There are several stories of actors who have made it big in Hollywood with no experience at all. "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence, for example, was scouted by a talent agent while she was walking around New York City when she was just a teenager. Then there is actor Mel Gibson, who was attending a friend’s audition for "Mad Max" when the film’s director liked his rugged look (he had just gotten into a bar brawl the night before), and with no acting experience at all, landed the lead role. Both Lawrence and Gibson went on to become Oscar-winning A-listers.
However, not every actor in Hollywood got their big break that easy. In fact, many stars have admitted to doing the unthinkable to stand out among other actors fighting for the same part in a leading film or TV show. Be it bold audition tape strategies, career-changing improvised moments, or creative costume ideas, each of these stars did anything they could think of to land their dream role.
Dave Bautista demanded the role of Bane in Batman
Marvel fans know Dave Bautista as Drax the Destroyer, but it looks like he’d like to get his feet wet over in the DC seas, too. In a 2021 chat with Justice Con, the WWE star said he’s dead-set on taking on the role of one of Batman’s adversaries. "I want to play Bane so bad I went to Warner Bros., had an appointment with them, had an appointment with DC, walked in the door and said, ‘I want to play Bane,’" he sahred. "I’m not kidding. They were a little like ‘Woah, we’re not even casting Bane.’ I was like, ‘I don’t care, I’m playing him.’"
The last time fans watched Bane on the big screen was when actor Tom Hardy portrayed the villain in 2012’s "The Dark Knight Rises." There were talks that Bautista’s dream to play Bane could happen in Matt Reeves’ "The Batman," set to be released on March 4, 2022, which will have actor Robert Pattinson starring as the titular superhero, but Bautista shot those rumors down on Twitter. For now, fans can watch the star portray Scott Ward in the Netflix zombie movie "Army of the Dead" while he waits for his ultimate dream role to land in his lap one day.
Jada Pinkett Smith went into method acting
For Jada Pinkett Smith’s role as Fish Mooney in Fox’s "Gotham," the actor went above and beyond to get the part. While speaking about the show with fellow castmates Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, and Sean Pertwee at PaleyFest2014 (via Collider), Smith shared her memorable audition story. "I came in with a gown and a short black wig, with a young man on a leash, who had no shirt on and ‘liar’ written across his forehead with lipstick," she recounted. "That was my first introduction to Danny. I thought, ‘Forget it, instead of talking about who Fish Mooney is, let me just show him.’ I went method on it, definitely.’"
Her bizarre tryout earned her the role of Fish Mooney, but the actor only got the chance to play the character during the show’s first season and had a recurring role in Season 2 and Season 3, where her character, who came back from the dead, was ultimately killed off.
Talking about what drew her into the role of Fish Mooney to The Root, Smith said, "She was created for [the] television show, and the creator [Bruno Heller] drew me. He was so open to my input in regards to helping create the character. When people give me that kind of freedom, nothing more excites me."
Sharlto Copley used his hotel room to shoot scenes
Actor Sharlto Copley made his film debut when he was cast as the lead in Neill Blomkamp’s science fiction action film "District 9," but during the same time the actor was promoting his film, he was also busy trying out for his next big role in "The A-Team." As he recalled to MTV News, when he realized his schedule wouldn’t allow him to be at the in-person audition for "The A-Team," he got creative and sent in a tape of himself portraying the character H.M. "Howling Mad" Murdock from his hotel room. "I actually shot a series of scenes in my hotel room that I called ‘Things That Could Happen to Murdock in a Hotel Room,’" he told the outlet. "I sent those to [director] Joe Carnahan and that’s how I got the role."
Further explaining what he exactly did in his hotel room to land the part, Copley shared, "There was some fun stuff. I was literally just improv-ing off stuff in the room. So it was stuff like… I had a communication with a flower. I was hearing voices. I had a hygiene issue in the bathroom. [I acted as if] B.A. was playing his rap music next door too loud and I couldn’t sleep. So I pretended to be the hotel manager and I phoned and said (putting on a fake accent), ‘Hello, Mr. Baracus? You’re playing your music too loud.’"
