Actors Who Became Mega Famous After 40

Courtesy of CBS Films

If the Oscars have taught us anything time and time again, it’s this: never, ever give up on your wide-eyed dreams, no matter how farfetched in theory. This is especially true for aspiring and working actors, but it can apply to almost anything you dream of.

With enough patience, perseverance, and perfecting their craft, these actors exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations. And their amazingly lucky big breaks certainly didn’t hurt.

No matter when or how they finally gained the mass recognition they so deserved, the acting rule of thumb tends to be that it takes roughly eight years before seeing their name up in lights in any real way. For some well-known actors, however, it took significantly longer. Some almost gave up. And a few had never considered acting seriously until fate came with a callback. Nevertheless, their come-ups are all equally cinematic.

These major stars (and their inspiring rises to stardom) prove that some dreams are truly worth the wait and the work.

Melissa McCarthy

Melissa McCarthy at the 10 Directors to Watch brunch at The Parker Hotel on January 5, 2014 in Palm Springs, California

Melissa McCarthy’s enviable career is far from an overnight success story. Gilmore Girls fans were likely familiar with her brightly shining star power long before the rest of us. But not so fast, GG lovers. She’d been trying to make it in Hollywood for even longer.

This hilarious lady began her acting journey in the mid-90s, but she didn’t truly hit it big until 2011’s Bridesmaids. She was on the verge of 40. Her hilarious performance was so well received she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting actress. And the best was still to come. Melissa was nominated for her first Oscar at 41, and with each perfectly played role, she became even more of a star.

John Mahoney

John Mahoney didn’t give acting a sincere shot until he was older. Looking back, it’s a good thing he trusted his instincts. The late, great actor would eventually take home a Tony for his role in The House of Blue Leaves. He’d also earn two Golden Globe nominations for his unforgettable role in Frasier as Martin Crane. He was 53 at the time.

When the hit series ended in 2004, he embarked on a successful stage career, leaving the mainstream spotlight behind. Proving he still had that certain something, Mahoney wound up appearing on Broadway in 2007.

Lucille Balle

When it comes to stars with lasting appeal, it doesn’t get much more iconic than Lucille Ball. In many ways, she changed the face of television forever. The I Love Lucy star passed away in 1989, but she’s still adored worldwide. But her early acting days were a struggle.

She undoubtedly had impeccable comedic timing in her younger years, but landing roles that showed her true skills took a while. As a working actress, she paid her dues however she could, performing on stage and signing on for low-budget movies here and there. When her acting luck started looking up, she was 40, more seasoned, and on the precipice of becoming the most recognizable woman on TV.

Related: Nicole Kidman Tried to Back Out of Lucille Ball Role

Kathy Bates

Castle Rock Entertainment/Columbia Pictures

Is there anything Kathy Bates can’t do onscreen? These days, she’s one of the most decorated and easily recognized actors in all of Hollywood and beyond. But she worked hard for many years to achieve eternal A-list status.

Proving slow and steady does indeed win the race sometimes, Bates built her acting career bit by bit until the role of a lifetime finally came knocking. Bates was 42 when she landed her career-catapulting part in Misery. She also won an Oscar for it, which would be the first of countless prestigious awards.

Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson arrives for the 'Captain Marvel' World Premiere on March 04, 2019 in Hollywood, CA

When it comes to playing it cool, few actors can pull it off quite like Samuel L. Jackson, if any. His masterful portrayals, and his palpable presence, are downright impossible to forget. He’s the kind of actor known to turn movies into box office gold with the allure of his name alone. Even still, it took about two decades for the right people to realize it.

This A-lister began pursuing acting back in the 70s, frequently doing stage work and taking on small parts in TV and movies. However, when he took on the role of Jules in Pulp Fiction, mega fame soon followed. He was 45 at the time.

Ricky Gervais

Today, Ricky Gervais is undoubtedly one of the most well-known and well-liked British comedians and actors around. But his early acting days looked a bit bleak. He began pursuing acting in the 1990s, but his million-dollar idea had yet to hit him. He was in his thirties at the time, but no big breaks would fall into place anytime soon.

In a plot twist for the ages, 40 turned out to be the magic number. He’d hit the big 4-0 around the same time he wrote and starred in the British version of The Office, AKA the original.

Related: ‘The Office’ Quotes That Will Have You Laughing–Even if You’ve Seen the Show a Thousand Times

Kathyrn Joosten

If you think you’re too old to go after what you want, allow the late Kathryn Joosten’s acting journey to change your mind. Without overthinking it, she relocated to Los Angeles with a desire to follow her acting dreams. She was 56 at the time. Soon enough, her bold move paid off.

Self-reliance and confidence also worked in her favor. Without a single industry connection and starting a new career in her 50s, the competition from actors of the same age, with way more bullet points on their show biz resumes, proved notably stiff for some time. Ultimately, it took years, but she’d inevitably win two well-deserved Emmy awards.

Christoph Waltz

Christoph Waltz walks the red carpet of the Award Ceremony during the 75th Venice Film Festival on September 8, 2018 in Venice, Italy.

Who knew that Christoph Waltz would become so famous? Probably not him when times were getting too tough. Thankfully, he trusted his talent, his timeline, and his craft. Until 2007, Christoph was a struggling actor just trying to get by. He mostly did stage work and took on tiny TV roles in Europe.

Once again, Quentin Tarantino swooped in and saw a star in the making. At 51, Waltz was suddenly on every production company’s radar in the best of ways, thanks to his portrayal of Col. Hans Landa in Inglorious Bastards. He’d go on to snag 2 Oscars and counting!

Related: 9 of the Most Generous Celebrities

Jane Lynch

Jane Lynch at the Jane Lynch Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Ceremony, Hollywood, CA 09-04-13

It goes without saying, Jane Lynch is a dry humor genius. She’s also a comedy legend in her own right. After a drawn-out history as a struggling actress, Lynch didn’t know what was next. And who could’ve, really? Her big break came along when she was 43 due to her work on the hit mockumentary, Best in Show.

She’s been appearing in major movies and collecting Golden Globes and Emmys ever since. While her famous face has been all over the place, she’s probably most fondly remembered as Sue Sylvester in Glee.

Morgan Freeman

LOS ANGELES - JUN 6:  Morgan Freeman at the  AFI Honors Denzel Washington at the Dolby Theater on June 6, 2019 in Los Angeles, CA

Of all the actors on this list, Morgan Freeman may be the one who truly needs no introduction. Even with our eyes closed, we’d know that voice anywhere. But he wasn’t so famous in the earlier days of his career.

His work in Another World and a TV series The Electric Company got him a little recognition, but only a little. It would be into his 50s before he finally, and forever, flipped the script. When Driving Miss Daisy came out, he was 52 and only at the beginning of showing the world what he could do.

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