17 Stars Who Were Broke When They Got Their Big Breaks

Whether they were down to their last dollar or living in a homeless shelter, these stars hit their big breaks just in time

01 of 17

Kat Graham

Kat Graham attends the Green Carpet Fashion Awards during the Milan Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 on September 22, 2019 in Milan, Italy.
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Before hitting it big in The Vampire Diaries, "I was sleeping on my mom's floor and I had 86 cents to my name," Graham told PEOPLE recently. Even after landing her role on the show, she says, "I was on an inflatable mattress for the first six months of filming because I just didn't trust [it would last]."

02 of 17

Annie Murphy

26th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, Arrivals, Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, USA - 19 Jan 2020

The Schitt's Creek star told Kelly Clarkson she had just $3 in her bank account before landing her breakout role as Alexis Rose on the comedy (which just aired its season finale Tuesday).

"Just before Schitt's Creek, things were quite bleak," she said. "My house had just burnt down, I had like, $3 in my bank account, I hadn't worked in close to two years ...

I found myself crying in the Pacific Ocean, a very snotty cry, and the universe was like, 'Don't do this anymore. This is not for you!' But then, two days later, I got the audition for Schitt's Creek."

03 of 17

Chris Hemsworth

GQ Men of the Year Awards, Arrivals, Tate Modern, London, UK - 05 Sep 2018
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Hemsworth is more than a superhero - he's a super son, too. The Thor actor revealed to Variety that after dropping out of high school, he was nearly broke and turned to acting in order to help provide for his family.

"A big reason I started acting was because I loved film and TV, but it was like we had no money," he said, adding, "I wanted to pay off their house, initially. That was my sort of thing."

The Men in Black: International actor admitted that he "put too much pressure" on himself, which caused him to miss out on some major roles - but the timing ultimately worked out for the best, as it meant he was free to take on what would become the most lucrative role of his career.

"At the time I was upset. I was running out of money. But if I played [those other] characters, I wouldn't have been able to play Thor."

04 of 17

Richard Madden

Richard Madden
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Landing the role of Robb Stark on Game of Thrones was truly a life-changing experience for the Scottish actor, who revealed to host Jimmy Fallon that he was living off of about $5 a day before he was cast on the HBO show on an episode of The Tonight Show.

"I had two options: I could either buy one meal, or a newspaper and a pint," he recalled. "It went the other way usually."

"Then I got that phone call [about Thrones] and I was on my last month's rent," he continued. "I asked my agent for an advance and that helped me get through the next little bit."

If his big break hadn't come through, the Rocketman star admitted he would have "moved back to my parents' house." He added, "I was at that stage. So, very lucky."

05 of 17

Amara La Negra

2018 MTV Video Music Awards - Arrivals
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The Dominican-American singer and reality star seems to be just like the title of her new EP, Unstoppable. But while the striking 28-year-old is now a children's book author, the star of BET's movie Fall Girls and a blossoming entrepreneur, her early years of fame were spent living out of her car as she overcame a toxic relationship.

La Negra revealed to People CHICA that only four years ago, she would sleep in fast food and pharmacy parking lots and use their restrooms at night to bathe herself with wipes.

"People didn't know because they would always see me looking pretty, well-dressed, and they always saw me as [the star] Amara La Negra," she recalled. "They didn't know that outside of that [famous facade], I was going through really difficult times."

While her star was on the rise, her boyfriend at the time handled her money. "If I needed anything, he would be the one to buy it - food, clothes - but he never paid me," she shared. "Love blinded me."

When her ex kicked her mother out of the home the three shared, La Negra left with her, and after months of living in her car, eventually moved in with the family who had taken in her mother.

A colleague eventually offered her a job as cohost on a new television show, El Palenque de Enrique Santos, and that gave her the push to get back on her feet.

The difficult time helped La Negra evolve into the star she is today. "I'm more independent, I like to manage my own money, have my own house, my own car," she reflected. "It was a mistake to depend on a man. I learned about my finances ... I did learn a lot and grew a lot as a woman."

