What 13 Oscar Nominees Were Doing in Their 20s

ByElaheh Nozari

Our 20s are a confusing time when it comes to our careers. We're still testing the waters surrounding what we want to do, and we haven't quite gotten a whiff of the sweet smell of success.

Things were no different for many of the most famous actors and actresses working today. And since nothing screams "You've made it!" in the entertainment industry quite like being nominated for an Oscar. We've dug into the bios of 13 of this year's nominees to find out what they were doing in their post-college years.

1. Spike Jonze was hanging with the Beastie Boys.


Nominated for Best Original Screenplay for Her

A competitive skateboarder and BMX biker in his youth, Jonze got a head start on his career when he moved to Los Angeles after high school graduation to take a job as an editorial assistant at Freestylin', a biker magazine. He helped found Dirt, a magazine for teenage boys, when he was 22. A year later, he was hired to shoot video footage of skateboarding for Sonic Youth's "100%" video. By the time he was 26, he had already won an MTV Video Music Award for his work on the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" music video. 

2. Amy Adams was dancing (and working at Hooters).


Nominated for Best Actress for American Hustle

If her role in Disney's Enchanted is any indication, Amy Adams has a serious background in musical theater. After graduating high school, she worked as a dancer at theaters in Colorado while hostessing at Hooters. She moved to Minnesota in her early 20s and continued dancing at local theaters. When she was 25, she landed her first film role in Drop Dead Gorgeous, and then moved to Los Angeles to audition for more movie roles. 

3. David O. Russell was teaching in Nicaragua.


Nominated for Best Original Screenplay for American Hustle

After graduating from Amherst College in 1981, Russell went to teach English in Nicaragua. Once back in the states, he worked as a teacher in Boston and then as a community organizer in Maine. He worked on screenplays outside of his day jobs, and didn't start directing his own film shorts until the mid-1980s, the latter end of his 20s.

4. Alexander Payne was studying in Colombia.


Nominated for Best Director for Nebraska

The Omaha-born filmmaker did his undergrad at Stanford and graduated with a double major in Spanish and history. He lived in Medellin, Colombia for a short time after graduation, where he studied the development and social changes in the country between 1900 and 1930. He toyed with the idea of being a foreign correspondent, but ultimately chose UCLA's film school over journalism school at Columbia. He graduated with an MFA in 1990. 

5. Bradley Cooper was studying acting and working as a doorman.


Nominated for Best Supporting Actor for American Hustle

The now 39-year-old actor graduated from Georgetown with honors in English in 1997. He went on to study at the Actors Studio Drama School at the New School and worked nights as a doorman at the Morgans Hotel. He skipped his grad school graduation to shoot 2001's Wet Hot American Summer

6. Catherine Martin was designing sets.


Nominated for Production Design for The Great Gatsby

Two-time Academy Award winner Catherine Martin started designing sets and costumes at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts in Sydney, where she also began collaborating with her classmate and current husband, Baz Luhrmann. After graduating from university, she worked as a designer on Luhrmann's production of Lake Lost, and has worked with him ever since. 

7. Scott Rudin was already running things.


Nominated for Best Picture for Captain Phillips

One of three producers behind Captain Phillips, Scott Rudin is the first producer to have won an Emmy, Oscar, Grammy and Tony Award (aka the EGOT). He's been in the entertainment industry since the age of 16. He took a job as a Broadway casting director instead of attending college, and worked his way from the theater to film industry throughout his 20s. He was named president of production at 20th Century Fox when he was just 27. 

8. Matthew McConaughey was acting in beer commercials.

Seth Poppel via Huffington Post

Nominated for Best Actor for Dallas Buyers Club

Feeling a sense of wanderlust after he graduated high school, everyone's favorite Texan went to Australia when he was 18 and worked a series of odd jobs. He returned home and found himself on a pre-law track at the University of Texas. Feeling like "something was missing," he started his acting career by starring in beer commercials. 

9. Terence Winter was a practicing lawyer.


Nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Wolf of Wall Street

Winter, the writer and producer of Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos in addition to The Wolf of Wall Street went straight to law school at St. John's University after getting his BA from NYU. He practiced law for two years in New York City, and didn't move to Los Angeles to pursue his screenwriting career until he hit 30.

10. Meryl Streep was on Broadway.

Life via Google

Nominated for Best Actress for August: Osage County

Meryl Streep arrived at Vassar College in 1967 with the intention of majoring in music, but soon found her place on the stage. She took a year off after graduation and applied to the Yale School of Drama, which granted her a three-year scholarship. Post-Yale, she moved to New York City and acted on Broadway. 

11. Alfonso Cuarón was expelled from school.


Nominated for Best Director for Gravity

Born and bred in Mexico, Cuarón studied philosophy and filmmaking in Mexico City. He made his first short film while in college, but got expelled for making the film in English. Post-expulsion, he found work in the television industry; he started out as a technician and worked his way up to director.  

12. Lupita Nyong'o was a production assistant.


Nominated for Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years A Slave

Born in Mexico City but raised in Kenya, Lupita Nyong'o moved to the U.S. to attend Hampshire College in 1999. When she moved back home to Kenya after graduation, the Constant Gardener was filming in her neighborhood. She got a job as a production assistant on the set and was quickly promoted through the ranks. While working on the film, Ralph Fiennes encouraged her to become an actress.

13. Christian Bale was a grown up child star.


Nominated for Best Actor for American Hustle

Welsh-born Bale landed his first role in a commercial when he was 9 years old. By 21, he had already starred in leading roles in Newsies and Little Women. He landed one of his most controversial roles ever at age 26, when he played Patrick Bateman in American Psycho — and was catapulted to A-list status.