The first one's the worst one

Why everyone will forget your first attempt

In 1987, Brad Pitt moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting, something that—by all admissions—he had no business doing.

Within a few short years, he won his first Oscar. Universally heralded as a once in a generation talent, Pitt was handed some of the greatest roles in the history of cinema. Through his natural gift for acting, he delivered an unbroken string of back to back performances that impressed audiences and critics alike. Some people, as it turns out, are just born with it.

Except, that’s not what happened at all.

Not even close.

When Brad Pitt actually landed in Los Angeles, he had nothing lined up. To pay the bills, he worked as a waiter and then as a private limousine driver. Finally, after months of dead-ends, he booked his first acting role. The character? Man at beach with drink.

A year later, he would audition for his first major motion picture. The day after the audition, he called up the casting director to see if he got the part. “There were three seconds of silence” Pitt recalls, “then they said—have you ever thought about acting classes?” Some people, as it turns out, are not born with it.

Pitt wasn’t a good actor for a very, very long time. The development of his skills took decades. Only after 32 years and 63 films, would he finally clench his first, and only, Academy Award. 

Thankfully for us, he always moved on quickly to the next performance. He never got “actors-block”, or too attached to perfection. This resilience kept him pushing forward. With years of practice, including dozens of cinematic failures, he was able to ultimately bring us films like The Big Short, Fury, Moneyball, Inglourious Basterds, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Oceans Eleven, and Fight Club.

A movie you’re probably less familiar with is The Dark Side of the Sun, his first credited film role. It was a Yugoslavian drama about—if you can believe it—a young American who has a rare skin disease that prevents him from exposing himself to any kind of light. Had he stopped there, had he taken his $1,500 paycheck, and quit acting forever, The Dark Side of the Sun would have been much more than a forgotten footnote in his career—it would have been his entire career.

In that simplicity, lies a profound truth. By building a body of work that spans decades, we can crowd out our inevitable early failures, with later successes. After all, no one remembers The Dark Side of the Sun, when you’ve created Fight Club.


PS. If you’ve made it all the way down here and don’t feel that you’ve just wasted five minutes, consider hitting the Like button on this essay.

It helps others find it. And it makes me happy.

Join the conversation

or to participate.