06 of 17

Matt LeBlanc

matt-leblanc
Live with Kelly and Ryan

LeBlanc has at least one thing in common with his iconic Friends character Joey Tribbiani - he was also a struggling actor. Before landing the role on the hit series in 1994, LeBlanc was running dangerously low on funds.

In 2019, the actor opened up to host Conan O'Brien on Conan about the incredible timing of his lucky break. "

"You know when you think, 'Alright, I got a little money in the bank. I can hold out until the next gig,' " LeBlanc shared. "I think I was down to $11 ... now, that's holding out too long."

If he hadn't landed the role, the actor admitted, "I would have starved."

07 of 17

Tiffany Haddish

The 2019 InStyle And Warner Bros. 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards Post-Party - Inside
Lester Cohen/Getty Images for InStyle

The Girls Trip actress revealed to Vanity Fair in January 2018 that her Night School costar Kevin Hart was her "comedy guardian angel" when she was a struggling stand-up comic.

At the time, Haddish was living out of her car while performing with Hart in a sketch comedy show called Comedy Playground. When Hart noticed, he confronted her about her living situation and encouraged her to write out and pursue her goals. He lent her $300 to get a motel room, where she wrote out her list. "I wrote: Get myself an apartment. Do these things, all these people I wanna work with, everything," she recalled to the outlet.

The next day, she was offered an apartment. "I go look at it, and it's like the most raggediest apartment you could ever imagine, it was just nasty and disgusting, roaches everywhere, cigarette stains in the carpet ... It was all bad. The guy was like, 'It's $550 a month,' and I was like, 'It's perfect! I'll take it!' "

Of ultimately costarring with Hart in a film, Haddish mused, "I'm just like, 'Wow. Full circle.' "

08 of 17

Jennifer Lopez

jlo
Broadimage/REX/Shutterstoc

Before she was a global superstar, Lopez was just a dancer doing whatever she could to pursue her dream. "My mom and I butted heads. I didn't want to go to college - I wanted to try dance full-time," the Second Act star told W Magazine in 2013. "So she and I had a break. I started sleeping on the sofa in the dance studio. I was homeless, but I told her, 'This is what I have to do.' A few months later, I landed a job dancing in Europe. When I got back, I booked In Living Color. I became a Fly Girl and moved to L.A. It all happened in a year."

09 of 17

Chrissy Metz

24th Annual Critics' Choice Awards, Arrivals, Barker Hanger, Los Angeles, USA - 13 Jan 2019
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The This Is Us star opened up to Glamour in February 2017 about struggling to make ends meet before she landed her big break on the NBC show. Though she didn't grow up with a lot of money, Metz got by and made it to L.A. where she landed a role on American Horror Story.

But after the season ended, opportunities dried up: "I kept auditioning, with no savings and no money, credit card debt gaining interest. I went on unemployment. I bought ramen noodles at dollar stores. I never had to - God forbid - live on the streets; I moved in with a roommate who told me, 'Stay with me until you can afford rent. Don't give up.' "

She continued: "People who supported me were like, 'If you don't have money for food, I'll cook you dinner. You don't have money for acting class? Let's get together and read lines.' I am so grateful that I had such an amazing support system, but when I booked This Is Us, I had 81 cents in my bank account. I could cry right now just thinking about it."

10 of 17

Chris Pratt

2018 MTV Movie And TV Awards - Red Carpet
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Pratt has often spoken about being broke, but he looks back on his days living in a van in Hawaii with some fondness. "It's a pretty awesome place to be homeless," he told The Independent in 2014. "It would be different if I lived on the streets of Chicago and ate garbage from a dumpster. We just drank and smoked weed and worked minimal hours, 15 to 20 hours per week, just enough to cover gas, food and fishing supplies. You know, it was charming time."

On The Graham Norton Show in December 2016, the Jurassic World actor also revealed that when he was a waiter in L.A., he would eat the leftover food off of patrons' plates in order to get by. "I had no money and nobody was coming to the restaurant, so I made like $20 or $30 a day [on tips], so it was really a place I'd go to eat. That kitchen fed me for the time that I was there."

11 of 17

Ed Sheeran

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Dominique Charriau/WireImage

After Sheeran left school to pursue music, the "Shape of You" singer often found himself reliant on the kindness of friends and strangers in order to have someplace to sleep for the night.

