SAG-Nominated Actors Reflect on Life Before Fame — And Breaking Into the Business

In honor of this weekend's upcoming Screen Actors Guild Awards, take a look at how some of the night's honorees got their big breaks

01 of 13

EMMA STONE

18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty

"I made a PowerPoint presentation for my parents when I was 14. I asked them to let me move to L.A. [It was] all about why I should be an actor. I never wanted to do anything else, from 7 on. It wasn't a flight of fancy. I asked to be home-schooled in a different presentation when I was 12. That was on a clipboard. I'm not kidding. I make presentations because when I feel strongly about something, I cry."

— to the New York Times on convincing her parents to let her act.

PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly are hosting the official live pre-show for the SAG Awards on Sunday, Jan. 29, in partnership with TNT and sponsored by Dunkin' Donuts. Our red carpet special will start livestreaming at 5:30 p.m. ET/2:30 PT on PEOPLE.com, EW.com and the People/Entertainment Weekly Network (download the PEN app for your TV or phone). You can also watch it live on Twitter — follow us @PEOPLE!

02 of 13

NICOLE KIDMAN

Nicole Kidman
MEGA

"I kind of got antsy and was like, 'Gosh I wish I had something, like a great character like I had in Australia when I was young and when I was, like, 15. And then To Die For came along. But no one thought I could do it and I think the studio didn't want me and it sort of went through another bunch of actors. [I called director Gus Van Sant and] I said, 'Please, give me the chance. I beg you.' Because the writing was so strong."

— to news.com.au, on fighting for a shot in To Die For, one of her earlier films

03 of 13

VIOLA DAVIS

15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

"That really is our plight, especially as women of color. You can have all the training in the world, come from a respectable background and yet never get that big opportunity that breaks you out—never. I am doing this out of necessity. If I am not the instrument of change, I can meander through this business and be the black woman who always has two or three scenes but with fabulous actors around me."

— to the Los Angeles Times, on the difficulty of breaking into the industry as a woman of color

04 of 13

AMY ADAMS

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Matt Baron / BEImages

"I loved films, and my fantasies were filled with dancing and singing, but Hollywood was not on my radar as a child. I worked very hard. But honestly, I didn't know what I was going to be. I have always let the wind take me wherever it will."

— to the Daily Mail, on how she didn't always dream of acting.

05 of 13

ANDREW GARFIELD

74th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals

"That was just when I was starting out. So I thought, 'Narnia, oh my God, I love Narnia!' I really wanted to play—this is so silly— the Prince Caspian film. Ben Barnes ultimately got it. I really just wanted that part. I think the feedback was: he's not handsome enough. What can you do? Hey, I'm not handsome enough for Prince Caspian."

— to Entertainment Tonight, on missed opportunities.

06 of 13

CASEY AFFLECK

74th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals
Frazer Harrison/Getty

"Every now and again, they'd do a local weather commercial or a movie would come to town and they would need extras. And so me and my friends and - we would — you know, she'd bring us in and we'd get a day off from school and we'd get to be an extra in a movie, which to us meant nothing more than a day off from school. And at the end of the day, they gave you 20 bucks and then your mom took 15 of it and put it away and you got $5. And that was it. That was a real treat."

— to NPR, on the early perks of acting.

07 of 13

NATALIE PORTMAN

17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

"Star Wars had come out around the time of Seagull, and everyone thought I was a horrible actress. I was in the biggest-grossing movie of the decade, and no director wanted to work with me. Mike [Nichols] wrote a letter to Anthony Minghella and said, 'Put her in Cold Mountain, I vouch for her.' And then Anthony passed me on to Tom Tykwer, who passed me on to the Wachowskis."

— to New York magazine, on second chances.

08 of 13

MERYL STREEP

Fifth Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Arrivals
Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage

"I was always in plays, but I thought it was vain to be an actress. Plus, I thought I was too ugly to be an actress. Glasses weren't fabulous then."

to students at Indiana University, on doubting herself in her early days

09 of 13

RYAN GOSLING

Patrick McMullan Archives
Stefanie Keenan/Patrick McMullan/Getty

"It was kind of depressing because when I got [to Florida], they realized that I wasn't really up to snuff in comparison with what some of the other kids were able to do. I remember one time they put four of us in a dance routine, but I was so off. I was on the end, so they just pushed the shot in closer on the other three guys to frame me out."

— to Interview magazine, on his early days on The Mickey Mouse Club

10 of 13

SARAH PAULSON

Sarah Paulson
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

"[Jessica Lange] had just gotten into town to start doing season 1 of American Horror Story, and L.A. is not really her town. She didn't know a ton of people so we were spending a lot of time together. At one point, Jessica just threw her arm around me and said to Ryan, 'Oh, can't you find something for Sarah to do on the show? She's going to be in town now.' And he said, 'Oh. Yeah. I think I could do that.'"

— to PEOPLE, on her career-changing meeting with Ryan Murphy

11 of 13

STERLING K. BROWN

74th Annual Golden Globe Awards, Executive Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 08 Jan 2017
Buckner/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

"Any time I was doing a play at school, my grades got better because my soul was being fed. I thought it was about money. It's not. It's about the soul. I was young enough when I realized it, and I also mean naïve enough, to say, This is what I'm supposed to do. I see my friends and family who have a passion or a dream but it's now a dream deferred because they were never naïve enough or brazen enough to say, Let me do this. The longer you go and the more practical you become and the more responsibilities you accrue, the more it will cost you to make that shift and you see the light slowly extinguish. I'm glad that didn't happen for me."

— to Vulture, on going after your dreams.

12 of 13

BRYAN CRANSTON

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George Pimentel/WireImage

"I didn't feel entitled to become a star. I didn't expect it. The things you want professionally are opportunities. And through my good fortune that's what's happened. Opportunity has come to me."

— to CBS News, on opportunity and luck.

13 of 13

KERRY WASHINGTON

Sofia Vergara at The 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards in LA

"My first time on television was an ABC Afterschool Special entitled 'My Special Angel.' And I had to join SAG for that. I was in a supporting role as a cheerleader friend. It's crazy to believe that people grow up to be sensible human beings without watching afterschool specials."

— to Jimmy Kimmel, on the job that got her a SAG card.

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