Being a lead actor in a TV show or movie can be challenging. It usually takes some major acting chops and charisma to pull it off. But some would say it takes even more skill to take a relatively minor role and make it your own. These actors made the most of their supporting roles and became fan favorites on the TV shows and movies they were in.
Sydney Sweeney as Eden – The Handmaid’s Tale
Eden was brought in in season 2 and married off to Nick by the oppressive government of Gilead. A pious 15-year-old played by the baby-faced Sweeney, Eden got more attention from viewers and critics than the actor herself had anticipated. Was Eden a spy for Serena or the Eyes? We kept guessing all season, and the answer turned out to be shocking, heartbreaking, and a potential turning point for the show.
Alexandra Breckenridge as Moira – American Horror Story
Moira O’Hara in American Horror Story: Murder House was played by the iconic Frances Conroy, who went on to play the Angel of Death in Asylum and the unforgettable Myrtle Snow in Coven (“Balenciagaaa!”). As Moira occasionally took the form of her younger self, they needed a younger actor. Sharing a role with Conroy is a tall order – but Alexandra Breckenbridge’s stunning red hair and stocking tops proved unforgettable.
Alexandra Daddario as Lisa – True Detective
The first season of True Detective was criticized for its portrayal of women. Detective Rust Cohle’s big notebook is given more agency than the female characters, who mainly move the plot by meeting an untimely end or trying to date the other detectives. Still, you have to admit they look good doing it – at least when it comes to Alexandra Daddario as Detective Hart’s bit on the side, Lisa Tragnetti. She reportedly received marriage proposals from fans after her nude scene in episode 2.
Rose Leslie as Ygritte – Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones left us with many memorable lines: “Winter is coming!”; “Hodor!”; “What do we say to the God of Death? Not today!”; “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” Each is a winner, but perhaps no line has been quoted and seemed quite as much as, “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” spoken by the flame-haired wildling Ygritte. Fresh from Downton Abbey, Rose Leslie made an impression not only on viewers but on Kit “Jon Snow” Harrington himself. The two of them got married in 2018.
Reese Witherspoon as Jill – Friends
Now that Reese is a media mogul in her own right, it’s hard not to see her appearance as an attempt to inject minor stardom into the saggy middle of season 6. But this was before Legally Blonde, before Sweet Home Alabama. We had no idea just how huge Reese Witherspoon was about to become. And what’s more, Jill’s character worked brilliantly. She takes all the mistakes Rachel made in the early seasons — expecting shopping to fix all her problems, staying tethered to Daddy’s credit card, dating Ross — and makes them her own.
Norman Reedus as Daryl – The Walking Dead
The Daryl Dixon character didn’t exist in The Walking Dead during its preparation phrase. When Norman Reedus auditioned to play Merle Dixon, the creators knew he wasn’t suitable for the part, but they also knew they wanted him in the show. So they created the role of Daryl, especially for him — and the character quickly became such a fan favorite that he was upgraded to series regular after season 1. He eventually became the series’s main protagonist following Andrew Lincoln’s departure as Rick.
Charisma Carpenter as Cordelia – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In the early episodes, Cordelia’s role seemed set in stone: she was the well-dressed, popular girl who was mean to the nerds. By opting to be friends with Willow instead of her, Buffy showed viewers that she was turning her back on the high school life she could have had. But throughout the show’s first three seasons, she transformed from an antagonist pitted against the Scooby gang to their ally — even doing a little vampire slaying herself — before she crossed over to Angel with David Boreanaz.
Krysten Ritter as Gia – Veronica Mars
Everyone has a favorite Krysten Ritter vehicle — Jessica Jones, Breaking Bad, Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23 — but Veronica Mars fans have loved her longer than anybody else. She took Gia Goodman (a ditzy, privileged character that could quickly have become just another rich girl trope) and made her such an integral part of the show that there was no question of her not returning for the fan-funded movie in 2014.
April Bowlby as Kandi – Two and A Half Men
Kandi is the classic example of a sitcom character working her way up from a single appearance to the main cast. April Bowlby appeared in season 3 of Two and A Half Men as a one-off bimbette with a different name: Kimber. Kimber had so little discernible personality that we’re wondering if Kandi was a new character or just had a new name. Either way, Kandi was a main character in season 4, eventually becoming Alan’s second wife and returning in season 10 for a surprise twist.