Skip to content

How Emily Ratajkowski Went From Obscurity to A-Lister Almost Overnight

One day, she was attending class at UCLA. The next, she was literally everywhere.

Fresh off of setting Cannes aflame with her triple-take looks and spurning the FTC with some steamy Instagram posts, Emily Ratajkowski continues to take the world by storm. Over the past few years, she's starred in an Oscar-nominated film, danced in a Grammy-nominated music video, and been featured on the covers of magazines. It's official: the 25 year-old Emily Ratajkowski is fast becoming a household name. But how does one—other than paralyzingly good looks, of course—go from UCLA student to David Fincher muse practically overnight? Read on to learn what shape, exactly, the Emily Ratajkowski career path has taken. And, for more coverage of everyone's favorite model, check out her new DKNY campaign.

She Was Typecast Early On

emily ratajkowski career cosmopolitan

Born in London, Ratajkowski moved to California when she was five. By her early teens, modeling agents were taking notice of her and she signed with Ford models, aiming to use modeling as a launchpad for an acting career. She began landing modeling gigs with Nortstrom, Kohl's, and others She also had a few TV appearances, including landing a role for a pair of episodes on Nickelodeon's "iCarly." But casting directors had a habit of pigeonholing her: "I was so tired of auditioning for the bitchy girl in high school," she told the New York Times.

She Had A Fortuitous Breakthrough

emily ratajkowski career path

She enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2009 to study art, but left after a year to pursue modeling full-time, enjoying the traveling it provided. Things began to take off when she posed for the new treats!, an erotica magazine aimed at a fashionable audience. She appeared in each of the limited-edition magazine's first two issues, and on the cover of issue No. 3 [Caveat: NSFW]. It was the artsy black-and-white, fully nude image of her with knees pulled to her chest and hand tousling her hair that caught the eye of Robin Thicke and his video director Diane Martel who thought her beautiful-but-smart look would be perfect for "Blurred Lines" video. Fun fact: black-and-white photographs are one of the key ways sophisticated men decorate their walls.

She Became a Video Star

emily ratajkowski career path music video star

Ratajkowski had experience in music videos, appearing in Maroon 5's video for "Love Somebody" and Taio Cruz's "Fast Car." In the first video, she plays Adam Levine's love interest, with the director using a cool reverse green-screen effect so only parts of them are visible, when covered in grey paint. While both videos had gone over well, she did not want to get typecast as a hot video girl, so she initially turned down the Robin Thicke opportunity. After meeting with the director of "Blurred Lines," and learning that the video was more playful than sensual (even if one version of the video involved her going without clothes), she hopped on the project.

"Blurred Lines" Blows Up

emily ratajkowski career

It proved a great call. "Blurred Lines" became the song of the summer and the video was inescapable, but it was Ratajkowski that was the true star. From the toy car rolling up her back, to marching in white platform heels—and nothing else—she was the breakout star of the video. Major magazines from across the world asked to put her on their covers and advertisers did the same for their campaigns.

She Became a Household Name

emily ratajkowski career comsopolitan

While most knew her as "the girl from the video," her name soon became well-known as she was named by Esquire as "Woman of the Year" for 2013, one of "20 hottest sex symbols" by Rolling Stone, and featured in Sports Illustrated's 50th anniversary swimsuit issue. Within a few months, she appeared on the covers of Cosmopolitan, FHM, GQ, and Harper. She continued to stand out not only for her smart look and sensuality, but her daringness, particularly in photo shoots such as CR Fashion Book's July 2013 cover [Caveat: also NSFW], with erotic scenes of her, Karli Kloss, and a handful of male models. If you want to look like the guys who are romping around with Kloss and Ratajkowski, learn the workout that will get you looking like a male model in no time.

She Appeared in Gone Girl

emily ratajkowski career path

Ratajkowski leveraged her overnight fame to pursue her lifelong interest: acting. The newfound prominence gave her a key role in David Fincher's Gone Girl. She played Andie Fitzgerald, who balances dual roles of an innocent student, being exploited by Ben Affleck's character, Nick, and a dangerous source of unpredictability with the power to ruin Nick's life if she so desired. The role got her some love from critics and the movie was a hit, opening the door to other roles. For more riveting celeb castings, learn the 15 times top-tier actors passed up iconic roles.

She Enjoyed Success on the Silver Screen

emily ratajkowski career zac efron

Ratajkowski has established herself as a go-to actress for productions like the Entourage movie, also picking up a leading role opposite Zac Efron in We Are Your Friends. She dipped back into television (though avoided getting cast as "the bitchy girl" again), with roles in the miniseries The Spoils Before Dying and the Netflix show Easy. She's also got several high-profile films on the horizon, including a lead role in the new film by Robert Siegel (writer of The Founder, The Wrestler, and Turbo), called Cruise. She is also slated to play opposite Aaron Paul in Welcome Home.

She's Enjoying Life at the Top

emily ratajkowski career path

Beyond her acting work, Ratajkowski continues to dominate the modeling world, having appeared on the covers of Glamour, InStyle, Marie Claire, and Spanish and German Vogues just in the last year alone. It's going to be pretty hard to miss her in the coming months and years.

For more amazing advice for living smarter, looking better, feeling younger, and playing harder, follow us on Facebook now!

Alex Daniel
A journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Read more
Filed Under