20 Actors Who Had Their Big Break After Their Prime

The struggle to become a superstar actor is tougher than any other job in the world. You have to be fully committed to your craft because there are thousands of other aspiring actors standing behind you, waiting for their big break. As fans, we never get to see that side of the business. We get hooked on a television show or film and never think about what it took those actors to land those roles. We do not see the years of living in near poverty while running around Los Angeles, going from audition to audition and usually getting turned down.

That's why so many people give up on acting before they ever get their big break. At some point, an aspiring actor has to start planning on what they are going to do with the rest of their lives as a normal person. But there are those struggling actors that never give up on their dreams. These people decided that it was do or die. Either they would make it as an actor or die. They had no other plans.

20 Tommy Lee Jones, 47

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When we talk about a big break, we are talking about the role that defines an actor's future. In other words, it is the role that they played that turned them into a recognizable face with a name instead of just "that guy" from "that movie".

For Tommy Lee Jones, his moment happened in 1993, when he played Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard in The Fugitive. He was 47 years old at the time and it immediately turned him into an A-List actor.

19 Ty Burrell, 41

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If Ty Burrell retired from acting tomorrow, he would be known as Phil Dunphy, the lovable yet goofy real estate father of three from Modern Family. He did not even start showing up on anything until 2000, when he was already 33 years old.

After playing bit parts on television and movies for nine years, he landed the perfect role for his personality by being a doofus dad that tries to be the cool guy all the time.

18 James Gandolfini, 38

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It isn't often that an actor sheds the character actor label, especially when he spends around 12 years playing one. But James Gandolfini did after he was hired to take on the role of Tony Soprano in HBO's massive hit drama, The Sopranos, in 1999.

He was born to play Tony Soprano and practically became him during the show's entire run. Just about any role he played after being Tony Soprano proved just how good of an actor he was by making us all forget about him being a mafia crime boss.

17 Judi Dench, 60

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If you have a dream, and you want nothing more in life than achieving that dream, then do not give up, ever. You just never know when things will change for you. For example, take a look at Dame Judi Dench. She began her acting career in 195,7 but it was not until 1995, when she played M in the film GoldenEye, that she became a star.

Two years after her big break, she got the first of seven career Oscar nominations, and one win. She was no longer just that talented British actress nobody knew about.

16 Leslie Jones, 47

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If you think acting is a tough gig, then you have never seen the struggle that a standup comedian goes through when luck is not on their side. But all it takes is one good set, and you can explode into one of the hottest new comedians in the world.

Leslie Jones spent 26 years as a stand-up comedian before getting a spot on Saturday Night Live in 2013, when she was 47 years old. That casting turned her into one of the hottest stars, and funniest ladies, in Hollywood.

15 Jane Lynch, 43

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Long before Jane Lynch was hosting game nights with all of her celebrity friends, she was fighting for her acting life. In fact, when she was 39 years old, she was ready to quit acting because women over 40 end up getting fewer roles then when they are in their 20's.

But thanks to Christopher Guest casting her in a handful of his films, her career was revived and she eventually became Sue Sylvester on the mega-hit tv show Glee.

14 Connie Britton, 40

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Like most of the actors on our list, Connie Britton got started in acting by doing stage work in an Off-Broadway production. That was in 1995. It would take her another nine years before landing one of the main roles in NBC's hit sports drama Friday Night Lights.

Her performance as Tami Taylor turned Connie Britton into a lovable housewife that used her sassy Southern charm to kill you with kindness. She would follow that series with another hit show on ABC called Nashville.

13 Gene Hackman, 37

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After having one of the most amazing acting careers in Hollywood, Gene Hackman's origin story did not even begin until he was 37 years old and landed the infamous role of Buck Barrow in the Oscar nominated 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde.

His performance was met with an Academy Award nomination and it would start Gene Hackman down a road that would led to many more successful hit films.

12 Jeremy Renner, 38

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Hawkeye is considered an underwhelming superhero because his special power is being a master marksman. He is also well-trained in martial arts, can handle a sword, and knows how to fly. But shooting arrows has turned him into a joke of a character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Jeremy Renner knew all this and still took on the role of Hawkeye in 2011, but it was in 2008 when he surprised us all and starred in The Hurt Locker.

