We all know Vince Vaughn as the fast-talking, wisecracking womanizer in comedies like Wedding Crashers and Old School. But how was life for the actor before he became a household name? Believe it or not, Vaughn has shown off his acting range in various genres: dramas, sci-films, and even (in his earliest days) after-school specials. Take a look at which early Vince Vaughn movies helped boost his profile to make him a future A-list star.
Vince Vaughn’s First Ever Film Was ‘Rudy’
Vince Vaughn is not someone who grew up dreaming of fame. The 50-year-old actor admits that acting is a profession he stumbled upon as an aimless teenager in suburban Illinois.
“I wasn’t a mean kid; I was warm-spirited, but the teachers really had a problem with me,” he told Rolling Stone in 1997. “They wanted me to see the school psychiatrist ’cause I didn’t have the same type of academic pursuits that the other kids had.”
At 17, the high school athlete injured his back in a car accident. “I had to take it slow for a while, so I wasn’t able to go out for any sports,” he continued. “There was a high school play going on, and I got one of the leads… After that I wanted to get involved professionally.”
Within months of studying improv in Chicago, Vaughn booked a part in a Super Bowl commercial for Chevy. By 18, he was living in Los Angeles and auditioning for sitcoms. But he quickly realized that Tinseltown was a more competitive environment than the Midwest.
“When I came to L.A., I had a swagger, and I thought I was the kid, you know: ‘Here I am – let’s go,'” said Vaughn. “And I found out that it wasn’t that easy. There were times I sat there in Los Angeles with a culture so different from where I was from, by myself, didn’t have any friends. I’d have an audition for three lines on Who’s the Boss?, and I’d say, ‘What am I doing?'”
Things took a turn after he finally booked his first film role in 1993’s Rudy. In it, he played Notre Dame football player Jamie O’Hara, a tailback who becomes an ally of the title character. Watch his big-screen debut below:
Vaughn’s role was pivotal—and not because he earned great acclaim for it. In fact, he said, “I thought that was the part that was going to change my life… And, of course, my part got cut down, and the film didn’t do as well as everyone hoped.”
But Vaughn still benefitted from the part because it’s how he met fellow up-and-comer Jon Favreau. The two made fast friends, and their careers wound up skyrocketing in tandem.
Vince Vaughn Got His Big Break With ‘Swingers’
Vaughn scored his first starring role in the 1996 comedy Swingers. The screenplay, written by Favreau in less than two weeks, was a humorous take on the lives of aspiring actors in Los Angeles.
“I remember saying to Jon after auditioning for a lot of stuff that we weren’t seeing the best material,” Vaughn told Grantland. “Even the movies that were getting made, I thought, were not dialed into the time period, not really capturing real life. I said to him, ‘Ya know, it would be great if you didn’t have to audition for this stuff,’ and then Jon went and wrote Swingers.”
It was the perfect example of a great movie that almost never happened. As Favreau shopped the script around, potential producers wanted to make major changes to the story—namely, they wanted to replace Vaughn’s character Trent with a female. They also wanted to cut out scenes in Las Vegas. Lastly, they envisioned an A-lister playing the lead character, Mike Peters.
“People were interested in optioning it, but they had a lot of notes,” said Favreau. “I was really trying to embrace the notes. I tried to change the script, but I just couldn’t.”
He ultimately shot Swingers in 18 days and with $200,000. What could have been written off as a forgettable low-budget film wound up being a cult classic.
“Vince was suddenly approvable to play the lead in a film; I was approvable to write scripts for a studio,” Favreau said after the release. “We were getting courted by mainstream Hollywood. They wanted to bring in new blood and break us into the game.”
Swingers’ success also taught Vaughn a lot about the mixed message coming from Hollywood execs. “I found [Hollywood filmmakers] want you, but, in a way, they don’t want you to do what it is that made you successful,” said the actor. “It’s like they put you in a movie and they want you to do this stuff, but you get there, and they really don’t want you to do that.”
Vaughn Was Then Cast In ‘Jurassic Park’
After Vaughn’s performance in Swingers caught the eye of Steven Spielberg, he was cast as the documentarian and former Greenpeace activist Nick Van Owen in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It was a major score for the actor.
“I knew nothing of Vince until I saw Swingers,” Spielberg told Rolling Stone. “That made me interested in meeting him for Lost World. I found him to be so different from Trent that immediately I was struck by his ability to play character parts. And what about that name? Tell me that isn’t the name of a ’40s movie star. One would think he made it up to get into the business, but they tell me it’s for real.”
Just before the film’s 1997 release, Hollywood insiders buzzed about how Vaughn’s role would take his career to the next level. But the actor vowed to stay down-to-earth.
“My whole way of working is: I’ve never been a guy to overanalyze things,” he said. “I’ve been that guy in Hollywood who’s on the outside, who’s not in the mix, who’s not getting the first-class auditions.”
Vince Vaughn Was Off To The Races Afterward
With a Spielberg film on his resume, Vaughn’s opportunities were limitless. He rode the wave in the early aughts by appearing in one hit comedy after another: Zoolander, Old School, Starsky & Hutch, DodgeBall, etc…
Vaughn’s choices didn’t just bring us laughs—they had an effect on the industry. For instance, the success of Wedding Crashers marked the revival of R-rated comedies, which hadn’t been popular since the 1980s. By 2004, he and co-star Owen Wilson were dubbed “leaders of the Frat Pack“—a nickname for Vaughn’s clique of seemingly unstoppable male comic actors.
Vaughn also dipped his toes into more dramatic parts. In 2007 he appeared in Sean Penn‘s adaptation of Into the Wild, and in 2016 he had a supporting role in Mel Gibson‘s critically acclaimed war film Hacksaw Ridge.
Watch Vaughn talk about his best characters in this interview with GQ:
It’s incredible to think that Vaughn’s career trajectory comes down to his unexpected bond with Favreau. Were it not for their hunger and determination as young unknowns, Swingers might have never been made, and their careers might have gone in very different directions.