"[In] 2009 I'd been [playing gigs in London] for about four years. I lost my place to live and just started staying at friends' that I met along the way, and it was a very fun time. I had a lot of fun," he told MTV. "I met a lot of people [and] had a lot of experiences that an 18-year-old probably shouldn't have, and when I didn't have a place, I would stand onstage and be like, 'If anyone has got a couch tonight,' and it would usually work."

When he didn't have a place to say - which, he says, was very rarely - "I slept on the Central Line and outside Buckingham Palace. That's just what I did," he told Capital FM.

12 of 17

Halle Berry

76th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Arrivals
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Before Berry was an Academy Award-winning actress, she spent a period living in a homeless shelter in New York City. The Monster's Ball actress credits that time as influential to shaping her into the woman she is today, she told PEOPLE during The Jess Cagle Interview in August 2017.

When she first moved to N.Y.C., Berry explained that she had some money from a modeling gig, but it only lasted her three months. "I called my mother and asked her to send me some money, and she said no, and that subsequently led to a year of not speaking to her because I was so upset that she wouldn't help me," she shared.

Looking back, she's grateful for her mom's tough love. "That's probably one of the best things she did for me … She said, 'If you want to be there, then you work it out.' And I had to work it out ... Giving up was never an option." After living in the shelter, she worked various jobs in the service industry until her big break in Spike Lee's 1991 Jungle Fever.

13 of 17

Steve Harvey

AOL BUILD Speaker Series: Steve Harvey
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Back in the 1980s, Harvey was homeless for three years while he tried to break through on the comedy circuit. After quitting his job in hopes of pursuing his dream, the Family Feud host found himself separated from his wife, on his own and living on as little as $50 a week. "I had nowhere to go," Harvey told PEOPLE in May 2016, so he began living in his 1976 Ford Tempo, using an Igloo cooler as a refrigerator.

"It was rock bottom," he recalled. "But even in my darkest days, I had faith it would turn around." Things did, indeed, turn around when Harvey got the chance to perform on Showtime at the Apollo in 1993.

Even now, with an empire estimated to be worth $100 million, Harvey admitted that he won't be slowing down anytime soon. "I'm running from homelessness," he explained. "I can't ever be in that position again. If my show gets canceled, I've got three more. I don't have any free time, but I have 12 jobs."

14 of 17

Kelly Clarkson

Meaning of Life Tour
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Before she auditioned for season 1 of American Idol, Clarkson had made an attempt at a singing career and moved out to L.A. after high school to shop around her demo. However, after her apartment building burned down, the "Since U Been Gone" singer lived in her car briefly before deciding to move back to Texas … where she heard about an audition for a singing competition in 2002. The rest is history.

15 of 17

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson

'Fighting With My Family' premiere, Arrivals, Sundance Film Festival, Park City, USA - 28 Jan 2019
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The Fast & Furious star named his production company Seven Bucks Productions for the moment of realization he had after his professional football career didn't work out, and he "looked in my pocket, and I had seven bucks. Wow. Seven bucks to my name," he told The Hollywood Reporter. After that, he decided to follow in his father and grandfather's footsteps, and started as a WWE wrestler named "The Rock" in 1996.

These days, he has enough money - and enough gratitude - to do things like buy his mother a house.

16 of 17

Charlize Theron

Caruso's Palisades Village Opening Gala - Arrivals
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The Tully actress was famously discovered after getting into an argument with a bank teller when she was 18, having just moved to Hollywood with nothing but a suitcase.

"I'm like, 'It's survival, people,' " she told Oprah in 2005. "If I didn't cash that check, I wouldn't have had a place to sleep that night. I said to the teller, 'You don't understand - please!' I was begging and pleading, and a gentleman came over and tried to help. I had to fill out a ton of paperwork and open an account, and I cashed the check." That gentleman turned out to be a talent agent, who helped her take acting classes and land her first role a few months later.

17 of 17

Sam Worthington

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Before landing his breakout role in Avatar, the Aussie actor was living in his car: "[I] sold everything I owned and was just living in the car basically, not doing much," he said about his time before landing his big audition.

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