10 Actors Who Could Have Been Famous For A Completely Different Reason
Audiences have a tendency to idealize acting as a lifelong passion that requires unwavering focus. However, there are several well-known actors who could have easily gained fame for entirely different reasons. There are countless examples of individuals stumbling upon acting careers on a whim or accidentally becoming famous stars. In reality, many professionals in the acting industry possess skill sets that extend beyond the realm of filmmaking. These talented individuals may have excelled in other professions, potentially leading them to stardom if their lives had taken a slightly different path. Here, we explore ten actors who could have achieved fame for entirely different endeavors.
Matt Smith – Soccer:
Before rising to prominence as the eleventh incarnation of The Doctor in “Doctor Who,” Matt Smith showed promise as a soccer player. He played for local clubs’ development teams and even captained the Leicester City youth team. Unfortunately, a back injury resulted in spondylolysis, forcing him to quit the sport. Although his decision to leave sports was not voluntary, it paved the way for his successful acting career in renowned franchises such as “The Crown” and “House of the Dragon,” along with a standout performance in the critically panned “Morbius.”
Carl Weathers – Football:
Unlike Smith, Carl Weathers made a voluntary decision to retire from football at the age of 26. He transitioned from being a professional NFL player to becoming one of the world’s most recognizable names in the acting industry. Weathers played Apollo Creed in the iconic film “Rocky” and went on to star in various other films. Alongside his acting career, he earned a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University.
Charlize Theron – Ballet/Modeling:
Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron demonstrated prodigious talent in multiple areas during her teenage years in South Africa and Italy. At the age of 16, she won a modeling contract in Milan and subsequently moved to the United States. Theron had aspirations of becoming a professional ballet dancer but was hindered by knee injuries. Determined to pursue her dreams, she took a one-way flight to Los Angeles, which ultimately led to her successful career in the movie industry.
Sean Connery – Soccer/Modeling:
Sean Connery, known for his portrayal of James Bond in non-Eon-produced movies, had a diverse range of talents. In his early adulthood, Connery was an athlete, receiving an offer to join Manchester United at the age of 23. Despite declining the offer due to concerns about starting a professional soccer career at a relatively late stage, he found success as a bodybuilder and model. Connery even participated in the 1953 Mr. Universe contest, finishing in third place.
Lucy Liu – Painting:
While Lucy Liu is celebrated for her roles in action films and her overall impact on Hollywood, she is also a skilled artist. Liu has been painting since 1993, using this medium to express her lifelong dedication to the feminist movement. Her artwork, known for its emotive portrayal of women’s experiences, particularly those of minority ethnic women, is exhibited in galleries across the United States and Europe.
Pierce Brosnan – Fire Eating:
Pierce Brosnan, another actor who played James Bond, began his career with an unexpected talent. At the age of 16, Brosnan witnessed a fire-eater performing and decided to pursue fire-eating himself. He showcased this skill on television numerous times before an unfortunate accident on “Muppets Tonight” in the 1990s left him with mouth injuries.
Keanu Reeves – Ice Hockey:
Canadian actor Keanu Reeves was once on the path to becoming a professional ice hockey player. Despite his passion for the sport and being invited to trial for the Ontario Hockey League team, the Windsor Spitfires, at the age of 15, Reeves ultimately chose to pursue acting. In the 1990s, his passion for both acting and ice hockey converged when he portrayed a hockey player in the film “Youngblood.”
Neil Patrick Harris – Magic:
Neil Patrick Harris, known for his roles in “How I Met Your Mother” and “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” possesses multiple talents. Growing up in New Mexico, Harris had a passion for magic and eventually became a member of the exclusive Magic Castle club in Los Angeles, which he later managed. If not for his successful acting career, Harris would likely have made a significant impact in the magic industry.
Geena Davis – Archery:
Geena Davis, renowned for her performances in physically demanding roles, discovered an interest in archery during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Despite her limited athletic experience, Davis committed to learning the sport and even participated in the 2000 Olympics qualification, narrowly missing out on making the U.S. national team.
Jason Lee – Skateboarding:
Golden Globe nominee Jason Lee, widely recognized for his roles in “My Name Is Earl” and the “Alvin and the Chipmunks” films, was once a promising skateboarder. In the 1980s, Lee was considered one of California’s most talented young skateboarders, known for his exceptional style and trademark tricks. Although he eventually found fame as an actor through minor film roles in the 1990s, Lee could have become one of the biggest names in skateboarding.
In conclusion, these ten actors have shown that talent can manifest in various forms. While their acting careers have brought them fame and recognition, they possess skills and passions that could have led them down entirely different paths.
Audiences tend to romanticize acting as a life-long passion requiring complete focus, but there are a number of well-known actors who could have just as easily become famous for completely different reasons. There are myriad examples of an acting career being chosen on a whim, or actors accidentally becoming famous stars. In reality, many of the professionals in the acting business have skill sets that lie outside the movie-making business.
However, some of these actors were so skilled at those other professions that they might have taken their talents all the way to stardom. Had their lives taken a slightly different path, they may still have ended up on the screen, albeit for completely different reasons. With that in mind, here are ten actors who could have been famous for a completely different reason.
