These 20 Actors Played The Lead In Their Very First Roles, And Surprisingly Not All Of Them Are Nepotism Babies

·7 min read

If you're an actor, then booking the lead role is a sign that you've truly "made it" in your chosen career path. Most actors spend years in bit parts and supporting roles, but some get lucky and land the lead role the first time they're cast in a movie or TV show.

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Here are 20 actors whose first roles were lead roles:

1.Initially, Zendaya wanted to be a WNBA player, but after deciding she wanted to pursue acting instead, she made her onscreen debut as Rocky Blue in Disney Channel's Shake It Up.

Rocky dances on "Shake It Up Chicago"

She told Seventeen, "I grew up around the California Shakespeare Theater, and that's where I realized that my true love was in the performing arts."

Disney Channel / ©Disney Channel/courtesy Everett / Everett Collection

2.Rachel Zegler beat out 30,000 other actors for the role of María Vasquez in Steven Spielberg's remake of West Side Story.

Maria locks eyes with Tony for the first time

She told BuzzFeed, "The process was extremely long and very stressful. I auditioned for about two and a half weeks shy of a year, which is not very common in things like this. I went in for the team about five or six times before I actually got the part. But I was basically in auditions from January of 2018 to January of 2019."

20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

3.The first role Alaqua Cox ever booked was Maya Lopez/Echo, a character who debuted in Hawkeye but is set to get her own spinoff called Echo.

Maya confronts Clint Barton

She told the Hollywood Reporter that she found out she got the role when a casting agent texted her a link to a Zoom call.

She said, "I see about 12 people, including the Marvel Studios president, Kevin Feige, doing the deaf clap where you wave both your hands. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ and they said, ‘Welcome to the Marvel family!’"

Marvel Studios / Via Disney+

4.Jason Schwartzman got the role of Max Fischer in Rushmore after his cousin — filmmaker Sofia Coppola — introduced him to the movie's casting director at an event for a movie their grandfather composed.

Max reads a book in class

He told Dazed, "[I thought] I’m not gonna get it so I should just try it! I wrote down my address in LA, and [the casting director] sent the script to my home in LA and it was the first script I’d ever read.”

Buena Vista Pictures Courtesy Everett Collection

5.While a commercial was being filmed outside her apartment, 15-year-old Rosario Dawson sat on her front porch and tried to flirt with a grip. Then, director Larry Clark and screenwriter Harmony Korine approached her and asked her to audition for the role of Ruby in Kids.

Ruby is not impressed

She told Dazed, “Larry said he was making his first movie and would I be interested. And Harmony was jumping up and down, like, ‘Oh my God, I wrote this character for you without even realising. I didn't even know you. You're perfect for this character, you have to come in. You have to come in, you have to come in.’”

Shining Excalibur Pictures / ©Shining Excalibur Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

6.Maisie Williams felt out-of-place during her audition for Game of Thrones, but she later realized that all the things that made her different helped her get the role of Arya Stark.

Arya taunts Brienne

She told Backstage, "I even remember that on my audition day, I had a hole in my leggings and I was trying to cover it with my hand while I was doing the scene. But now I know that Arya is known for being scruffy, especially when she was a kid — she’s always the cause of her mother’s shame; she’s always late or has been out playing in the mud — stuff like that."

HBO / Via

7.Maitreyi Ramakrishnan found the casting call for Never Have I Ever through series creator Mindy Kaling's tweet, and she now stars as Devi Vishwakumar.

Devi flirts with Paxton

She told Still Watching Netflix that her best friend initially sent her the tweet about the casting call.

Lara Solanki / ©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

8.Auli'i Cravalho was the last actor to audition for the titular role in Moana.

Moana smiles at Maui

At 14, she became the youngest person to ever voice a Disney princess.

Karwai Tang / WireImage via Getty / Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / courtesy Everett Collection

9.Jamie Lee Curtis wasn't director John Carpenter's first choice for the role of Laurie Strode in Halloween (1978), but afterwards, he was so impressed with her skills that he wrote a part just for her in The Fog.

Laurie turns to look

She reprised her original role in Halloween II (1981), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), Halloween (2018), Halloween Kills (2021), and Halloween Ends (2022).

Compass International Pictures / Compass International Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection

10.Zoë Saldana made her onscreen debut as Eva Rodríguez in Center Stage in 2000.

Eva rides on top of a taxi with her friends

The cast reunited 20 years later to raise money for the American Ballet Theatre's Crisis Relief Fund.

Columbia Pictures / ©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

11.Camp Rock director Matthew Diamond attended a Jonas Brothers concert because Disney was considering them for the movie, and afterwards, Joe Jonas submitted an audition tape for the role of Shane Gray.

Shane realizes Mitchie is the girl with the voice

After a few notes from Diamond, he had to audition again before getting Disney's final approval.

Disney Channel / Via Disney+

12.After Nicholas Ralph booked the role of James Herriot in the remake of All Creatures Great And Small, he had to attend "vet boot camp" with the show's veterinary consultant.

James carries a chicken

He told Vulture, "Straight off the bat with our on-set vet adviser Andy Barrett, we were up close and personal with horses, sheep, kind of going through the procedures and things that we would be doing. Learning how to approach the animal and everything like that. Using the stethoscope on the cow’s heart, then lungs, then stomach: You do this kind of triangle as an initial examination."

PBS/Playground Television/All3Media Intl. / Courtesy Everett Collection

13.Gabourey Sidibe "didn't think [she] had any business going to the audition," but she was cast as the titular role in Precious, which earned her an Oscar nomination.

Precious rides the bus

She told the Post-Gazette, "The biggest thing I learned is that I was wrong about what I thought I could do. I thought I'd be a receptionist my whole life."

Lions Gate / ©Lions Gate/Courtesy Everett Collection

14.Cameron Diaz made her onscreen debut as Tina Carlyle in The Mask after casting director Fern Champion found her through her modeling agent, who worked in the same building as Champion.

the man in the masl sweeps Tina off her feet

Director Chuck Russell told Variety, “[Diaz] was the only person for the part as far as I was concerned after her first reading. And then I saw the chemistry with her and Jim [Carrey]. Eight callbacks later, including improvs with Jim, I finally convinced producers.”

New Line Cinema / courtesy Everett Collection

15.Barbra Streisand originated the role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl on Broadway, and she played the same role in the film adaptation.

Fanny performs with the other dancers
Columbia Pictures Courtesy Everett Collection

16.William Hurt made his onscreen debut as Edward Jessup in Altered States.

Edward looks up in confusion

Drew Barrymore also made her film debut in a minor role.

Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

17.After her first audition ever, Aria Mia Loberti was cast as Marie-Laure, the main character in the upcoming Netflix series All The Light We Cannot See.

18.Kelly Osbourne's first role (other than a cameo as herself) was Deborah Tynan in the series Life As We Know It.

Deborah walks with her friends
Touchstone Television / ©Touchstone Television/Courtesy Everett Collection

19.Emma Watson auditioned eight times for the role of Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone after being scouted from her school.

Hermione raises her hand in class excitedly

She told Interview Magazine, "They came to my school and asked if they could put forward a group of 20 children between the ages of 9 and 12. They took my photograph in the school gym, and then I got a call three weeks later."

Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros / courtesy Everett Collection / Everett Collection

20.And finally, in the audition tape that landed him the role of Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, 10-year-old Rupert Grint rapped to make himself stand out.

Ron casts a spell

He told Live with Regis and Kelly that "it was basically just information," and the lyrics included, “Hello there, my name is Rupert Grint. I hope you like this and don’t think I stink."

Warner Bros / ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection