25 Performances By Nonactors That Absolutely Blew People Away

25 Performances By Nonactors That Absolutely Blew People Away

Random people, plucked from obscurity, who delivered.

We asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell us a performance by a nonactor that absolutely blew them away. There were lots of fascinating submissions. Here are some of the best:


Darlene Cates as Bonnie, the mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape


“She got the part after the film’s screenwriter saw her on an episode of The Sally Jessy Raphael Show called ‘Too Heavy to Leave Their House.’ She only acted in a few other things after that — episodes of Touched by an Angel and Picket Fences, and a TV movie — and died in 2017 at the age of 69.”


Henry Golding as Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians

Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images

“He’d never acted before that role and just hosted a travel show!”


An accountant working in the Malaysian film office of Crazy Rich Asians suggested Golding to director Jon M. Chu, who checked out videos of Golding hosting on YouTube and thought there might be something there.


Kevin Garnett as himself in Uncut Gems


“Could’ve easily been some goofy garbage but he was incredible.”



Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo in Roma

Miramax, Jean-baptiste Lacroix / Getty Images


Shoukath and Fatima Ansari as Dev’s parents on Master of None

Jamie Mccarthy / Getty Images

“They’re Aziz Ansari’s parents in real life. They — especially his dad who is a medical doctor IRL — stole the show!”



Harold Russell as serviceman turned civilian Homer Parrish in The Best Years of Our Lives


“Harold lost both his hands in World War II and afterward used hooks for hands. He was put in a war training film in 1944 and was so natural on camera that Hollywood noticed. They cast him in this film and the rest is history.”


“Harold had a role written for him in the film, and he was real, compelling, and a natural. He is only one of two nonactors to win an Oscar.”



Jaye Davidson as Dil in The Crying Game


“He has a mesmerizing screen presence that makes it hard to take your eyes off of him. Some people who aren’t seasoned actors come off as stiff, but Jaye manages to be both understated and convincing. He didn’t like the spotlight and retired after only three films.”


Jaye — then a fashion assistant — was drunk at a wrap party when he was asked if he was an actor by director Derek Jarman. Despite saying no, he was asked to audition for The Crying Game. He went on to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.


Haing S. Ngor as Dith Pran in The Killing Fields

Warner Bros., Rob Boren / Getty Images

“My absolute favorite nonactor performance. Not only was Mr. Ngor a refugee from Cambodia, but also he himself survived the very ‘killing fields’ depicted in the movie. He had been a doctor before the Khmer Rouge took over and killed all intellectuals. His wife died in the camps because she was pregnant and they had to keep it secret. He watched in horror as she died from something that he could have helped her with (a C-section), but doing so would have exposed both the pregnancy and the fact that he was a doctor/intellectual. It’s powerful. He wrote a book about his life called Survival in the Killing Fields. Sadly. he was killed by some gang members who thought he had gold.”


“He gave such a skilled and heartbreaking performance that he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.”



LeBron James as himself in Trainwreck


“He was so funny, and the cafe scene still cracks me up every time I watch it.”



Abraham Attah as Agu in Beasts of No Nation

Netflix, Ian Gavan / Getty Images


Jameela Jamil as Tahani in The Good Place


“She was a model before but she had never seriously acted, and she was amazing.”


Jameela moved to Los Angeles with plans of being a screenwriter but went to The Good Place audition, essentially, as a favor to her agent.


Miyavi as Sgt. Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe in Unbroken



Hunter Schafer as Jules in Euphoria


“She’d never seriously acted before. It’s completely shocking because she was outstanding in the role!”


Schafer was a model with plans to study fashion design when her modeling agency told her she’d been asked to audition for the role. She told the New York Times, “I gave it a shot just because I had been mildly interested in acting, but it wasn’t something that I thought I would be pursuing seriously in any way, shape, or form.”


Harry Styles as Alex in Dunkirk

Warner Bros.

“Although not a nobody picked off the streets, he is a nonactor. His performance was mind-blowing, especially considering he was in a boy band and starred in an epic war thriller.”


“It was such a big, unexpected turn in his career but damn did he deliver!”



Bria Vinaite and Brooklynn Prince as mother and daughter in The Florida Project



Stu Rutherford as Stu in What We Do in the Shadows



Rob Brown as the young prodigy in Finding Forrester


“He had never acted before and had no aspirations of becoming an actor.”


The then-16-year-old only attended the casting call because he owed his mother $300 for cellphone bills and hoped he might get a role as an extra that would help him pay her back.


Felicia Pearson as Felicia “Snoop” Pearson on The Wire


“She had no acting experience prior to meeting The Wire cast member Michael K. Williams in a Baltimore club, who invited her onset. There she met the writers and producers who cast her. She is perfectly chilling in that role.”


Felicia had a difficult upbringing in Baltimore that informed her performance.


Frank Silva as Killer BOB in Twin Peaks


“Frank Silva was a set dresser for the show and accidentally ended up in a shot. Instead of reshooting, David Lynch decided to keep him, leading to one of the most iconic TV villains of all time!”


“Silva did an outstanding job at being unbelievably creepy without any kind of makeup or special effects whatsoever.”



Kathy C. An as Bokhee on Grey’s Anatomy



Gary Stevens as jockey George Woolf in Seabiscuit


“They hired an acting coach for him, and the guy said he was a natural. Gary went on to be in the short-lived HBO series Luck, but today he works as a TV analyst.”


Gary — a legendary jockey who won the Kentucky Derby three times — was recruited by director Gary Ross after Ross saw him race in the Santa Anita Derby.


Barkhad Abdi as the pirate leader in Captain Phillips


“Barkhad Abdi ad-libbed the most famous line from that movie: ‘Look at me. I am the captain now.’ He was meant to be in Hollywood, lmao.”


Barkhad Abdi was a Minneapolis-based chauffeur when he was cast opposite Tom Hanks. There is a sizable Somali community in Minneapolis, so the filmmakers — in looking for actors to portray the Somali pirates — did a casting call there. Barkhad attended after seeing a commercial for the casting call and went on to be nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.


Avu and Swati Chokalingam as Kelly’s parents on The Office


“They were played by Mindy Kaling’s real parents, who had no acting experience, and were amazing!”


In real life, Avu is an architect and Swati (who died in 2012) was an obstetrician/gynecologist.

The Office actually used a fair amount of non- or inexperienced actors. Phyllis Smith (who played Phyllis) was a casting assistant on the production who was given a role after the producers heard her funny readings with the auditioning actors, and Paul Lieberstein (who played Toby) was a writer on the show who was unexpectedly asked to appear onscreen.


Gilbert R. Hill as Inspector Douglas Todd in Beverly Hills Cop


“He was not an actor at all, but instead was the inspector in charge of the homicide division in Detroit in the early 1980s. He was discovered when they were looking for film locations in Detroit. He was fantastic!”


Hill was helping Martin Brest — the director of Beverly Hills Cop — scout locations when Brest asked the career cop to read a few lines. Hill appeared in all three Beverly Hills Cop films but never acted in anything else.


Arielle Holmes as Harley in Heaven Knows What


“The Safdie brothers (who directed the movie) scouted her off the street, and the movie is based largely on a memoir written by her, which makes her performance feel really raw and real.”


Is there an amazing performance by a nonactor we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.

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