Oscars: A Look Back at the Best Actor and Actress Nominees' First Film Roles

8:55 AM 2/15/2018

by Deirdre Durkan

See how Margot Robbie, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Hawkins, Timothée Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan, Meryl Streep and more got their start on the big screen.

Samir Hussein/Getty Images

Ahead of the 90th annual Academy Awards on March 4, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look back at each of the best actress and actor nominee's humble beginnings.

This year's contenders have come a long way since their first feature film credits. 

  • Timothée Chalamet

    Nominated for 'Call Me by Your Name'

    Timothée Chalamet started in television by playing a murder victim on Law & Order before appearing in the Off-Broadway play The Talls, a coming-of-age comedy, as a sexually curious 12-year-old in the 1970s.

    In 2014, he made his feature film debut in Men, Women & Children. Later that year, he played Matthew McConaughey's son in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar

  • Daniel Day-Lewis

    Nominated for 'Phantom Thread'

    Daniel Day-Lewis is a veteran at the Academy Awards, having already won Oscars for best actor three times before for his roles in Lincoln, There Will Be Blood and My Left Foot. In his first film appearance. in the 1971 film Sunday Bloody Sunday, Day-Lewis made a brief cameo, as a young boy. In the video below, he can be seen in a red bandana scratching cars with a broken bottle. 

  • Sally Hawkins

    Nominated for 'The Shape of Water'

    Before becoming Guillermo del Toro’s most recent leading lady — he wrote the Shape of Water role for her despite having never met her — the Oscar-nominated actress had a history of playing eclectic characters onscreen.

    Over the course of two decades, Sally Hawkins has played characters ranging from a 19th-century lesbian pickpocket to a wealthy rape victim in Vera Drake. The British actress’ first onscreen role, however, was as an extra on Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace as an unnamed villager. Hawkins also got to show off her acting chops in the 2002 British drama, All or Nothing, as Samantha.

  • Daniel Kaluuya

    Nominated for 'Get Out'

    Daniel Kaluuya, who is currently starring in Black Panther, was named by the Associated Press as a breakthrough entertainer of 2017.

    Before Get Out, he appeared on the British television shows Skins and Black Mirror.

    He made his film debut in 2006 in Shoot the Messenger.

  • Frances McDormand

    Nominated for 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'

    Before she became an Oscar winner and four-time nominee, Frances McDormand studied at the Yale Drama School and shared a dorm with Holly Hunter. Shortly after Hunter introduced her roommate to the Coen brothers, McDormand made her film debut in their 1984 movie Blood Simple.

    The Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri star has since starred in a number of the filmmakers’ works, including Fargo, which earned her an Academy Award for best actress. McDormand has been married to Joel Coen since 1984.

  • Gary Oldman

    Nominated for 'Darkest Hour'

    Gary Olman has already taken home a Critics’ Choice, Golden Globe and SAG Award this award season for his transformative performance as Winston Churchill.

    His career-launching role, however, was as Daniel in Remembrance. The film centered around the lives of young Royal Navy recruits in Plymouth.


  • Margot Robbie

    Nominated for 'I, Tonya'

    I, Tonya marked Margot Robbie’s first leading role after six years of acting. The 27-year-old Hollywood star, who has worked alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, earned raves for her role as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad and launched her own production company, started her career on the the Australian soap opera Neighbours.

    Robbie’s debut film was for the Australian thriller I.C.U. She plays a teenager who is kidnapped, tied up and gagged after filming and spying on their neighbors with friends. 

  • Saoirse Ronan

    Nominated for 'Lady Bird'

    At the young age of 13, Saoirse Ronan had her first feature film credit in the 2007 romantic comedy I Could Never Be Your Woman. The Irish-American actress played Michelle Pfeiffer's daughter and starred alongside Paul Rudd. This marks Saoirse Ronan's third Oscar nomination. 

  • Meryl Streep

    Nominated for 'The Post'

    Meryl Streep established her reputation as one of Hollywood’s finest dramatic actresses quickly after her first role, in 1977's Juila. Two years later, she gained widespread recognition for her role in The Deer Hunter.

    The Post earned Streep her 21st Oscar nomination.

  • Denzel Washington

    Nominated for 'Roman J. Israel, Esq.'

    Denzel Washington, who has received three Golden Globe Awards, a Tony Award and two Academy Awards for best supporting actor, made his first feature-film debut in the British-American comedy Carbon Copy.

    He starred as Roger Porter, the long-lost African-American son of Walter Whitney, a white businessman living in a predominantly white community. Roger and Watler begin to form a relationship, after Roger turns up at Walter’s office, revealing he was the result of Walter's relationship with his now-deceased mother.