The Guardians of the Galaxy cast before they were famous

The Guardians quickly became the biggest stars in the galaxy after debuting in the MCU in 2014, and their fame was catapulted even further with the release of the box office juggernaut Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 early in 2017 — and their appearance in Avengers: Infinity War the following year. However, while the members of the franchise's ensemble cast are clearly on top of the world right now, things weren't always awesome for the ragtag group — in fact, many of the film's future stars ended up going down interesting paths while they made their long, hard way to the A-list. Cue up your favorite awesome mix of retro tunes, because we're looking into the histories of Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, and Kurt Russell to give you an idea of how they worked their way into the spotlight. Here's what the cast of Guardians of the Galaxy was up to before they got famous.

Chris Pratt

Before he was Star-Lord, Chris Pratt was Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation, and before that, he was Bright on Everwood. But before all of that, he was a young kid growing up in Washington with a grocery store clerk mother and a gold miner father. Pratt, who wrestled and played football in high school (with his dad as his coach), decided to take the first step toward becoming a star when he enrolled at a local community college to study acting, but left after half a semester. 

After some time going door-to-door selling coupons, Pratt moved to Hawaii, where he got a job at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and lived in a van on a beach. His big break came when Commando's Rae Dawn Chong walked into his restaurant, and he told her that he always wanted to be in movies. "She said, 'You're cute. Do you act?'" he said. "I was like, f— it, 'Goddamn right I act! Put me in a movie!'" 

Chong decided to do just that, and put Pratt in her directorial debut Cursed Part III. The movie was filming in L.A., and Pratt was nervous at first because he couldn't afford the flight; luckily, producers flew him out. After appearing in the film, the future star decided to give acting a real shot and moved out to L.A. for good. He was cast in Everwood a few years later and his rise to the top began.  

Zoe Saldana

Saldana was born in Queens, but she didn't spend her whole life there. At the age of nine, the future star's family was uprooted when her father died in a car crash. Her mother decided to move the family to the Dominican Republic, where her father was from, so that they could live with family. Saldana says that the move was difficult due to the culture shock, but she says that the bullying she endured made her "absolutely fearless." 

As a teenager, Saldana did ballet and didn't think much about acting, but she says that she had to quit because a part of her was "dying inside." According to Saldana, she wanted to do something where she could use her voice, which dance didn't allow. She began her acting career where many, many actors do, in an episode of Law & Order, but her dancing came in handy in many of her other notable early roles, including the teen drama Center Stage and the Britney Spears-starring Crossroads

Her big break came with 2003's surprise hit Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the first of many, many franchises the actress would go on to star in. While she says that the movie was an awful experience that almost made her quit the business for good, she luckily decided to stay the course, and wound up becoming one of the biggest actresses of the modern age.

Dave Bautista

Bautista was well-known for being a wrestler (known in the WWE as Dave Batista) before he got cast in Guardians, but he was nearly 30 before he came across the sport. Bautista grew up in Washington D.C., where he had a tough childhood. His parents separated when he was young, and he lived with his mother in a rough neighborhood on the southeast side of D.C. Bautista says he remembers two men being found dead in their front yard, and another man being murdered nearby.

Bautista's mother eventually ended up moving the family to San Francisco, where he says he spent a lot of time skipping school, stealing, and fighting. Bautista says that he started getting arrested around age 13, but never spent more than a day in jail. While his mother was understanding at first, she finally had enough and sent him to live with his father in Virginia.

At the age of 17, Bautista decided to move out on his own, eventually finding work as a bouncer at local clubs. However, he was arrested after getting into a fight with two patrons, leading to a year of probation. For him, that ended up being the shift that pushed him to enroll in wrestling school, the career where he would find the initial success that eventually pushed him into acting. 

Vin Diesel

For Vin Diesel, acting runs in the family. The actor's adoptive father ran a New York theater company, and Diesel, who never knew his biological father, started acting in their productions when he was just nine years old. Diesel and his twin brother Paul grew up in government-supported housing meant specifically for artists, so he was surrounded by actors, painters, and singers from a young age. 

