Netflix has a history of occasionally saving shows from impending cancellation, or even resurrecting shows long since dead. Arrested Development, Longmire, The Killing, Star Wars: The Clone Wars… and now Gilmore Girls. Later this month, Netflix will return fans to Stars Hollow to check in on Lorelai, Rory, and the rest with Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. The four-part mini-series will pick up where the cult-hit series left off, reuniting much of the regular and recurring cast that fans have been clamoring to see again.
And what a cast. Gilmore Girls was one of those shows, like The X-Files or 24, where it seems like half the popular actors of today showed up on it at some point. With that in mind, and with the November 25 release of A Year in the Life still a few weeks away, we decided to revisit 15 Actors You Forgot Were on Gilmore Girls.
15. Masi Oka
Everybody remembers that future Heroes star Milo Ventimiglia played Jess on Gilmore Girls, but there were actually quite a few actors from NBC’s superhero drama who showed up in Stars Hollow. One of our favorites for sheer “blink and you’ll miss him” appeal is Masi Oka, who played the show-stealing Hiro Nakamura on Heroes. In Gilmore, he makes a super-brief appearance in the 2001 episode “The Road Trip to Harvard,” where he gets to argue with Rory during a Harvard philosophy class.
Gilmore Girls was actually one of Oka’s earliest TV appearances, setting him up for a recurring role on Scrubs beginning the very next year. Heroes is the show that made him a household name, however, with the charming innocence and enthusiasm of Hiro easily being one of the show’s best aspects. After that show folded in 2010, Masi has appeared in the films Jobs and Friends with Benefits, he’s been a regular as Doctor Max Bergman on CBS’ Hawaii Five-0 reboot, and he returned to the role of Hiro in the 2015 revival series Heroes Reborn.
14. Traci Lords
Given how otherwise relatively wholesome the world of Stars Hollow was, we wonder how families watching the show experienced an awkward moment as one or more of them tried to figure out where they knew that blonde lady playing the interior designer from. Perhaps there was the flash of realization, the widened eyes, the quick glance around to see if anyone else had made the connection. Oh yeah, that’s Traci Lords. From… well, you know. Lords, formerly one of the most infamous porn stars in the world, appeared in the season four episode “The Fundamental Things Apply,” playing interior designer Natalie Zimmerman.
By the time of the episode’s airing in 2003, of course, Lords had long since put those days behind her and transitioned into a mainstream actress. She made her screen debut — outside the adult film world — in the 1988 Roger Corman flick Not of This Earth. Maybe not Oscar material, but it kicked off an acting career that’s lasted nearly three decades, and led to her role as Wanda in Cry-Baby. She’s made appearances on shows like Roseanne, Melrose Place, and Profiler. She also starred in the Francis Ford Coppola-produced Sci-Fi Channel series First Wave.
13. Alex Borstein
Alex Borstein is best known as the voice of Lois on the animated Fox sitcom Family Guy, and for her years as a cast member of MADtv. But those are just two highlights of a long and noteworthy career stretching across acting, writing, comedy, improv, voice acting, and more. (She was a writer and voice actor on Pinky and the Brain!) Given her bona fides as a renaissance woman, it’s strangely appropriate that Borstein actually played several roles on Gilmore Girls. The most visible was as harpist Drella in the very first four episodes of the show. She then returned later in season three as Miss Celine, Emily Gilmore’s personal stylist.
But there was a lot of Borstein’s Gilmore experience that you didn’t see. She played Sookie in the unaired pilot, but she had to bail when the show went to series because of her commitment to MADtv. Melissa McCarthy took over the role for the bulk of the series. According to her IMDb page, she also lent her voice to several small roles on the show, including “Museum Voices” and an angry voicemail lady named Doris in the episode “Eight O’Clock at the Oasis.”
