Did you Know These ’90s Stars Started on Soaps?

Unspecified - 1993: (L-R) Sarah Michelle Gellar, Susan Lucci, Frances Heflin, Gina Gallagher on 'All My Children'.
Ann Limongello /Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Sure you know them now, but these stars first got their start on soaps.

Elizabeth Banks All My Children

Before Banks was Rita Repulsa in the Power Rangers movie, Effie Trinket in the Hunger Games franchise, or the voice of Wyldstyle in The Lego Movie, and long before her TV roles on 30 Rock, Scrubs and Modern Family, she did have a short — very short — role on a soap, as Rosalie the waitress in a 1999 episode of All My Children (one of her first TV gigs). Prior to that, she was offered a role in the soap Santa Barbara, but turned it down because she didn’t want to quit school.

Eva LongoriaThe Young and the Restless

THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS, Eva Longoria, 11/19/2002.

CBS/Courtesy: Everett Collection.

When she first moved to L.A., Texas beauty Longoria caught producers’ eyes and snagged guest roles on The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital before scoring the role of The Young and the Restless’ psychotic nutjob, Isabella Braña. The dramatic role only lasted two years but was the perfect foil for the soap’s popular character Christine Blair (Lauralee Bell). It wasn’t until Longoria was cast as Gabrielle Solis on ABC’s Desperate Housewives that the piquant powerhouse became a household name.

Hayden Panettiere One Life to Live, Guiding Light

THE GUIDING LIGHT, from left: Hayden Panettiere, Grant Aleksander, 1997, 1952-2009.

Arthur L. Cohen/CBS /Courtesy Everett Collection

Panettiere has seemingly been famous as long as she’s been alive. Before her Golden Globe-nominated role on Nashville, or her heroic role as a cheerleader with the incredible power of regeneration on Heroes, she was a veteran of TV commercials and earned the soapy roles of adorable 5-year-old moppet Sarah Roberts on One Life to Live and Lizzie Spaulding on Guiding Light. The young actress regularly stole focus in scenes with her innate acting talents.

Leonardo DiCaprioSanta Barbara

Most TV fans are aware that one of DiCaprio’s early roles was on the sitcom Growing Pains, but few are aware that the Oscar winner cut his teeth in TV commercials, dabbled in the original TV spinoff of Parenthood, and earned a few guest spots before booking work on the daytime soap Santa Barbara. His work as Mason Capwell helped pave the way for his Growing Pains role and the rest of his titanic career.

Lindsay LohanAnother World

Lohan’s first major TV gig (after appearing as a pint-sized trick-or-treater dressed as garbage on Late Night With David Letterman) was a few episodes of Another World as child character Alli Fowler. But the young starlet’s breakout role came a year later in the dual role of separated, then reunited, twins in Disney’s 1998 remake of The Parent Trap. Teen stardom and its many pitfalls soon followed as the actress embraced, and then struggled with, her party-girl lifestyle. She has since grown up and is rumored to be doing a sequel to Freaky Friday alongside Jamie Lee Curtis.

Nathan Fillion One Life to Live

ONE LIFE TO LIVE, Nathan Fillion, (1996), 1968-2013.

E.J. Carr/ABC/courtesy Everett Collection

The charming Canadian is best known for playing mystery writer Richard Castle, but before he was a primetime rapscallion, he romanced his mother’s rival on the daytime soap One Life to Live. The steamy May-December romance garnered Fillion a Daytime Emmy nomination for Outstanding Younger Actor in a Drama Series. After leaving the soap in 1997, Fillion snagged a recurring role on Two Guys and a Girl, the lead role on the short-lived sci-fi series Firefly, and an arc on Desperate Housewives before becoming the king of Castle and moving on to The Rookie.

Ryan PhillippeOne Life to Live

ONE LIFE TO LIVE, from left: Ryan Phillippe, Wortham Krimmer, (1992), 1968-2013.

Steve Fenn/ABC/courtesy Everett Collection

Phillippe’s most recent role was in MacGruber (2021) and the ABC series Big Sky. He’s had multiple TV and movie appearances over the years, including 2005’s Crash and 2006’s Flags of Our Fathers. Phillippe became well-known in the late ’90s with hit movies I Know What You Did Last Summer and Cruel Intentions, but he started his acting career in the early ’90s (1992-93, to be exact) as Billy Douglas, the first openly gay teenager featured on a TV series, on One Life to Live.

Sarah Michelle GellarAll My Children

ALL MY CHILDREN, Sarah Michelle Gellar, 1993, 1970-2011.

Donna Svennevik/ABC/Courtesy Everett Collection

An agent discovered Gellar when she was only 4 years old, and minor roles and short-lived series followed. Her TV breakthrough came in 1993, when the 15-year-old originated the role of Kendall Hart, the daughter of Susan Lucci’s Erica Kane, on the ABC soap All My Children. The young actress even earned an Emmy before her legendary TV mom, winning the 1995 Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Younger Leading Actress in a Drama Series. When she left the daytime soap, Gellar’s star continued to rise on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and in teen movies like Cruel Intentions and I Know What You Did Last Summer alongside Phillippe.


February 2021
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