand-up comedy, which turned into acting. While he’s still a licensed physician in California, Jeong is a little too busy these days to do anything but act.

 
2 of 20

Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford
Ian Gavan/Getty Images

Given that we now know him as Indiana Jones and Han Solo, it seems weird to think there was a time when Ford wasn’t a movie star. He was trying to act but struggled to get gigs, being stuck with non-speaking roles even into the early 1970s. With a family to support, Ford taught himself to be a carpenter, which he did as his primary job for a few years before George Lucas came across him while casting “American Graffiti.” The rest is history.

 
3 of 20

Gabourey Sidibe

Gabourey Sidibe
Gonzalo Marroquin/Getty Images for Addition Elle

Sidibe went from a total unknown to an awards darling seemingly overnight thanks to the film “Precious.” Before that, though, the actress had an unusual job that probably still involved a bit of acting. Sidibe worked as an operator for a phone-sex hotline for three years. She has said she was actually good at it and got a promotion only two months into the gig.

 
4 of 20

Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum
David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for Magic Mike Live

Apparently “Magic Mike” came from Tatum’s own personal experience, at least to some degree. Yes, Tatum did indeed work as a stripper prior to becoming a movie star. Though he only had the gig for eight months, given the fact it helped him bring the world not one but two male stripper movies, it feels like it’s worth mentioning.

 
5 of 20

Gerard Butler

Gerard Butler
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

You may not think of the rough-and-tumble actor Butler as the kind of guy who would pursue a cerebral career. You would be wrong. Butler actually studied law in his native Scotland and got a job as a trainee lawyer for a firm in Edinburgh. However, he was in a troubled part of his life, so he ended up getting fired pretty quickly. At this point, he decided to pursue acting instead of being a lawyer, making his law degree rather vestigial.

 
6 of 20

Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

Imagine Wolverine being your teacher. That indeed happen for some kids. Well, sort of. The Australian actor spent a bit of time early in his life as a P.E. teacher. Jackman had been bitten by the acting bug, though, so he went to theater school, leaving a life of teaching gym behind him.

 
7 of 20

Michelle Wolf

Michelle Wolf
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Wolf doesn’t do a ton of acting, mostly performing as herself. She’s a stand-up who had her own Netflix show for a while. We still wanted to include her, though, because she had a significant career prior to breaking into comedy. She was a real wolf of Wall Street, as she spent four years handling mutual funds and other financial matters for Bear Stearns and JP Morgan Chase.

 
8 of 20

Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm
Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Hamm didn’t spend much time as a teacher in his native St. Louis. However, it’s still a fun story, because one of his students was Ellie Kemper, who would go on to star in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” You know who else was on that show? One Jon Hamm. The future star of “Mad Men” also apparently once got a gig as a set director for a porn shoot.

 
9 of 20

Rob Riggle

Rob Riggle
Greg Doherty/Getty Images

Many an actor has spent time in the military, but few have made a true career out of it. Riggle is one of those people. After getting a pilot’s license, Riggle joined the Marines and was all set to become a Naval Aviator. Instead, he wanted to pursue comedy, so the “Daily Show” alum joined the Marine Corps reserve. He rose to the level of Lieutenant Colonel and retired in 2013 after 23 years of service.

 
10 of 20

Al Madrigal

Al Madrigal
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Speaking of “Daily Show” alums, Madrigal got into the family business after he graduated college. That business happened to be human resources staffing, and the primary thing Madrigal did was fire people. This was a job he had for 10 years before he decided to first try his hand at stand-up. After a decade of having to fire strangers, one assumes showbiz was far from daunting for Madrigal.

 
11 of 20

Carl Weathers

Carl Weathers
John Lamparski/Getty Images

Many athletes have gone onto pursue acting, so Weathers is sort of our stand-in for all of them. He’s a good choice too, because he excelled at acting after spending a few years playing professional football, mostly in Canada. Then he started getting some acting roles, most notably as Apollo Creed in the “Rocky” movies. Of course, his best role was as “Carl Weathers” in “Arrested Development.”

