Hyper-dramatic, rife with plot twists that are often just barely plausible, soap operas have been a staple of daytime television for more than half a century. In fact, many of Hollywood’s most famous actors not only got their start on soap operas, but they credit much of their success to their time on the daytime shows! Here’s a look at some of Hollywood’s biggest names who began their careers on soaps.
1. Demi Moore
Famed Hollywood icon Demi Moore kicked off her career in showbiz in the early 1980s on the long-running ABC soap opera, General Hospital. She played the role of Jackie Templeton, a young and feisty investigative reporter who worked on the murder case of Susan Miller.
Jackie’s character first arrived in Port Charles to help find her sister, Laura, who disappeared at the same time that Stavros Cassadine kidnapped Laura Spencer. Once there, she fell in love with Mac’s brother and Robin’s father, Robert Scorpio. But as fans of the show recall, their love story got messy after Scorpio married con artist Holly Sutton to keep her from getting deported.
2. Josh Duhamel
After landing numerous modeling gigs, Josh Duhamel made his on-screen debut in ABC’s All My Children, a series set in a fictional upscale suburb of Philadelphia, chronicling the lives of numerous families with dark secrets and messy relationships. While the wildly-successful soap opera graced viewers’ televisions from 1970 to 2011, Duhamel was part of the cast later in its history, from 1999 to 2002.
Duhamel played the role of con artist Leo du Pres, who unsurprisingly lived a complicated life trying to conceal a family secret that would allow him to rise the ranks of society. To Duhamel’s dismay, his character was killed off the show — after falling from a waterfall. The actor later told Soaps In Depth: “If there was a chance that I was still alive, then I wanted to go back and do something. I really enjoyed those three years that I had on [All My Children].”
3. Kelly Ripa
Unbeknownst to many, Kelly Ripa got her start in television on the ABC daytime soap opera All My Children. From 1990 to 2002, the now-famous talk show host played Hayley Vaughan Santos, a troubled teen who lived with an addict mother.
The series proved to do more for Ripa than just kickstart her career in Hollywood. In fact, it was on set that she met her husband, Mark Consuelos, who was playing Mateo Santos. The two tied the knot in 1996, four years before their onscreen characters married. Speaking of her days on All My Children, Ripa said, “It was a launching pad for so many careers there, and for us, it was a launching pad for our lives.” Aww!
4. Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin’s soap opera roots stem from his time playing Billy Aldrich in The Doctors. The NBC daytime series followed the lives and love affairs of Hope Memorial Hospital’s staff and, unsurprisingly, was riddled with drama and suspense. Baldwin’s character, Billy, was a suave smooth-talker who was said to have been killed by two different people at the same time. Huh?!
Speaking of his time on the series, Baldwin said he was originally caught up in the general opinion that soap operas were “less than,” relative to entertainment’s other genres. He reported that The Doctors was the lowest-rated soap opera at the time he began, and although he knew it wouldn’t make him famous, he learned a great deal from his experience, and believes that soaps are “an excellent source of training for young actors.”
5. Susan Sarandon
There’s no questioning that Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon has enjoyed quite a prosperous Hollywood career. But what few know is that even before coming to the big screen as Janet in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, she started her acting career on two different soap operas: A World Apart and Search for Tomorrow. In A World Apart, she played Patrice Kahlman, from 1970 to 1971.
This role was what brought her to the small screen and from there, she played “murderous drifter” Sarah Fairbanks in Search for Tomorrow. While this second role was short-lived (Sarandon left the series the same year she joined it), she still said she learned a lot from her experience on daytime television. The actress told Women’s Wear Daily in 2017, “I went into soap operas and started to learn how to work with cameras.”
6. John Stamos
John Stamos might be best known for his role as Uncle Jesse in Full House, but what few people know is that from 1982 to 1984, the young actor played Blackie Parrish on General Hospital. Blackie is most remembered as a trouble-making foster child.
