11 Actors Who Got Their Big Break Later In Life

“I’m thrilled that it happened later for me!”

Not all actors make their mark in Hollywood right away. While it seems like most celebs are born into stardom or get their start as young adults, many actors actually put in hard work for much of their life before finally getting their big break.

For actors like Ty Burrell, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jane Lynch, it took hard work, perseverance, and a lot of smaller roles before they were cast in the project that helped kick start their careers. From there, they became the huge stars that we know today.

Here’s which stars had their breakthrough moments later in life…

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1. Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm didn’t land his starring role on “Mad Men” until he was 36. Before that, he landed a few small roles and also spent time as a teacher, a dishwasher, and was once even a set decorator on porn movies. Jon says that if he had landed his breakthrough role when he was younger, it would have been a completely different experience.

“I’d have probably handled it with way less grace. Most of us are different in our twenties than we are in our thirties. I may have gone off the rails — who knows? You’re less comfortable with who you are. I’m thrilled that it happened later for me,” Jon told DailyMail.

2.  Harrison Ford

While Harrison Ford was pursuing acting as a young man, he also worked as a carpenter to provide for his family. He kept that gig until he was 35, when George Lucas recognized Harrison from a previous film while he was working at the studio where he was holding auditions for “Star Wars.”

“Through carpentry, I fed my family and began to pick and choose from among the roles offered. I could afford to hold out until something better came along. But I never gave up my ambition to be an actor. I was frustrated but never felt defeated by my frustration,” Harrison once said of his carpentry job.

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3. Jeremy Renner

Jeremy Renner didn’t find a ton of success in his early career but when he turned 37, he landed a starring role in “The Hurt Locker,” which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Before that, Jeremy and a friend flipped houses to make a living, which he continued to do even after he made it big.

“It feels good to have your money invested somewhere else. And then say, ‘F— you, I don’t need your damn movie,'” Jeremy told GQ.

4. Jane Lynch

Jane Lynch had minor roles in her acting career before landing her big break in “Glee” at age 49. The role even earned her an Emmy and the year following her win, she actually hosted the show!

“I was 40 by the time I started making money at this…and I was happy before that. If you’ve got some goal that you think you need to be somewhere by the time you’re some age, that’s so stupid. Don’t do it. I never had that goal,” she told NBC.

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5. Ty Burrell

Throughout his career, Ty Burrell landed supporting roles on television shows and in movies but it wasn’t until he was 42 when he was cast in his breakthrough role on “Modern Family.” Although he almost gave up acting right before he auditioned for the show, he says he’s glad his big break came later in life.

“I’m glad I had to wait until my 40s for success. I was not a mature young man and would probably have gone off the rails. Plus, I don’t know if it was my Frankenbrow, but before ‘Modern Family’ I was always cast as the guy who got his comeuppance — and was usually killed or fired. It’s nice to play someone well-intentioned now,” Ty told The Guardian.

6. Kathy Bates

Kathy Bates earned credits early in her career as a stage actress but only landed some smaller roles on film and television. It wasn’t until she was cast in “Misery” at age 43 that she got her big break. She won the Oscar for Best Actress and her career took off from there.

“The roles I was lucky enough to get were real stretches for me: usually a character who was older, or a little weird, or whatever. And it was hard, not just for the lack of work but because you have to face up to how people are looking at you,” Kathy said of the roles she got as a young actress.

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7. Ken Jeong

Ken Jeong may be known for his comedic roles now but he actually worked as a doctor until he was 40. Before landing his first major roles in “Knocked Up” and “The Hangover,” he spent his spare time secretly doing stand up comedy.

“Most doctors have golf as a hobby. Mine was doing comedy…[‘The Hangover’] changed my life overnight. It changed everything for me…I always say ‘Knocked Up’ opened the doors and ‘The Hangover’ just burst it wide open…I’m like a doctor who had a detour,” Ken told NPR.

8. Steve Carell

Steve Carell landed some smaller roles early in his career, including a correspondent position on “The Daily Show,” but it wasn’t until he was 43 when he landed his breakthrough role on “The Office.” From there, he quickly became a household name and was cast in other major comedic roles like in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”

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9. Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain says she had trouble landing roles until she was 34, when she was cast in “The Help” which jump started her career. She attributes her early career struggles to her hair color.

“There were a couple of times when I thought, ‘Maybe I should dye my hair blonde?’ I’m in LA and I’m thinking, ‘Why can’t I get an audition for a film?’ Being a redhead and not having very conventionally modern looks, it was confusing for people and they didn’t know exactly where to put me,” Jessica told the InStyle.

10. Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson spent much of his acting career landing smaller roles before breaking through with his part in “Pulp Fiction,” which Quentin Tarantino actually wrote with him in mind. Samuel was 45 at the time that the movie premiered and his career quickly took off from there.

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11. Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais didn’t kick off his acting career until he was 37 and it wasn’t until several years later that he gained massive success when he wrote, directed, and starred in the UK version of “The Office.” Ricky says working on the show was the first thing that he really put true effort into in his life.

“I never tried hard at anything…And I was also proud of doing well without trying. As you get older, and it took me a long time to realise it, that’s a disgusting attitude, revolting. It’s ignorant and it’s a tragic waste, and I realised that the work itself is the reward. The struggle itself is the reward,” Ricky told The Guardian.


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