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16 Audition Tapes of Famous Actors Before Their Big Break

16 Audition Tapes of Famous Actors Before Their Big Break

Before they were Hollywood legends, even the biggest stars had to go through auditions. Here are 16 early audition tapes that showcase why these then-unknown actors became household names.

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

For the 20th anniversary of Dazed & Confused in 2013, exclusive audition tapes were released by the Criterion Collection. Matthew McConaughey auditioned for the role of David Wooderson after a night of drinking with casting director Don Phillips in Austin, Texas. Phillips was scouting locations and local talent when McConaughey caught his eye.

Brad Pitt auditioned for the role of Chicago firefighter Brian McCaffrey in Backdraft in the early ’90s, competing with Robert Downey Jr. However, the part went to William Baldwin, who was initially set to play J.D. in Thelma & Louise. Baldwin opted for the bigger-budgeted Backdraft, leaving the J.D. role open for Pitt, launching his career. Both films hit theaters the same weekend in May 1991.

Before Laura Dern was cast as Dr. Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park, Gwyneth Paltrow auditioned for the role. Paltrow, who had little experience at the time, had appeared briefly in Hook and gained more recognition with Se7en. Helen Hunt also auditioned for Dr. Sattler and looked the part in her tied-up button-down and khakis. Both Paltrow and Hunt eventually won Academy Awards for their later roles in Shakespeare in Love and As Good As It Gets.

At 16, Seth Rogen won the Vancouver Amateur Comedy Contest and then auditioned for Judd Apatow during a local casting call for Freaks and Geeks in 1999. Winning the role of Ken Miller, Rogen’s family relocated to Los Angeles for the TV show. The cult hit also starred James Franco, Jason Segel, Linda Cardellini, Busy Philipps, and Martin Starr.

Rachel McAdams’ Hollywood breakthrough came in 2004 with Mean Girls and The Notebook. For her role in The Notebook as Allie Hamilton, she lived in Charleston, South Carolina, to perfect a southern accent and took extensive ballet and etiquette classes.

In 1993, Natalie Portman auditioned for Léon: The Professional, portraying Mathilda, a girl who avenges her family’s death. Landing the role before the film’s release, she changed her name from Neta-Lee Hershlag for privacy, adopting her grandmother’s maiden name. Portman later starred in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and won an Academy Award for Black Swan in 2010.

In 1999, stage actor Hugh Jackman auditioned for Wolverine in X-Men. Initially, he didn’t get the role, which went to Dougray Scott. Due to Scott’s scheduling conflicts with Mission: Impossible II, Jackman was cast after filming had started.

Megan Fox was an extra in Bad Boys 2 when she caught director Michael Bay’s attention. He invited her to audition for his next big film, Transformers, where she won the role of Mikaela Banes and appeared in its sequel.

Aaron Paul was relatively unknown until landing Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad in 2007. His chemistry with Bryan Cranston and understanding of showrunner Vince Gilligan’s dark humor contributed to his three-time Emmy win. Originally, Pinkman’s character was to be killed off in Season One, but Gilligan decided to keep him.

Emma Stone got her role in Easy A after director Will Gluck urged her to send an audition tape. She filmed the scene multiple times until she felt satisfied, reflecting her perfectionism and dedication to her craft.

In 1971, Robert De Niro auditioned for the role of Sonny Corleone in The Godfather. Though not cast, De Niro later played the young Vito Corleone in The Godfather Part II, winning his first Oscar for the role.

Leonardo DiCaprio auditioned for a role in the short-lived TV version of The Outsiders in 1990. Though he landed a minor part, the show was canceled soon after. He then starred in Parenthood and Growing Pains before breaking into film with This Boy’s Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in 1993.

Miley Cyrus, at age 11, sent an audition tape to the Disney Channel for Hannah Montana. Initially auditioning for the best friend role, producers were impressed by her charisma and invited her to re-audition for the lead, which she secured, becoming a star.

Source: Various archives