A career journey in acting: the first roles for Oscar nominees Matthew McConaughey, Leo DiCaprio, Bruce Dern, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Christian Bale

I find a person’s journey through life to be interesting — not trying to be melodramatic here, honestly — because often, some of the greatest stories of our culture come from beginnings that people would have looked at and said, “No shot.” Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College. Bill Belichick was the assistant special teams coach of the Detroit Lions in the late 1970s. John Boehner once served on the Board of Trustees of Butler County, Ohio. Even Google was cutting side deals for server space back in the day. It’s a long path from where you start out to where you hope to be, and the same is true for actors. Let’s consider the five men up for Best Actor tomorrow night at the Oscars: Leo, Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Dern, Christian Bale, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Where did they begin? What was their first role?

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Per IMDB, it was the 1996 TV movie Deadly Voyage. He played Ebow. You could argue the lead in this thing was Omar Epps. You can actually watch the full movie on YouTube, if intrigued:

Leo DiCaprio

People assume it’s This Boy’s Life, because that’s the first thing he was really big in, but no — it was the “Snake Pit” episode of The New Lassie. You can see some Spanish dubbed-over clips of the show here, which is always moderately humorous:

Matthew McConaughey

Much has been made in the past week of McConaughey’s appearance on Unsolved Mysteries back in the day — made me feel smart, because I actually sent this clip to my friends about three years ago after I saw it on a Lifetime rerun:

— and that was his first role prior to Dazed and Confused:

Even after Dazed and Confused, he was still getting roles like “Guy No. 2” in My Boyfriend’s Back.

Bruce Dern

Dern is older than the other nominees — maybe a sleeper pick to win — and his first appearance was (uncredited) in 1960’s Wild River. He has 144 acting credits total. For comparison’s sake, John Goodman — who appears to be everywhere — has 137. It’s over a shorter time span, yes, but just think about the process of appearing in 144 projects.

Christian Bale

People remember him from his still-in-the-single-digits turn in Empire of the Sun:

— but his first appearance was in Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna, a 1986 TV movie. Here he is at about 6-7:

Just think: that dude became Batman.

The overall point? That random crappy TV movie you might be watching later today could have someone in it who will someday be the toast of the red carpet. It just takes a series of good roles and lucky breaks to propel someone from The New Lassie to one of the biggest stars in the world. Honestly.

Ted Bauer