Copley landed the role and got to act alongside veteran movie stars Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper, and Jessica Biel.
Natasha Lyonne used her actual prison experience
When Natasha Lyonne caught wind of Netflix’s hit show "Orange Is the New Black," she was ready to let her own, as she put it in an interview with The New York Times, "time in various holding cells" help her get the role. As Entertainment Weekly noted in 2012, Lyonne’s "tussles with drug addiction and the law" got her arrested more than once.
She told Backstage that she used her experiences to her advantage when she was given the script for "OITNB" while she had a minor role in Jenji Kohan’s "Weeds." "I went back to set and I started being like, ‘Hey, just so you know, I’ve also spent some time in prison,’" she recalled. "I started essentially trying to let the producers know in a friendly, still-professional, healthy boundaries way that I actually related to some things [in the script], and don’t be confused by my spray tan for this role, I actually am somebody who can play prison and has some firsthand experience.’" Lyonne later learned that Kohan essentially hired her for the role in "Weeds" to see if she was ready for something bigger.
Lyonne was offered the job and ended up getting nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for her role as Nicky Nichols in "Orange Is the New Black."
Brian d’Arcy James dressed up for the part
Actor Brian d’Arcy James has been in a handful of movies, television shows, and is also an accomplished Broadway star thanks to his turn as King George III in the musical "Hamilton." But there was one role that James wanted so bad that he did everything he could do to get it. The actor explained to Backstage that as a fan of director Damien Chazelle, James wanted the opportunity to star in his 2018 film "First Man." However, casting directors did not see James as a good fit to portray an M15 pilot, so he did the next best thing: He dressed up as a pilot to prove everyone wrong.
"So I basically got a costume and then I talked to my friend David Turner, who is an actor who happens to be a pilot, and I asked him if I could use his plane to do a little photoshoot of me dressed as an Air Force pilot," he shared with the outlet. "Long story short, he was able to help me get a friend of his who owns an airport and who strangely also happens to be a semiprofessional photographer to take a little bit of his day and do a makeshift photoshoot of me standing next to a plane in a fighter pilot costume so I could just show them." James’ shoot actually worked and he landed the role of real-life World War II pilot and astronaut Joseph A. Walker in "First Man."
Louie Anderson picked up Eddie Murphy’s $600 tab
Actor and stand-up comedian Louie Anderson wanted to do something nice for his fellow comic actor Eddie Murphy when he spotted him and his friends dining at the same restaurant in Los Angeles. The "Baskets" actor recalled to Backstage that paying for the "Trading Places" actor’s tab led Murphy to pay it forward in a big way.
"I knew him as a comic, but we didn’t hang out together," Anderson explained. "He came in and had about five or six people with him, and I said to the waiter, like any good Minnesotan would do, ‘Hey, put Eddie’s check on my American Express, but don’t tell him I did until after I leave. I’m not doing it to be a showoff.’ And then I got a call the next day that that was a really nice thing and Eddie wants you to do a part in ‘Coming to America.’ The bill was $661. You should do nice things, my mom taught me."
Anderson reprised his "Coming to America" role for the movie’s 2021 sequel "Coming 2 America," and shared with CBS Los Angeles how fun it was to get the cast back together. "Everybody looks good," he said. "I am the token white guy, that’s what Eddie Murphy called me in the first movie. It was great getting back together with everybody and it was a great experience."
Riz Ahmed took to ‘spamming’ the director of Rogue One
"The Night Of" star Riz Ahmed really wanted to play Bodhi Rook in Gareth Edwards’ "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" — so much so, he recorded and submitted multiple audition tapes. As he told ET, he initially emailed "two or three versions" of the character to Edwards. However, when he didn’t hear back right away, he decided to up the ante. "I sent him 14 takes of this character over like, two or three days," he shared. "I was spamming quite hardcore, to be honest, and I’m just really grateful he didn’t take out a restraining order."