After losing his mother, Blackie was taken in by Laura Spencer’s family. He was romantically tied to both Lou Swenson and Laura Templeton, and was sent to prison for a total of eighteen months after being tried for manslaughter. Stamos did such a great job at bringing this character to life that he even earned a Daytime Emmy Award nomination during his final year on the series.
7. Meg Ryan
Meg Ryan is another familiar face in Hollywood who has soap opera roots. Her acting career began with her role as Betsy Stewart on the CBS daytime show As The World Turns. Ryan played the role of Betsy for two whole years, starting in 1982 and ending in 1984.
Her big on-screen wedding with Steve Andropoulos, played by actor Frank Runyeon, reportedly attracted viewership from roughly 20 million people. While it may not sound like a lot now, it was quite a big deal back then. This earned the episode second place on the list of highest-rated hours in the history of American soap operas. Talk about a big wedding!
8. Marisa Tomei
Academy Award-winning actress Marisa Tomei first broke into the acting scene one year after starting school at Boston University. She landed a role on CBS’ As the World Turns in 1983, where she would go on to play the role of scatterbrained teenager Marcy Thompson until 1985.
While her character married a prince and even had a fairy godmother, Tomei says she was “white trash.” The actress told the Los Angeles Times in a 1992 interview that she was made to wear the same corduroy vest every day, whereas every other character in the soap opera got to wear gorgeous gowns, have crazy cool hairdos, and be entangled in enticing love affairs.
9. Tommy Lee Jones
Way back in the day, decades before telling Harrison Ford he didn’t care, Tommy Lee Jones played the role of Dr. Mark Toland on the ABC daytime soap opera One Life to Live. The show ran on ABC from 1968 to 2012 until it was canceled and moved to Hulu for one season in 2013.
Centering around the Manning, Lord, and Buchanan families, the series took place in a fictional Pennsylvania city called Llanview. Jones played Dr. Mark Toland from 1971 to 1975, a charming doctor who progressively became more sinister. Toland married a frigid woman and their relationship saw lots of ups and downs, until he was finally killed while running from the law.
10. Eva Longoria
From 2001 to 2003, Eva Longoria played Isabella Brana Williams in the CBS soap opera The Young and the Restless. Fans remember Isabella as the psychotic woman who was in a relationship with Paul Williams, but was intensely jealous of his former wife, Christine.
Although Isabella thought life with Paul was fine and dandy after the couple had their son Ricky together, her life was soon flipped upside down. Paul began showing more interest in Christine, and this prompted Isabella to take matters into her own hands. Isabella tried killing Christine and then fled town with her son Ricky. Oh, soap opera tribulations!
11. Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio’s film career began when he was very young. Yet even before that, back in 1990, he played Mason Campbell on the NBC daytime soap opera Santa Barbara. The series ran from 1984 to 1993, and its plot followed the dramatic lives of the affluent Campbell family who lived in — you guessed it — Santa Barbara, California.
The plot centered around Channing Capwell Jr.’s murder, which happened five years before the start of the series. With such a riveting storyline, it’s no wonder it ran for so long! And even though he didn’t appear in the series for long, Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance earned him a nomination for the Young Artist Award’s Best Young Actor. DiCaprio then went on to land a recurring role in Growing Pains one year later, as pictured above.
12. Brittany Snow
The young Brittany Snow first launched her acting career in 1998 when she appeared in CBS’ Guiding Light. The actress played the role of troubled teenager Daisy Lemay for three years and secured a Young Artist Award for Best Young Actress. She also received nominations for a Soap Opera Digest Award and two more Young Artist Awards.
Snow’s character Daisy was born to two teenage parents, with a father who left her mother before she gave birth. In true soap opera fashion, adding to the drama is the fact that Daisy was delivered on the side of the road after her mother and uncle got into a car accident on the way to the hospital. Daisy’s name was later changed to Susan by her adoptive parents, Connie and Jim.
