In Hollywood, there really is no such thing as an “overnight success.” Pretty much every actor out there has put in their time doing small projects before they ultimately graduated to bigger and better things in their careers. Since these earlier roles are inherently stepping stones to their later career, it is hard to say that any actor worth their salt would really say that they regret their earlier work. However, at the same time, it is certainly fair to say that some of these early roles can be a bit embarrassing when looking back upon them years later, especially when you have found success in another role.
Sometimes it’s as simple as the early role having an embarrassing costume or having to playing to play a strange character. Sometimes the project is just terrible overall and you hate being associated with it. In any event, here are some examples of embarrassing early roles by some of the most notable actors from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series.
15. CLARK GREGG IN THE ADVENTURES OF SEBASTIAN COLE
Clark Gregg had already been acting for a decade, in both film and television (albeit in normally minor roles) before he took on the role of Henrietta Rossi, the step-mother of the lead character in The Adventures of Sebastian Cole. Cole is played by a young Adrian Grenier, who goes to live with his step-mother, Henrietta, for the end of his high school term.
Henrietta, played by Gregg, has recently had gender reassignment surgery. The film doesn’t necessarily play Gregg as a woman for laughs, but at times it definitely does border almost on caricature, despite Gregg’s fully-committed performance in the role. At the very least, if you ever wanted to see Agent Coulson flirt with Levon Helm, former lead singer of The Band, then have we got a film for you!
14. MING-NA WEN IN MISTER ROGERS’ NEIGHBORHOOD
Born in Portuguese Macau (one of the last areas of China still controlled by a European country; it went back to Chinese control in 1999), Ming-Na Wen moved to Hong Kong with her mother when she was just an infant after her parents divorced. Her mother remarried and the family moved to New York City before settling in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they opened up a Chinese restaurant.
Being in Pittsburgh paid off for the young Wen in 1985, since that happened to be where the long-running children’s show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood filmed, and the 11-year-old Wen got a part in two episodes as a member of the royal fanfare players. We suspect that she probably now regrets that bowl haircut that she was rocking as a little kid.
13. CHLOE BENNET IN “UH OH”
Chloe Bennet was born in Chicago, Illinois as Chloe Wang. Her father was a Chinese investment banker. When Chloe was 15 years old, she moved from the United States to China so that she could pursue a career as a pop singer. She lived with her father’s mother and studied Mandarin. When she released a hit single, “Uh Oh,” she released the song in both Mandarin and English.
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with being a pop star in China (in fact, it’s pretty darn impressive), it is still amusing to see Bennet rocking some of the pop star outfits that are de rigeur for a music video like this. When she moved back to the United States to pursue a career as an actress, she adopted her father’s first name, Bennet, as her new last name for acting gigs.
12. BRETT DALTON IN NURSES
One of the many difficult things about being an actor is that even when you “got the gig,” you don’t know if “the gig” will go anywhere. We’re talking, of course, about pilot season, where thousands of actors compete for roles in the new pilots that are being made that are then sold to the various television networks. It is difficult to get cast in a TV pilot, but then, of course, not all pilots get made.
Brett Dalton looked like he had a big break when he was cast as Eliza Dushku’s step-brother in a Grey’s Anatomy knockoff called Nurses, but the show never made it past the pilot stage. At least the pilot did air on television as a TV movie! Dalton’s character runs into his sister after having sex and has to cover himself with a poor cat photo.
11. HENRY SIMMONS IN SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE
For years, an awkward scenario would occur on episodes of Saturday Night Live that involved African-American hosts. The issue was that the show often only had one or two black cast members, so when you had a black host and you wanted to do sketches about African-American life, you would have to hire black extras.
That, interestingly enough, is how Henry Simmons made his television debut. Martin Lawrence was hosting and there was a sketch about the players at the end of the bench of NBA teams. SNL’s only other black male cast member at the time, Tim Meadows, played the other end of the bench guy on the New Jersey Nets but the show needed extras to play the other players. Actual Nets player Benoit Benjamin played one and Simmons got to be the other.
10. IAIN DE CAESETECKER IN BILLY AND ZORBA
As you can tell from watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Iain De Caestecker is adorable when he is playing a nerdy character like Fitz. As it turns out, De Caestecker has a long experience with playing nerdy characters, going all the way back to the late 1990s! In 1999, he appeared in the short film, Billy and Zorba. In the film, he plays a nerdy kid in a fishing village whose mother is dating a guy who wants to move them to a more urban environment.
Billy befriends an old Greek fisherman named Zorba and tries to run away and is almost drowned. In the end, the mother decides to stay in town with Billy. The end of the film has an adorkable sequence where Billy and Zorba do Greek dance together on the beach.
9. ADRIANNE PALICKI IN WONDER WOMAN
Like we noted with Brett Dalton, one of the most annoying things as an actor is to land a major role, only for the role to de-materialize when the pilot doesn’t go to series. That was the problem that Adrianne Palicki had to deal with when she was cast as the titular hero in a new Wonder Woman series written by David E. Kelley.
The problem is that the pilot was not only not picked up for series, but it was leaked online, leading everyone to make fun of it, especially Palicki’s costume. So not only did she not get what seemed like a major gig, but she had to deal with people making fun of her in the gig, even though the fault was with the look of the show, and not necessarily with her! She had more luck with comic book heroes when she landed the role of Mockingbird on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but even there, she left the show for a spinoff… which never happened.
8. BJ BRITT IN VAMPIRES SUCK
In the late 1990s, the writing team of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer got their big break when Friedberg’s father showed Leslie Nielsen (star of The Naked Gun series of cop parody films) the script for a spy spoof called Spy Hard. Nielsen agreed to make it and Friedberg and Seltzer have been making parody films ever since.
