There are some celebrities who are cemented in the public consciousness as looking a certain way. But, of course, go back a couple of decades and they didn’t look like that at all. Here’s a reminder of what 20 iconic people were like in their earlier days – in some cases, before their careers had even started, when they were wondering if they’d ever make it.
20. Maggie Smith
Many people who grew up in the early Noughties will know Maggie Smith as just one character: Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter series. However, she was very much an established and prolific actress before the wizarding world came calling. Indeed, she had two Oscar wins and six nominations under her belt.
Smith started out in the world of acting pretty early, in fact. She began performing on stage while still just a teenager – and, obviously, was extremely good at it. By 1956, at the age of 21, she was showing up in films, albeit in very small parts. But she rose up and up the ladder, and by the time she received a BAFTA nomination she was still only 24.
19. Julianne Moore
Julianne Moore is an extremely successful actress. She’s been in both critically acclaimed movies, such as Maps to the Stars and Still Alice, and big-budget Hollywood fare including The Hunger Games. Moreover, in 2015 she was even listed among the planet’s most influential people by Time magazine.
It wasn’t easy getting to that point, though. Like so many aspiring actors before her, Moore was a waitress following college. It wasn’t until she was in her mid-20s that she began working in low-budget theater shows, and it took another year for her to earn her big break with As the World Turns.
18. Nicole Kidman
Australian-born actress Nicole Kidman has been a massive star for decades. Indeed, she’s one of the biggest-earning and most influential performers in Western cinema. And, of course, once upon a time she was the wife of fellow A-list actor Tom Cruise. She was only 23 when she tied the knot with him, in fact.
The 23-year-old Kidman looked quite a bit different from the Kidman we know today – and her life was more chaotic, too. She adopted two children with Cruise, Connor and Isabella, but everyone knows how the relationship ended: in divorce. Nonetheless, Kidman has said in interviews that she doesn’t feel that marrying young was a mistake.
17. Sean Connery
Sean Connery was, of course, the first James Bond. And as well as playing that iconic character, he’s appeared in many other hit films: The Untouchables, Highlander and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade among others. He didn’t get the part that would define his career until he was 32, however. And things had been more difficult for him before then.
Indeed, over the course of his 20s, Connery performed on the stage and as an extra in movies. He also associated with gangsters. While working as an actor in Scotland, he had a fight with a number of gang members and defeated them so thoroughly that they subsequently gave him a wide berth. No wonder he later earned the role of James Bond, then.
16. Hugh Jackman
Everyone knows Hugh Jackman as the award-winning, singing, dancing muscleman of hit movies. And he played the famous Marvel superhero Wolverine for a record-setting 18 years. Things could have been very different, though. Indeed, when he was a child growing up in Australia, he wanted most of all to be a travelling chef.
In 2010 Jackman was quoted by Biography Today as saying, “It wasn’t until I was 22 that I ever thought about my hobby being something I could make a living out of… The idea at my school was that drama and music were to round out the man. It wasn’t what one did for a living. I got over that. I found the courage to stand up and say, ‘I want to do it.’” And it’s a good thing he did.
15. Julie Andrews
Julie Andrews is best known for two roles: Maria in The Sound of Music and the title character in Disney’s Mary Poppins. Over the years she’s also picked up a vast array of awards for her acting work, including an Oscar, three Grammys and an AFI Life Achievement Award. Moreover, Andrews was even made a Dame in 2000.
Andrews made her debut on Broadway just before she turned 19 years of age. Then, throughout her 20s she built on that success, appearing in a variety of famous TV shows and popular musicals. And when Walt Disney began courting her for the role of Mary Poppins, she was still only in her late 20s.
14. Oprah Winfrey
Today, Oprah commands a vast entertainment empire. She’s made billions of dollars off her name and is considered the 20th century’s wealthiest African-American person. Her power and influence even saw her gain the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. But her early life was filled with poverty and alleged abuse from family members.
Despite having experienced some awful things in her past, though, Winfrey quickly rose in the entertainment business. At the age of just 19, she became the youngest-ever news anchor in WTVF-TV’s history, not to mention the first African-American female to hold such a position at the station. Moreover, by the time she reached the end of her 20s, she was already a successful host.
13. Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone became a Hollywood star with the boxing drama Rocky, a movie and later franchise that he created himself. Now he’s a world-famous actor with three Oscar nominations to his name, and he’s appeared in high-profile movie series from The Expendables to Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
Back in his 20s, however, he probably never dared to imagine that such success would come his way. Indeed, for years Stallone struggled to make it as an actor. At one point he was so broke that he was kicked out of his apartment and ended up sleeping rough, which led to him appearing in X-rated films for much-needed money. But look at him now.
12. Ozzy Osbourne
Black Sabbath vocalist and “Prince of Darkness” Ozzy Osbourne has had a wild life, to say the least. And, inevitably it shows on his face. Osbourne himself has admitted that he’s amazed he survived his lifestyle, and the singer credits partner wife Sharon for helping him through it all.
However, the Prince of Darkness didn’t always look like he does today. Back when he was in his early 20s, in fact, he wore glasses and had a fairly ordinary appearance. He’s stated in interviews that it was 1971 when he first started experimenting with cocaine, which would have been when he was 23 years old. That, of course, would have consequences for the rest of his life.
11. Michael Caine
Today, Michael Caine excels at playing “elderly British gentlemen” roles. After all, it was playing Ebenezer Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol that boosted his fortunes during the 1990s. Since then he’s appeared in big hits such as The Prestige and Inception, and he also portrayed Alfred in the Dark Knight movies.
Caine was young once, of course. However, he spent a portion of his 20s not being involved in acting but instead fighting in the Korean War. His national service began in 1952, when he was 19, and lasted for two years. Although obviously he achieved wealth and success after that, memories of warfare would stay with him for a very long time.
10. Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep is considered one of the most iconic and popular actors of her generation. She’s received multiple accolades and awards throughout her life. People who grew up in the Noughties remember her from movies such as The Devil Wears Prada and Mamma Mia! – but that’s just scratching the surface of her career.
Yet, perhaps surprisingly, Streep had difficulties climbing the ladder to fame and fortune. For instance, at the age of 27 she auditioned for a King Kong remake. On arriving, she overhead the film’s director calling her “ugly” in Italian – a language he didn’t know she spoke as well. Nonetheless, it’s safe to say she had the last laugh there.
9. Prince Philip
Queen Elizabeth’s husband Prince Philip is 98 years old, the longest-living male royal ever in the U.K. And he’s definitely seen and done a lot in his long life. By the time he stepped back from public life in 2017, in fact, he’d completed more than 22,000 formal commitments on his own. And not long after retirement, he celebrated his platinum wedding anniversary, another royal milestone.
Based on the time in which he was born, it shouldn’t be surprising that Prince Philip spent much of his early adult years fighting in World War Two. Indeed, he joined the British Royal Navy while in his late teens, and at 21 had become one of the service’s youngest senior officers. In addition, he was handsome enough to turn the head of a princess.
8. Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais is surprisingly okay with being described as “fat,” along with other negative descriptions. Indeed, in March 2019 the star of Netflix’s Afterlife and the British version of The Office told The New York Times magazine, “Before I could do [comedy] I had to learn to relate. Getting fat and old and ugly helped with that.”
However, the young version of Gervais looked very, very different to the one everyone knows. In 1983, aged 22 and attending University College London, the future television star and his pal Bill Macrae tried to make it in the world of new-romantic pop with their band Seona Dancing. And, yes, pictures from this period have survived.
7. Judi Dench
Judi Dench was always well known in Britain thanks to her work with the BBC, but it was her appearances in the James Bond films that brought her to worldwide attention. She was cast as M, a part that had never been portrayed by a woman before, starting from 1995’s GoldenEye. And Dench continued to play the role right up until Skyfall in 2012.
But Dench has actually been acting for longer than a lot of people realize. She was only 23 years old, in fact, when she appeared in Hamlet Ophelia on stage in 1957. At the time, the London Evening Standard wrote that her talents “will be shown to better advantage when she acquires some technique to go with it.” It’s probably fair to say that she’s done that.
6. Lucille Ball
Lucille Ball didn’t achieve success until fairly late in life by television standards. Indeed, it wasn’t until she was in her 40s that I Love Lucy turned her into a household name. And her fortunes only improved from there. Later she and her husband Desi Arnaz formed the studio Desilu Productions, which gave the world Star Trek.
Ball went to drama school as a 25-year-old in 1926 – but she hated it. All the tutors thought she’d fail in her chosen career, in fact, so she grew ever more driven to prove them wrong. She spent the rest of the decade working as a model and recovering from rheumatic fever, but when she bounced back, she changed the face of television.
5. Arnold Schwarzenegger
Bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger found success with Conan the Barbarian in 1982. And after that he was cast in the film that would make him a pop culture icon: The Terminator. He subsequently became one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and in 2003 he was voted in as Governor of California.
Moreover, at the age of 20 Schwarzenegger had already become Mr. Universe, no small feat indeed. A year later he headed to the United States, and although he couldn’t speak English at that point, he didn’t let that stop him. People informed him that his accent and name were obstacles to achieving a film career, but they were shortly proved wrong.
4. Queen Elizabeth
Most people the world over know the face of Queen Elizabeth. Ever since the then-princess was made Queen in 1953, she’s kept up a steady stream of royal engagements. She now holds all sorts of records for her longevity, including that of the female leader with the longest term in office in the whole of recorded history.
But Elizabeth didn’t actually get the crown on her head until she was well into her 20s. By then, she’d already done plenty with her life, including serving as a mechanic during World War Two. And as soon as she turned 21, she said in a radio transmission, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
3. Ian McKellen
Ask someone to picture Ian McKellen, and they’ll most likely imagine either Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings movies or Magneto from the X-Men franchise. But, of course, he’s done far more in his career beyond those very popular roles. And even though he’s in his 80s now, he shows no sign of stopping.
Indeed, McKellen has been acting ever since he was a teenager, when he joined the Marlowe Society at Cambridge’s St. Catharine’s College and began doing plays. He went from there to appearing on stage professionally and eventually he ended up at London’s West End. All the while, he was quietly living as a gay man, though he wouldn’t come out publically until 1988.
2. Barack Obama
After Barack Obama stepped down as President of the United States after having served an eight-year term, the media noted how much he’d changed first being elected. According to The Daily Telegraph, Obama himself had commented on it when talking to Kuala Lumpur students in 2015, saying, “When I came into office, I had no grey hair. And now I have a lot.”
Nonetheless, plenty of photographs exist of pre-presidency Obama, and they show a fresh-faced young man. In his early 20s Obama, a student at Occidental College in LA, was already making important speeches and becoming involved in politics. And in that same period of his life he encountered Michelle Robinson, who would become his future First Lady.
1. Helen Mirren
Academy Award winner Helen Mirren is a famous and accomplished actress, but she’s thought of as a beauty icon as well. As she’s aged, people have considered that she’d done so very gracefully. However, in 2015 Mirren told the Daily Mail tabloid newspaper that she had “a resistance to the word ‘beautiful.’”
That seems reasonable when you considered what she’s said about her 20s. In 2017 she told Allure magazine, “I could see why they called me sexy in those days. I fell into the cliché of sexiness: blonde hair, waist, which I hated at the time because it was not fashionable… I just never fit into that look.” Now, she has a look of her own.