Matt Smith – Soccer
Since his 2010 breakout role as the eleventh incarnation of The Doctor in Doctor WhoMatt Smith has gone on to become one of the acting world’s most recognizable faces, having appeared in acclaimed franchises like The Crown and House of the Dragonas well as an acclaimed performance in the otherwise derided Morbius. Prior to his becoming the youngest actor to play The Doctor, however, Smith was a promising soccer player, playing for the development teams of his local clubs before captaining the Leicester City youth team. Though he may have been destined for greatness, he suffered spondylolysis because of a back injury and was sadly forced to quit.
Though Smith’s decision to quit playing sports was forced upon him, Carl Weathers’s retirement from football at the age of 26 was entirely voluntary. Though his acting career has made him one of the world’s most well-known names, appearing in films going as far back as Rocky in which he played Apollo Creed, he was previously a professional NFL player. He signed with the Oakland Raiders in 1970 and played as a linebacker, helping them to the AFC West Division title that same year. He moved to Canada after being released, signed for the BC Lions, then ultimately retired, all the while earning himself a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University.
Charlize Theron – Ballet/Modeling
Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron was a prodigy in numerous areas as a teenager growing up in South Africa and then Italy. At 16, she won a modeling contract in Milan and relocated there, before immigrating to the United States after seeing her contract out. There she trained as a ballet dancer and hoped to become a professional, all the while living paycheck to paycheck. However, injuries to both knees meant that the dream was no longer possible, which led Theron to take a one-way flight to Los Angeles with the hope of making it into the movie business. The rest is history.
Sean Connery – Soccer/Modeling
If including non-Eon-produced James Bond movies, the late Sean Connery holds the joint-most portrayals of the titular secret agent alongside Roger Moore. It was a role he was and always will be synonymous with, though he had plenty of success after he stepped aside from the role for good in 1983. In his early adulthood, however, Connery was an athlete, being offered a contract at Manchester United when he was 23, but rejecting it on account of feeling he was too old to begin a professional career in soccer. He was also a bodybuilder and model, appearing in the 1953 Mr. Universe contest. He came third.
Lucy Liu – Painting
Though her filmography has made her one of the most revered stars in the action genre (and Hollywood more generally), Lucy Liu is quietly a skilled artist who has been painting since 1993. After developing a fascination with photography and the visual medium when she was a teenager, Liu gradually moved over to painting in order to better express her lifelong association with and devotion to the feminist movement. Her works have been hailed for their emotive presentations of life for women (especially minority ethnic women), and are exhibited in galleries across the U.S. and Europe.
Pierce Brosnan – Fire Eating
The second actor on this list to have played James Bond, Pierce Brosnan is one of Ireland’s best-known exports, starring in one of the Bond franchise’s most surprising additions, GoldenEye. Since then, he has gone on to star in numerous thrillers, comedies, and musicals, even stepping into the DC Extended Universe with Black Adam in 2022. At 16, however, Brosnan witnessed a fire-eater performing to a crowd and decided that that was enough to persuade him to train as one himself. He would perform the stunt on television numerous times in the following decades before damaging his mouth on Muppets Tonight during the ‘90s.
Keanu Reeves – Ice Hockey
Canadian actor and star of The Matrix and John Wick franchises, Keanu Reeves was once touted to become a professional ice hockey player when he was studying at De La Salle College. Indeed, throughout his youth he had been swept up in the sport, playing for the myriad different schools that he attended, and even co-coaching a club. He was invited to trial for the Ontario Hockey League team the Windsor Spitfires when he was 15 but declined on the basis that he felt his future was in acting. However, Reeves’ passions would converge in the ’90s when he would go on to play a hockey player in Youngblood.
Neil Patrick Harris – Magic
Multi-talented singer and actor best known for How I Met Your MotherNeil Patrick Harris rose to fame playing a teenage doctor in Doogie Howser, M.D.. Harris has ventured into dramas on top of comedy, with a big role in David Fincher’s Gone Girl and an upcoming villain part in Doctor Who. Growing up in New Mexico, however, Harris was a passionate magician, eventually joining the exclusive Magic Castle club in Los Angeles, which he would go on to run. It’s an elite club full of mystery, but if not for his acting talents, Harris would likely have been a huge name in the magic industry anyway.
Geena Davis – Archery
It’s not a great surprise that Geena Davis – who throughout her career has played numerous roles that demand physical excellence – is a strong athlete, and has been since she was in her forties. Already an Academy Award winner for her supporting role in The Accidental TouristDavis was intrigued by the drama and beauty of archery when she attended the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Though 40 at the time, Davis committed to learning the sport, despite having little experience in athletics (other than what she had picked up on movie sets). She came in 24th in the 2000 Olympics qualification, which meant she was only narrowly short of making the U.S. national team.
Jason Lee – Skateboarding
Golden Globe nominee and comedy legend Jason Lee is probably best known for his roles in the comedy series My Name Is Earl and the quartet of Alvin and the Chipmunks films. Back in the ‘80s, however, Lee was one of the most promising young skateboarders to grace the shores of California, regarded at the time as having one of the best styles in the sport, trademarking tricks like kickflips to tailslides and backside flips. Though minor film roles in the ‘90s ultimately led to his fame as an actor, it’s probable that Lee would’ve been one of the biggest names in skateboarding had it not been so.