It’s common for famous faces to start young and grow into their craft on-screen, but it’s not as common for actors and actresses to get a late start in the game. However, there are plenty of celebrities didn’t find the role that made them famous until well into adulthood, and some of them took longer than you might think. Here are seven celebrities who became famous late in life.
Alan Rickman will most likely be remembered by modern audiences as Severus Snape in all seven of the Harry Potter movie adaptations, but the actor’s almost-deadpan delivery and bursts of emotion lent themselves to a number of iconic, often-quoted characters over the years.
Rickman’s standout roles include the Sherriff of Nottingham opposite Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood in the 1991 movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the voice of the depressed robot Marvin in the 2005 movie adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and as the fictional alien crew member Dr. Lazarus in the 1999 ensemble science-fiction comedy Galaxy Quest.
But the role that started Alan Rickman’s career rolling, so to speak, didn’t come until he was 42. His performance as Hans Gruber in the 1988 action movie Die Hard is his most iconic, and the villain he helped create in his 40s lives on as one of cinema’s most memorable on-screen baddies.
Samuel L. Jackson
You’d be hard pressed to find a film fan or even casual viewer who isn’t familiar with Samuel L. Jackson. Bit parts in early theatre productions and minor speaking roles in a few films led Samuel L. Jackson to Spike Lee’s School Daze, Do the Right Thing, and Jungle Fever movies, but they weren’t enough to skyrocket his career. In 1994, at the age of 46, Jackson solidified his A-list status with his performance as the Bible-quoting Jules in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction alongside John Travolta.
Samuel L. Jackson turned 70 in 2019 and is credited in more than 180 acting roles. He has also made more money at the box office than any other living actor according to Business Insider in 2018.
Kathy Bates starred in a slew of TV movies early in her career — as well as a handful of performances as no-name characters in a few movies in the 1980s — but they weren’t the kind of roles that earned her critical acclaim. It wasn’t until her breakout performance as the insane book fan Annie Wilkes in the 1990 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Misery that Bates became a household name, a recurrence in nightmares, and a prominent performer. She was 42 at the time.
Bryan Cranston continues the trend of actors and actresses who got the ball rolling in their 40s. Today, Cranston is most famous for his role as the cancer-stricken methamphetamine-cooking high school chemistry teacher Walter White in the television show Breaking Bad. It’s a role that earned him an Emmy award or a few during its run.
But fans of the man will remember him fondly for his turn as Hal in the family comedy series Malcolm in the Middle. Cranston was 44 when Malcolm started airing in 2000, and he stayed with the show during its seven seasons.
Much like Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman is a face (and a voice) most people have grown so familiar with that it’s hard to imagine a time before he was famous. At 52 years old, with more than 30 credited bit parts and performances under his belt, Freeman found the front seat playing chauffeur to Jessica Tandy in the 1989 movie Driving Miss Daisy. The movie won the Oscar for Best Picture, and the role earned Freeman an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win.
There’s a difference between being famous in one’s own country and achieving worldwide fame. Christoph Waltz is an example of an actor whose talents were recognized regionally well before he earned the attention of worldwide audiences at the age of 53.
Waltz starred in dozens of German and British television movies before director Quentin Tarantino cast him in the role of Col. Hans Landa in the 2009 film Inglorious Basterds. His performance earned him that year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor and would launch his international career as an A-list celebrity.
Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench is another example of a performer whose talent preceded her international acclaim. Dench had an impressive theatrical career, which included a 30-year run with the Royal Shakespeare Company, before she was cast in the now-iconic role of “M” for the 1995 James Bond movie GoldenEye. It’s a role she continued to play for the franchise through 2015’s Spectre and one that led her from the stage to the big screen as a later-in-life leading lady.
Age is irrelevant to fame
It’s most often the performance and timing that determines a celebrity’s rise to fame, regardless of age. These seven performers are a good place to start when looking for celebrities who became famous later in life, but the list could go on. Chances are that some famous faces you’re familiar with today didn’t get their official start until they were older.