There are many successful actors around today that are synonymous with the stage. Stars like Idina Menzel, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Patti Lupone made their names by performing on Broadway. Theater is the original form of acting, dating all the way back to Ancient Greece. It is the perfect jumping-off point for anyone interested in delving deep into a character study. Stage acting is a full-time career for countless performers who remain in theater exclusively. However, many talented actors who started on the stage seamlessly transitioned to the screen and have become some of your favorite movie stars working today.
Widely regarded as the best actress of all time, Meryl Streep has garnered a record 21 Academy Award Nominations. She has been a household name for decades and starred in some of the most significant pieces of modern cinema. Because of her long-running and decorated career as a screen actress, it is often overlooked that she began in theater From 1975 to 1977, Streep performed in over 15 stage plays, including five Broadway shows. She earned a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actress in 27 Wagons full of Cotton in 1976. Her first film role was in Julia in 1977, and in 1978, Streep starred in The Deer Hunter, which launched her movie-star status for good. She’s one of the few actresses that has been nominated for the triple crown of acting and in turn, the EGOT.
It’s no secret that Hugh Jackman is quite the song-and-dance man, mainly due to his roles in Les Misérables and The Greatest Showman. But his real claim to fame was his portrayal of Wolverine/Logan in the X-Men Cinematic Universe. Because of his beloved superhero status, his theater roots don’t get enough shine. Jackman’s first on-stage role was in a school production of My Fair Lady, and from there, a true love of theater was born. Throughout the late 90s, Jackman took on many big stage roles in the Melbourne theatre scene, such as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. He migrated out of Australia and earned wide recognition for his role in Oklahoma! at London’s Royal National Theatre. Within a year, he was putting on the claws to become Wolverine, and the rest is history.
The film career of Cate Blanchett is one of the more impressive and versatile as of late. Under her belt, she has multiple franchises such as Lord of the Rings and Thor, indie gems like Carol and Blue Jasmine, and iconic dramas like The Aviator and the recent and critically acclaimed Tár. Despite her position as a top-billed movie star for the last couple of decades, Blanchett’s first love was the theater. She honed her craft at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts and then started performing for the Sydney Theatre Company in 1992 with roles in Oleanna and Electra. After playing Ophelia in a large production of Hamlet for Company B, she started to get parts on television and in smaller films and made quite a name for herself in Australia. Her talent became internationally known after she landed the leading role in the movie Elizabeth in 1998.
Most people know him as Kylo Ren, and some remember him as the guy who punched the wall in Marriage Story. The general consensus is that Adam Driver is among the few exciting leading men we have today. Though his breakout role was in HBO’s Girls as Adam Sackler, the show’s creator Lena Dunham discovered him through his work on Broadway. After graduating from the prestigious performing arts school Juilliard, he starred in several on and off-Broadway productions. Most notable was his role in Mrs. Warren’s Confession, and Angels in America. Despite having a quick leap to film and television success, Driver still returns to his theater roots, most recently in 2019 in a Broadway revival of Burn This.
Actress Anna Kendrick has flexed her acting and singing muscles in films like Pitch Perfect and Into the Woods. So, it comes as no surprise that she got her start in theater before ever starring in a movie. At the very young age of 12, she was cast in the Broadway musical High Society, a role that earned her a Tony nod that early in her career. In a fitting transition, her first-ever movie role was in a musical called Camp. Following that, she took a break from singing for a while and landed impressive roles in The Twilight Saga, Up in the Air (which earned her an Oscar nom), and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. But she always remembered where she came from as she continues to use her theatrical skills in projects like Trolls and The Last Five Years.
A lot of people may have been first introduced to Mark Rylance when he won the Academy Award in 2016 for his supporting role in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies. However, people in the world of theater knew him already as one of the most highly respected performers of the craft. He is a classically trained stage actor who started out as part of the touring Royal Shakespeare Company. After playing Hamlet for years across dozens of cities, Rylance became the first-ever artistic director of the historic Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. He continued to perform the works of the legendary English playwright for over a decade while simultaneously taking on film and television roles in Britain. Since he won his Oscar, he’s been taking Hollywood by storm. Recently, he played scene-stealing characters in films like Don’t Look Up and Bones and All.
Closely catching up to Meryl Streep in acclaim and awards is the incomparable actress Viola Davis. She even starred alongside Streep in her film breakout role as Mrs. Miller in Doubt. Before that, Davis spent years doing small theater productions until she made her Broadway debut in August Wilson’s Seven Guitars. She received her first Tony nomination for that performance, won her first for King Hedley II, and won another for Fences in 2010. Davis went on to reprise her role in Fences in the 2016 movie adaptation, winning an Oscar for her performance, which is just one of her many successes in film and television. Her most impressive credits include Widows, How to Get Away With Murder, and last year's The Woman King.
Steven Speilberg’s West Side Story saw the first major film role for the young and talented Mike Faist. Though it would have been an impressive start for anyone’s career, Faist’s work began long before then. He’s responsible for originating the iconic Broadway roles of Morris in Newsies and Connor in Dear Evan Hansen. Faist is only in the early stages of his career and is already a Grammy and Emmy-winning performer. His work on screen will only advance from here, and Faist is already scheduled to work with Luca Guadagnino in Challengers and Jeff Nichols in The Bikeriders.
It may not come as a surprise that the star of Frozen started in theater. However, many attribute the beginning of Kristen Bell’s career to the popular early 2000s TV series Veronica Mars. After the humble beginnings of playing a tree in local Detroit theater productions, Bell went on to attend the Tisch School of Arts at NYU. The school is known for being a pipeline from the classroom to the stage, so it landed Bell’s first big role in the Boadway show, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. That same year she also starred in The Crucible before taking her talents to Los Angeles to pursue a career on screen.
There seems to be a pattern of some of the most skilled performers having a strong theater background. That much is true for the talented yet brilliantly understated Michael Shannon. He started on local Chicago stages, including working with the famed Steppenwolf Theater Company. Shannon’s first starring role on screen was a film adaptation of Bug, a role that he originated on stage. He would continue to work in theater and on Off-Broadway productions while taking on more minor film roles until he got a supporting gig in Revolutionary Road opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. His highly praised performance landed him an Oscar nod and solidified his place as one of the most prolific actors of today.
Sarah Jessica Parker
Currently, Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband, Matthew Broderick, are charming Broadway audiences with their show Plaza Suite. Even though Parker has dominated both television and movies since the 1990s, Broadway is her home. When she was just twelve years old, she was selected to star in the lead role of the original Annie Broadway musical. Parker played the little orphan girl for a year and spent her teenage years maturing her skills with small on-screen parts. Once she played major characters in films like Hocus Pocus and First Wives Club, the ball never stopped rolling. Parker has become a New York institution with her position on Broadway, fashion, and beloved character of Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City.
Before he became God, Morgan Freeman spent years working on stage. He made his rounds on off-Broadway productions before being part of an all-Black version of the Broadway musical Hello Dolly! Freeman continued his career in theater and performed a number of Shakespeare plays, gaining praise and awards for his portrayal of Julius Caesar in 1980. Like a few actors on this list have done, Freeman took his stage role of Hoke Colburn in Driving Miss Daisy and played the part in its film adaptation. The movie and his performance found box office and critical success, and Morgan Freeman has been a household name ever since.