12. Riki Lindhome
Along with Scrubs’ Kate Micucci, Lindhome is one half of the musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates. After meeting each other at LA’s Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (where comedian Doug Benson introduced them!), the two soon partnered and began churning out memorable web videos like Pregnant Women Are Smug. Way back in season three’s “One’s Got Class and the Other One Dyes,” Lindhome appeared as an unnamed girl in Lorelai’s class. Like Borstein, she then returned later for a second role. In seasons five and six, she played Juliet, a friend of Rosemary and a member of the secret society known as the Life and Death Brigade.
Since then, Lindhome has continued to be one of those “that girl” faces that turns up all over the tube, putting in appearances on shows like Heroes, Nip/Tuck, and The Muppets. She’s also done voice acting, lending her pipes to Adventure Time, and the Monsters vs. Aliens TV spinoff series. Her biggest TV roles have been as co-lead with Micucci on IFC’s Garfunkel and Oates and as Beatrice Bellacourt on Comedy Central’s Another Period.
11. Sherilyn Fenn and Madchen Amick
We’re fudging the numbers a bit with this one, only because it makes sense to highlight the two actresses together since they’re both most recognizable from the same iconic series: Twin Peaks. Back in the day, Sherilyn Fenn played Audrey Horne, investigative daughter of scheming hotel owner Ben Horne. Given that her most famous role was in a show obsessed with doppelgangers, it’s only appropriate that Fenn played two characters in Gilmore Girls. She played Jimmy’s girlfriend Sasha in the episode “Here Comes the Son.” However, Gilmore fans will remember her better as Anna Nardini, Luke’s ex and the mother of his daughter, April.
In Twin Peaks, Madchen Amick played Shelly Johnson, the cute diner waitress with terrible taste in men. In Gilmore Girls, she appeared in three episodes as the similarly named Sherry Tinsdale. Despite the brevity of her appearance, her presence is felt throughout many more. After having a baby with Rory’s dad, Christopher, she eventually skips town to take a job in Paris, leaving Chris to raise young Gigi on his own. Not exactly “mom of the year” material.
10. Danny Pudi
For fans of Dan Harmon’s brilliant cult-fave sitcom Community, Danny Pudi is and shall forever be Abed Nadir, the endlessly quotable and Olympically nerdy BFF of Troy Barnes (Donald Glover). But three years before attending Greendale Community College, he was attending Yale with Rory. (We guess he flunked out?) Pudi played Raj, who worked with Rory at the Yale Daily News. He appeared in four episodes during 2006’s season 7 of Gilmore Girls.
Prior to Gilmore Girls, Pudi broke into TV with appearances on both The West Wing and ER, which is one hell of a way to come out of the starting gate. After Gilmore, his next recurring role was as the purity-pledging Sanjay on ABC Family’s Greek. This past summer, he put in a cameo in Star Trek Beyond, unrecognizable as the alien Fi’Ja, one of a pair who tussle with Scotty on Altamid. Next up is a role in Powerless, a high-concept NBC sitcom set in an insurance agency… inside the DC Comics universe. Pudi plays Teddy, an office prankster, alongside Vanessa Hudgens, Alan Tudyk, and Christina Kirk.
9. Mary Lynn Rajskub
Mary Lynn Rajskub is best known for playing prickly but brilliant CTU analyst Chloe O’Brian throughout the run of Fox’s 24 — often the only person Jack Bauer could trust in the show’s ever-revolving cast of moles, traitors, and double agents. She joined 24 in the third season, and was as much a staple of the show as Kiefer Sutherland’s Bauer himself from that point on. The year before she first appeared in 24, Rajskub had a tiny cameo in Gilmore Girls, playing an actress in one of Kirk Gleason’s short films. She returned in the sixth season finale, this time playing a singer.
Even her trademark work on 24 came nearly a decade into her career. Her earliest screen credits were on HBO’s Mr. Show with Bob and David — which is a bit like starting your running career in the Olympics. As if that weren’t impressive enough, she then went on to a recurring role in The Larry Sanders Show. These days she continues to work in both film and television, recently with roles on both Starz’s series adaptation of Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience and Fox’s Brooklyn Nine Nine.
