Many famous actors served in the military before transitioning to stage and screen. What did they take from the military experience and how did it inform their acting? Here are four actors whose military paths differed greatly, but still their fates were bound for Hollywood. 

Adam Driver

Before starring in Marriage Story, The Report and the Star Wars sequel trilogy, Adam Driver was in the Marines for just under three years. He joined  the United States Marine Corps as a patriotic act soon after the September 11 attacks soon after high school. “In the military, I felt this sense of community,” he said during a Ted Talk. But he was devastated when he  dislocated his sternum while mountain biking because it meant he had to leave his fellow soldiers who had become his closest friends. Discharged with the rank of Lance Corporal, he found himself struggling to adjust back into the civilian world. “How often in the civilian world are you put in a life-or-death situation with your closest friends, and they constantly demonstrate that they’re not going to abandon you?” Soon enough, he was accepted into Juilliard where his eyes were opened to the wealth of “playwrights and characters and plays that had nothing to do with the military but were somehow describing my military experience in a way that before, to me, was indescribable.” Initially perceived as volatile by his classmates, he said, “I felt myself feeling less aggressive as I was able to put words to feelings for the first time.” In turn, Driver co-founded Arts in the Armed Forces, a nonprofit that brings high-quality theater arts productions to active-duty service members, veterans, military support staff and their families free of charge.

Morgan Freeman

Even though he was offered a scholarship for drama from Jackson State University, Morgan Freeman opted instead to join the U.S. Air Force in 1955. Indeed, the idea of flying was a tremendous draw for the young man. At first he felt right at home in the military, but when he eventually was able to train as a fighter pilot, the reality of the job started to take its toll. He felt like he was “sitting in the nose of a bomb,” he told AARP magazine. “I had this very clear epiphany … You are not in love with this; you are in love with the idea of this,” Freeman said. He knew for certain he no longer wanted to be in the military, so he left the Air Force after three-and-a-half years. Subsequently, he worked in a long string of temp jobs before he dedicated himself to acting. Over the course of two decades, he moved from theater work to being cast in the popular soap opera Another World as well as the kids’ television show The Electric Company.  Now Freeman is widely celebrated for his performances in films including The Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby, Driving Miss Daisy, Seven, and Unforgiven.


Ice-T was struggling to support his girlfriend and newborn daughter. He wasn’t able to make ends meet by selling cannabis and stealing car stereos, and he was concerned his lifestyle was going to land him in jail. So for the sake of financial stability, he  joined the Army in 1977 where he ended up serving two years in the 25th Infantry Division. While deployed in Hawaii, Ice-T served as a squad leader. His memoir recounts how he purchased stereo equipment, a mixer, turntables, and large speakers at this point of time. Inspired by hip hop music, he worked on his rap skills and mixing beats. Ice-T went on to receive an honorable discharge because he was a single father, but back in civilian life, he went through a period of robbing banks before his career as a rap artist took off. And with all of his talent, fame, and personality, Ice-T fit right into Hollywood. In fact, since 2000, he’s portrayed, ironically, a law-enforcement officer: NYPD Detective Odafin Tutuola on the NBC police drama Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Clint Eastwood

Clint Eastwood was drafted during the Korean War. He didn’t want to enlist, but had no choice. In the Army, Eastwood served as a swim instructor, and his skills in the water turned out to be a true asset one day when the Navy torpedo bomber plane he was riding on ran out of gas. Indeed, he needed to swim three miles to reach the California shore. In 1953, Eastwood was discharged and he attended Los Angeles City College were he studied drama thanks to the GI Bill. He gradually became famous for his roles in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, The Bridges of Madison County as well as Escape from Alcatraz in which his character had to swim the trecherous Pacific Ocean to gain his freedom. Eastwood eventually became an Academy Award-winning director for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby.