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Before they were stars

By Candace Corner
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( -- Deciding what you want to be when you grow up can be difficult. And even if you're set on being rich and famous, having something to fall back on can't hurt.

While it's hard to imagine pop culture without these icons, here's a look at some celebrities' career aspirations before they made it big:

  • When comedian and former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Will Ferrell graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in sports information, he took a job as a sportscaster on a weekly cable show. But he found that his calling was in acting and stand-up comedy. He later played a newscaster on the big screen in "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy."
  • Eva Longoria attended Texas A&M-Kingsville, graduating with a degree in kinesiology. After graduating, she entered a talent contest, went to Los Angeles and was signed by an agent. After stints on soaps including "General Hospital," "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "The Young and the Restless," Eva Longoria landed a role as Gabrielle Solis, on the popular television series, "Desperate Housewives."
  • Instead of joining his father's oil business, Matthew McConaughey attended the University of Texas in Austin intending to become a lawyer. He reportedly changed his major to acting after discovering an Og Mandino book "The Greatest Salesman in the World" and girls all over the world have been swooning since.
  • After being discovered by an agent in a pizza parlor when she was 11 years old, Natalie Portman began a career in modeling, which she later bypassed to concentrate on acting. Her role as Queen Amidala in "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" and Oscar-nominated role in "Closer" heightened her status as a Hollywood star. She took time off to study at Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts, majoring in psychology. Although she intends to continue acting, she also plans to practice psychology.
  • Before becoming an Academy Award-nominated actress and successful hip hop artist, Queen Latifah (a.k.a. Dana Owens) studied broadcast journalism at Borough of Manhattan Community College. She considered pursuing a career either a newscaster or a lawyer.
  • Denzel Washington attended Fordham University to pursue a career in journalism before getting involved in student drama productions and being drawn into acting. He finished his degree and moved to San Francisco attending the American Conservatory Theater for one year before pursuing acting work and later earning multiple awards.
  • "Charlie's Angels" star, Lucy Liu attended New York University before transferring to the University of Michigan where she graduated with a major in Asian Languages. During her last year of college, she landed the lead role for her school's production of "Alice in Wonderland" that launched her career in acting.
  • Before Bnicio del Toro was in "Traffic" and "Sin City," he studied business at the University of California at San Diego. Although his father wanted him to become a lawyer, del Toro secretly changed his major to acting and later dropped out to study the craft in New York City.
  • Before playing a Harvard law student in "Legally Blonde," Reese Witherspoon attended Stanford University, majoring in English literature. The actress took a hiatus from her educational pursuits to take on roles for the movies "Freeway" and "Fear," and eventually earned an Oscar in 2006 for Best Actress in "Walk the Line."
  • Years before he played the piano in "Pretty Woman" and tap dancing in "Chicago," Richard Gere attended the University of Massachusetts in Amherst on a gymnastics scholarship. He studied philosophy, but dropped out of school after two years to pursue acting with the Seattle Repertory Theatre and New York's Provincetown Playhouse.
  • Sources: The Internet Movie Database, The Biography Channel,,, The Miami Herald,,

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