Well-known, famous actors who started late in show business are some of the best stars we’ve seen on-screen in the movies and television. Those who began their acting careers at an older age bring a profound depth in all of their roles, separating themselves from other talents. You might be surprised at which actors actually started in their later years.
Like anyone else who makes a career change and discovers themselves over the years, there are actors who found their niche in acting. The acting bug bit them at some point… which later led to being in the right place at the right time as far as being discovered goes.
Jon Hamm waited tables until he had a casting role on Providence in 2007, as Backstage reports. The actor started late in life when it came to becoming a recognized face in the talent industry, but his hard work eventually paid off. He famously appeared as Don Draper in AMC’s Mad Men for seven seasons.
Tim Allen was a struggling comedian before his big break came in Home Improvement. He’s since been in movies, such as The Santa Clause, as the voice for Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story, and had another television comedy, Last Man Standing.
Alan Rickman began working with various British theater companies and in 1985, was cast as Vicomte de Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which earned him a Tony Award nomination. From there, fame entered his life after playing Hans Gruber in Die Hard. He was also in Sense and Sensibility and Robin Hood. Additionally, he was cast as Severus Snape in Harry Potter.
Steve McQueen had done just about everything else under the sun besides acting before he entered the scene. McQueen started his career on screen as he approached his thirties in Wanted: Dead or Alive, according to Biography. He made Bullitt — his top movie in the famous car chase scenes. The actor went on to make other films: The Great Escape, The Sand Pebbles, The Getaway, and Papillon to name a few.
Harrison Ford was in his thirties when he acted in American Graffiti, but turned to carpentry when his career wasn’t going anywhere. Four years later, he met with George Lucas again (directed him in American Graffiti) who cast him as Han Solo in Star Wars. He went on to make the Indiana Jones movies. The rest, as they say, is history.
F. Murray Abraham is best known for his role as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus — winning the Academy Award for Best Actor at the age of 45. Few may realize that the star who started acting late in life was the talking grape in a number of Fruit of the Loom commercials.
Gene Hackman was 30 years-old when he started acting late in his life. His performance in Crimson Tide surged his acting career to unbelievable heights. In 1967, Hackman received his first Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor in Bonnie and Clyde.
Morgan Freeman started acting when he was 9-years-old but didn’t make it big until the1970s and 1980s. His early break came when he appeared on the soap opera, Another World and the PBS children’s show, Electric Company. This led to huge roles for the still-popular actor. He’s been in Driving Miss Daisy, Shawshank Redemption, Million Dollar Baby (winning an Oscar Award), and many others.
Sylvester Stallone was 30-years-old acting entered his life for good following the work of a screenplay he had written titled Rocky. Prior to that he performed in a little stage work, but nothing serious. Studios wanted to buy the Rocky script from Stallone, but he stipulated he wanted to star in the project and receive a share of the profits. In 1976 the movie came out and catapulted his career into overdrive. The actor later wrote more hit screenplays for Rambo and F.I.S.T. in addition to all of the Rocky sequels.
Samuel Jackson is another star who makes the list of actors who started their careers late in life. He was a social worker before landing the role of Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction at the age of 45. He played small roles in films like Goodfellas and True Romance prior to that. Later on, Jackson went on to deliver powerful performances in A Time to Kill, Jackie Brown, and most recently, Django Unchained.
Fred Dryer is seen less on TV nowadays, but the former New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams NFL player transitioned into acting once he retired from football. As Biography reveals, he famously starred in the 80’s television series, Hunter. At 6’6″ tall, Dryer was perfect for the commanding role. He was 38-years-old when he began his career in Hollywood.
Norm Lewis had quite a history behind him before appearing as one of Olivia Pople’s love interests on Scandal. He acted in On-and-Off-Broadway theater prior to making his television debut.
James Gandolfini died in June 2013, but his star still shines brightly. The actor landed his big role as mob boss, Tony Soprano, in the hit HBO series, The Sopranos. He was 38 at the time. Gandolfini continued his work on Broadway and was seen on-screen in Where the Wild Things Are, Welcome to the Rileys, and Zero Dark Thirty.
Jeremy Renner worked as a part-time makeup artist while appearing in small roles in order to make it financially. Things changed for the actor in 2009 at the age of 38 when he starred as Sergeant William James in Kathyrn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. Renner has made it big in movies like The Avengers and The Bourne Legacy.
Chuck Norris didn’t begin acting until later in his life, according to IMDb. The accomplished martial artist was the winner of multiple world titles in Tae Kwan Do, Tang Soo Do, and Karate, Norris broke into acting at the age of 29. In 1969 he debuted with Dean Martin in The Wrecking Crew. He had eight successful seasons as the star in Walker: Texas Ranger.
Michael Emerson is famous as an Emmy Award-winning star, but he worked retail jobs and was a freelance illustrator in New York City before things turned around for him. His performance as a serial killer in The Practice earned him his first Emmy Award. He’s won additional Emmys for his work on Lost and landed another role on Person of Interest.
Steve Carrell was 39 when he appeared in the breakout role as Evan Baxter in 2003’s Bruce Almighty with Jim Carrey. Popsugar writes that the comedian went to even more success playing Michael Scott in The Office.
Bryan Cranston made Breaking Bad worth watching, but he was one of those actors who started later in life. Project Casting reveals that n the 1980s and 1990s, Cranston took on several small roles, including one in Seinfeld. That later took him to Malcolm in the Middle when he was 44.
Sean Connery worked on various productions in his twenties. It wasn’t until he was 32 when the breakthrough role of James Bond changed his life.
Ricky Gervais is a household name now, but he didn’t become as famous as he is until he wrote the British TV series, The Office at the age of 40.
Billy Bob Thornton began his career as a musician and eventually moved to L.A. in the 1980s to pursue an acting career. He wrote, directed, and starred in his own movie, Sling Blade, at the age of 39.
Michael Caine struggled a long time on small projects until he was in the 1966 film, Alfie, at the age of 33.
Burt Reynolds turned to acting when he couldn’t play football anymore. He began doing small television shows for 14 years back in the 1950s. The 1972 film, Deliverance, made Reynolds famous in Hollywood at the age of 36
John Mahoney played Kelsey Grammer’s retired police officer dad on Frasier, began acting at the age of 37. A British-American actor who hails from Manchester, England, Mahoney moved to the states after a career in teaching and editing before joining the Army. He was turned on to performing after actor, John Malkovich, persuaded him to appear in Steppenwolf. Mahoney went on to play in supporting roles in movies such as Manhattan Project, Say Anything, Moonstruck, and Suspect.
Wilford Brimley launched his acting career while in his thirties during the 1960s. The bespectacled actor worked as a stunt rider, extra on sets, and wound up a character actor, according to Biography. He was talked into acting by actor, Robert Duvall. Brimley is famously known for his diabetes commercials, but the actor has been in wise character roles in movies such as Cocoon and Country.
Actors who started late in life are some of today’s best stars with serious box office power. At one time in their lives, most of these men would have never imagined a future with such a bright light.
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