2 Late Starter from Hollywood - Christoph Walz & Samuel L. Jackson

Age is no limit: these actors became famous after 40

Photography: getty images 

David Brent returns to our screens this month with Life on the Road, 13 years after The Office. The hit sitcom was Ricky Gervais’ big break at the grand old age of 40. These stars all achieved fame later in life

Life begins at 40, or so the saying goes.

That saying particularly rings true for the stars on this list, who demonstrate that success doesn’t simply come to you overnight. Patience, courage and persistence are all required to make it.

These five actors refused to give up on their dreams and became Hollywood mainstays, providing inspiration to all those who think their chance may have gone.

Can you guess:

  • Which Austrian star made it big at the ripe old age of 51?
  • The theater star who took a gamble to become an iconic villain?
  • How old Cranston was when he started Malcolm in the Middle? 

The foreigner

Until 2007, Christoph Waltz was supporting his family through stage work and with roles in small TV productions in Europe. Then Hollywood (or more accurately, Quentin Tarantino) came knocking at his door, casting him as SS officer Colonel Hans Landa in his 2009 World War II-set flick Inglorious Basterds at the age of 51.

Wowing audiences, Waltz won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role, and won another three years later in Tarantino’s next hit, Django Unchained. Now a certified star, Waltz starred in Spectre as the iconic cat-stroking Bond villain Blofeld.

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The theatre star

After graduating from university with an art degree, Alan Rickman ran a graphic design company. What he really wanted to do was appear on stage and screen, and in his late 20s he decided to chuck in the financial security of his own business and sign up for acting classes. He spent much of the next decade working as a dresser for other actors, and for a long time it looked as if his gamble hadn’t paid off.

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Proof that persistence does pay off, Rickman’s big break came as the lead in the stage version of the book Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which led to him being cast as villain Hans Gruber in Die Hard in 1988.

Up until his sad death earlier this year Rickman was a go-to bad guy in films, with his turn as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series a career highlight. He lives on as one of the greatest British actors of all-time – not bad for someone whose Hollywood career didn’t take off until the age of 42.

The character actor

As Breaking Bad’s meth-dealing science teacher Walter White, Bryan Cranston is immortalised as one of the greatest television actors of all time. What makes this achievement remarkable is that prior to playing the man otherwise known as Heisenberg, Cranston’s nomadic acting career basically amounted to small roles and cameo appearances. 

His first starring role came at 44 as dad Hal in the light-hearted sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, a character pretty much the polar-opposite of the sociopathic Walt in Breaking Bad. Now 60, Cranston regularly stars as the lead actor in films, demonstrating that it’s never too late to hit the big time.

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The star who bounced back

Although Jackson starred in over 100 films before hitting 40, these were largely in bit-part or non-speaking roles. It wasn’t until Quentin Tarantino cast him as the gun-toting, Bible-quoting Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction in 1994 at the age of 45 that he took his seat at Hollywood’s top table, becoming a certified member of the A-list.


Earlier in his career, Jackson had struggles with drink and drug addiction, and his career only began to take off when he went clean in the early 1990s. His first role out of rehab was as a junkie in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, before his performance in Pulp Fiction landed him an Oscar nomination. Now one of the biggest stars on the planet, he is also the second-highest grossing actor of all time.

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The nine-to-fiver

One half of 1980s new wave act Seona Dancing, things could have worked out oh-so-differently for Ricky Gervais had the band’s first two singles not flopped. Spurned by fame the first time round, Gervais then spent years working in nine-to-five jobs. Aged 40, he used these experiences as inspiration for the hit sitcom The Office, which he co-wrote and starred in as deluded boss David Brent.

Music’s loss was certainly comedy’s gain, with The Office now regarded as one of the greatest British sitcoms of all-time, and spawning many remakes in countries all over the world. Gervais went on to have further success with Extras, various Hollywood films and with his multiple hostings of the Golden Globe Awards.

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08 2016 The Red Bulletin

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