According to Vanity Fair, Edwards shared his side of the story at a live Q&A event. The director said Ahmed had the part after the first batch of submissions, but he just had to get things squared away on his end before he could make any offers. "Little did I know that he felt I had the role after the first tape," Ahmed told the Los Angeles Times. "Everything after that was a liability actually."
Emilia Clarke landed her role by doing the robot
Fans best know actor Emilia Clarke from her extraordinary portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen on HBO’s "Game of Thrones," and trying out for the demanding role was its own level of challenging. While most people would think that vying for the part of the Mother of Dragons must take seriousness and a lot of intensity, the show’s creators David Benioff and D.B Weiss shared that what Clarke really needed to do was make the president of HBO crack a grin.
Before presenting her with the 2018 Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year, the co-creators recounted the lengthy audition process that went into casting Dany. For her final round of tryouts, Clarke had to perform in front of the president of HBO. "We were smiling. He wasn’t. It was quite possibly the least inviting audition environment we had ever witnessed," Weiss shared. As the president remained expressionless, Clarke asked if she could do anything else, and Benioff asked, "Can you dance?" And immediately, Clarke did the robot.
"She did it with commitment and she did it well… and even the president had no choice but to smile," Weiss said. "She got the job 10 seconds after she left the room and the two of us ran to tell her before she left the building because letting her get on an 11-hour flight home without knowing seemed like cruel and unusual punishment."
Gerard Butler went full-on Dracula
Gerard Butler pulled out all the stops and the eye makeup when he tried out for the title character of Dracula in Patrick Lussier’s film "Dracula 2000." As the Daily Mail reported, the actor’s audition tape found its way on over to YouTube years later, and it is definitely worth a watch. In the video clip, Butler wears a long black wig, fangs, and loads of black eyeliner while intensely reading his lines to a woman. He looks nothing like the version of the blood-sucking vampire that he ended up playing in the movie, but there is no denying he went all out for this tryout.
While the movie’s casting department did manage to get A-list star Christopher Plummer to take on the role of Abraham Van Helsing, the film turned out to be a bust, racking up rather unfavorable reviews. Take Peter Travers of Rolling Stone, for example, who called it a "sorry mess" and remarked on "that bloodless acting." Ouch.
Leonardo DiCaprio cut the mustard
Leonardo DiCaprio was only 15 years old when he landed the part of Tobias "Toby" Wolff in Michael Caton-Jones’ film "This Boy’s Life," but to earn his first major film role, a young DiCaprio had to wow co-star Robert De Niro and the rest of production. And as he told Deadline, he believed his "outspoken" and "ballsy" attitude is what ultimately won over the Hollywood veteran.
DiCaprio shared that he also improvised a scene with De Niro that involved a condiment that might have been the reason why he earned the part. "I remember there was this mustard jar sequence, and just thinking to myself, ‘S***, I’ve got to do something… memorable. I’ve got to do something to just rattle these people’s cages,’" he recalled. "I went in and they were doing the mustard jar sequence, and [De Niro]’s like, ‘Is it empty, is it empty?’ And I just stood up and threw my chair down, or something, and screamed at him, ‘No, it’s not empty.’" After believing that he had just ruined his chances at nabbing the role, DiCaprio added, "I guess they kind of liked it because Bob [De Niro] was like, ‘That kid was…there’s something interesting here.’ And they brought me back.’"
Lea Michele went into her audition after a major car crash
It’s hard to imagine another actor besides Lea Michele portraying Rachel Berry in "Glee," but that almost did not happen. "I got into a massive car crash outside of the Fox lot — completely totaling my car," Michele shared on the "Glee" Season 1 DVD (via Us Weekly). "When I get into the room for my audition, I literally was still pulling pieces of glass out of my hair. They’re like, ‘Are you okay?’ I’m like, ‘I’m fine!’" Yes, she really walked out of a car accident and into an audition for a gig that would end up changing her life.
