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Early Roles That Grey's Anatomy Actors Would Like You To Forget About

For most actors, the path to fame is a long period of auditions, rejections, and occasional roles in features and on television and stage until landing that elusive "big break." Some of those early appearances are actually successful projects, which help to boost their profile with audiences, producers, and casting agents. A very select few earn that big break with their first acting gig; the path to the top for these players is brief but stratospheric. For many actors, however, early roles are nothing more than a paycheck or a chance at elusive screen time — jobs to be forgotten once they land their star-making showcase.

The cast of the Emmy-winning and long-running medical drama "Grey's Anatomy" know all too well about underwhelming early gigs. Producer Shonda Rhimes assembled its sizable roster of players from an impressive list of screen veterans, many of whom toiled in relative obscurity until the series boosted them to prime-time fame. For some, the success of "Grey's Anatomy" meant a reprieve from roles that they'd like to consider only from their rear view mirrors, and wouldn't mind the show's huge following missing as well. However, we've decided to bring those early, unmemorable projects to light with this spoiler-heavy lineup of early roles the "Grey Anatomy" cast would like you to forget about. 

Ellen Pompeo was the forgotten Karen Page in Daredevil

Though active in features and on television since the late '90s, it's safe to say that "Grey's Anatomy" is the project for which Ellen Pompeo is best known. Cast as Dr. Meredith Grey, the series' narrator and the anchor for its sizable cast of characters, Pompeo's performance netted her two Satellite Awards, multiple People's Choice Awards, and a Golden Globe nomination. It's also lent her considerable clout as co-producer of both "Grey's" and its spin-off series, "Station 19."

Pompeo's done excellent work outside the "Grey's" universe, most notably in the 2002 drama "Moonlight Mile" with Jake Gyllenhaal and the Will Ferrell comedy "Old School," as well as guest shots on "Friends" and "Law & Order." If there's a credit that she'd rather keep out of the public eye, though, it's her blink-and-you'll-miss-turn as Karen Page in the 2003 film version of "Daredevil." Though a major character in the Marvel hero's canon, Pompeo's Page is relegated to a few brief scenes with Ben Affleck's Matt Murdock and Jon Favreau's Foggy Nelson.

Pompeo's Page isn't an embarrassment, she's just been reduced to a minor role to make room for Daredevil's romance with Jennifer Garner's Elektra. However, additional scenes featuring Page were included in the Director's Cut, which was released on DVD in 2004 and Blu-ray in 2008. According to many critics, this version is far superior to the original release.

Chandra Wilson was the only thing worth watching in Bob Patterson

Chandra Wilson earned four Emmy nominations and multiple Screen Actors Guild and Image Awards for her performance as Dr. Miranda Bailey on "Grey's Anatomy." The former child stage actor worked her way up to from early appearances in features including "Philadelphia" to guest shots on series like "The Sopranos" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" before landing the role of Bailey in 2005. The series has afforded her a wealth of additional opportunities, including turns in the director's chair for "Grey's," "Scandal," and "Good Trouble."

Wilson's first stint as a TV regular is probably also the one she'd least like to revisit, though she was the only actor associated with the project to earn positive reviews. Wilson played Claudia, who assisted Jason's Alexander's inept motivational speaker on "Bob Patterson," a sitcom which aired on ABC in 2001. The scope of the series' humor can be encompassed by Claudia's character, who is disabled and frequently destroys office furniture with her wheelchair. Claudia is also the topic of discussion for Alexander's Bob and other characters, who debate the possibility that she is actually faking her disability.

Hammered by critics, "Patterson" was axed by the network after only five episodes. However, Wilson was singled out in several reviews, including the USA Today, which cited her as the "only person in the show you can imagine wanting to see again."

James Pickens Jr. survived RocketMan's flameout

Along with Ellen Pompeo and Chandra Wilson, actor James Pickens Jr., is the only actor to remain with "Grey's Anatomy" since its debut in 2005. Pickens, who plays former Chief of Surgery Richard Webber, earned an NAACP Award, Screen Actors Guild Award, and Satellite Award (the latter two as part of an ensemble award) for her role, which he also reprised on "Private Practice" and "Station 19," among other "Grey's Anatomy" spin-off projects. A busy character actor since the mid-1980s, Pickens has also enjoyed recurring roles on "The X-Files" (as Deputy Director Alvin Kersh) and on "Roseanne" and "The Conners," among many other TV projects.

