12 Great Actors Who Didn’t Get Their Big Breaks Until Later In Life

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Hollywood loves youth. It feeds on it. We’re this close to sending older actresses out to sea on ice floes, so God forbid someone should get his or her big break later in life. And by later in life I of course mean after age 30, because these days if you don’t have at least one pregnancy rumor per week by the time you’re 25, you’re a nobody.

Sometimes actors make it big after 30 because they put off acting or couldn’t get cast in anything before that. But most of the time they get famous and are like, “Yeah, so I’ve been in a bunch of stuff for like ten years, but none of you were paying attention to me. I’m really talented, aren’t I? Looks like you were missing out.” So they might not actually say that exactly, but they might as well, since we all feel like idiots for not noticing them before. Since today marks the 37th birthday of late Hollywood bloomer Jessica Chastain, it’s a great time to pay tribute to some more stars who entered our lives at a later age. We’re glad they didn’t disappear before we could notice how talented they are.

1. Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain Toronto International Film Festival September 2013

(Photo: Dennis Van Tine/Future Image/WENN.com)

Let’s start with the birthday girl herself. In 2011, at age 34, she was suddenly everywhere, starring in acclaimed films like The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, and The Help. Now she’s been nominated for two Oscars and ranks high on everyone’s lists of favorite famous redheads. When she won a Golden Globe for Best Actress last year, she revealed that she’d been trying to get people’s attention for a long time: “I’ve auditioned, and struggled, and fought, and been on the sideline for years and to be here now, in this moment, it’s a beautiful feeling to receive this encouragement and support, thank you so much.” Sorry we didn’t notice you sooner, Jessica.

2. Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm 2013 ESPY Awards July 17 2013 Los Angeles California(Photo: FayesVision/WENN)

John Hamm’s first credit on IMDb is as “Gorgeous Guy at Bar” on Ally McBeal in 1997. He remained a gorgeous guy for years after that, starring in various forgotten projects. It wasn’t until Mad Men premiered in 2007 and he brought Don Draper into our lives that we all really started paying attention. By that time Jon was already 36. Thank goodness that show happened, because he almost quit acting before he was 30.

3. Kristen Wiig

Kristen Wiig 2013 Golden Globes(Photo: LJT Images/WENN.com)

If you can believe it, Kristen Wiig is 40 years old. But she didn’t get her start on Saturday Night Live until 2005, when she was 32, and she didn’t become the highlight of the show until after that. Remember when the world collectively realized, “Hey, that lady’s totally the funniest one there”? That was a great time to be alive.

4. Christoph Waltz

Christoph Waltz BAFTA after party February 2014

(Photo: Euan Cherry/WENN.com)

Okay, so Christoph Waltz has actually been acting since the 1970s, but those were in largely German projects. He didn’t make it big in the states until he starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds in 2009. By then he was 53 years old. He now boasts two Oscars. Not too shabby.

5-6. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler attending the Golden Globes January 2013(Photo: WENN.com)

I know we always group these two together, but they’re just such the perfect pair that I can’t bear to separate them. They rose up in the improv world together, but they didn’t make it big on SNL until they were both already in their 30s. Tina started as a writer in 1997, but she didn’t become Weekend Update anchor until 2000, at age 30. Amy started on the show in 2001, also at 30. If only we’d known them earlier. Like if they could have started doing comedy at age 2 that would have been super helpful.

7. Harrison Ford

Harrison Ford Hollywood Film Awards October 2013

(Photo: FayesVision/WENN.com)

If you can believe it, Harrison Ford was already 35 years old when he starred as Han Solo in Star Wars. He’d had bit parts for years before that, but after failing to make it big he took up carpentry. When he was hired to build cabinets for George Lucas, big things began to happen for him. After Lucas hired him to read lines for actors auditioning for Star Wars, he made an impression and ended up getting a major role in the film. And the rest is badass action movie history.

8. Lupita Nyong’o

Lupita Nyong'o Oscars press room March 2014(Photo: Apega/WENN.com)

Lupita is everyone’s newest girl crush, and she just won her first Oscar for her role in 12 Years a Slave. If the world is indeed a just place, she’s got an incredible career in front of her, but it took some time to get there. Lupita just celebrated her 31st birthday, and 12 Years a Slave was her first feature film. She received her master’s degree in acting from Yale in 2012, and it certainly paid off.

9. Jeremy Renner Jeremy Renner Captain America The Winter Solider LA premiere March 2014

(Photo: FayesVision/WENN.com)

Jeremy didn’t make it big until he starred in 2008′s Best Picture Oscar winner The Hurt Locker. By then he was already 37 years old, and despite having acted since the ’90s, the world didn’t really know his name. But look at him now, starring in blockbusters like The Avengers and gaining critical acclaim (and Oscar nods) for roles like The Town. Go, Jeremy, go!

10. Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L Jackson Captain American The Winter Soldier premiere London March 2014

(Photo: WENN.com)

First of all, he’s not Laurence Fishburne. Let’s just get that clear before we go any further. Second of all, did you know that he was 42 when he got his big break in 1991′s Jungle Fever? He’d starred in smaller roles for years before that, but he also struggled with addiction. When he completed rehab, Spike Lee cast him in the film, in which he played a crack addict. Once he got a role in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, he became the Samuel L. Jackson we all know today.

11. Connie Britton

Connie Britton 2013 Emmys(Photo: Nikki Nelson/WENN.com)

I’m pretty sure none of us can imagine a time when Connie Britton and her beautiful hair didn’t grace our television screens, but she didn’t make it big on Friday Night Lights until she was 39. She’d had roles on shows like Spin City and 24 before that, but it wasn’t until 2006 that we all collectively went, “Gasp, who’s that?”

12. Lucille Ball

Lucille Ball licking spoon

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Time for an old school example. We all know and love Lucille Ball for her role on I Love Lucy. But did you know that show didn’t even start until she was almost 40 years old? She’d starred in smaller movie and TV roles leading up to the show, but she was known for a while as the “Queen of the B’s.” Boy did she prove everyone wrong. She’s now one of the most iconic comedienne’s in history — if not the most iconic.

You can reach this post's author, Jill O’Rourke, on twitter.
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    • elle

      Hugh Jackman too. He was 32ish when X-Men came out. I mean he was “theater famous” before then but I’ve discovered that means nothing, judging by the amount of people who still don’t know who freaking Idina Menzel is. Anyway now he’s an A+ list star with his own gigantic franchise.

      • Jill O’Rourke

        Ooh, good addition.

    • gdhh

      I honestly can’t understand how Jennifer Lawrence won the Oscar over Jessica Chastain! I mean, it obviously was because of the entire how-dare-they-show-the-truth-about-torturing-prisoners controversy, but people behaved like Lawrence completely deserved it and I was like “why don’t you fall again, maybe for real this time and break that undeserved statuette you got?!!!!”

      • Ginny

        I’m of the school of thought that J-Law got her Oscar for her performance in Winter’s Bone the previous year. If you’ve never seen Winter’s Bone, see it. Amazing. That move stayed with me for days.

    • Lindsey Conklin

      Jessica Chastain is AMAZING. So is Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Connie Britton <3

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    • MellyG

      Alan Rickman was, I think, 42, when Die Hard (his frist movie, though he had done a ton of BBC stuff) came out.

    • Samantha Escobar

      Can you please write a million more of these posts because seriously, they make me feel genuinely better about my life, career and lack of direction.

    • Maddie

      Umm, Lupita Nyong’o is 31?!?!?!?!? She looks 21! If that! Pardon me while I freak out over here!

      • MerlePerle

        That was my reaction, too. i thought she was like 24!

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