Look: I know I’m not breaking any new ground with this post. It’s not SHOCKING or MINDHOLE BLOWING to find out that someone was on Law & Order before they were famous. EVERYONE has been on Law & Order; a list of actors who haven’t appeared on Law & Order might be more instructive. If you live in New York City and work in theater, and you haven’t appeared in Law & Order, you’re kind of a failure at your profession. In fact, there are two kinds of people on Law & Order: Those on their way up, and those on their way back down.
That said, it is fun to what those actors and actresses looked like on Law & Order before they were famous. Because the television franchise has been around for over two decades, for some of the actors in question, there’s been a LOT of aging. Some have hit puberty since their appearance on Law & Order and some other have gotten famous and hit menopause in the time between their Law & Order appearance and now. Others have gotten nose jobs, hair-color changes, and drastically changed their diets.
William H. Macy — In 1990 (and again in 1992), six years before his breakout role in Fargo. In fact, he played an assistant U.S. Attorney in the pilot episode.
Claire Danes — In 1992, two years before My So Called Life, in a season three episode.
Julianna Marguiles — In 1993, a year before E.R. Her character suffered a drug overdose.
Clark Gregg — In 1991, it was only his fourth screen credit, years before he would become a recognizable character actor.
Maura Tierney — In 1991, appeared in an episode four years before she became famous in Newsradio.
Jim Gaffigan — He’s appeared four times as four different characters in the Law & Order universe, including twice on Criminal Intent. His first appearance was in a 1998 episode of Law & Order, one of his first onscreen credits.
Elizabeth Banks — In a 2001 episode of SVU, Banks played a stripper, years before she was a recognizable star.
Peter Facinelli — Appeared in a 1995 episode, three years before Can’t Hardly Wait and over a decade before the Twilight films.
Rooney Mara — Appeared on Law & Order in 2006, four years before The Social Network and five before Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Matthew Morrison — In 2006, appeared in Criminal Intent, three years before Glee (also pictured, Elizabeth Reaser, who appeared in 2002 and 2006 episodes of Criminal Intent, well before she was recognizable from Grey’s Anatomy and the Twilight films).
Michael Pitt — In a 1998 episode of Law and Order (before his arc on Dawson’s Creek) and a 2002 episode of SVU, and years before his break-out roles in Funny Games and Boardwalk Empire.
Abigail Breslin — In 2004, on SVU, two years before Little Miss Sunshine.
Emily Deschanel — In 2002, she was on SVU, three years before Bones.
Sarah Paulson — Her very first screen role, in 1992, before the nose job.
Hayden Panettiere — On Law & Order in 2001, on Law & Order, a year before her season long arc on Ally McBeal. She appeared again on SVU the year that Heroes debuted.
Samuel Jackson — On Law & Order in 1991, three years before Pulp Fiction.
Neil Patrick Harris — In 2004, long after his Doogie Howser fame had worn off, and the same year that his star would be resurrected by Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle.
Lance Reddick — A four-time repeat offender, the first in Law & Order in 2001, the year before The Wire.
Allison Janney — In 1992 and 1994, on Law & Order, six years before West Wing.
Jennifer Garner — In 1996, Garner appeared in Law & Order, five years before Alias.
Ellen Pompeo — In 1996 and 2000, five years before Grey’s Anatomy.
Lauren Graham — In three episodes in 1997, three years before Gilmore Girls.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman — In 1991, his first screen appearance, long before he changed his diet.
Kate Walsh — In 1997, on Law & Order eight years before Grey’s Anatomy.
Felicity Huffman — In 1992, she appeared on Law & Order six years before Sports Night.