20 Celebrities Who Were Discovered by Chance (PHOTOS)

Some of today's hottest Hollywood stars were discovered simply walking along streets, in restaurants, even in hair salons. Their star quality and talent far too obvious for an agent or director to miss, they went from being ordinary folks to stars adored by the masses overnight, all thanks to one seemingly random, chance meeting.

Check out these 20 celebrities who can thank serendipity for their millions of fans and millions of dollars. 


Image © Lucas Jackson/Reuters/Corbis

  • Charlize Theron


    Image © Danny Moloshok/Reuters/Corbis

    After modeling stints in Europe and Miami, Charlize Theron bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles in hopes of starting a film career. Little did she know her first "audition" would happen at a bank. Angry that the bank wouldn't cash an international check from her mom, she pitched a fit loud and impassioned enough to attract the attention of a talent agent. She won a Best Actress Oscar for Monster in 2004.   

  • Channing Tatum


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    Alabama boy Channing Tatum was working odd jobs in Miami when a talent scout spotted him, leading to a career in modeling, TV commercials, and a Ricky Martin video. After roles in indie films, he moved mainstream with 21 Jump Street and the autobiographical Magic Mike, making him an A-list star.

  • Marilyn Monroe


    Image © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

    A married Norma Jean Dougherty was working in a munitions factory while her merchant marine husband was away in the South Pacific. A photographer visiting the factory discovered her, and by the time her hubby returned, she was already working as a model, well on her way to becoming Marilyn Monroe, the most famous Hollywood sex symbol of all time.

  • Jennifer Lawrence


    Image © Lucas Jackson/Reuters/Corbis

    The Kentucky-born Oscar winner was just another 14-year-old vacationing with her parents in New York when a stranger asked to take her picture and her mom's phone number, so he could set her up with a screen test. She soon began doing commercials and landing small parts in movies and TV shows, eventually leading to the plum role of Katnis Everdeen in the Hunger Games franchise. She's now the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. 

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  • Johnny Depp


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    Music was Johnny Depp's early passion. But when his band broke up, his then-wife introduced him to Nicolas Cage, who encouraged him to meet his agent. Depp went on to eclipse Cage's career, starring in iconic films including Edward Scissorhands and What's Eating Gilbert Grape before hitting blockbuster pay dirt in the Pirates of the Caribbean films.  

  • Rosario Dawson


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    Rosario Dawson was just a skinny kid sitting on the stoop of her New York apartment building when photographer Larry Clark and director Harmony Korine spotted her. Both of them thought she'd be perfect for Korine's movie Kids. Today she's the rare actress with both indie and studio film cred. She's also quite active in social and political causes.

  • Eva Mendes


    Image © Camilla Morandi/Corbis

    A college girl who had wanted to be a nun as a kid but settled on majoring in marketing, Eva Mendes hit Hollywood after a talent agent spotted her picture at her neighbor's house. After small movie roles, she catapulted to fame as Denzel Washington's girlfriend in 2001's Training Day.

  • Nick Jonas


    Image © Xavier Collin/Image Press/Splash News/Corbis

    At age 6, Nick Jonas accompanied his mom to the hair salon and entertained himself by singing. A talent agent who happened to be there was impressed, and by the next year, Jonas was singing in a Broadway production of A Christmas Carol. He and his equally talented brothers formed a successful band, of course, and post-breakup, Jonas continues to balance a music and acting career.    

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  • Natalie Portman


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    Israeli-born Portman was noshing on a slice at a New York pizza shop when a rep for Revlon spotted her and told her she should model. She did — and was bored by it. She focused on acting instead, and landed one of the most memorable film debuts in Hollywood history as an orphan taken in by a hit man with a heart of gold in The Professional.  She was only 13.

  • Evangeline Lilly


    Image © Xavier Collin/Image Press/Splash/Splash News/Corbis

    Luck or destiny? The questions surrounding the Lost plot apply to the unlikely career path of one of its stars, Evangeline Lilly. She was just walking along in her native Canada when she was spotted by a rep from Ford Models. She booked some small roles until a friend suggested she try out for Lost. The series's producers cast her as Kate Austen after spotting her while fast-forwarding through taped auditions. It took 20 tries for her work visa to come through, forcing her to arrive in Hawaii to begin filming one day late. It was only then that she was able to start making pop culture history.

