Skip To Content

    19 Times Actors Turned Their TV Cameos Into Main Roles Just Because They Were So Damn Good

    There IS no Friends without Phoebe and Chandler.

    Sometimes, the plans that creators have for their characters don't quite pan out, but everything works out *even better* in the end! Here are 19 times TV characters started small (or didn't even exist to begin with), but then went stratospheric in terms of both popularity AND longevity...

    1. Scott Patterson as Luke Danes in Gilmore Girls.


    In her autobiography, "Talking As Fast As I Can", Gilmore Girls lead Lauren Graham shared that the character of Luke wasn't always supposed to be her incredibly shippable love interest. Originally, he was just the grumpy diner owner who also lived in Stars Hollow, but the team behind the show loved Lauren's chemistry with Scott off screen, and it inspired them to make his role across the entire series much much more important.

    2. Henry Winkler as Arthur Fonzarelli in Happy Days.


    The Fonz is undoubtedly one of the most enduring TV characters of all time, but he didn't start out with that legacy in mind. Fonzie was essentially a side character, but during the live taping of Happy Days, he proved seriously popular with the studio audience who would react wildly every time he appeared. As a result, his character received bigger storylines before eventually taking over the show.

    3. Heather Morris as Brittany S. Pierce in Glee.


    Many Gleeks will already know that Heather was first introduced into the Ryan Murphy fold as a dancer – specifically in her capacity as a Beyoncé tour dancer to teach the cast the "Single Ladies" routine. After a helping hand from Glee choreographer Zach Woodlee, Heather landed the role of Brit, a relatively mute third addition to the Cheerio trinity of Quinn, Santana, and Brittany. Her understated performance as a "dumb blonde" type had series creator Ryan Murphy cracking up so much that he began writing more lines for Brittany, eventually developing her into the main character we all love and adore today!

    4. Jaleel White as Steve Urkel in Family Matters.


    Can you believe that Jaleel White was about to quit acting just before he landed his most iconic role? He had guest starred in a bunch of stuff but wanted to get out of TV and pursue basketball. His agent put him up for one last role – a nerdy part he thought the could get because he had braces at the time. While the role was only a one episode appearance, "Urkel" ended up becoming a nine-season starring role thanks to the strength of Jaleel's first cast reading.

    5. James Marsters as Spike in Buffy The Vampire Slayer.

    The WB

    Even though he would go on to be a key player across the whole series, and develop a tumultuous romantic relationship with the main character, the character of Spike started out as just another soulless demon for Buffy to kill. Apparently, program creator Joss Whedon was adamant Spike was a goner after his five episode storyline because he was "too evil", but fans liked him so much that he stayed for 97 episodes, got a redemption arc, and even made an appearance in Buffy spin-off, Angel.

    6. Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing and Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay in Friends.


    Did you know that Friends was originally going to focus on Rachel, Monica, Ross, and Joey, with Chandler and Phoebe sort of popping up occasionally? It wasn't until showrunners David Crane and Marta Kauffman starting meet with the cast and revisions were made that the show evolved into the iteration we know today, with plotlines that follow all six friends. Once the show debuted and fans fell in love with each character individually, the team behind Friends knew they'd made the right decision!

    7. Joe Keery as Steve Harrington in Stranger Things.


    It was partly the fans who saved Steve from an early exit in season one after an overwhelmingly positive response from viewers inspired series creators the Duffer brothers to continue with his storyline into season two and beyond. In their book Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down, the brothers shared that Steve was supposed to be a disposable douchebag character, and it was Joe's nuanced performance that also helped to change the fate of the now fan-favourite Steve.

    8. Aubrey Plaza as April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation.


    So technically speaking, the character of April nearly didn't exist! Parks and Rec creator Michael Schur hadn't even planned to write an April character until he met Aubrey during the casting process. A lot of the show had not yet been finalised, but after meeting her and being blown away by her unique weirdness, Michael wrote an entire scene and outlined a brand new character based on his impression of Aubrey – a character who would end up being a part of the main cast in all seven seasons.

    9. Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.

    Ursula Coyote / AMC

    Fans of the show may be shocked to hear that Breaking Bad's lead writer Vince Gilligan once considered killing off Walter White's infamous and much-loved sidekick, Jesse. Studio executives were horrified to hear Vince's pitch in which Walter takes Jesse prisoner and tortures him, and then sets up the room he's being held in with a trip-wire connected to a gun for Jesse to eventually kill himself and Walter Jr.. After seeing their reaction, Vince cut the storyline completely.