13. Hayden Panettiere
At just 11 months old, Hayden Panettiere appeared in her very first commercial. She then went on to land her first recurring role on One Life to Live at the age of four. In the ABC soap opera, she played Sarah Roberts, the daughter of Tina Lord and Cord Roberts.
Panettiere played Sarah for three years, between 1994 and 1997. She then went on to play Lizzie Spaulding in Guiding Light from 1996 to 2000. The actress spoke to the drama involved in soap opera plots, saying of her role as Lizzie, “They threw me down a well…I got leukemia, not once but twice. I was kidnapped…I shot my mom’s boyfriend.” The list goes on and on!
14. Ashley Benson
Ashley Benson is another big Hollywood actress who got her start in soap operas. From 2004 to 2007, she played Abigail Devereaux on the NBC daytime soap opera, Days of Our Lives, a dramatic, long-running series that intertwined family troubles, love triangles, murder investigations, and more.
Benson credits her lengthy Hollywood career to her time on the show. While she claimed to be happy to move on from soap operas, she said she learned a lot by getting to work alongside “amazing actors who [had] been on there for like thirty, forty years.” But that’s not all she gained from her soap opera days: Benson told Teen Vogue that she also had her first kiss on set when she was 15 years old.
15. Tom Selleck
The aficionado of mustaches, Tom Selleck started his career in acting back in the ’60s. He landed a few small movie roles before he made his television debut on The Dating Game. Just a short number of years later in 1974, Selleck landed the role of Jed Andrews in The Young and the Restless.
His time on the CBS soap opera was short-lived, as the actor left the show just one year later in 1975. But in that one year, he managed to rack up a number of steamy scenes with female co-stars. And according to Selleck, that was basically the extent of his character. The actor later said of his on-screen counterpart, Jed, “If he had a life, I knew nothing of it.”
16. Julianne Moore
One of the most recognizable actresses of her day, Academy Award-winner Julianne Moore started her career playing both Frannie and Sabrina Hughes in the CBS soap opera As The World Turns, from 1985 to 1988. She referenced her days playing the role of a good and an evil twin sister during her SAG Awards acceptance speech years later.
Moore said that she was elated to find out the creators of the show had written two parts for her. But while she revealed that she couldn’t wait to play the classic twin sister role, she admitted that it wasn’t long before she realized it was boring to act by herself! According to Moore, nothing beats the thrill of getting to act alongside another person, and it is this intimacy that keeps her working in the business.
17. David Hasselhoff
Actor David Hasselhoff won the Guinness World Record distinction of being history’s most-watched man in television. But what few people know is that Knight Rider himself, well before he performed at the fall of the Berlin Wall, actually got his start in TV on the daytime soap opera The Young and The Restless, where he played Dr. Snapper Foster.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Hasselhoff expressed his sense of gratitude to the creator of the series, Bill Bell, for taking a chance on him. He said that playing the role of Snapper for six years was what shaped his work ethic, attitude, and acting craft.
18. Sarah Michelle Gellar
Actress Sarah Michelle Gellar appeared on All My Children for two years, where she played Erica Kane’s long-lost daughter, Kendall Hart. She began on the show in 1993, and in 1995 she won a Daytime Emmy Award for her performance. She was only 16 when she played Kendall.
Speaking of her role, she told the New York Times in a 1997 interview that the drama surrounding her character was never-ending. In just the first week, she tried charming her stepfather, canoodled the stable boy, caused her mother to stab him with a letter opener, was imprisoned for perjury, lit her parents’ divorce papers on fire, and locked up her sister. Take a breather!
19. Brad Pitt
Oscar-winner Brad Pitt remains without dispute one of Hollywood’s biggest names to this day, but before gaining international fame, the actor made his television debut in the NBC daytime soap opera, Another World. He first joined the cast in 1987. At 24 years old, Pitt was cast as Another World‘s young basketball player, Chris.