  • David Boreanaz


    Image © Fred Prouser/Reuters/Corbis

    The Buffalo-born Boreanaz was a struggling actor with one paid appearance to his name (as Kelly's date on Married ... With Children) when a neighbor saw him walk his dog past his house. The neighbor knew producers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and suggested him for the pivotal role of Angel. If Buffy made him an up-and-coming hottie, Bones made him a bona fide TV star. 

  • Angie Harmon


    Image © Mario Anzuoni/Reuters/Corbis

    It almost sounds like the start of a corny joke: David Hasselhoff gets on a plane ... and Angie Harmon, who was a model and fledgling actress, somehow impressed him so much that he offered her the lead role in the Baywatch spin-off series, Baywatch Nights. She went on to a wider — and perhaps more sophisticated — audience after joining Law & Order.

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  • Mel Gibson


    Image © Fred Prouser/Reuters/Corbis

    It's basically every struggling actor's dream. Mel Gibson gave a friend a ride to auditions for Mad Max and caught the director's attention because he was bruised up from a bar fight. The director, who was looking for people with quirky faces to fill in as extras, asked him to return, and Gibson did, a few weeks later, his good-looking face healed. Instead of being cast as a minor baddie, he was cast as the lead.

  • Pamela Anderson


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    The Canadian sexpot was at a football game wearing a Labatts beer shirt, when she was projected onto the jumbo tron. Labatts signed her on as a model, and she was almost instantly asked to pose for Playboy. It wasn't long before she was asked to join Home Improvement and later Baywatch, where she was the cast member most likely to be featured in a slow-motion scene. 

  • Vin Diesel


    Image © Stephane Cardinale/People Avenue/Corbis

    New York–born Vin Diesel had dropped out of college and was working as a bouncer when he wrote and directed his own film short about a multiracial struggling actor, called Multi-Facial. It wound up being screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Steven Spielberg was so impressed that he wrote Diesel a part in Saving Private Ryan. 

  • Sarah Michelle Gellar


    Image © Stephane Reix/For Picture/Corbis

    The future Buffy the Vampire Slayer was eating with her mom at a Manhattan restaurant at age 4 when an agent spotted her. A week later, she was filming a TV movie opposite Valerie Harper. A gazillion commercials later, she became a regular on All My Children, playing Susan Lucci's character's daughter. 

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  • Danny Trejo


    Image © Phil McCarten/Reuters/Corbis

    A recovering drug addict and former jailbird, Trejo was working as a youth drug counselor when one of his clients, a young actor on 1985's Runaway Train, asked him to come on set to support him. The director ended up casting the pockmarked, tattooed Trejo as an extra in a prison scene, and Trejo's prolific career as a bad guy, tough guy, and antihero was born.

  • John Wayne


    Image © Daily Mirror/Mirrorpix/Corbis

    An ex-football player who was embarrassed by his own longing to be famous, the former Duke Morrison was pushing props around a set when the producer of an upcoming movie was captivated by the young man's wholesomeness. That made him perfect for a role in the movie, and shortly thereafter, Duke became John Wayne, American icon.

  • Will Smith


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    He'd made a fortune (and lost it to the IRS) as a rapper with hits like "Summertime," but it was a chance meeting with manager and talent developer Benny Medina in a Universal Studios parking lot that set Smith on the path to becoming one of the most bankable stars in Hollywood. Medina suggested him as the lead for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which was based on Medina's own life. Massive movie success followed.

  • Harrison Ford


    Image © Viviane Moos/Corbis

    For years Harrison Ford's main source of income was carpentry. Then he tiptoed into a series of uncredited voice-overs before his big break arrived while he was helping George Lucas audition other actors. Lucas turned the camera on him instead and offered Ford the role of Han Solo in Star Wars. The rest is history.

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