6 Incredible Film Performances From People Who Had Never Acted Before

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It’s every kid’s dream to get that casting call and make it to Hollywood. Though that dream is practically impossible, some people hold onto it anyway, while others let it go. Others, still, happen to fall into acting almost by accident. The people on this list had talent that luckily found its way to the silver screen to make history in some amazing performances.

Barkhad Abdi – Captain Phillips (2013)

Captain Phillips was named one of the best films of 2013 and was nominated in 2014 for six Academy Awards, including Barkhad Abdi’s nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Abdi was also nominated for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards and won a BAFTA award in similar categories. The film tells the true story of Captain Richard Phillips and the 2009 hijacking by Somali pirates of U.S.-flagged container ship the MV Maersk Alabama. This was the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in 200 years. Abdi played the main Somali pirate who was in charge of the takeover.

Entertainment One

Abdi was born in Mogadishu, Banaadir, but once the Somali Civil War broke out, his family moved to Yemen. After a few years in Yemen, they moved stateside to Minnesota where there is a large Somali community. Abdi went to school there and worked part time as a limo driver and selling cell phones until his big break.

Columbia Pictures

That break—and his first step into the film world—was the role in Captain Phillips, which he got by answering a large casting call. He auditioned several times and ultimately landed the role along with four other Somalis. In a 2013 interview with The Today Show, he says that he actually ad-libbed what would become the most famous line in the film: “Look at me. I am the captain now.”

Abdi was paid $65,000 for his role and returned to work in his brother’s store after his work was done. However, he has worked steadily since the film’s success, appearing in television shows like Hawaii Five-O and Family Guy. He also has a role in Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, which stars Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, and Jared Leto.

Vinnie Jones – Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels is a cult classic as is its follow up, Snatch. Both were written and directed by Guy Ritchie and these films went on to become the posters every college kid hung in their dorm room. Lock, Stock was nominated for three BAFTA awards, and Vinnie Jones won the Best Debut Award from the Empire Awards in the UK.

The CW

Jones was 33-years-old when he made his film debut in Lock, Stock and his acting was spot on. He became an instant hit with his famous one-liners and intimidating comedy. He went on to star in massive hits like X-Men and Gone in 60 Seconds.


With a career like that, you’d think he was a trained actor, but before acting, he was a famous soccer star (or footballer) in the English leagues; he was a notoriously violent player. Call it art imitating life, but Jones has made a new career of being the violent criminal type in his films.

Danny Trejo – Runaway Train (1985)

While you probably have never heard of Runaway Train—a film about two escaped convicts and a female railway worker who become trapped on a train with no brakes and no one driving—you have surely heard of the legendary Danny Trejo.

Anchor Bay Films/IMDb

Trejo was born in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles where he had a rough upbringing. He was in and out of the prison system for years, including doing time at San Quentin. There, he got into boxing and became the lightweight and welterweight champion in the prison. Once he got a little success more began to follow, he did a 12-step rehab program.

Samuel Goldwyn Films

While working as a youth counselor in 1985, a patient of his was filming Runaway Train and asked him for assistance in dealing with some issues on-set. When Trejo showed up and looked like a criminal fresh out of prison (which he truly was), he was cast as a prison extra.


Lo and behold, as Trejo was working, screenwriter Edward Bunker recognized him because Bunker served time in San Quentin with Trejo and knew he was a great boxer. There was a boxing scene coming up in the film so Bunker asked Trejo to train the actors. Once he began training, the director Andrey Konchalovskiy then took notice of Trejo and saw how good he was and offered him a part of one of the lead’s opponents in the boxing match.

The rest is history with Trejo making appearances in over 270 films, including Heat, Con Air, and as Machete in his own series of films.

Ray Allen – He Got Game (1998)

He Got Game is on many people’s top 10 movie lists, especially sports fans and fans of Spike Lee. It was Lee’s first No. 1 movie at the box office and remains a classic. It dives into the world of Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by Ray Allen) and his father (played by Denzel Washington). His father is released from prison by the governor under the duress that he gets his son to go play basketball at the governor’s alma mater.

Touchstone Pictures

Ray Allen was a professional basketball player at the time but the role wasn’t his at first. Spike Lee offered it to Kobe Bryant, who was interested, until Bryant had a horrible playoff showing and ultimately turned it down to focus on basketball. Kobe was a rookie and was only 19-years-old, straight out of high school, so it was too much to take on, whereas Allen was already comfortable in the NBA.

Touchstone Pictures

Still Allen’s success in the role came as a shock; his performance raw and filled with talent. Allen went on to play in the NBA until 2016, but before he retired he actually got to wear J. Shuttlesworth on the back of his Miami Heat jersey when the NBA allowed players to choose nicknames for a few games.

Andre the Giant – The Princess Bride (1987)

André Roussimoff, better known as Andre the Giant, is one of the most famous wrestlers to have ever entered the ring. While his legendary career as a wrestler was one thing, in 1987, he also appeared in one of the most beloved cult classics of all time, The Princess Bride. Allegedly, Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered for the role of Fezzik when the film was first being written, but by the time production was about to begin he had become too big of a star.


Andre the Giant accepted the role as his wrestling days were basically finished due to injuries. He had acted a couple of times before but this was the biggest role so far and definitely the most memorable.


In a 2014 interview with Vanity FairCary Elwes, who played Westley, says Andre was a great guy who never missed a line and never showed up late, despite everyone knew the whole time how much pain he was in. Being 7’4″ (according to the WWE website) and over 500 pounds—plus years of being hit with chairs, and wooden planks, and jumping from the ropes—was ultimately too much for his body. He died of congestive heart failure in 1993.

Jennifer Hudson – Dreamgirls (2006)

Jennifer Hudson is a household name these days, but once upon time, she was just a competitor on the third season of American Idol. She came in third place and had a relatively quiet career from 2004 to 2006. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she was cast in the film Dreamgirls in which she gave a stunning performance that brought the house down.


Hudson won the Academy Award for best supporting actress, as well as a Golden Globe and BAFTA among countless other awards. It’s reported that Hudson beat out over 780 actresses for her role as diva singer Effie White. And this was her film debut!

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