We often hear success stories about people in their twenties making it big and crafting solid, well-planned careers for themselves. It seems like all around us, pop-chart sensations, genius inventors, and pioneers of any given industry are getting younger and younger. So does this mean if we’re not accomplished by a certain age, all hope is lost? No, of course not!
The truth is, we only hear about the “Mark Zuckerbergs” of the world because those stories are juicy and have a wow factor. In reality, the majority of people attain success at varying stages throughout their careers; some reach their goals at 35, while others start a new company at 50.
Take these 20 celebrities, for example; they’re all massively prominent names in today’s entertainment landscape, but none of them tasted Hollywood success until after they were 30. That’s right, as mind-blowing of a concept as it is, success is something that can come at any age, as long as you have the determination to go after it. While kudos are due for those who reach success so early in life, this list goes to show that the true testament lies in going after your dreams no matter what and, as these celebrities will prove, success knows no age and simply favors those who strive to attain it.
20. Stan Lee
It’s safe to say that we wouldn’t have the current age of cinematic superhero blockbusters if it were not for Stan Lee and artists like Jack Kirby, the true pioneers of Marvel Comics. But Stan Lee didn’t create his first Marvel superhero until he was 39!
That’s right, the guy who pops in for a cameo in all your favorite Marvel movies was an assistant at Timely Comics and eventually took up the post of interim editor for the same company before ever drawing his first superhero. Timely Comics later changed its name to Marvel Comics and asked Stan to come up with a new series of superheroes to rival DC’s Justice League. In 1961, at the age of 39, Stan Lee co-created The Fantastic Four, Marvel’s first family, and the rest, as they say, is history.
19. Kristen Wiig
The immensely funny Kristen Wiig may have had a quirky sense of humor all her life, but it wasn’t until she was 32 that she officially kick-started her career on the set of Saturday Night Live!
After a string of jobs that included folding clothes at Anthropologie, babysitting, selling fruits at the farmer’s market, and selling hot dogs at the mall, Kristen Wiig would turn her life around by landing a part at the Groundlings, a renowned improv troupe. Wiig’s impressive comedic timing and hilarious characters got her noticed by producer Lorne Michaels, who asked her to audition for Saturday Night Live!. Kristen Wiig would make her SNL! debut in 2005 and go on to become one of the funniest, most talented cast members in the show’s illustrious history.
18. Samuel L. Jackson
“I’ve had it with these motherf*ckin’ snakes on this motherf*ckin’ plane!” With over 100 films on his resume and a net worth exceeding $170 million, Samuel L. Jackson is one of the most recognizable actors in Hollywood – but his career didn’t begin until he was 43.
Although Jackson grew up adoring film, his younger years were spent doing politically-fueled theater in support of black rights movements. It wasn’t until he met fellow actor Morgan Freeman and director Spike Lee that Sam Jackson began seriously considering a career in Hollywood. His role as the drug-addicted Gator in Jungle Fever garnered much attention, but his true breakout performance came in 1994 when he played Jules Winnfield in Quentin Tarantino’s cult hit, Pulp Fiction. Whether he’s assembling Avengers or fighting snakes on a plane, it’s safe to say that Samuel L. Jackson’s career isn’t slowing down any time soon, so hold on to your butts!
17. Melissa McCarthy
Although she had a few minor appearances in film and television, Melissa McCarthy’s career officially took off when she was cast, at the age of 30, in WB’s hugely popular series, Gilmore Girls. Her TV career prospered as she went on to play Christina Applegate’s awkward best friend in Samantha Who, as well as Molly in the sitcom Mike & Molly.
In 2011, Hollywood came knocking, and the beautiful Melissa McCarthy, at the age of 41, kicked down that door with her role as Megan in the insanely hilarious Bridesmaids alongside her fellow Groundling alumni, Kristen Wiig. The role cemented McCarthy’s Hollywood career and a flurry of comedies – as well as some serious roles – soon followed.
16. Jon Hamm
Life’s a bed of roses when you’ve got the looks, isn’t it? Well not really, as Jon Hamm will have you know. Growing up wasn’t easy for Hamm, first losing his mother at the tender age of 10, and then losing both his grandmother and father during his college years. After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1993, Hamm went to teach drama in his old school, John Burroughs, with students like Ellie Kemper – now a film and TV actress – under his wing. It wasn’t until 1995 that Hamm decided to pack his bags and move to Los Angeles, but things didn’t happen so quick there either.
At age 29, Jon Hamm was still waiting tables and juggling jobs. He finally nabbed his first major role in the show Providence at the age of 30. In 2007, AMC invited him to audition for the role of Don Draper in what would become the critically acclaimed hit series, Mad Men. It was then, at the age of 36, that Hamm’s career had finally solidified, and things have only been looking up since.
15. Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler is one of the funniest working women in Hollywood today. She’s friends with Tina Fey, is married to Will Arnett (that’s Lego Batman for those of you who don’t know), and has worked on some of the funniest shows on television like Arrested Development, Parks & Rec, and Saturday Night Live!
Although she performed on The Conan O’ Brien Show with her troupe, the Uptight Citizens’ Brigade, she would only start her career as a solo act in 2001 after winning an audition on SNL!. Poehler would become only the third person in history to be promoted from featured player to full cast member midway through her first season.
