Before he became a Marvel superhero, Simu Liu dressed up as Spider-Man for children’s birthday parties. On an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, he said, “I’d roll up to these kids’ birthday parties and basically get assaulted by them for an hour because nobody ever believed that I was the real Spider-Man.”
“I worked for a company that was a little stingy. I feel like if you had gotten a movie quality suit, and you showed up, some kids might actually believe. I had less Marvel, more Walmart. … It was terrible.”
During Oprah’s Master Class, Whoopi Goldberg shared that she was once a morgue beautician. “I did hair and makeup on dead people. There was an ad in the paper! And I’m a licensed beautician as well, because I went to beauty school. … It’s a rough gig. You have to be a certain kind of person. And you have to love people in order to make them worthy of a great send-off.”
Whoopi recalled that her boss played a prank on her when she started the job. He asked her to join him downstairs for a meeting, but when she got down there, a drawer seemed to open on its own. Then, her boss popped up and said, “Hello, there.” Whoopi was so scared that she ran straight into a door and knocked herself out. When she came to, he said, “Now, the worst thing that you could imagine has happened. That’s it. That’s the worst thing that can happen. It’s already happened. … You still want to work?”
Tan France worked as a flight attendant when he was 19. The Queer Eye star — who is of Pakistani descent — faced racism from passengers. In his memoir, he wrote, “This was a couple of years after 9/11, and they had no qualms about openly referring to my people as terrorists. The flight would start off well enough, but by the end of the flight, it would be clear they weren’t so happy that I was the one serving them.”
He lasted two months in the role before he’d had enough. During his final trip, “rowdy people” were being so “aggressive” and “rude” that he snapped and told them to “get their own coffee” before telling the main flight attendant that he quit.
Growing up, Taylor Swift and her family lived on a Christmas tree farm. “We all had jobs,” she told Esquire. “Mine was picking the praying-mantis pods off of the trees, collecting them so that the bugs wouldn’t hatch inside people’s houses. … The only reason that was my job was because I was too little to help lift trees.”
Gabourey Sidibe worked as a phone sex operator for three years until she landed the lead role in Precious. She told People, “I knew that when people were asking me, ‘So, have you had any acting training?’ my acting school was on the phone, pretending to be some super-young 21-year-old college girl named Melody. I know that was my acting! But I felt too stupid to say it.”
Vera Wang started figure skating as a child and competed on a national level until she was 20 — when she failed to qualify for the 1968 Winter Olympics. “I was devastated when I did not qualify for the Olympic team,” she told Post magazine. “I had a nervous breakdown and ended up doing a semester in Paris, where I realized I had a passion for fashion.”
Throughout Vera’s career, she has combined her love for figure skating and fashion by designing costumes for Olympic skaters like Michelle Kwan and Nathan Chen. “It’s not for the faint of heart,” Vera told People. “If one strap were to break, or if the beading on the sleeve gets caught when they turn, their whole Olympics is over. That is how serious it is.”
Megan Fox’s first job was at a smoothie shop. On an episode of the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Megan said, “My only real job that I ever had was I worked at a little smoothie shop in Florida. And I mostly worked behind the register, but once a week, someone had to dress up as a piece of fruit and go out and stand by the highway…I was a banana, a giant banana.”
When he was 14, Tom Hanks sold snacks at a baseball stadium. On an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Tom said, “I went down to sell peanuts and soda, and thinking it would be kinda like from a TV show where everybody helps out the young kid. … First of all, I got robbed twice. Note to self: Hide those wads of cash. Don’t be walking with a wad of cash sticking out of your pocket.”
“Then, I came across professional vendors who did not like the fact that kids were there. So, I’m 14 years old, and a guy probably in his late 50s is yelling, ‘Hey, kid! That was my sale! I was coming down the aisle. You took my sale, kid!'”
In 1988, Matthew McConaughey won a scholarship that gave him the opportunity to spend a year in Australia as an exchange student. Though he spent it cleaning out chicken coops, he looks back fondly on that time. “It was a very life-changing year because I was removed from all the crutches that I had in my life,” he told the Australian Way.
“I depended on myself — stumbled, fell, and survived. It was a great year getting to know myself. I’m an extrovert, and it was a very introverted year and has a lot to do with what I am right now — one of the best things I’ve ever done,” he concluded.
When he was 16, Christopher Walken worked as a trainee lion tamer at the circus with a lion named Sheba. “Who’s going to turn that down?” he asked during an interview with the Guardian. “I would come into the cage and wave my whip, and she’d lazily get up and sit like a dog and maybe give a little roar. I like cats a lot. I’ve always liked cats. They’re great company.”
Before he gained worldwide fame with The Hangover, Ken Jeong was a physician with a specialty in internal medicine. On an episode of NPR’s All Things Considered podcast, he said, “During the day, I was a doctor. At night, you know, I was a comic. And it was really just to let off some steam. It just became my golf, you know, in many ways. Most doctors have golf as a hobby. Mine was doing comedy.”
“I never let on I was a comedian,” he continued. “I never acted out. It was really important to me, like, to not be Patch Adams. I was so super serious as a doctor. I would bark orders to my nurses. I was hardcore. I wanted to make sure I did my job right. I was perfectly trained to be a physician. You know, it wasn’t a fluke. I worked hard at it.”
In the ’80s, Victoria Beckham played a sperm on roller skates for a BBC educational show called Body Matters before making it big as a Spice Girl.
During a First We Feast interview, Ashton Kutcher revealed that he had a lot of “very blue collar jobs” growing up including washing dishes and skinning deer in a butcher shop. But the most surprising one? “I worked in a cereal factory sweeping Cheerio dust.”
“I think the biggest thing it taught me was appreciation,” he said. “When you do have a job like that, that when you get home at the end of the day, you collapse from physical exhaustion…collapsing from mental exhaustion from, like, sitting in an office all day seems easy, and being an actor seems even easier.”
Lucy Liu worked as a secretary, hostess, and even an aerobics instructor. “I worked seven days a week,” she told the Seattle Times. “I knew I needed money if I was going into acting because I was probably not going to be making a lot of money off the bat. … To me, it was grueling work, but I was excited by the idea about why I was doing the work.”
Before Meghan Markle found fame with Suits, she freelanced in calligraphy to pay rent. During an interview with Esquire, Meghan said, “I went to an all-girls Catholic school for six years during the time when kids actually had handwriting class. I’ve always had a propensity for getting the cursive down pretty well. What it evolved into was my pseudo-waitressing job when I was auditioning. I didn’t wait tables. I did calligraphy for the invitations for, like, Robin Thicke and Paula Patton’s wedding.”
“I used to do it for Dolce & Gabbana’s celebrity correspondence over the holidays. I would sit there with a little white tube sock on my hand so no hand oils got on the card, trying to pay my bills while auditioning. I’m glad that in the land of no one seeming to appreciate a handwritten note anymore that I can try to keep that alive,” she concluded.
Any other surprising or random jobs celebs had before they got famous? LMK in the comments below!