Before They Were Famous: Stars Who Got Their Starts on Soap Operas
From Bryan Cranston and Brad Pitt to Demi Moore and Meg Ryan, see these actors' soapy starts, and learn more on The Story of Soaps, a two-hour television event from ABC and PEOPLE, airing May 19 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC
General Hospital, 1982-92
The Full House star, 56, was working at his dad’s restaurant in Orange County, California, when he tried out for GH. “I auditioned Monday, shot the first episode on a Wednesday, and it aired a week later. Boom!” Stamos recalls in The Story of Soaps. “Girls were chasing me down the street. I was a teen idol, and I just loved it.”
Another World, 1987; Dallas, 1987-88
After filming four episodes as Randy on Dallas, the future Oscar winner, 56, couldn’t believe his luck. “I’m just a dork from Missouri who had no training,” he told his home town’s KY3.
Vivica A. Fox
Days of Our Lives, 1988; Generations, 1989-91; The Young and the Restless, 1994-95
“I was green but very happy — and with a really big weave,” Fox, 55, says of being cast on Days. She next appeared on Generations (pictured), the first soap to feature an African-American family. “It changed perceptions,” she shares on The Story of Soaps. “I was happy to see us not be the maid or the best friend.”
One Life to Live, 1992-93
Phillippe, 45, was 17 when he played Billy Douglas, the first gay teen on TV. The response was “amazing,” he told The Advocate in 2010. “Kids ... would write to say what a huge support they found it to be.”
As the World Turns, 1985-88
The Oscar winner, 59, earned a Daytime Emmy for playing Frannie Hughes (and her half-sister Sabrina) in 1988 and reprised the role in April 2010 amid ATWT’s final season. Five years later she reflected on her time on the soap while accepting a Screen Actors Guild Award for Still Alice: “When I was on As the World Turns, I was so excited when they wrote two parts for me — the classic twin-sister role, the good and the evil one — and I couldn’t wait to do it. I was so excited, and then I realized it was super boring to act by myself.”
Loving, 1983; One Life to Live, 1985
“I was 25 years old when I got the job on Loving,” the Breaking Bad star, 64, recalls on The Story of Soaps. “It felt like I crossed a threshold. This genre, this job invited me in and put me to work like nobody’s business.” The soap opera pace — which meant filming 40 to 60 pages of dialogue per day — “really tests a performer,” adds Cranston (with Patricia Kalember on Loving). “It made me feel accomplished.”
Santa Barbara, 1984-88
“Being on a soap is the hardest work,” Wright, 54, told Interview. In 1987 The Princess Bride made her a movie star.
Michael B. Jordan
All My Children, 2003-06
Jordan, 33, took over the role of reformed gang member Reggie Porter when his future Black Panther costar Chadwick Boseman left after expressing concerns about racial stereotyping. “I was playing this role not knowing ... what he’d already done for me,” Jordan told The Wrap in 2019.
As the World Turns, 1983-85
Tomei, 55, left the role of Marcy Thompson Cushing for the sitcom A Different World and followed that with an Oscar for My Cousin Vinny in 1993.
The Doctors, 1980-82; Knots Landing, 1984-85
Being cast on Knots Landing “was probably one of the five most important times of my life,” the actor, 62, says in The Story of Soaps. “They had a very talented cast.” As manipulative preacher Joshua Rush, Baldwin was able to flex his bad-guy muscles, something he admits he enjoys. “When I play that kind of character, I want to give it everything I can so when the hero kills me or thwarts me in the end, it’s more satisfying for the audience,” he says.
General Hospital, 1994-95
Before “Livin’ La Vida Loca,” Martin, 48, was bartender Miguel Morez. “Ricky will be very big,” the show’s executive producer predicted to PEOPLE in 1995.
Tommy Lee Jones
One Life to Live, 1971-1975
After the Oscar winner, 73, asked to leave the show, his Dr. Mark Toland “went from an upstanding doctor into Mr. Hyde,” Jones told Entertainment Weekly in 1994.
Guiding Light, 1994-95
Playing a maid named Ginger (far right) with a Brooklyn accent was “the first job where I actually made money,” the Oscar winner, 60, told W magazine in 2018.
As the World Turns, 1982-84
Before Harry met Sally, Ryan, 58, was half of the supercouple Steve (Frank Runyeon) and Betsy. Their 1984 wedding was the second-highest rated episode in soap history (behind Luke and Laura’s wedding on General Hospital).
The Young and the Restless, 2001-03
Her role as Isabella Braña didn’t pay the bills right away, so Longoria, 45, also worked as a headhunter from her dressing room.