11 Alan Rickman, 42

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Although he always wanted to be an actor, the late Alan Rickman decided to pursue a career as a graphic designer because it was more stable of a profession. But he never gave up acting. He continued to study the art of acting and trying to pursue a career in his spare time.

Finally, when he turned 42 years old, he landed the role of Hans Gruber in Die Hard, his first ever feature film role. That would turn into the best thing to ever happen to him.

10 Morgan Freeman, 50

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Sure, a lot of older people might argue that Morgan Freeman got his big break on The Electric Company on PBS, but he would be the first person to tell you that was not his big break. It was actually his role in 1987's Street Smart when he played Leo Smalls Jr.

He was 50 years old and ended up getting an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the role.

9 Tiffany Haddish, 37

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Tiffany Haddish is not afraid to talk about her past and the struggles she had to overcome to become the international celebrity she is today. She actually lived in her car, which she would park in front of Beverly Hills mansions so that when she would wake up, she would be surrounded by money.

While she struggled to get stand-up gigs around LA, she eventually built a reputation and started landing small roles before getting one on The Carmichael Show in 2015 that would send her over the top.

8 Kathy Bates, 42

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Imagine spending 29 years playing small roles in movies and on television before finally getting a chance to play Annie Wilkes from one of Stephen King's best novels, Misery. Then, after giving the performance of your lifetime, you end up winning the Academy Award for Best Actress.

Kathy Bates did just that and not many people knew about her until the moment her name was called during the Oscars, when she was already 42 years old.

7 Samuel L. Jackson, 45

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Unless you have been living under a rock since 1993, then you have heard about Samuel L. Jackson and his countless number of iconic roles that have turned him into a legend in Hollywood.

But it all started when he was 45 years old and landed the role of Jules Winnfield that he went from being a familiar face to a guy who cursed and yelled better than anyone has ever done on the big screen.

6 Steve Carell, 43

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Before he became Michael Scott on NBC's The Office, Steve Carell was delivering jokes on The Daily Show that made us all wonder how he does it. How was he always able to keep a straight face while the world around him was dying of laughter?

That is part of what made Steve Carell such a legend. He has an uncanny ability to never break and deliver the best lines. It took him until he was 43 years old and he starred as The 40-Year-Old Virgin before he was a star.

5 Helen Mirren, 61

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When someone becomes an A-List actress, they enter an elite group of women that will always be any casting director's first choice. Helen Mirren is now a member of that group, but it took her 61 years to get there.

She began acting in 1967, but did not become a household name until she destroyed the role of The Queen in 2007, where she portrayed Queen Elizabeth II and ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Actress.

4 Harrison Ford, 33

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It is hard to imagine Harrison Ford struggling to find acting jobs as a young aspiring actor. That's probably because he would eventually go on to play two of the most iconic roles in film history (Han Solo and Indiana Jones.)

Although he was 35 when he landed the role of Han Solo, he got his break shortly before that, in 1973, when he played Bob Falfa in American Graffiti. That role gave him the ability to land even bigger roles a couple years later.

3 Jessica Chastain, 34

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Surprisingly, Jessica Chastain's acting career began many years before she became a regular nominee at the Academy Awards for her many amazing roles on the big screen.

In 1998, she started on stage as Juliet and then spent another 14 years bouncing around, trying to catch a break. But then, in 2011, she was in six different films, all of which she was highly praised for her performances.

2 Bryan Cranston, 44

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Bryan Cranston's such a versatile actor that no one ever realizes that he was 44 years old when he landed his career-changing role as Hal in Malcolm in the Middle. He had been getting steady work on various TV shows and films but he was never considered a star until Malcolm.

Once he broke out, it did not take very long before he was turning roles down. Then, in 2008, he landed the role of Walter White in Breaking Bad.

1 Christoph Waltz, 53

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In Germany, Christoph Waltz was able to get consistent work as a television actor between 1980 and 2000. He also spent some time studying acting in New York City and did some stage work in Zurich. He was relatively unknown around the world until 2009, when Quentin Tarantino cast him in his film Inglourious Basterds.

His performance was amazing and it ended up winning him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He also won a Golden Globe and SAG Award too. His big break happened when he was in his 50s and it got him an Oscar— that's tough to beat.

Sources: Medium, Variety, The Verge, Hollywood Reporter

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