Skip To Content
  • Add Yours badge

Share A Performance By A Nonactor That Absolutely Blew You Away

Random people, plucked from obscurity, who really did it.

Most of the time, the characters we see in movies and TV are played by professional actors with famous names like Paul Rudd and Lupita Nyong'o.

Paramount / Dreamworks, Disney / Marvel

But sometimes β€” for a whole bevy of reasons β€” big-time roles are played by nonactors, some of whom are practically picked off the street!

For example, Barkhad Abdi was a Minneapolis-based chauffeur and sometime cellphone salesman when he was cast opposite Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips.

Tom Hanks and Barkhad Abdi at the Captain Phillips film premiere
Araya Diaz / Getty Images

There is a sizable Somali community in Minneapolis, so the filmmakers β€” in looking for actors to portray the Somali pirates in the film β€” did a casting call there. Barkhad went to the casting call after seeing a commercial for it on TV and won the role thanks to his commanding presence. He went on to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards!

Martin Scorsese cast his mother, Catherine β€” a nonactor who'd worked in the garment industry β€” in a good-sized role as Joe Pesci's mother in Goodfellas.

Joe Pesci kissing Catherine Scorsese in a scene from Goodfellas
Warner Bros.

Scorsese had actually given his mother a few small cameos in his earlier films, but her role in Goodfellas was larger and may actually have saved the classic film from a disastrous end!

R. Lee Ermey was a career Marine and drill sergeant who, after being hired as a technical adviser (regarding military aspects of the film) on Apocalypse Now, ended up as part of the cast!

R. Lee Ermey angrily pointing at the camera in a scene from Full Metal Jacket
Warner Bros.

R. Lee's role in Apocalypse Now was small, but almost a decade later, he was again hired as technical adviser on a film, this time for Full Metal Jacket. He impressed director Stanley Kubrick so much that he was cast as drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Hartman. His performance became legendary, earning him a nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture at the Golden Globes!

So we want to know: Which performance by a nonactor really impressed you? Tell us in the comments below (along with why the performance was special), and you could be featured in an upcoming BuzzFeed Community post or video!


R. Lee Ermey was nominated for a Golden Globe. An earlier version said that he was nominated for an Academy Award.