He continued to act as he grew up, and by the time he was 20, he was working in local TV and theater while supporting himself with a number of side jobs, including being a nightclub bouncer and selling garden and hardware tools over the phone. It was as a bouncer that he also changed from his birth name, Mark Sinclair, to his more intense stage name. Diesel's big break came when he was 28 years old and his film, Multi-Facial, debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. Legendary director Steven Spielberg saw the movie and decided to cast him in Saving Private Ryan, launching the actor's long career.

One fun note connects Diesel's early roles to his later career: apparently, when he was very young, he played a tree in a theater production, and all of his "phobias" resurfaced when Marvel asked him to play a piece of foliage again. Luckily, he decided it was a good time to face his fears and he took on the role of Groot in Guardians.

Bradley Cooper

Cooper grew up outside of Philadelphia, where his father worked as a stockbroker and his mother worked as a homemaker. He decided to pursue acting because of his father's love of film, with the young Cooper becoming enthralled by films like Apocalypse Now and The Elephant Man. Before embarking on his acting career, though, he started college at Villanova University, eventually transferring to Georgetown and graduating as an English major with honors. 

After graduation, he moved to New York, working nights as a doorman at a hotel while getting his MFA in acting at the New School. He had to skip his graduation for his role in his first feature film, Wet Hot American Summer; later that year, he landed his role on Jennifer Garner's hit Alias

While the show was his first major acting part, Cooper said he got frustrated as his character got sidelined more and more and eventually requested to be written off, a daring move. This nearly caused him to quit acting, as he shortly afterward tore his Achilles and was put out for a year. However, he eventually got cast in Wedding Crashers and, from there, he decided to continue in Hollywood for good. 

Michael Rooker

Rooker's signature Southern twang is a product of his upbringing. He lived in Jasper, Alabama until he was 13 years old, when his mother took him and his eight siblings to Chicago. Although he says he didn't grow up in the best neighborhood and often spent his days "duking it out," Rooker always knew he was meant for bigger things, and so he decided to pursue acting at the old Goodman School of Drama (now known as the Theater School at DePaul University), even though he had no theatrical training except for a few junior college courses and a high school musical. 

The three-year program gave Rooker his start in acting and eventually led to him getting cast as the lead in the edgy movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, a villainous and daring first role which catapulted him into a long and successful acting career. Although it took Rooker dozens of years and credits (including appearances in James Gunn's previous films) to land his role in Guardians, it clearly worked out for him, as Yondu was easily one of the breakouts in Vol. 2. 

Karen Gillan

Karen Gillan also has acting in the family. The actress says that her father, a care home manager by day, liked to moonlight as a performer at local open mic nights. Gillan says that she didn't immediately catch the performing bug though, as she was shy growing up. However, she found that she only gravitated towards theater in school, and decided that's what she wanted to pursue, moving to Edinburgh at age 16 to attend drama school.

Gillan soon transferred to the prestigious Italia Conti stage school in London, but left after a few months to take her first acting job on the Scottish procedural Rebus. It didn't exactly work out, though, and a few months later Gillan found herself working at a pub in London, where she was scouted to become a model as she continued to take small TV jobs (including a pre-Amy Pond appearance on Doctor Who). 

Gillan is nearly six feet tall, so it's not hard to picture her strutting down a runway, but she says modeling wasn't for her. She knew that she wanted to pursue acting full time, so she kept auditioning, eventually landing her breakout role on Doctor Who before moving on to Guardians

Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell also comes from an acting family, the son of Bing Russell, known for Bonanza and The Magnificent Seven. He has memories of quite a few famous encounters throughout his childhood, including meeting The Beach Boys, Elvis Presley (who he would later play in Elvis), Walt Disney (they played ping pong!), and more. His family connections also got him into acting at a young age, with his first credit at age 11 as a guest star on Dennis the Menace.   

Russell continued to appear consistently in TV and films after that, but he still wasn't solidly set on the path towards becoming an actor. His father's other career was as a Class A minor league baseball club owner, and the younger Russell nearly followed him down that path, calling baseball "the family business." The actor says that he was more serious about baseball than he ever was about acting, but a rotator cuff injury cut his would-be pro career short before it even began.

Luckily for the world, Russell decided to pursue his other calling, landing role after role and becoming one of the biggest stars of the day before joining the MCU as Ego in Guardians. He has since called back to his baseball roots though, appearing in the 2014 documentary The Battered Bastards of Baseball, about his father's team.