In the past, getting a role on Law and Order was like a rite of passage for any actor who wanted to have a successful career. The show was one of TV’s most beloved with over 20 years running and three spin-offs. On any given episode you are likely to spot a few famous familiar faces before they got their big break.
See for yourself with our list of 15 actors who appeared on Law and Order before they were famous.
By the time Chandra Wilson landed her multi-Emmy nominated role as Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy in 2005, she had already guest starred on 3 episodes of Law and Order. Her first appearance was in 1992 on the episode “The Lost Weekend” while her next two roles were on Law and Order: SVU on the episodes “Waste” (2002) and “911” (2005). “Waste (screencap pictured above) also featured an appearance from the next star on this list…
Rain Wilson went from being a janitor in the 2002 episode of Law and Order: SVU called “Waste” to being an expert paper salesman on The Office in 2005. Talk about a promotion!
Lance Reddick is a veteran of Law and Order appearances! The actor, best known for his roles on The Wire and Fringe, held a recurring role on Law and Order: SVU as Dr. Taylor from 2000-2001, had a guest role on Law and Order: Criminal Intent in 2003, and two appearances on the original Law and Order series– one in 2001 and the other in 2004.
Well before she was Gossip Girl‘s breakout character Blair Waldrof, a 13 year old Leighton Meester was on an episode of Law and Order called “Disciple” back in 1999.
The girl with the dragon tattoo, Rooney Mara, played a character named Jessica DeLay on a season 7 episode of Law and Order: SVU called “Fat.”
Isaiah Washington appeared in an episode of Law and Order called “Out of Control” back in 1991. He would later go on to play in movies like Love Jones, Bulworth, Out of Sight, True Crime, and Romeo Must Die, as well as his most popular role on Grey’s Anatomy as Dr. Preston Burke. In 2011, he appeared on Law and Order: LA.
Samuel L. Jackson
The always-entertaining Samuel L. Jackson appeared on the 1991 episode of Law and Order, “The Violence of Summer,” as a defense attorney to a then-unknown (and nearly unrecognizable) skinny Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Though Jackson had already held small roles in several films and TV shows, it was before he landed roles like Jungle Fever and Pulp Fiction which gave him mass acclaim.
Hayden Panettiere appeared as a little girl neglected on the episode “Abuse” of Law and Order: SVU in season 2 of the show. She was already a working child actress at that time but wouldn’t hit fame until she saved the world on Heroes in 2006. She returned to SVU on en episode called “Hooked” in Season 6 just before Heroes premiered.
Though he was already a working actor on the hit TV series Alias, before he hit mass popularity Bradley Cooper appeared in an episode of Law and Order: SVU called “Night” in 2005.
Suits’ head-woman-in-charge got her start appearing on two episodes of Law and Order : “Skin Deep” in 1992 and “Purple Heart” in 1995.
Everyone’s favorite vampire/doctor/father appeared on the episode “Performance” of Law and Order in 1995. It was his second role ever, and it came three years before Can’t Hardly Wait and thirteen years before his best known role as Dr. Carlisle Cullen in Twilight.
Amanda Seyfried is Hollywood “it” girl now, but in 2004 she was playing a girl who cried wolf in the Law and Order: SVU episode “Outcry,” just six months after the release of her feature film debut Mean Girls.