He appeared in two episodes before landing a recurring role as Randy on the primetime television soap opera Dallas later that year. Dallas aired on CBS and centered around the Ewing family and their oil empire. Filled with plenty of intrigue, backstabbing, and greed, it was one of America’s favorite soaps for over a decade.
20. Amanda Seyfried
Everyone’s gotta start somewhere, and actress Amanda Seyfried first came into the public eye after starting to model at the age of eight. Her modeling career saw her featured in ads for a number of clothing companies such as Limited Too. What a throwback! In 1999, at 14 years old, Seyfried put her modeling career on hold to appear as an extra on the daytime TV show, Guiding Light.
This marked Seyfried’s debut as a young actress, and from there she went on to land a recurring role playing Lucy Montgomery on the CBS soap As the World Turns. Additionally, from 2002 to 2003, she appeared in the ABC daytime drama, All My Children, where she played Joni Stafford.
21. Naomi Watts
Naomi Watts appeared in a few commercials and sitcoms before appearing in the role of Julie Gibson in 1991 on Home and Away. The daytime drama had a 26-season run and centered around the lives of Summer Bay residents, particularly the foster kids of Pippa and Tom Fletcher.
Watts’ character, Julie, was in a wheelchair as a result of a car accident from her childhood that left her paralyzed from the waist down. She starts a relationship with Nick Parrish, to the annoyance of her brother Revhead, whose overprotective nature leads him to scheme ways of breaking them up. When her father Alec dies of a heart attack and Nick breaks up with her, she leaves Summer Bay to go to college in the city.
22. Lindsay Lohan
Lindsay Lohan, also commonly referred to as LiLo, landed her first recurring television role at just 10 years old. Even before she would made her breakout appearance in The Parent Trap, she played the mischievous and precocious teenager, Alexandra — aka Alli — Fowler on NBC’s Another World from 1996 to 1997.
The series followed a few notable families — the Corys, the Hudsons, the Matthews, and the Frames — while they navigated around moments of murder, amnesia, and even the presence of an evil twin duo. There were reportedly five different actresses who played the role of Alli, and Lohan was the third.
23. Kevin Bacon
From 1980 to 1981, a young Kevin Bacon played Tim — aka T.J. — Warner in Guiding Light. The soap opera first came to life in 1937 on NBC radio before making the move to the television screen in 1952. It aired on television until 2009. Because of this, it’s considered the longest-running soap opera in both television and radio history.
Fans remember the show for all the intense social issues it addressed at the time, among them teen pregnancy and chemical dependencies. Bacon’s character, Tim was an addict teenager who seemingly had some trouble with aggression. According to the actor, the show’s writers liked it so much when he randomly punched a locker in one episode that they asked him to continually punch other objects in the role!
24. Morgan Freeman
Known for his iconic voice, Morgan Freeman appeared in not one, but two daytime soap operas in the early 1980s. The first, Ryan’s Hope, followed the lives of an Irish family in the made-up city of Riverside, Manhattan. The plot centered around their pub and their children, all the while tying in shocking moments and borderline-creepy relationships.
In 1981, Freeman joined the cast and played the role of Cicero Murphy, an expert in surveillance who helped Jack Fenelli secretly record footage of Joe Novak’s office. One year later, the actor went on to play Dr. Roy Bingham in NBC’s Another World. The series contained some soap opera twists and turns, like evil twins, amnesia, and murder.
25. Melissa Leo
At just 16 years old, Oscar-winner Melissa Leo moved out of her parents’ house to live alone and attend Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. The aspiring actress spent three years at the London school before moving back to the United States in 1980 and enrolling in the State University of New York at Purchase.
While the university was most recognized for its theater program, Leo dropped out her fourth year in an effort to break into professional acting. She didn’t struggle to find jobs for long, and in 1984 landed a recurring role in ABC’s All My Children, where she played Linda Warner and was nominated for a Daytime Emmy award.