Pickens' feature film work includes "Nixon," "Bulworth," "Traffic," "Sleepers" and "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." Amidst this roster of critical and box office hits is the Disney feature "RocketMan," which failed to launch in the fall of 1997. A lighthearted showcase for Canadian comic Harland Williams, "RocketMan" relies on his talent for rubber-faced mugging for much of its humor. The producers wisely surround Williams with a supporting cast of capable character players, including Beau Bridges, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Pickens as the head of NASA. 

Their presence is clearly intended to keep parents engaged during Williams' goofball routines — those few that bought tickets, that is. The movie's box office take dropped precipitously during its three weeks in theaters due, most likely, in part to scathing reviews like the New York Times' write-up, which described it as a "dimwitted juvenile comedy." Perception of the picture hasn't improved over time, either: its rating on Rotten Tomatoes remains at just 20%.

Patrick Dempsey went full nerd for Meatballs III; Summer Job

Prior to his first bout with fame as the star of "Can't Buy Me Love," and his second ascent to stardom as Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Shepherd on eleven seasons of "Grey's Anatomy," Patrick Dempsey was a hard-working stage actor making inroads into TV and film through supporting turns in the comedies "Heaven Help Us" and the short-lived, ill-fated "Fast Times" series. A rare chance at a leading role arrived in the 1986 with "Meatballs III: Summer Job." Produced by Canadian filmmakers Don Carmody and John Dunning – who oversaw the original "Meatballs" with Ivan Reitman -– the film ignores the surreal "Meatballs II" and brings back the hapless Rudy Gerner, now played by Dempsey as the sort of terminal nerd embodied by Robert Carradine (in "Revenge of the Nerds") or Eddie Deezen (in all of his films).

Unfortunately, the connections to the '79 "Meatballs" largely end there (though Bill Murray's Tripper Harrison is briefly mentioned), and "Summer Job" descends rapidly into the hormonal hell of '80s teen sex comedies, with every character desperate to the point of mania about losing their virginity. However, "Summer Job" adds a particularly surreal wrinkle in the form of Oscar nominee Sally Kellerman, who plays a recentlyd deceased adult film star whose path into Heaven is blocked until she can carry out a good deed – like helping Rudy score with The Love Goddess (Shannon Tweed), the bewitching spouse of his seemingly psychotic boss, Mean Gene (George Buza of "Maniac Mansion").

Lots of humor-free nonsense is thrown at the viewer before Rudy reaches nirvana and Roxy goes to Heaven, of which little is funny or sexy. Viewers may appreciate the wealth of talent from above and below the 49th Parallel on display in "Meatballs III," including Maury Chaykin, Al Waxman ("Cagney & Lacey"), and rock and roll legend Ronnie Hawkins.

Justin Chambers was out-dueled by The Musketeer

After a stint as a model for major advertising campaigns and an appearance in the music video for the Dave Matthews Band's song "Ants Marching," Justin Chambers transitioned to acting with appearances on "Another World" and the short-lived primetime soap "Four Corners." Supporting roles in features soon followed, which allowed Chambers to show a knack for comedy ("The Wedding Planner," "Southern Belles") and thrillers ("Lakeview Terrace"), which in turn, led to his 15 season run as Dr. Alex Karev on "Grey's Anatomy." After departing "Anatomy" in 2020, Chambers is still active in various projects, most notably as Marlon Brando in "The Offer."

Chambers has taken the lead in a handful of features, including "The Musketeer," a big-budget costume adventure released in 2001. The film, which attempted to fold Alexandre Dumas' "Three Musketeers" into Hong Kong-styled action (actor Xin-Xin Xiong, who served as Jet Li's stunt double, choreographed the fight sequences). If that sounds like a rough fit, you're correct: veteran director Peter Hyams tries hard, but the action setpieces are messy and frantic and never gel within the 17th-century setting. As for Chambers, his relative inexperience is evident here, especially opposite players like Catherine Deneueve, Tim Roth, and Stephen Rea.

Jesse Williams took a hit from Random Acts of Violence

Jesse Williams played Dr. Jackson Avery for 11 seasons on "Grey's Anatomy" before departing the series at the end of Season 17. He's remained active as a performer ("Little Fires Everywhere") and director ("Rebel") while also supporting various civil rights groups and causes as an advocate, adviser, and documentary producer ("Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement"). His on- and off-screen work has garnered Image and BET Awards, among other laurels.

But not everything Williams has touched has earned its share of praise. Case in point: the hapless 2019 horror film "Random Acts of Violence." Based on the 2010 graphic novel of the same name by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, the film stars Williams as the creator of a comic book based on the real-life exploits of a psychopathic killer called Slasherman. A tour to promote the final issue sends them to the town where the real Slasherman committed his crimes, which of course begin anew with an unpleasant wrinkle: the murders bear a striking resemblance to images in Williams' comics.

