7 Hollywood Stars Who Became Famous Late in Life

Actors’ big breaks don’t always happen overnight. For some stars, it takes years of heartbreak, bit roles, and rejection before landing a major movie. Take these stars, for example, who all acted in minor roles and auditioned for years before catching a break. Determination, hard work, and the right part quickly sky-rocketed these late bloomers to the top. Here are seven actors who found success and fame later in life.

1. Jeremy Renner

Source: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney

Renner struggled for years to find his place in Hollywood. He had small parts in several TV shows, such as Angel, CSI, The Net, and Time of Your Life, was in several made-for-TV films, including A Friend’s Betrayal and A Nightmare Come True, and had a few roles in mainstream movies as well. But Renner’s big break didn’t come until 2008 when he was 37-years-old, according to Business Insider.

He played Sergeant First Class William James in The Hurt Locker, a role that catapulted him to the top and earned him an Oscar nomination for best performance by an actor in a leading role. Since then, Renner has starred in one hit after another, including The Town, The Avengers, and The Bourne Legacy. Of course, the latest hit movie he has starred in is Avengers: Age of Ultron. It may have taken him awhile to find fame, but Renner is now one of Hollywood’s hottest stars.

2. Jon Hamm

Source: AMC

In 2007, everything changed for Hamm, who was 36 at the time, when he landed his role as Don Draper in AMC’s Mad Men. Before then, he was a struggling actor who had spent years trying to catch a break. While waiting for that break to arrive, he taught drama to 13- and 14-year-olds, worked at a restaurant, and at what he describes as his lowest point, even took a job as a set decorator on soft-porn movies, according to MailOnline. Before Mad Men came around, Hamm was close to giving up his dream of becoming an actor.

Fortunately, he was offered the role of Draper before he gave up entirely. “Mad Men came right at the end of a long low for Jon, so it was pretty amazing to see the world catch up with what I always thought about him. It’s long overdue,” his girlfriend, Jennifer Westfeldt, said in an interview with the HuffPostUK. With one monumental role, Hamm finally went from struggling actor to a household name.

3. Samuel L. Jackson

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It’s hard to believe there was a time when Jackson wasn’t center stage on the big screen. But for years, he struggled with his fair share of supporting roles and minor films, including School Daze, Coming to America, Do the Right Thing, and Sea of Love. Things got a little better with Jungle Fever (1991), but Jackson spent years working to find a game-changing project. His break finally came in 1994 with Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Jackson was 45 when he got the gig, according to Business Insider.

Since then, Jackson has had no problem finding an array of Blockbuster hits to star in, including The Avengers, Coach Carter, S.W.A.T., Snakes on a Plane, and Iron Man 2, just to name a few. Jackson’s secret to success? Hard work. “I grew up in a working-class family. When I was a kid, all the adults in my house got up and went to work every day. I assumed that’s what grown people do. That’s what I do. I just happen to have a very interesting job that’s kind of cool,” he said during an interview with Rolling Out.

4. Jane Lynch

Source: Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Lynch was a struggling actor for over fifteen years before she got her big break. She was recognized for her supporting roles in films such as Best in Show, Role Models, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but her true breakout role didn’t occur until she was 49, according to the New York Post. After years of hard work, Lynch landed the part of Sue Sylvester on the hit Fox show Glee.

In an interview with USA Today, Lynch said she feels like she’s finally settled in to her acting career. “I think I really needed some professional success. I would have had to find a way to be happy without it, but I think it really did help me get a sense of myself and a confidence. I think if I had just done Best in Show and that was it for me, (I) think I would have been able to rest. I really feel like everything after that has been kind of gravy.”

5. Harrison Ford

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Ford first began to show interest in acting in the 1960s, but that’s definitely not when he rose to fame. Around the same time, he took up carpentry, and began to make a decent living working as a woodworker, according to Forbes. While he was doing wood-work for various studios, he began to make significant connections, one of which was George Lucas.

Lucas found a role for Ford in the 1973 film American Graffiti, per Forbes. That was his first lucky break. But his second larger break came in 1977 when he was 35 and played Hans Solo in Star Wars. The rest, as they say, is history. Ford skyrocketed to the top and is now one of the most well-known actors in Hollywood. He currently has several films in the works, including Star Wars: Episode VII, Indiana Jones 5, and a not-yet-titled Blade Runner project, according to IMDb.

6. Connie Britton

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Britton started out with minor roles in shows such as Spin City and The West Wing, but her claim to fame came when she was 39 and landed the role of Tami Taylor on the hit TV show Friday Night Lights, according to Distractify. Before she hit it big, though, she spent years struggling. In 1995, she thought her big break had come when she was asked to do a screen test with Tom Cruise for Jerry Maguire. But the role ended up going to Renee Zellweger.

“It was heartbreak,” Britton told the New York Times. Britton said she spent the next decade trying to find another project to launch her career. She got her chance in 2006 with Friday Night Lights, and she’s been on fire ever since. Britton has landed other major roles in hit TV shows, including American Horror Story and Nashville.

7. Jessica Chastain

Source: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

As of late, Chastain has become an actress who hasn’t had to worry about landing roles and getting new projects. But prior to 2011, she was struggling to make a name for herself. Her first big break came when she was 34 and played Celia Foote in The Help. Chastain was nominated for best supporting actress for her stunning performance in the 2011 film. Her even bigger break, however, came in 2012 with the movie Zero Dark Thirty, which earned Chastain an Oscar nomination for best performance by a leading actress.

In 2013, Chastain won a Golden Globe for best drama performance by an actress in a motion picture for her role in Zero Dark Thirty. “I’ve wanted to be an actress since I was a little girl and I’ve worked for areally 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,” she said during her acceptance speech.

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