Retroactive Recognition
'60s: Ward, West, Williams, some guy.
'70s onwards: "Wait, is that Bruce Lee?!"

You start watching a show. There's an actor on it. Let's call him Terry O'Quinn. As far as you know, you've never seen him before.

You keep watching the show.

Then you see an old rerun of The X-Files. There he is! Or you come upon the movie The Cutting Edge on cable. There he is! Or The Rocketeer. Or Heaven's Gate. Or that other episode of The X-Files he was in, playing someone else. Or Star Trek: The Next Generation, when he played that asshole admiral. Or JAG where he played that badass admiral. Or The X-Files: Fight the Future, playing someone else yet again. Or the other 94 things he was in.

Point is, you've seen these things before. You just never paid enough attention to the actor to learn his name or connect one appearance to another until he finally landed a regular role on a series you regularly watch.

This is what happens when a former bit player finally lands a breakout role. It may also include a few minor roles before their Star-Making Role. When you just can't shake the image of the other roles, it's Role Association. If the older work is repackaged to accentuate the actor's later successes, it falls into Billing Displacement.

Examples (sorted by last name):

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