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.
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."
In 2005, Jessica Chastain had a recurring job on "Law and Order: Trial by Jury" playing Assistant District Attorney Sigrun Bor.
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.
Viola Davis got her first television credit appearing on a 1996 episode of "NYPD Blue."
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.
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.
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.