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14 stars who made it in Hollywood thanks to the kindness of others

Hugh Jackman, Charlize Theron and Johnny Depp are just three actors who relied on the generosity of colleagues to make a name for themselves in the world of film

Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp.
Nicolas Cage and Johnny Depp.getty images
Sunset Boulevard (Corbis via Getty Images)

Russell Crowe and Sharon Stone – The Oscar winner for Gladiator was the latest star to publicly thank a colleague for betting big on him when he was a total unknown in Hollywood. Both starred in The Quick and the Dead (1995). Stone was the top star – she demanded that her producers hire the young Australian as her romantic interest in the film.

“If it hadn’t been for her strength of conviction, I don’t know how long I would’ve had to wait to be able to shoot a movie in the United States,” he told talk show host Seth Myers.

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Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage – During a monopoly game in the 1980s, Cage suggested that Depp – then a 20-year-old aspiring musician – get in front of the camera.

“I sent him to see my agent, who got him his first audition, which was A Nightmare on Elm Street. He got the part that same day,” Cage recalled in an interview with The New York Times.

Les Miserables - World Premiere - Inside Arrivals
Dave M. Benett (WireImage)

Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman – When Crowe was already an established face in the industry, he returned the favor to his countryman and future Les Misérables co-star. Bryan Singer – director of the first film in the X-Men saga – wanted Crowe to play Wolverine, to which he replied: “No, I just filmed Gladiator and it’s not for me, but you could consider this guy,” Jackman revealed this story when asked about how he got the role that changed his life.

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Charlize Theron and Tom Hanks – Hanks is beloved by both viewers and fellow actors around the world. The South African star owes her big break to him, when he cast her in his musical comedy, That Thing You Do! (1996). When Hanks was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille award at the 2020 Golden Globes, she made a tribute to him, recalling the actor’s generosity during her audition: “After the first reading, I thought I had ruined everything. I had forgotten to breathe and Tom looked at me and said, ‘I’m sorry, can you give me five minutes? I have to go out, but when I return, we’ll repeat this scene again.’ Tom didn’t need five minutes… I needed five minutes. Those five minutes were a gift to me because I saw a young actress, sweating, trying to hide her panic attack and thick South African accent. That’s the kind of man he is and that’s why we love Tom Hanks.”

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Harrison Ford and George Lucas – In 1975, Ford was working part-time as an actor and part-time as a carpenter in Los Angeles, trying to make ends meet. One of his jobs was to renovate Francis Ford Coppola’s office, where the auditions for Star Wars were taking place. George Lucas – who already knew Ford from his brief appearance in American Graffiti (1973) – ran into him and hired the young actor to assist the auditionees. But after reading along with more than a hundred professionals, the casting directors realized that the role of Han Solo was best-suited for the carpenter!

Daniel Radcliffe and Maggie Smith – The actor known for portraying Harry Potter landed the role of a wizard’s apprentice after Maggie Smith – Professor McGonagall in the saga – recommended that director Chris Columbus give him the opportunity to audition. Smith and Radcliffe had previously shared scenes in a television adaption of David Copperfield.

Jeff Kravitz (FilmMagic for HBO)

Vin Diesel and Steven Spielberg – Nobody recognized Vin Diesel’s mythical bald head when Steven Spielberg decided to cast him in Saving Private Ryan. The filmmaker fell in love with him after seeing an independent film that Diesel starred in, wrote and directed: Strays, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1997.

Today, the two men maintain a great friendship, while Spielberg continues to believe that the star of Fast & Furious is one of Hollywood’s biggest talents. He has publicly urged Diesel to make the leap into the director’s chair. “It’s a crime that he hasn’t directed more films.”

Patrick McMullan Archives
Patrick McMullan (Patrick McMullan via Getty Image)

Julianna Margulies and George Clooney – “I owe my entire career to George Clooney,” the star of The Good Wife once said. The actress made a name for herself thanks to the series ER, where she co-starred for several seasons alongside Clooney. In an early version of the plot, her character was killed off, but Clooney pushed the producers to revive her.

Ron Galella, Ltd. (Ron Galella Collection via Getty)

John Travolta and Quentin Tarantino – Tarantino has resurrected quite a few performers throughout his career as a filmmaker. He’s best known for bringing Travolta back to the front line of Hollywood after his decline in the 1980s, giving him the role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction (1994).

“There were a lot of people – more famous than me – who wanted the part... but Quentin put his career on the line and refused to shoot the movie without me in it,” the actor confirmed in 2014.

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Rossy de Palma and Pedro Almodóvar – Throughout his career, the legendary Spanish director has turned a good number of semi-unknown actresses – including Penélope Cruz – into stars. One of the most iconic women he has championed is Rossy de Palma, whom he met in the Madrid acting scene. Almodóvar was so taken with her Mallorcan style that, one day, he approached her, accompanied by the famous costume designer José María Cossío, to cast her in a minor role in The Law of Desire (1987), a comedy thriller. A year later, she made a big splash when had a central role in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988).

Donald Sutherland and Christopher Plummer – Back in 1967, a very young Donald Sutherland had just caused a sensation with his appearance in his first major film, The Dirty Dozen. However, despite his agent’s plea that he move to Hollywood to establish his promising career, Sutherland – who was working in England at the time – had no money to buy tickets for himself and his family. His then-wife, Shirley Douglas, suggested that he ask the more-established Plummer for help. The actor offered the couple $1,500 – nearly $10,000 in today’s money – before Sutherland could even finish making his request.

“Every time I think of that moment, I want to cry,” said the legendary 85-year-old actor at a press conference in 2018.

Pascal Le Segretain (Getty Images)

Mel Gibson and George Miller – When Gibson was a minor actor, he drove his friend, Steve Bisley, to the auditions for Mad Max. But Gibson’s rough appearance – including a black eye and bruised face from a bar fight the night before – caught the attention of director George Miller. He asked the muscular young man to return a few days later, to try out for the role of one of the movie’s villains. When he showed up, fully recovered, his looks and charisma convinced Miller that the unknown ruffian was actually going to be the hero of the movie: Max Rockatansky.

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John Wayne and John Ford – Wayne was still going by the name Marion Morrison when the legend of classic masculinity met director John Ford. The two would end up working together on 18 movies.

Back then, Wayne was trying to survive in the midst of the Great Depression, after an injury ended his dream of becoming a football player. He got a job at Fox studios as a jack-of-all-trades, moving equipment, furniture and props on set. There, he caught the attention of Ford, who spoke with his friend Raoul Walsh to give that young man his first leading role in The Big Trail (1930).

Michael Kovac (WireImage)

Ed Sheeran and Jamie Foxx – The singer of hits such as Shape of You was still-unknown in 2010, when he bumped into rapper, comedian and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx. The 19-year-old from West Yorkshire was invited to perform at The Foxxhole – a club run by the actor, who ended up inviting the young Brit to crash at his mansion for six weeks. A few months later, Sheeran would become an international star after dropping his debut album.

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