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TV Actors Who Turned A Bit Part Into A Breakout Role

Updated July 28, 2021 6.7k votes 1.2k voters 161k views14 items

List RulesVote up the actors who turned a small part into a career-making role.

It is no easy feat breaking into the Hollywood scene and it is even harder to become the kind of actor who gets considered for leading roles in TV or movies. However, it is sometimes the most unassuming role that can help kickstart a career into overdrive. The kind of role where a talented dramatic actor finally gets a chance to strut their stuff or one where the goofy comic relief outshines the main character.

Think of Chris Pratt as Andy Dwyer or Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Frasier Crane. How about both Jonathan Banks and Bob Odenkirk on Breaking Bad? Neil Flynn wasn't even supposed to be on Scrubs past the pilot episode and yet he became a mainstay on one of the most popular sitcoms of the 2000s. Sometimes a minor part can end up drawing more attention than the starring role.

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  • Photo: NBC

    It is a bit weird to think about Kelsey Grammer as anything but a household name considering he's been a TV regular for so long. Like every famous person before him, he had to get his big break somewhere. Say hello to Dr. Frasier Crane, a character who was invented as a new complication to Sam and Diane's will-they, won't-they love story. Rather than fading away after a few episodes, Grammer would become synonymous with the character thanks to his nine years as the good doctor on Cheers and an additional 11 on Frasier.

    Between the two shows, Grammer appeared as Dr. Crane in over 450 episodes of television. With more than 100 acting credits on his IMDb page, it is pretty crystal clear that Grammer has made his mark on Hollywood - and the roles just keep on coming.

    • Age: 66
    • Birthplace: Saint Thomas, United States Virgin Islands
    • Nationality: United States of America
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  • Photo: AMC

    Jonathan Banks has been in the acting game since the late 1970s. He has been a dependable character actor since then, but four decades is a long time to wait for a break-out character. Still, that is exactly what happened to Banks when he was cast as Mike Ehrmantraut in Breaking Bad. The character only exists because Bob Odenkirk wasn't available to film late in Season 2. The writers just invented a guy to be Saul Goodman's intermediary, but Banks's performance left such a mark that they had to give him a bigger role in the third season.

    In addition to reprising his role as the crusty hitman in the Breaking Bad prequel series Better Call Saul, Banks has popped up in everything from Community and F is for Family to Mudbound and The Commuter. With a range that makes him comfortable in various shades of both comedy and drama, Banks will surely find work for as long as he is interested in acting.

    • Age: 74
    • Birthplace: Washington, D.C., United States of America
    • Nationality: United States of America
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  • Photo: AMC

    Since beginning his career in the mid-'90s, Norman Reedus had cult success for roles in projects like The Boondock Saints and Blade II, but it was his role as Daryl Dixon on The Walking Dead that sent him into the stratosphere. The production team liked Reedus's audition for a different character so much, they created Daryl specifically for him.

    Given Dead's outrageous success, it is unsurprising that Reedus has gone along for the ride. He got his own travel-based series - Ride with Norman Reedus - on AMC and even starred as the main character in Death Stranding, a blockbuster video game from the mastermind behind the Metal Gear Solid franchise.

    • Age: 52
    • Birthplace: USA, Florida, Hollywood
    • Nationality: United States of America
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  • Photo: Netflix

    Joe Keery's Steve Harrington was merely a featured character in the first season of Netflix's breakout hit Stranger Things, but the production team ended up loving both the actor and his character so much, they promoted him to a series regular for the second season. Series co-creator Ross Duffer told the Hollywood Reporter, "We fell in love with him during the making of season one, which is why we ended up writing that arc for him where he's helping to save the day with Jonathan and Nancy. Steve was supposed to be this jocky douche bag, and Joe was so much more than that."

    Keery's career is still in its relative infancy, but if his performance on Stranger Things is any indication, he's got a fascinating career ahead of him. With his performance in the black comedy Spree being heralded, as well as a role in the Ryan Reynolds-starring Free Guy coming down the pike, Keery has a bright future to be sure.

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