When you’ve reached the top of the Hollywood ladder like Tom Cruise or Tom Hanks have, nobody makes you audition for parts anymore. But at some point in every actor’s career, they’ve got to start at the bottom. And that means auditions and (if you’re lucky) screen tests.
Here are some of the most insightful audition tapes to emerge over the past few years.
1. Hugh Laurie – House M.D.
In Britain he was famous for his work with Stephen Fry and his role in Blackadder. But to the American public, Hugh Laurie was just another anonymous face. At least that was until he scored the role that made him one of the best-paid actors on TV.
Laurie shot this video in a hotel bathroom while on location for the film Flight of the Phoenix. In that movie, he’s one of the survivors of a plane crash in the desert. Perhaps the 5-day growth of beard he sported in his audition tape contributed to House’s eventual constant stubble.
2. Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad
Apart from Bryan Cranston, every other actor on Breaking Bad had to audition for their parts, including a 27 year-old Aaron Paul.
3. Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill – Star Wars
Originally, Harrison Ford had been hired by George Lucas to read opposite actors auditioning for Luke and Leia. However, after screen-testing every young star in Hollywood for the part of Han Solo (Stallone, Kurt Russell, Nick Nolte, Burt Reynolds), Lucas saw that the best choice was under his nose the whole time.
4. Marlon Brando – Rebel Without a Cause
Largely considered as the most influential actor of his generation, Brando –then a young stage actor– shot a studio screen-test back in 1947.
Eventually starring James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause didn’t get made until 1955, by which point Brando had already won his first Best Actor Oscar.
Looking back at this early footage, one thing is undeniable: young Brando was a good lookin’ guy.
5. Henry Thomas – ET the Extraterrestrial
In cobbling together his cast of young actors, Spielberg had seen hundred of children – many of whom were going for the lead part of Elliot.
As the story goes, Henry Thomas failed his first audition: he turned up in an Indiana Jones costume and didn’t read the lines very well. But when he was asked to improvise a scene on camera, Thomas gave a startlingly honest and heart-breaking performance.
You wouldn’t get this kind of audition from a garden variety child actor.
6. Haley Joel Osment – Forrest Gump
Speaking of child actors, here’s some test footage of The Sixth Sense‘s Haley Joel Osment playing Tom Hanks’ son.
7. Steve Carell – Anchorman
Skip to 1:07 to watch the funniest audition take we’ve ever seen.
8. Tom Hardy – Star Trek: Nemesis
Ooh, who else remembers skinny Tom Hardy? Here he is playing Patrick Stewart’s clone. The footage of his screen test has been intercut with the final scene from the movie.
9. Hugh Jackman
Hugh Jackman was not Bryan Singer’s first choice to play Wolverine in X-Men. The part until belonged to Scottish actor Dougray Scott until the Mission Impossible II ran over-schedule, forcing Singer to recast with a little-known Australian stage actor. They should probably both send John Woo and Tom Cruise a ‘thank you’ letter.
10. The Office USA Auditions
When news went around that they were making an American version of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s acclaimed BBC sitcom, just about ever comic actor in Hollywood auditioned for a part in the show.
Just imagine a world in which Bob Odenkirk was too busy to play Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad. Or one where Seth Rogen didn’t end up making all those movies, because he’d be stuck doing a TV role!
Which one of these stars made the biggest splash with their audition tape? Let us know in the comments below.