8. Adam Brody
The year before his career-launching role in the Fox teen series The O.C., Adam Brody played Dave Rygalski in the third season of Gilmore Girls. The witty, charming musician captured the heart of Rory’s best friend, Lane Kim, and their romance continued on into the fourth season. While many Gilmore fans still have a soft spot for Dave, he left the series with something of a whimper. He and Lane try the whole long-distance relationship thing after Dave moves to California for college, but a fight cuts the romance short and Dave is never mentioned again. That’s just what happens when your boyfriend lands the leading role in a show on another network…
Brody has continued to bounce between TV and film in the years since Gilmore Girls and The O.C., with noteworthy stints on Showtime’s House of Lies and FX’s The League. Most recently, he appeared in the Crackle original drama series StartUp. We’ll always fondly remember as the dickish, devil-worshipping rocker Nikolai in Diablo Cody’s horror/comedy Jennifer’s Body.
7. Brandon Routh
At one point, Brandon Routh was primed to become one of the biggest stars in the world. In 2006, he entered the elite ranks of those few blokes who have gotten to play Superman, strapping on the cape for Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. But way back in 2001, Routh had a single appearance in the Gilmore episode “Concert Interruptus,” playing a dude named Jess who interrupted the Bangles concert in question. It was only Routh’s fourth screen credit, following his stint on MTV’s Undressed.
Superman Returns didn’t prove to be the franchise launcher that Singer and Warner Bros. hoped for, paving the way for Zack Snyder’s turn at bat with Man of Steel a few years later. However, Routh kept on keeping on, following up his Kryptonian adventure with a memorable run on Chuck and an unforgettable turn as one of Ramona Flowers’ evil exes in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. These days he’s playing Ray Palmer/The Atom on Arrow, The Flash, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which earns him another achievement: getting to play not one, but two legendary DC comics characters. That’s just super.
6. Jane Lynch
Jane Lynch was one of those “that lady” actors for years, putting in unforgettable appearances in movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Christopher Guest’s Best in Show. She finally cemented her status as a household name with her role as cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester on Glee. In 2000, she had a single appearance on Gilmore Girls, playing an unnamed nurse during Richard’s hospital stay in the episode “Forgiveness and Stuff.”
Even though her Gilmore Girls appearance was still a few years ahead of the breakout roles that made her a pop-culture staple who gets to host Hollywood Game Night, she was already over a decade into her career by that point. Her first screen credit was in the 1988 Judge Reinhold comedy Vice Versa, and from there she went on to ‘90s appearances in Married with Children, NewsRadio, Frasier, and more. In the 21st century, she’s popped up in everything from The X-Files to Veronica Mars to Arrested Development, but her role as Constance in Rob Thomas’ underrated Starz series Party Down will always be one of our favorites.
5. Nick Offerman
Speaking of comedic character actors who’ve become full-scale pop-culture phenoms, let’s talk about Nick Offerman. He is and shall forever be the droll, bearded, Libertarian magnificence that is Ron Swanson from NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Back in November 2003, he first appeared in the Gilmore Girls episode “The Festival of Living Art.” He played Jackson’s older brother, Beau, who rolled into Stars Hollow to help Jackson and Sookie prepare for the impending arrival of their son. He returned to the show two years later, in the episode “Always a Godmother, Never a God,” where he spent some time hitting on Lorelai.
Of course, Offerman would go on to bring to life his best-known role on Parks and Rec beginning in 2009, but Offerman has been a working actor for ages now. His first screen credit was in 1997’s Going All the Way, in a cast that included Ben Affleck. From there, he next turned up on an episode of E.R., kicking off a career that’s stretched for two decades on shows like 24, The West Wing, and, more recently, FX’s Fargo.