    10. Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette Reynolds in True Blood.


    If True Blood had followed the books, the character of Lafayette would've died very early in the series – in the source material for the show, Lafayette's novel counterpart dies in the second book! However, show creator Alan Ball decided to promote the character to a series regular throughout the entire run of True Blood because he loved the character and felt he worked well with the rest of the cast. As it turns out, Lafayette was a hit with fans and Alan was right to change his fate!

    11. Misha Collins as Castiel in Supernatural.

    The WB/The CW

    Fan favourite Castiel is the most recurring angel in the Supernatural series even though he was only supposed to appear in a short three-episode arc back in season four. Despite being one of the most popular characters on the show, Castiel has nearly been written off several times. He was promoted to regular status in seasons five, six, and nine and has appeared in more than 100 episodes. His gay fan ship with Dean is one of the most enduring and talked-about aspects of the show.

    12. Colin O'Donoghue as Killian Jones/Captain Hook in Once Upon a Time.


    Colin was supposed to appear as Captain Hook in just five episodes of the second season of OUAT, and although his contract stipulated that he could be promoted to a series regular, it wasn't guaranteed. The fan response to his portrayal of the infamous villain was overwhelming, with many fans swooning over his good looks and on-screen chemistry with lead actor, Jennifer Morrison. But he was actually picked up before his first episode even aired due to the fact that everyone behind-the-scenes loved his performance!

    13. Ice-T as Sergeant Fin Tutuola in Law & Order: SVU.

    Virginia Sherwood / NBC

    Rapper turned actor Ice-T – who is a frequent collaborator with Law and Order creator Dick Wolf – joined the cast of the spin-off crime drama back in 2000. Amazingly, he was only supposed to appear in four episodes, but he got on so well with his co-stars that a whopping twenty years later he's still a part of the main cast! Fin was incorporated as a series regular and replacement for Michelle Hurd's character after she left the show in season two. His co-star Mariska Hargitay says she loves working with him and thinks of the two of them as a team.

    14. Neil Flynn as Janitor in Scrubs.


    The part of the nameless Janitor – J.D.'s bizarre nemesis throughout the show – was originally conceived as a recurring role for one very good reason – he was going to be revealed as a figment of J.D.'s imagination at the end of season one. After the show was renewed and became popular, Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence dropped his original plans and expanded the part to make Janitor a series regular, due to his admiration of Neil's on-screen presence and talent for adlibbing on set.

    15. Julianna Margulies as Carol Hathaway in ER.


    Fans of ER may already be aware that nurse manager Carol was supposed to die by suicide in the very first episode of the popular medical drama. But after test audiences viewed the pilot and enjoyed Julianna's chemistry with George Clooney, the head writers decided that Carol would indeed recover and continue to be a part of the show until her actual exit in season six! She even reappeared in the final season with her co-star and on-screen husband Dr. Doug Ross, played by George.

    16. Amir Arison as Aram Mojtabai in The Blacklist.

    NBC / NBCU Photo Bank

    Aram started life on American crime thriller The Blacklist as a one episode character whose cyber expertise is enlisted by the FBI. He continued to appear throughout season one, often improvising on set, a move which proved popular with the show's creators. He was made a series regular in season two, and much of his character was developed using Amir's own improvisations from the prior season!

    17. Andrew Rannells as Elijah Krantz in Girls.


    Elijah first appeared as a very minor bit part back in the show's first season – he pretty much turned up in a bar, told main character Hannah he didn't give her HPV, insinuated her dad was gay, and then left. Elijah would continue popping up until series four when he was made a regular fixture. Series creators Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner said they wanted to feature the character more due to Andrew's versatile talents and exceptionally funny delivery! He ended up being one of the most liked characters who people often shipped for a spin-off.

    18. Rachel Bilson as Summer Roberts on The O.C.

    Warner Bros/Everett Collection/Fox

    It's another case of – "we like you, please stay" when it comes to Rachel. Almost unbelievably, the series regular only had three lines in the pilot and was pretty much written as an anonymous friend of Marissa's. But Josh Schwartz – the brain behind the show – thought Rachel had a compelling grasp of the character and worked well with male lead Adam Brody, who played Summer's on-off love interest Seth, and so he wrote her a bigger part in the show.