These days, TV fans might know Russell best as one half of a Russian spy couple on FX’s The Americans, but before that role, she was best known as the titular lead of the WB college drama Felicity. And devoted fans might know that before that, she was a cast member of the All-New Mickey Mouse Club.
ABC/Larry D. Horricks
Felicity was also the breakthrough gig for Foley, who played love interest Noel for the show’s entire 1998-2002 run. Afterward, he took major roles on The Unit, Grey’s Anatomy, True Blood, and — most notably — Scandal. Now, Foley is back on ABC as a star of the upcoming spy drama Whiskey Cavalier.
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Garner was a Felicity guest star before Abrams made her too a household name, casting her as super spy Sydney Bristow in the 2001 ABC espionage drama Alias. Now she and Abrams are teaming up again on the Apple limited series My Glory Was I Had Such Friends.
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This fella’s name might ring a bell, but back when he was cast as best friend Will on Alias, he was still a relative unknown. Now Cooper is a seven-time Oscar nominee, including three nods for this year’s Academy Awards.
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Lilly only had three TV roles prior to the hit 2004 ABC drama Lost, two of which were uncredited. After genre fans got to know and love her as Kate, though, the actress graduated to major parts in the Hobbit and Ant-Man franchises.
Before Lost, Holloway’s TV credits included characters named “Good-Looking Guy” and “Lana’s Boy Toy.” But after playing reformed bad boy Sawyer, the actor nabbed starring roles in the TV shows Intelligence and Colony.
Daniel Dae Kim
Kim actually had more than a decade’s worth of TV credits before landing the role of Jin on Lost. After that ABC show’s 2010 finale, however, Kim starred in seven seasons of Hawaii Five-0. These days, he’s back on ABC as a star and executive producer of The Good Doctor.
Mbatha-Raw had been starring as Ophelia in Hamlet on Broadway when Abrams cast her as CIA operative Samantha in his (ultimately short-lived) NBC spy drama Undercovers. Now she’s an established actress known for the films The Cloverfield Paradox and A Wrinkle in Time and the critically-adored Black Mirror episode “San Junipero.”
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Ridley had a handful of short films and TV guest-starring roles on her résumé by the time Abrams gave her the part of Resistance fighter Rey in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now she’s involved in one of the biggest film franchises in the galaxy, and she also starred in the 2017 film Murder on the Orient Express.
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Before his role as reformed stormtrooper Finn in the new Star Wars trilogy, Boyega was mostly known in his native U.K., where he had starred in the 2011 sci-fi comedy film Attack the Block. Aside from Star Wars, you’ve also seen the actor in the blockbuster sequel Pacific Rim: Uprising and in the animated miniseries Watership Down.
A ton of Hollywood stars have a certain Bad Robot to thank. TV and film mastermind J.J. Abrams and his production company have turned many rising talents into an A-list actors, including a certain Oscar nominee whose talent is anything but “Shallow.”
Check out this gallery to see 10 actors of whom Abrams should feel especially proud.