Soap operas used to rule daytime television, keeping housewives and college students enthralled every afternoon. But today, they’re a vanishing breed. Back in the day, the soaps were a proving ground and launch pad for an astonishing array of stars, including Oscar winners (Julianne Moore, Morgan Freeman, Leonardo DiCaprio) and other mega-famous A-listers (Brad Pitt, Robin Wright, Alec Baldwin, among many, many others). Playing evil twins, psychopaths, and damsels in distress in these over-the-top but eminently watchable emotional melodramas turned out to be just the ticket for these 40 stars to launch into Hollywood’s stratosphere. For a look into how our pantheon of red carpet regulars got their start, read on. And for more insight into the lives of A-listers, don’t miss these 50 Crazy Celebrity Facts You Won’t Believe Are True.
Michael B. Jordan
On All My Children, Jordan played Reggie, a gang member who winds up being the stepson of famed soap diva Erica Kane (Susan Lucci), and stayed with the show for three years before departing in 2006 for much greener pastures. And for more amazing celebrity trivia, don’t miss the 50 Iconic Movie Roles That Almost Went to Someone Else.
Before Jordan played Reggie, the role was originally (and briefly) occupied by none other than his Black Panther costar Chadwick Boseman. Boseman played the character for a handful of episodes in January 2003 before the role was recast without explanation. Neither Jordan nor Boseman discuss this much in interviews.
One of television’s current lethal ladies (Claire Underwood on House of Cards), Wright got her start on Santa Barbara in the late ’80s. She nabbed three Emmy nominations.
Long before he found himself the star of one of Hollywood’s nastiest real-life soaps—facing off against his ex Angelina Jolie—Pitt appeared on Another World way back in 1987 as a young basketball player named Chris. And for more awesome Hollywood stories, check out the 11 Times A-List Celebrities Became Real Life Heroes.
Currently one of the stars of the popular and acclaimed nighttime soap, This is Us, Hartley spend four years (2002 to 2006) as eye-candy on Passions.
The Criminal Minds star had a long run (1994 to 2005) on The Young and the Restless (with a few years break in between) and returned for a guest spot in 2014. But his real claim to soap fame is as the presenter who proclaimed “The streak is over!” and presented Lucci with her daytime Emmy after the actress went for years without nabbing the prize.
Before she burst on the scene in family-friendly movies like The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday, Lohan played a precocious kid on Another World from 1996 to 1997.
The Friends star got her start as “Bunny” on As the World Turns in 1984.
The Supernatural actor first became super popular during his run on Days of Our Lives from 1997 until 2000. More recently, Supernatural had a meta moment when Ackles’s character entered a parallel universe and discovered he was a soap actor named—get this—Jensen Ackles.
Sarah Michelle Gellar
She’ll always be known as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but before she became the leading lady of the WB, Gellar was cast as Erica Kane’s long lost daughter, Kendall Hart, on All My Children. The young star became so popular in the role as the bad seed, it reportedly caused friction on the set between the young star and Lucci—especially after Gellar nabbed an Emmy. Gellar left the show in 1995 after two years, much to the disappointment of the soap’s most ardent fans.
The brooding Matrix star spent three of his preteen years (1973 to 1976) on One Life to Live.
The Queen of the Rom-Com got her start on As The World Turns, playing the lengthily named Betsey Stewart Montgomery Andropolous from 1982 until 1984.
After Genie Francis, one of the most popular actresses to ever star on a soap, left General Hospital, the producers brought on Moore as reporter Jackie Templeton, a romantic flirtation to play opposite Francis’ former costar Anthony Geary in 1982. Viewers never warmed to the idea, and she left the show for the big screen in 1983.
One of television’s most versatile and respected actresses, Light was a magnet for melodrama as Karen Wolek, a doctor’s wife who secretly turned tricks on One Life to Live. In the role, Light cried a river of tears from 1978 until 1983 and won an Emmy for her over-the-top but riveting performance.
The most famous Baldwin got his start on The Doctors in 1980. After two years, he moved to prime time soaps as a psychopathic preacher who met an untimely end on the long running Knots Landing. And for more insight into Baldwin’s past, check out the The 20 Craziest Hollywood Meltdowns of All Time.
The voice that launched a thousand nightly news broadcasts on CBS (and won an Oscar) got its start on Another World and Ryan’s Hope in the early ’80s.
Currently starring in her own sad real-life soap, a fresh-faced Locklear gained fame as scheming Sammy Jo on the iconic ’80s nighttime soap Dynasty.
Before the force was with him, Hamill had a stint on General Hospital in the early ’70s.
The actress foreshadowed her chameleon-like, award-winning acting style by playing identical half-sisters (a thing we didn’t even know existed)—and their cousin—during a three-year stint in the mid-’80s on As the World Turns.
The Shades of Blue actor first showed up on the small screen playing Joey Perrini on Another World in 1980.
Blink and you missed her, but Banks made her first television appearance as a waitress on All My Children in 1999.
Leonardo Di Caprio
Before he landed his more well-known TV gigs on Growing Pains and the original run of Roseanne, Leo was just a titanically talented tyke on Santa Barbara in the early ’80s.
“The Hoff” was the resident hunk on The Young and the Restless when he played D
The Orange is the New Black star (who struck gold in the American Pie franchise) started out on As The World Turns from 1994 until 1995.
When Bacon failed to hit it big after appearing in Animal House in 1978, he turned to daytime TV and did a stint on Guiding Light before Diner sent him on his way to the greener pastures of movie stardom.
Tomei’s first acting job was on As the World Turns in the mid-’80s.
Duhamel quickly became one of the most popular actors on All My Children when he joined the soap in 1999 as one half of the ill-fated super-couple Leo and Greelee (Rebecca Buddig). When Duhamel decided to heed Hollywood’s siren call, Leo’s shocking death in 2002 left faithful fans reeling.
Sporting some serious Tarzan-like hair, Martin first burst on the scene as troubled singer Miguel Morez on General Hospital in the mid-’90s.
The fitness fanatic played himself while whipping up the lycra-clad ladies of General Hospital into shape in the early ’80s, kicking off his workout video empire.
The pillow-lipped actress has never really strayed from her soapy roots. Rinna went from Days of Our Lives to Melrose Place in the ’80s and today is reveling in the unscripted cat fights on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.
The Oscar winner and recurring FX favorite had an inauspicious start in television
Tamblyn originated the role of poor little rich girl Emily Quartermaine on General Hospital from 1995 until 2001 before she joined The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
The Hairspray starlet got her first on-screen credit as a cast member of Guiding Light in 1998.
The Fast and the Furious starred first revved up her career as Nikki Munson on As The World Turns from 1995 until 1998.
Teeny boppers and housewives fell in love with Stamos and his perfectly blow-dried hair when he played street-wise musician Blackie Parish on General Hospital in the early ’80s before hitting it big on Full House.
Yes, Ripa and Consuelos kicked off their romance on-screen before finding
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