There are some actors who managed to hit it big before becoming Marvel stars, and then there are those who were relatively unknown before joining the comic book movie franchise. Falling under the latter category would be Sebastian Stan, who is reprising his role as James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes as the co-lead of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+.
After playing a World War II-era solider turned brainwashed assassin turned metal-armed superhero, the 38-year-old Romanian-born actor would go on to star in Oscar-winning dramas like I, Tonya, high-brow comedies such as Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, or action thrillers not related to comics, as the upcoming Netflix movie The 355 qualifies as. However, before becoming a recognizable MCU favorite, Sebastian Stan (who also bears a striking resemblance to a young Mark Hamill) was hiding in plain sight in some of the most recognizable properties of the big and small screen.
So, where might one have seen their beloved Bucky before he was cast in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger without even realizing it? You may be shocked to know that you could have become properly acquainted with Sebastian Stan in the following nine examples of his earlier work, starting with a movie from several years before his MCU beginning.
The Architect (Martin Waters)
In the sole directorial feature by Preacher and Project Blue Book producer Matt Tauber, which he adapted in 2006 from David Greig's play, Anthony LaPaglia plays the title role of The Architect, and comes to odds with a community organizer (Viola Davis) who's requesting to demolish a building he designed years earlier. Meanwhile, as he suffers conflict with his wife (Isabella Rosselini), his teenage daughter (Hayden Penetierre) feels compelled to explore her sexuality, and his college dropout son (Sebastian Stan) begins to explore his with a young man (Greek star Paul James) he meets while visiting his father's building.
Hayden Panetierre: Wake Up Call (Boyfriend)
Just two years after playing her older brother in The Architect, Sebastian Stan went in an entirely different direction and played Hayden Panetierre’s shady boyfriend. The role was part of a music video for "Wake Up Call," the then 19-year-old Heroes star and singer's first single not associated with one of her own acting roles.
Rachel Getting Married (Walter)
In 2008, the same year he appeared as Hayden Panettiere's supposedly commitment-phobic boyfriend, Sebastian Stan played someone with an entirely different sort of issue with commitment. In his brief appearance as Walter at the beginning of director Jonathan Demme's drama Rachel Getting Married, he is seated on a park bench begging his rehab counselor, Rosa (Roslyn Ruff) for his Zippo lighter right before struggling addict Kym (Anne Hathaway) leaves to attend her sister's wedding.
The Covenant (Chase Collins)
Now, if Walter were anyone like Sebastian Stan's character in The Covenant, he could have just made a Zippo lighter appear out of thin air. In the 2006 supernatural teen thriller, he plays the extremely powerful (but also extremely corrupt) Chase Collins, who turns out to be the banished fifth member of the Sons of Ipswitch - four young men who, before the villain enters the story, indulge in using their magical abilities to live like kings.
Kings (Jack Benjamin)
Speaking of kings, that is also the title of the short-lived NBC drama inspired by the Biblical story of David on which Sebastian Stan landed his first starring role. He plays Prince Jonathan "Jack" Benjamin, the secretly homosexual son of Ian McShane's character, King Silas Benjamin, who rules the fictional country of Gilboa in an alternate, modern-day monarchy.
Gossip Girl (Carter Baizen)
Both prior to and following his starring role on Kings, Sebastian Stan landed his first recurring gig on a TV series with Gossip Girl - the long-running, still popular series following the scandalous private lives of a group of young New York socialites. Stan appeared in a total of 11 episodes of the first three seasons as Carter Baizen, who shared a romance with Blake Lively's Serena Van Der Woodson after a fling with Blair Waldorf, which would actually lead to a relationship between the actor and Leighton Meester in real life.
Hot Tub Time Machine (Blaine)
In a purely ironic sense, the most notable precursor to Sebastian Stan's eventual casting as Soviet-brainwashed assassin The Winter Soldier might actually come from 2010's brilliant, nostalgia-filled sci-fi comedy Hot Tub Time Machine, in which he plays Blaine. Other than being, essentially, the ultimate '80s movie douchebag, he is also the victim of reversed Soviet brainwashing, blindly suspecting the four out-of-time central characters to be Cold War spies after finding their can of Chernobly, an illegal Russian energy drink that is actually a key ingredient for their return to the present.
Once Upon A Time (Jefferson/The Mad Hatter)
On the other hand, Sebastian's Stan's recurring role on Once Upon Time, the ABC drama that inventively combined bedtime story imagination with real-life drama, in 2012-2013 also has a few interesting similarities to Bucky Barnes. His widowed, single father character Jefferson is really Alice in Wonderland's The Mad Hatter (one of the many other fairy tale characters unwittingly thrust into our own reality in a town called Storybrooke), who was previously beheaded by the Red Queen in his past life - kind of like the arm amputation his MCU character would later suffer.
Black Swan (Andrew)
Technically, Once Upon a Time was not Sebastian Stan's first encounter with a fairy tale creature with a warped sense of reality. He briefly appears in Black Swan, director Darren Aranofsky's trippy psychological thriller from 2010. He plays a young man attempting to impress ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalia Portman in an Academy Award-winning role), while she is not only struggling with her role in Swan Lake affecting her sanity, but a drink laced with ecstasy awakening her sexual desires on the dance club floor.
You know, based on some of my character comparisons above, it seems that many of Sebastian Stan's earlier roles have a strange connection to Bucky Barnes. Both he and Once Upon a Time's Jefferson have experienced losing a major body part, Blaine from Hot Tub Time Machine is committed to defying Russian control, and his Rachel Getting Married character struggles to overcome a destructive behavior. It is really is no wonder he eventually got the call from Marvel.