Directed and co-written by actor Jay Baruchel, who made the entertaining "Goon" comedies, "Random Acts" wants to make a point about parallels between media depictions of violence and their alleged ability to influence real-life acts. It also wants to deliver no-holds-barred horror setpieces, which largely comprise the final, frenzied act. As it turns out, you can't effectively criticize what you're also reveling in, which leaves both sides of "Random Acts" feeling underfed.

Blink and you'll miss Sara Ramirez in Going Under

Actor/singer Sara Ramirez parlayed their Tony-winning turn as the Lady of the Lake in Broadway's "Spamalot" into an 11-season run as Callie Torres on "Grey's Anatomy." Their performance garnered nominations from the People's Choice, ALMA Awards, and NAACP Image Awards, and led to runs on "Madam Secretary" and "And Just Like That..." However, Ramirez was a working actor in features and on television prior to their Broadway and TV successes; early credits include appearances on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "As the World Turns," and "NYPD Blue." Buried in this list, and justifiably so, is their brief appearance in the 2004 indie "Going Under."

Heady subject matter -– a psychotherapist becomes emotionally attached to a dominatrix –- and fearless turns by Roger Rees and Geno Lecher as the doctor and the dom, respectively, lend initial appeal to director Eric Werthman's efforts. But the characters and dialogue veer between bloodless and precious; everyone speaks and acts in a cool, distant, and clinical manner that throws a wet blanket over the entire project. The end result feels more like an overly cerebral play, or worse, like a re-enactment of a case study, than a drama about passion and obsession. Ramirez turns up very briefly as Rees' no-nonsense receptionist; it's a nothing role in an hot-blooded but lukewarm movie.

Sandra Oh survived Big Fat Liar

"Grey's Anatomy" helped to propel Canadian actress Sandra Oh from indie favorite ("Sideways," "Hard Candy") to an Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning network star, as well as  an in-demand film actress in features like "Rabbit Hole," "Tammy," and "Turning Red." It also paved the way for her tenure as a lead actor on two popular series, "Killing Eve" (which earned her a second Golden Globe) and "The Chair."

Between these projects, Oh also logged time in character roles for mainstream features like "The Princess Diaries," "Under the Tuscan Sun," and "For Your Consideration." Most were enjoyable showcases for her comic talents; the exception was "Big Fat Liar," a wan kid-friendly comedy from 2002 that cast Oh as a teacher opposite Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes as students. Oh's part is minor but she does set the story in motion: she immediately susses out that the subject of Muniz's creative writing essay is a total fabrication, and forces him to rewrite it or face a failing grade. 

While delivering the final product, he's nearly run over by boorish studio exec Paul Giamatti, who takes one look at the new paper (titled "Big Fat Liar") and sees box office dollar signs. Giamatti steals the new paper, prompting Oh to send Muniz to summer school. Muniz and Bynes head to Los Angeles to retrieve the paper, but Giamatti refuses, which sets up a cascade of "Home Alone"-style pranks designed to break his grip on the project; these provide Muniz with enough material for a second new paper which satisfies Oh's requirements.

For grade school viewers, the pranks are the selling point: Giamatti is dyed blue, dressed as a birthday party clown, and sees his car destroyed by a professional wrestler. All other viewers may appreciate Oh's dry delivery and Bynes' skill at playing an array of broad characters, but will eventually wear down under the weight of the shenanigans.

Kim Raver unraveled on CPW

Though Kim Raver is a familiar face (and voice) to TV audiences thanks to series regular and recurring roles on "24," "Third Watch," and "Ray Donovan" (she's also the voice of Captain Marvel on "Marvel Rising"), she's probably best known as the perpetually conflicted Dr. Teddy Raver on "Grey's Anatomy." Teddy has bounced between roles and romantic partners during her long tenure at Seattle Grace Hospital, which began in Season 6 before Raver departed at the end of Season 8. However, she returned as a recurring character in Season 14 before signing on as a series regular in Season 14.

Between her longer-running and best-remembered TV gigs, Raver has also logged time in a variety of other programs that didn't earn as devoted a following. These include "The Nine," "Lipstick Jungle," "Revolution," and the short-lived "C.P.W.," a sudsy primetime drama created by Darren Starr ("Sex and the City") that aired on CBS between 1995 and 1996. The series -– set in the New York publishing world -– cast Raver as the jilted girlfriend of stockbroker Justin Lazard. Raver's character loses her cool in a big way over the course of her three-episode arc: having gone bankrupt because of Lazard's bad investments, she sues his company and eventually forces him to take her in as a roommate. This turns out to be an even worse idea, because she sells off his belongings and wreaks havoc on his work computer. Raver's signature reserve is nowhere to be found in this broad caricature of the jilted lover.

Jason George played bad guy for the kid thriller Clockstoppers

Jason George currently pulls double duty on network TV as anesthesiologist/surgical resident Dr. Ben Warren on both "Grey's Anatomy," where he's been tenured since Season 6, and on "Station 19," for which he's been a primary cast member since its debut season in 2018. The list of TV credits include series regular runs on "Eli Stone," Mistresses," and the soap "Sunset Beach" which earned him a Daytime Emmy nomination. Feature film appearances include the lead in 2007's "Three Can Play at That Game," as well as "Barbershop," "Kidnap," and "Breaking In."

Lost among these titles is a minor role in "Clockstoppers," a largely forgotten kid-oriented science fiction adventure from 2002. Directed by "Star Trek: The Next Generation" vet Jonathan Frakes, "Clockstoppers" concerns experimental technology which allows the user's molecules to accelerate to incredible speed while the rest of the world appears to slow down. This naturally proves irresistible to the son (Jesse Bradford) of the device's owner, as well as evil corporate type Michael Biehn.

"Clockstoppers" isn't a terrible film, but the Nickelodeon co-production has little on its mind beyond showing the various hijinks that Bradford and girlfriend Paula Garces indulge in with the technology. As for George, he has little to do as an agent working for Biehn beyond looking very serious in an array of suits

There's nothing good about Eric Dane's early feature Sol Goode

Prior to his star-making run on "Grey's Anatomy" as Dr. Mark "McSteamy" Sloan, Eric Dane was a hard-working guest star on shows like "Saved by the Bell," "Charmed," and the original "Wonder Years," as well as the occasional feature like "X-Men: The Last Stand" (as Jamie Madrox/Multiple Man). Prior to finding his groove on "Grey's" and "The Last Ship" –- as well as his current, critically praised gig on "Euphoria" -– Dane did like so many other actors and logged time in less-than-memorable projects like the 2003 indie "Sol Goode."

A taxing "comedy" about a shiftless would-be actor (played by the capable Balthazar Getty of "Twin Peaks") who somehow proves irresistible to a small army of women, "Sol Goode" derives much of its humor from endless rounds of phallic gags, Jamie Kennedy's irritable bowel syndrome, and Jonathan Schaech's allegedly impressive endowment. If those elements of actor-turned-writer/director Danny Comden's script strike you as hilarious, you'll also be rewarded by a variety of cameos by Oscar winners Octavia Spencer and Jared Leto, as well as Christina Applegate, Tori Spelling, Michael Hitchcock, and Carmen Electra. Dane also turns up briefly as Overly Dramatic Actor, of whom one can say that he handily won the Character-With-a-Demeaning-Name contest over castmates Amanda Anka (as Tramp) and Heid Schanz (Model with Attitude).

A TV-movie psycho stalked Caterina Scorsone in When the Dark Man Calls

Canadian actress Caterina Scorsone first played Dr. Amelia Shepherd on the "Grey's Anatomy" spin-off series "Private Practice" before moving to the parent series in Season 10. Initially slated as a recurring role, Amelia –- the sister of Patrick Dempsey's Derek Shepherd, and a recovering drug addict -– became a series regular in Season 11. She has remained with "Grey's" since, while also crossing over to its second spin-off, "Station 19."

Prior to her TV medical career, Scorsone was a child actress in her native Canada, and appeared in numerous kid-oriented features and programming in the 1990s, including "Goosebumps," "Strike!" (with Kirsten Dunst), and "Teen Knight." Her first foray into grown-up material came with "When the Dark Man Calls," a thriller made for the USA Network in 1995. The TV-movie, based on a novel by Stuart Kaminsky, had been previously adapted into a French feature, "Frequent Death," in 1988, with Catherine Deneueve as a radio psychologist pursued by a killer. Joan Van Ark steps into the role for the TV take, with Scorsone as her daughter.

Despite the presence of Van Ark and cult favorites Geoffrey Lewis and Chris Sarandon as criminal and cop, respectively, "Dark Man" is a by-the-books small screen effort, hitting overly familiar notes on the suspense scale and struggling to maintain audience interest. Scorsone's role is relegated to alternating concerned and alarmed looks, which earned a better showcase in the Lifetime series "1-800-Missing."