Their films, which tend to be very cheap ($20 million being their typical budget), also tend to do pretty well at the box office, even though critics often pan them. No exception to this was Vampires Suck, their 2010 Twilight spoof, which made $80 million at the box office while garnering a 4% at Rotten Tomatoes. Future S.H.I.E.L.D. agent BJ Britt played a vampire who put hot sauce on his victims. Hmmm… 4% might be a bit high.
7. KYLE MACLACHLAN IN SHOWGIRLS
Kyle MacLachlan has had a long and distinguished career in television and film, and he was lucky (and talented) enough to get into the good graces of famed director David Lynch when MacLachlan was only 24 years old, with 1984’s Dune. Lynch then cast MacLachlan in 1986’s Blue Velvet and then, in the role MacLachlan is still the best known for, Agent Dale Cooper in the 1990 hit TV series, Twin Peaks.
Still, even for a guy like MacLachlan, there have been some bumps in the road, like the 1995 film, Showgirls, about which MacLachlan later recalled, “It was about to première, I hadn’t seen it yet, and I wanted to. So I went to see it and… I was absolutely gobsmacked. I said, ‘This is horrible. Horrible!'”
6. BLAIR UNDERWOOD IN KNIGHT RIDER
Blair Underwood was excellent on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as Melinda May’s psychiatrist ex-husband who ended up being exposed to Terrigen Mists and discovering that he was an Inhuman (this left him deranged and wanting to kill other Inhumans). That makes sense, of course, as Blair Underwood has been killing it in TV and films for over 30 years now.
However, through presumably no fault of his own, he was not killing his look in this 1985 episode of Knight Rider, where he played one of a pair of punks who foolishly try to break into the futuristic talking car known as KITT. Also, do note of his appearance that this was from 33 years ago! Compare it to how he looked on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it is astonishingly similar. Blair Underwood is a vampire! He does not age!
5. CONSTANCE ZIMMER IN HANG TIME
When you’re a burgeoning young actor, you simply have to take whatever offer that you can get, even if you’re offered a gig specifically because of how short you are, which is what happened to young Constance Zimmer back in 1998 when she was cast in an episode of Hang Time. This was decades before her excellent turn as Rosalind Price, the head of the Advanced Threat Containment Unit on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., where she was both a thorn in Coulson’s side and a love interest).
The Saturday Morning TV show about a group of basketball players saw one of the shorter team members embarrassed about his new girlfriend, who is much taller than him. So he pays his obnoxious cousin (Zimmer) to pretend to be his height-appropriate girlfriend. Hilarity, ostensibly, ensues.
4. J. AUGUST RICHARDS IN GOOD BURGER
Though he played Deathlok on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., J. August Richards actually first got his start on television on the same proving ground that many other young black actors appeared on in the 1980s (including Blair Underwood — twice), which is as a love interest of one of the Huxtable children on The Cosby Show. Young J. August played Vanessa’s boyfriend, Roy, in a 1988 episode where Vanessa believes that he has told his friends that they are broken up.
A few years later, Richards was on the silver screen in the Nickelodeon sketch-turned-major-motion-picture, Good Burger, as one of the minions of a rival hamburger chain to the gang at Good Burger (which is, of course, home of the Good Burger). Faux futuristic get-ups did not suit young Mister Richards.
3. PATTON OSWALT IN ONE LINER DINER
For all real intents and purposes, Patton Oswalt’s acting debut came the extremely short-lived sketch series, Small Doses, for Comedy Central in 1994 (he also had a brief role in a Seinfeld episode that same year). However, that was well after his real first paid acting gig, in a direct-to-video film about college student loans.
The concept of the video is that an emcee introduces a group of comedians (including a 19-year-old Oswalt, rocking a sweater vest) to do some college-appropriate comedy while, in between the sets, the emcee would teach the audience about student loans (including the shocking fact that you have to pay back the loans even if you don’t graduate from college!). The young Oswalt’s material was, well, that of a 19-year-old stand-up, including a lot of jokes about how bad college food is.
2. EDWARD JAMES OLMOS IN BOGARD
In the early 1970s, there was a genre of film that is most commonly referred to as “blaxploitation.” It was so dubbed because they were generally fairly tawdry films that starred African-American actors. However, while they might have been exploitative, they were also some of the first films where black actors were the focus of the film rather than just the sidekick character.
Many of the films were done very cheaply, especially by 1974, when the movement had grown in popularity. This led to many knockoffs, like 1974’s Bogard, about a boxer who hunts down the mobster who killed his family. At one point, he beats up a junkie in a bathroom. That junkie? None other than Emmy Award-winning (and Academy Award-nominated) actor, Edward James Olmos, who played a S.H.I.E.L.D. Commander on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Season 2 of the series.
1. LUCY LAWLESS IN FUNNY BUSINESS
Despite only being on the show for a brief period, Lucy Lawless’ Isabelle Hartley still played a major role on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as she introduced Agent Lance Hunter to the team and also played a part in a conspiracy with Bobbi Morse and Mack. Lawless, of course, is best known for her long-running fantasy adventure TV series, Xena the Warrior Princess, which aired from 1995-2001.
Xena filmed in New Zealand, which is where Lawless is from. It is also where the sketch comedy series, Funny Business, aired in the late 1980s. Lawless appeared in a few sketches in 1989, making her television debut. One of the sketches included this amusing ad for a Greek-inspired fragrance for men. Yes, that is an actual sketch from the show.
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