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14 Actors Who Stole Global Attention for Their Movie or TV Debuts

Everyone knows that careers are individual journeys. Some take years to build, but sometimes people find success early. And it’s the same in Hollywood. Some actors get global attention for their first role in a film or TV show, and then go on to have long careers afterward. They inspire us to work hard and be the best we can be, as it really can take just one lucky break for your life to change.

We at Bright Side collected this list of actors who gained success for their debut roles to show that with the right opportunity, your talent can always shine through.

1. HoYeon Jung

HoYeon Jung starred in the popular Korean Netflix series, Squid Game, which was Netflix’s most watched series ever. The series was her acting debut. Since the show’s launch, she became the most followed Korean actress on Instagram and signed with major US agency CAA for future acting work.

2. Emma Watson

Emma Watson landed her starring role as Hermione in the Harry Potter series after 8 auditions, having only acted in school plays before. The first movie shot her to stardom as the highest-grossing film of 2001, singling Watson out for critical acclaim. She won a Young Artist Award for her performance and went on to star in the rest of the Harry Potter movies, as well as many other films.

3. Sophie Turner

Sophie Turner was still in school when she auditioned for Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones. It was her first role in front of the camera and won her international recognition and critical praise. She has since starred in many other films, like as Dark Phoenix in the X-Men franchise.

4. Hailee Steinfeld

When she was 13, Hailee Steinfeld made her feature film debut in the major role of Mattie Ross in True Grit. The role was an incredible breakout for her, and she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She has continued to act in many films since then, but True Grit is definitely one of her biggest successes.

5. Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman was already working in theater and TV before his first film role. He starred as the memorable villain, Hans Gruber, in Die Hard opposite Bruce Willis. Though he has since had many other memorable roles, including Snape in the Harry Potter series, many still remember him for his debut movie.

6. Cameron Diaz

In 1994, Cameron Diaz starred in The Mask opposite Jim Carrey. Diaz was modeling at the time of her casting, but 8 auditions later, the director and studio were convinced she was perfect for the role. The movie launched Diaz to superstardom.

7. Rachel Zegler

Rachel Zeger was one of 30,000 actresses to submit for the open casting for Maria in Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake. Zegler, a high school student at the time, won the role after months of auditions and became a success, even winning a Golden Globe for Best Actress. She signed with the powerful agency, ICM Partners, after filming the movie and will soon star in the title role of Disney’s live-action Snow White.

8. Maisie Williams

At the age of 12, Maisie Williams starred as Arya Stark on Game of Thrones. Her character was a fan favorite and one of the central protagonists of the show for its entire run. She received critical praise and awards for her work in the show, which is arguably still her best-known acting role.

9. Mark Hamill

Mark Hamill won the leading role in Star Wars, and it was a huge, unexpected success. He reprised his role in the 2 sequels and in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The fact that he has continued in this role over decades just shows what a huge impact he had, and he will never be known as anything other than the beloved Luke Skywalker for many people.

10. Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand first starred in the Broadway production of Funny Girl, then in the Hollywood movie in 1967. The beloved film, a biopic of performer Fanny Brice, was a star vehicle that catapulted Streisand to the top of Hollywood’s elite. Generations have loved her larger-than-life character and performance. Viewers and critics alike were wowed by her debut, and she even shared the 1968 Oscar for Best Actress with Katharine Hepburn.

11. Edward Norton

Edward Norton’s first role was in Primal Fear. He beat out 2,000 actors for the role and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his work. He has since starred in dozens of films and has been nominated for 3 Oscars. His debut was undoubtedly very successful.

12. Anna Paquin

At age 9, the New Zealand-born actress was cast in Jane Campion’s film, The Piano. It was her first role. She won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the role at age 11, making her the second-youngest Oscar winner in history. She has starred in many movies and TV shows since, including a leading role in HBO’s drama, True Blood.

13. Jennifer Hudson

Jennifer Hudson was on American Idol in 2004, but she didn’t win. But in 2006, she starred as Effie in the movie, Dreamgirls, which won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress and many other awards. She was the youngest African-American person to win in a competitive acting category at the Oscars. Her rise after that was meteoric in both the music and acting industries.

14. Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong’o started acting as a teenager in Kenya. She came to the US to study for her master’s degree in acting at Yale University, which she achieved in 2012. But even after that training, her first role was a surprise.

She won her debut role as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave just a few weeks before graduating. For her performance, she took home the 2014 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Who is your favorite actor on this list? What was your earliest career success?

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