I have a bizarre and scary-good record of recommending actors when they're little known -- in some cases, virtually unknown, even to me -- and then having them go on to success, on some occasions becoming big stars. Sometimes, even I don't know much about them myself, but I'll make the suggestion just from a photo and some research.
Though this odd skill had regularly surfaced even earlier, I first noticed it in the very-practical world 20 years ago when a writer friend was morose because he had a green-lit studio film with a star and director all signed, but no female lead. And if they couldn't hire someone within weeks, the whole project would fall apart. The demands of the role were difficult to cast, which was the problem. I hadn't read the script, and said I'd love to. He sent it to me, and I called up with a "You know who'd be good in this?" suggestion. Someone I think had only done two movies -- one a very small part -- and my friend had never heard of her. Neither had the director, when her name was forwarded on. But they rented the movies, loved her, recommended her to the studio who approved her, and the film got made. (For a specific reason, I'm leaving out the names.)
Probably the most notable example, though, came a dozen years back or so. A friend was making a TV pilot for NBC and needed to cast the father. I suggested a small, supporting actor on a basic cable show. My friend liked everything I said about the guy, including his Second City background, but knew that the network would never hire an unknown to be the star of a series. So, they went with someone else, and the show did get on the air. A few years later, however, my suggestion was hired for a few bigger supporting roles, and eventually Steve Carell got big enough to have his own show, too.
On another project, we submitted a long list of young actresses to a production company. The company vetoed half of them as being of no interest. I got so annoyed at the exclusion of one young actress that for the next eight months I kept nagging the producer about how idiotic the company was and that we should keep including the actress in our submissions because she was great and here's why. Eventually, my yammering wore him down, he became convinced, and even though she was now a "rejected name" we again started to included Anne Hathaway on our submissions.
Another time, I was doing some research on some casting matter, and came across a British actress I knew absolutely zero about -- she had done nothing in the U.S. -- but I liked everything about her. She was far too unknown for the producer I was working with, but I still said we should keep an eye on on. Her name was Gemma Arterton. A year later she was a Bond girl in Quantum of Solace, then the female lead in Prince of Persia, and last year starred in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. (Just yesterday, a friend who knew my history with this sent me a news item that she was just signed to star in a musical on London's West End.)
One of my favorite tales came about when watching the not very-interesting mini-series version of The Prisoner. In fact, I even stopped watching most of it. But there was a day-player who only had about 90 seconds of screen time and three lines of dialogue. Virtually a throwaway part. But I wrote to a producer I was working with that this actresses was amazingly talented and gorgeous, even in just 90 seconds, and though I knew he couldn't offer a role to a total unknown, we should at least keep her in mind. Her name was Hayley Atlwell. The next year, she had the female lead in the Starz epic mini-series, The Pillars of the Earth. A couple years later was the female lead in Captain America, She's currently filming Cinderalla as Cinderalla's mother for Kenneth Branagh, and upcoming is in the next Avengers movie. And will be re-creating her character from Captain America to star in a new series about her on ABC. (She's also done a ton of film work in England, though unknown here. She's great.) Side note: a couple years later, I brought her up again -- I love Hayley Atwell -- and one of the producers on the project dismissed her as still much too unknown. The next year, he had left the project. And a while later signed Hayley Atwell for his new film. (Though it fell through.)
Another favorite example is that a project needed a young French actress for a secondary role. I knew nothing at all of that, so I just started doing research. From that online research only, no film, I came across a French actress who I'd never seen or heard of and recommended her, Lea Seydoux. The next year, she played the Parisian bookseller who Owen Wilson ends up falling in love with in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. Then she was hired for Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and this year was in The Grand Budapest Hotel. She's currently filming The Lobster as the third lead opposite Farrell Rachel Weisz.
There are a whole bunch of others, some particularly notable, but there's a limit to how truly annoying I think I should get. (And none of this includes writing about the obscure, goofy song "Chicken Fat" a year before Apple used it in an international TV campaign...) But I'll add just one more, since it's the point of what got me to think about all this.
About six years ago, a producer friend was developing a film comedy that required a British comedian for a sports-related story. I brought up the name of someone who I said probably wasn't right, but added that he was hilarious, so much so that he could probably transcend what was needed. However, he had only just started on a basic cable show in an extremely small role, and the producer had utterly no idea who he was -- like most of America, or likely England either. So I contacted a friend on the cable show to put together a demo reel on the guy. The movie project didn't go forward, but the fellow's name was John Oliver.
Which (finally...) brings us to the point.
Here is a quite-wonderful 16 minutes from last Sunday's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, where he vivaciously takes on Dr. Oz and the diet supplement industry.