The star tried out for the part with a rendition of "On My Own" from "Les Misérables," but Michele told Vulture that show co-creator Ryan Murphy already had her in mind for the role. So uh, maybe she could have avoided that scary car accident? "I met Ryan and he told me that he’d always had me in the back of his mind," Michele shared. "I wish he’d told me that before my audition because I would have definitely been a lot less nervous. But it’s good that I didn’t know because I really fought for it."
Kit Harington went in for Game of Thrones with a black eye
Kit Harington bravely walked into his audition for the part of Jon Snow in HBO’s "Game of Thrones" with a black eye, not knowing that it actually might have helped him land the role of the resilient and strong-willed character. In an interview with W Magazine, the actor revealed that he had gotten into a fight at a McDonald’s the night before his big interview after a man was verbally insulting the woman he was with. However, the man turned out to be much taller than Harington, and he left the fast-food restaurant with a shiner.
The actor nailed the tryout, and the rest is history. "I think that man who punched me in the face may have helped me get the job, so if you’re watching, thank you," Harington said in W.
However, casting director Nina Gold told Insider that she did not remember Harington with a bruised eye because his "GoT" audition was just so impressive. Gold said, "I remember that he was quite tired because he’d been doing eight shows a week in ‘Warhorse’ for a year. Then he started doing the audition and playing Jon Snow and he was completely brilliant. I do recall the emotional impact of his audition and being blown away. Kit is a phenomenal actor."
Rory McCann improvised his scene for Game of Thrones
Rory McCann nailed the role of Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, in HBO’s "Game of Thrones," and it’s not only because he’s a towering 6’6" with a stern gaze. However, the actor revealed to Rolling Stone that he almost blew his audition when his sister accidentally printed out only a few lines of his speech and he had to pretty much improvise the whole thing.
McCann shared that his frustration toward his sister actually helped him in his audition, stating, "I was waiting in this heatwave in London at the casting director’s place, and I see everyone reading this big speech for the Hound about how he got his face burned. I had to delay my meeting for four hours so I could learn it. By that time, I was f****** raging. When I walked into the room, I knew I had to go crazy, so I unleashed all this. It was just a fluke that day — I was just especially angry. Something worked."
He landed the role and it changed his life forever. During a reunion special with Conan O’Brien (via Metro), the actor said he was homeless before "Game of Thrones." "Two years ago I was in a tent — literally a tent — stealing food occasionally," he said. "Eventually, I got a job and sorted myself out, but then suddenly I’m getting driven around in a nice car in the biggest and best show in the world; just shows how your fortunes change. Amazing."
Joe Manganiello originally auditioned for Peter Parker
Picturing 6’5" actor Joe Manganiello as the scrawny Peter Parker in the "Spider-Man" movie is hard, but that’s the role the star initially auditioned for back in the early ’00s. While the part ended up going to Tobey Maguire, Manganiello found himself better suited as high school bully Flash Thompson, which he ended up also reading for the same day.
Speaking with Kevin Smith at San Diego’s Comic-Con in 2018, Manganiello shared that he first tried out for Spider-Man, but had also prepared his lines for Flash, which in the back of his mind, he knew he was better suited for. "I actually initially auditioned for Peter Parker as well. I wore my glasses and I had a button-down shirt and I came in and read for Peter Parker, knowing full well … If I’m Peter, who’s Flash? Like a lineman from the Dallas Cowboys or something." The actor also told Smith that the casting director advised him to try out for the Flash, and he was already ready to go. "I unbuttoned the button-down shirt, took the glasses off and turned into Flash," he shared.
Manganiello ended up scoring the part of Flash Thompson in Sam Raimi’s "Spider-Man," which happened to be his first major movie gig.