Five Notable Actors Who Started as PAs

Posted on: Mar 28, 2024

Photo Credit: Featureflash Photo Agency // Shutterstock

By Benjamin Hickson

It’s hard to imagine A-list actors doing anything other than gracing us with their presence on the big screen. There are often many paths to becoming a successful actor, but they usually involve auditioning for any role they can until they finally catch their big break. However, some of the most talented and iconic actors set out on a different path to stardom hidden within the ranks of film and television crews as production assistants.

I believe that prior experience on-set will always benefit an actor and give them a full perspective on what goes into making a movie or TV show happen. The journey from production assistant to a leading actor is a unique career path, but one that can benefit an actor in the long run. These individuals, once relegated to fetching coffee and running errands, have defied the odds to step into the limelight and prove that even the smallest job on-set can lead to big things.

Brad Pitt

The forever heartthrob known for his smoldering presence and magnetic performances actually got his start in the entertainment industry as a production assistant. With Pitt being such a legendary actor, it’s surprising and inspiring to learn that his early days were much like mine, wrangling extras and performing various odd jobs on film sets. Through determination and talent, Pitt gradually transitioned from working behind the scenes to becoming one of Hollywood’s most recognizable leading men, starring in iconic films like Fight Club, Inglourious Basterds and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. His story serves as a guiding path to all the PAs who wish to follow in his footsteps.

Jennifer Lawrence

From the way Jennifer Lawrence mesmerizes audiences with her raw talent and captivating performances. Known for her down-to-earth attitude, it’s not a surprise that she honed her craft while working as a production assistant on various film sets. Lawrence’s early experiences behind the scenes fueled her passion for acting and helped to provide valuable insights into the inner workings of the industry. Her experience as a production assistant eventually led to her breakout role in Winter’s Bone and marked the beginning of an iconic career that includes The Hunger Games franchise, Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle.

Jonah Hill

Before he became an Academy Award-winning actor and acclaimed filmmaker, Jonah Hill began as a production assistant on the set of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. During his time working behind the scenes, Hill was able to learn a lot about the industry, fueling his passion for filmmaking while igniting his desire to pursue acting. Start a new graph with next sentence. Today, he is widely known for his diverse range of roles in films such as Superbad, Moneyball and The Wolf of Wall Street. By showcasing his talent and versatility on screen, he has been able to do what many PAs wish they could do by gaining multiple Academy Award nominations and a win for Best Supporting Actor.

Bill Hader

Despite his natural talents, the comedian and SNL alum originally wanted to be behind the camera as a writer and director. Hader began his career working as a production assistant and eventually moved up to assistant editor for reality TV. He eventually began improv classes and made it to SNL. Hader’s journey is one that many can learn from. By putting himself out there, he found a passion for acting that may have gone discovered. Without his time as a PA, we might never have seen Hader shine in projects like IT: Chapter Two and the hit show Barry.

Melissa McCarthy

One of the top names in comedy today, Melissa McCarthy has been very open in interviews regarding her early days working as a production assistant in underground comedy clubs and drag shows. Like many actors and comedians, McCarthy was able to take advantage of her various behind-the-scenes roles to support herself while pursuing her true passion for performing. It’s remarkable to imagine the comedic powerhouse assisting with production logistics, organizing sets or running errands on film and television sets. McCarthy’s story is a reminder that everyone starts from somewhere, and may one day create unforgettable roles such as Megan in Bridesmaids or her live-action Ursula in The Little Mermaid.

Hope for PAs Looking to Transition

Despite their A-list status, many of these actors have returned to roles behind the screen through writing or directing their projects. As a PA, I find that directors and actors that had the PA experience in the past treat their current PAs much better—often as peers, instead of as the lowest person on-set. Previous on-set knowledge also gives many first-time actors a boost because they are familiar with how a set often runs and operates. This can make them feel more comfortable and able to perform their best.

The stories of actors who started out as production assistants serve as a reminder that success in Hollywood often stems from perseverance, passion and seizing opportunities when they arise. These individuals, once relegated to the sidelines, have risen to prominence through their talent, determination and unwavering commitment to their craft. Aspiring actors and industry newcomers can draw inspiration from their journeys, knowing that with dedication and hard work, even the most humble beginnings can lead to extraordinary achievements on or behind the screen.

Benjamin Hickson is an aspiring producer and production coordinator who has 4+ years experience working on various Film and TV projects. He has a background in Public Relations and served for six years in the military. He also has passion for travel and aims to increase LGBTQ+ representation in the entertainment industry.

Browse thousands of jobs and find your next gig! Sign up or log in to Staff Me Up and get on set today!

You may also like:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *