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TV Actors Who Turned A Bit Part Into A Breakout Role

Updated July 28, 2021 6.2k votes 1.1k voters 144.5k 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

    Chris Pratt is the A-list star of both the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World franchises nowadays, but he didn't always grace the front pages of showbiz magazines. No, there was a while there where the actor was best known for his main role in the early-2000s teen drama Everwood. However, it would be his role as lovable oaf Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation that would prove to be his breakout role.

    In fact, Pratt's role was meant to be limited to six episodes but he was so good as the dopey Andy that the Parks and Rec team had to rethink the character in order to keep the actor around. Parks and Rec co-creator Michael Schur told Entertainment Weekly, "...this guy’s the funniest person we've ever seen. We're not letting that guy go."

    Big breakthrough?
  • Photo: NBC

    Craig Robinson was a virtually unknown actor when he booked the small part of Darryl Philbin on the American version of The Office back in 2005. Well, after appearing in 120 episodes on that show as the unexpectedly beloved warehouse foreman, it's safe to say Robinson isn't unknown any longer.

    Since breaking out on The Office, Robinson has taken on central roles in Hot Tub Time MachineThis Is the EndGet On Up, and Dolemite Is My Name in addition to numerous other projects. His recurring role as Doug Judy, AKA the Pontiac Bandit, on Brooklyn Nine-Nine continues to be a delight, promising fans a chance to watch him outplay Andy Samberg's Jake Peralta every season.

    Big breakthrough?
  • When it comes to a bit part spiraling into a full-time gig, there aren't many bigger success stories than Neil Flynn's Janitor from Scrubs. By the time Scrubs came around, Flynn had mostly had a bunch of thankless roles in Hollywood productions (usually as nameless police officers), but the NBC sitcom would change all of that overnight.

    Flynn's Janitor was meant to be a gag character solely in the pilot episode, but that quickly changed once production began. Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence said, "When we watched the pilot, we knew instantly we had to keep this guy around." After 166 episodes of Scrubs, Flynn would go on to book a lead role in The Middle, where he would star in 215 episodes from 2009 to 2018.

    Big breakthrough?
  • 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.

    Big breakthrough?