4. Rami Malek
Rami has been a working character actor for some time now, but he really blew up recently with his lead role on USA’s critically acclaimed Mr. Robot. In 2004 — and with a fluffly head of curly locks — Rami appeared in the Gilmore episode “In the Clamor and the Clangor.” He played Andy, a pious sort attending Lane’s Bible study, and he got off a grand total of three lines. Still, not bad given that this was his first credited screen appearance.
On his road between Gilmore Girls and Mr. Robot, like a weirdly high number of people on this list, Rami showed up on 24, playing Marcos Al-Zacar in season 8. He appeared in the acclaimed HBO miniseries The Pacific, and, god bless him, he was even in one of the Twilight movies. His role on Mr. Robot earned him a Critics’ Choice Award for Best Actor, as well as a Golden Globe nomination and an Emmy win. His star will only continue to rise: he was recently announced as the lead for the upcoming Bryan Singer-directed biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, playing Queen frontman Freddie Mercury.
3. Seth MacFarlane
Seth MacFarlane has become one of the true juggernauts of the pop culture landscape, with his previously canceled animated series Family Guy launching a TV empire that has spun off shows like American Dad and The Cleveland Show. But before he was a powerhouse producer and show creator, he was a working actor. In the season 2 Gilmore episode “Lorelai’s Graduation Day,” MacFarlane played Zack, a classmate at Hartford Business College who butts heads with Lorelai. He also lent his voice to the show in season 3, voicing a lawyer on the phone in the episode “I Solemnly Swear.”
After Gilmore, MacFarlane’s career has been a mix of film and TV appearances and working hard to build his own little empire. In addition to Family Guy and American Dad, which still keep on trucking, he directed and cowrote Ted and Ted 2, where he also voiced the title character of a foul-mouthed talking teddy bear. He also played the lead opposite Charlize Theron in his 2014 comedy western A Million Ways to Die in the West. He’s the executive producer of Starz’s Blunt Talk, starring Patrick Stewart, and he executive produced the 2014 resurrection of Carl Sagan’s classic science docuseries Cosmos, this time hosted by astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.
2. Krysten Ritter
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has often been something of a boy’s club so far, with a few exceptions like Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Cobie Smulders’ Agent Maria Hill. Krysten Ritter joined those ranks last year, headlining the Marvel/Netflix series Jessica Jones and brilliantly bringing to life a weary, damaged private detective who also happens to have superpowers… and no interest in donning spandex. Throughout season 7 of Gilmore Girls, however, Ritter was busy with a slightly less brooding role, playing Rory’s friend Lucy from Yale. Unlike many of the actors on this list, her Gilmore Girls stint was recurring, with appearances in eight episodes, all told.
Prior to Jessica Jones, Ritter had a couple of stand-out gigs in recent years. She infamously played Jane, Jesse’s ill-fated girlfriend on AMC’s hit Breaking Bad. And she channeled every last bit of her snark to play the bitch in question in the 2012 ABC sitcom Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23. (It’s on Netflix, check it out.) She’s set to reprise her role as Jessica Jones for Netflix in the Defenders miniseries next year, which will unite her with the stars of Daredevil, Luke Cage, and the upcoming Iron Fist.
1. Jon Hamm
Last but not least, we come to the star of AMC’s Mad Men, Donald Draper himself, actor Jon Hamm. Five years before he slipped on those dapper 1960s suits, Hamm played a dude named Peyton Sanders in the 2002 Gilmore Girls episode “Eight O’Clock at the Oasis.” He shared a bad date with Lorelai, but still managed to look unfairly handsome while doing so. Because that’s how Jon Hamm rolls.
In addition to Mad Men, Hamm has brilliantly played against his Don Draper typecasting in shows like Childrens Hospital, 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, showing off a skill for comedy you wouldn’t necessarily guess, based on dour old Don. He’s also been pretty damn funny during his SNL appearances, and not just during that “Jon Hamm’s John Ham” sketch. Next year he’s appearing in Edgar Wright’s next film, Baby Driver, as well as in Brad Anderson’s thriller High Wire Act.
Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life will be available to stream on Netflix on November 25th, 2016.