Television

From Kristen Kreuk to Sandra Oh: Your favourite stars before they were famous

Sometimes it’s nice to see your favourite stars before they were A-list so that you can boast, 'I knew them *before* they got their break.' Luckily, you can relive that moment of discovering raw talent and watch them on CBC Gem.

So cute, so young! And all streaming on CBC Gem (so you can brag you knew them when...)

TV shows and films featuring Simu Liu (left), Kristin Kreuk (centre) and Sandra Oh (right) are all available to stream on CBC Gem. (CBC )

Everyone has to start somewhere. 

That said, it can be surprising to see the stratospherically famous stars performing smaller roles on lesser known projects. 

If you want to see your favourite A-listers early on in their careers, CBC Gem has plenty of offerings to stream. 

Here's a handy list of those TV shows and movies — with stars from Canada and elsewhere. 

Canadian famous 

CBC Gem offers numerous shows to stream that showcase the best of Canada's homegrown talent before they left the country to become true international stars. 

Simu Liu

(L-R) Simu Liu, Andrew Phung, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Jean Yoon, Andrea Bang and Nicole Power, pictured here at the 2018 Canadian Screen Awards, starred in Kim's Convenience. (Isaiah Trickey/FilmMagic/Getty)

Given Simu Liu's meteoric rise to international fame, it's hard to remember that he was a regular on Canadian television. 

Liu became a star in his role on Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. But, before his breakout in Hollywood, Liu was best known for CBC's hit sitcom Kim's Convenience — where he played the estranged son of two Korean-Canadian convenience store owners. 

Kristin Kreuk 

Kristin Kreuk (middle) is one of the stars of the teen-drama Edgemont. (CBC Television )

Before Kristin Kreuk hit it big portraying Lana Lang in the cult hit Smallville, her career was kick started by her role on CBC's teen drama series Edgemont

The series, which aired from 2000 to 2004, follows the lives of teenagers in Edgemont — a fictitious suburb of Vancouver. Kruek would also go on to star in CBC's Burden of Truth, which is also available on CBC Gem. 

Sandra Oh 

Sandra Oh walks the streets of Toronto in Last Night. (Lions Gate Films)

Sandra Oh has been a fixture on our screens for the last few years. 

From Grey's Anatomy to Killing Eve, as well as a recent role in Pixar's Turning Red, Oh has helped to pave the way to more representation in both movies and TV. She is the first Asian-Canadian woman to host Saturday Night Live and the first Asian woman to win two Golden Globes. 

One of her earliest critically acclaimed roles was in the 1994 Canadian film Double Happiness, where she plays an actor trying to live independently from the expectations of her Chinese-Canadian family. She also received critical acclaim for her role in Don McKellar's 1998 movie Last Night, which is about ordinary Canadians reacting to an imminent global disaster. 

Oh's British co-star in Killing Eve, Jodie Comer, also appears in My Mad Fat Diary. These TV shows and films are currently streaming on CBC Gem. 

Mae Martin 

L-R Mae (Mae Martin), George (Charlotte Ritchie), Malcolm and Linda (Lisa Kudrow) in Feel Good. (Matt Squire/Channel 4, Netflix)

Mae Martin is more widely known for their starring role in Netflix's Feel Good, where their performance garnered them a BAFTA nomination. 

But, before international fame, Martin was known for their writing, and occasional role, in Baroness von Sketch Show — an iconic and irreverent Canadian sketch comedy about everyday concerns. 

Shows full of talent

Some of the shows streaming on CBC Gem offer ensemble casts full of both Canadian and international actors who are now stars. 

Heartland

Heartland is a show full of Canadian talent. 

Stephen Amell as Nick Harwell in Heartland. (CBC Television )

Notable alumni include Stephen Amell, who is best known for portraying Oliver Queen (A.K.A. The Green Arrow) in D.C.'s the Arrowverse franchise. From 2007 to 2010 Amell portrayed Nick Harwell in Heartland

Tatiana Maslany portraying Cosima in a scene from Orphan Black. (Steve Wilkie/BBC America/Canadian Press)

Also, from 2008 to 2010, Orphan Black's Tatiana Maslany played Kit Bailey in the show and is poised to become even more well known after her upcoming gig as the title character in Marvel's She-Hulk: Attorney at Law

Being Erica

Speaking of Maslany, she also appeared in Canadian comedy-drama Being Erica. In the show, Maslany takes a dark turn playing the heroin-addicted Sarah Wexler. 

Oh and, also, there's a memorable appearance by Drake (you know him, right?) as a frat boy named Ken who decides to volunteer to be buried in a coffin. You can find Drake's Being Erica episode here

Due South 

Due South starred Paul Gross (left) as a RCMP officer in Chicago. (CBC Television )

Due South was a '90s drama series following an RCMP officer who ventures to Chicago in search of his father's killer. When the series ran from 1994 to 1999, it became a Canadian TV classic and featured appearances from some major Canadian and American stars. 

Canada's Carrie-Anne Moss — yes, Trinity from The Matrix — makes an appearance in the series. American icons Mark Ruffalo, Jane Krasinski, Ryan Philippe and Maria Bello also appeared during Due South's four season run. 

Freaks and Geeks 

Freaks and Geeks includes actors who would go on to feature in other Judd Apatow projects. (CBC)

Freaks and Geeks didn't just kick start the career of Vancouver-born superstar Seth Rogen, but it also ushered in a whole generation of Hollywood stars. Set in a suburbia near Detroit between 1980 and 1981, it follows the highs and lows of various teenagers as they try to navigate social hierarchies at a high school. 

Watch this iconic cult sitcom to see early acting work from Linda Cardellini, Jason Segel and Busy Philipps. 

Honourable mentions 

  • Award-winning youth drama Misfits follows the lives of young offenders who are miraculously given superpowers. It features Iwan Rheon who went on to star in Game of Thrones, Robert Sheehan who's in Umbrella Academy, Antonia Thomas from The Good Doctor and Joe Gilgun who created and stars in Brassic — a show that is also streaming on Gem.
  • Chewing Gum was British star Michaela Coel's first hit before the internationally acclaimed I May Destroy You. The actress, writer and show creator won a BAFTA  Award for best female comedy performance for Chewing Gum
Michaela Coel in I May Destroy You. (HBO)
  • Sherlock catapulted Benedict Cumberbatch to international renown. Sherlock also co-starred Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit film trilogy) who also stars in the U.K.'s version of The Office — which, funnily enough, you can find on CBC Gem.
  • The Beautiful Lie is a contemporary Australian reimagining of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. It also happens to star Sarah Snook of Succession fame. 

  • Watch for free on CBC Gem

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    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Oliver Thompson is a writer, producer and musician.

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