She Was on 'Baywatch'? 7 Surprising Early Roles of Oscar Nominees

James Van Der Beek
ABCNEWS.com

The Academy Awards have their critics, of course, but being nominated for an Oscar is the pinnacle of the acting profession. The added prestige, power and salary a nomination brings make it hard to remember and imagine an actor's early roles.

But we all have to start somewhere -- usually at the bottom. Here are some of this year's nominees' early roles.

1.
Michelle Williams

Before establishing herself as one of the top Hollywood actresses, Michelle Williams had a long and successful TV career. She costarred opposite James Van Der Beek and Katie Holmes on "Dawson's Creek" and appeared on "Baywatch" and "Home Improvement."

2.
Jessica Chastain

In 2005, Jessica Chastain had a recurring job on "Law and Order: Trial by Jury" playing Assistant District Attorney Sigrun Bor.

3.
Rooney Mara

Rooney guest-starred on two episodes during the final season of "ER." She played a young woman facing the challenge of rearing a baby with little money.

4.
Viola Davis

Viola Davis got her first television credit appearing on a 1996 episode of "NYPD Blue."

5.
Octavia Spencer

Showing her range, Octavia Spencer was on "The Big Bang Theory" in 2008 -- the world of California computer nerds is a far cry from that of "The Help," the film for which Spencer is nominated.

6.
Melissa McCarthy

In 1997 MTV gave former Playboy centerfold Jenny McCarthy a sketch comedy show titled "The Jenny McCarthy Show." The show featured several actor/writers who are now well known, including Will Forte and Brian Posehn. Melissa McCarthy, Jenny's cousin, was another -- only she was just a production assistant.

7.
Berenice Bejo

Berenice Bejo played Christiana in the movie "A Knight's Tale" (2001), which starred Heath Ledger, late husband of another Best Actress nominee, Michelle Williams.

Watch "Before They Were Famous," a "20/20" special, online here.

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