 
12 of 20

Mark Wahlberg

Mark Wahlberg
Amanda Edwards/WireImage

Like athletes, musicians seem to gravitate toward acting. However, many of them remain musicians, but they just happen to dabble in trying to be an actor. Wahlberg basically left music behind him once his acting career took off. He doesn’t seem too fond of those days, either. Maybe that’s because he has become an action star, which doesn’t quite fit with his days as the frontman of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. In addition to “Good Vibrations,” Wahlberg was a model prior to acting.

 
13 of 20

Mr. T

Mr. T
Steve Zak Photography/FilmMagic

With his Mohawk and impressive physique, Mr. T has always looked tough. Sure, he seems nice, and he probably is, but there is something intimidating about him. Well, that’s no bluff. The man once known as Laurence Tureaud spent a long time working as a bouncer, before being able to transition into being a bodyguard. He was so adept at personal protection that he started getting hired to protect big names like Muhammad Ali, Steve McQueen and Diana Ross.

 
14 of 20

Craig Robinson

Craig Robinson
Michael Bezjian/Getty Images for The Artists Project

OK, we’ve got one more teacher for you. A lot of people seem to have taught for at least a part of their lives. Robinson is still probably best remembered as Darryl from “The Office,” but do you remember his short-lived sitcom “Mr. Robinson”? It starred Robinson as a music teacher. Once again, that was life imitating art, as Robinson did indeed work as a music teacher in Chicago.

 
15 of 20

Ben Stein

Ben Stein
Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Environmental Media Association

Stein had one of the more unusual, and prestigious, careers before getting into acting. Before his deadpan delivery first hit the screen, Stein, a former lawyer, worked as a speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. In fact, there was a time when it was speculated that Stein was actually Deep Throat, the informant who helped break the Watergate scandal.

 
16 of 20

John Hodgman

John Hodgman
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Turner

Hodgman’s most prominent acting gig may still be when he played the PC in those Mac commercials, but he’s done quite a bit of acting work, primarily on television. Before that, though, he was a successful book author, and he still writes books. However, before he was writing books, Hodgman spent years as a literary agent. His most famous client, fittingly enough, was an actor, Bruce Campbell.

 
17 of 20

Steve Buscemi

Steve Buscemi
Bruce Glikas/Getty Images

Buscemi’s acting roles are too myriad to list, but that’s OK because you certainly know who he is. You’ve seen him dozens of times over the years. Before he was a staple in Coen Brothers films, Buscemi worked as a firefighter in New York for four years. He then memorably returned to help his old station out in the wake of 9/11. His firefighting history probably played into his casting in "The King of Staten Island."

 
18 of 20

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg
Monica Schipper/Getty Images

Goldberg won an Oscar for “Ghost,” but it wasn’t her first job related to the dead. Whoopi had a few jobs prior to making it as an actor, but the most notable of them certainly had to be when she worked as a mortuary cosmetologist. Yes, her job was to style and put make up on dead bodies for funerals and viewings. That’s not something most aspiring actors would give a shot — and with good reason. Choosing between waiting tables and stylizing corpses seems pretty easy.

 
19 of 20

Wanda Sykes

Wanda Sykes
Andrew Toth/Getty Images

You’ve heard Sykes‘ distinct voice in many acting roles, including in voiceover gigs such as “Rio” and a couple of “Ice Age” movies. While you’ve heard her voice for a long time, she, or at least her coworkers, may have been hearing yours back in the day. Before trying stand-up for the first time, Sykes spent five years working for the NSA. That’s right. The future co-star of “Pootie Tang” was an employee of the National Security Agency.

 
20 of 20

Dennis Farina

Dennis Farina
Daniel Boczarski/WireImage

Two of Farina’s most famous roles were as criminals in “Midnight Run” and “Get Shorty.” That’s kind of an unexpected turn, given Farina’s pre-acting career. The Chicago native spent some time as a police officer. Well, a lot of time as a police officer. In fact, Farina was a cop working burglaries for 18 years. Then, Michael Mann hired him to be a consultant on his 1981 movie “Thief” and gave Farina a small role. That’s how a life-long cop became a celebrated character actor.

Chris Morgan is a sports and pop culture writer and the author of the books The Comic Galaxy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and The Ash Heap of History. You can follow him on Twitter @ChrisXMorgan.

More must-reads:

Customize Your Newsletter

+

Get the latest news and rumors, customized to your favorite sports and teams. Emailed daily. Always free!

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.