14. Harrison Ford
Believe it or not, a studio official once told Harrison Ford that he’d “never make it in this business.” I imagine he was smoking a cigar and wearing a top-hat. After his roles in Dead Heat On A Merry Go Round and American Graffiti didn’t pan out, Ford would resort to being a carpenter and bit actor for Francis Ford Coppola, filling in for minor roles in films like Apocalypse Now! and The Conversation.
Today, Harrison Ford’s work spans generations and transcends the age barrier. Apart from being two iconic pop-culture figures – Han Solo and Indiana Jones – Ford would also go on to play a multitude of characters across a massively successful career. But that career didn’t even begin until Ford was 35 years old, when he was cast by George Lucas as Han Solo in the first Star Wars film.
13. Lupita Nyong’o
Lupita Nyong’o was actively involved in films and documentaries concerning social issues in Kenya before kick-starting her Hollywood career with 12 Years A Slave, at the age of 31.
Nyong’o’s first exposure to film was during her summer vacation in her hometown of Kenya, where she worked as a production assistant during filming of The Constant Gardener. She later became a filmmaker by directing, editing, and producing the critically acclaimed documentary In My Genes, which depicted several Kenyans living with albinism. This exposure led her to star in the Kenyan TV show, Shuga; an MTV/UNICEF produced series that looked at sex among the young people of Nairobi in an effort to promote HIV awareness. Lupita Nyong’o’s role as Patsey in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave caught everyone’s eye, and she became an overnight sensation in Hollywood. Today, her resume includes the biggest domestic blockbuster in Hollywood history, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
12. Steve Carell
Even though the exceptionally funny Steve Carell decided he wanted to act early on in life, his success was anything but immediate. Carell honed his craft as a writer and performer on The Dana Carvey Show in his early 30s, and then joined The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It was here, alongside Stephen Colbert, that Carell would find his niche as a comedian, usually using deadpan delivery and self-deprecating humor to his advantage.
In 2005, at the age of 43, Carell was cast as Michael Scott in widely popular mockumentary-style series, The Office. The role launched his Hollywood career, and Carell was eventually able to try out serious roles thanks to his success as a marquee name.
11. Jessica Chastain
After dabbling in theater for a while and having bit roles in shows like ER and The West Wing, the wildly talented and equally beautiful Jessica Chastain would see her career explode onto the mainstream stage in 2011, at the age of 34. In 2011, Chastain starred in the cult success, Take Shelter, alongside Michael Shannon, and then added Wilde Salome and Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life to her resume the same year.
But it was her role in The Help that truly sealed the deal, earning her a Best Supporting Actress nomination at the Oscars. Apart from being another movie she has been in, Interstellar also fairly describes Chastain’s career right now, with a slew of major blockbusters being added to her list of accomplishments every year.
10. Sylvester Stallone
It’s hard to believe that Sylvester Stallone had to do softcore adult films just to make ends meet, but that’s what happens when you have no money and an acting career that is going nowhere. At 30 years old, Sylvester Stallone was nearly broke and had a pregnant wife to look after, with only a self-penned script in hand for sale. However, the script turned out to be Rocky and was sold with one condition: Stallone must be allowed to star in the leading role.
As we all know, the film was a smash hit and bagged ten Oscar nominations including the award for Best Picture, turning Stallone into one of the biggest action stars of the century with franchises like Rambo in tow. It’s funny how the story of Rocky mirrors Stallone’s own career; an underdog actor with nothing to lose, who took a leap of faith and won it all in return.
9. J.K. Rowling
“Rags to riches” is the best way to describe author J.K Rowling’s life story. Broke, rejected, and with a young daughter who depended on her, Rowling penned one of the most successful franchises in history using nothing but a meager old typewriter. What resulted was the Harry Potter series. In 1999, when Rowling was 34, the first three books in the series reached critical and commercial success, all entering the New York Times Bestseller list.
The palpable anticipation for the fourth book, The Goblet Of Fire, made it the fastest selling book in history. With millions upon millions of books sold and a massively successful movie franchise later, J.K Rowling is the 13th richest woman in the United Kingdom, richer than even The Queen, and continues to write books that are adored by her fans.
8. Jeremy Renner
Jeremy Renner had a few guest appearances in TV shows back in the 90s and made his film debut in 1995’s National Lampoon’s Senior Trip. However, people only started to pay attention to his career in 2002 with Renner’s portrayal of a serial killer in Dahmer.
The 31-year-old actor was finally building momentum and continued to star in films thereafter. At 38, Renner would earn his big break in The Hurt Locker, a movie that would go on to take the Oscars by storm. Today, he’s tasked with major roles in giant franchises like Mission Impossible and Marvel’s line-up of juggernaut films.
7. Jane Lynch
Whether or not you’re a fan of the hit musical series Glee, you’re bound to recognize Jane Lynch as the menacing coach with the nasty one-liners, Sue Sylvester. Jane Lynch’s career would start out slow in her early 30’s, with guest appearances in sitcoms like 3rd Rock From The Sun. It wasn’t until she was 40 that she really started to focus on appearing in more films.
In 2005, she chewed the scenery as a raunchy storekeeper in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and then tackled the role of Charlie Sheen’s psychiatrist in Two and a Half Men. It wasn’t until 2009 when Lynch was awarded her most prominent role to date, as the villain you loved to hate, Sue Sylvester.
6. Bryan Cranston
After a series of commercial jobs and single-appearance roles on TV, Bryan Cranston would nab the title of Hal in Malcolm In The Middle at the age of 44. But his magnum opus came knocking with the role of Walter White in one of the most successful television shows in history, Breaking Bad.
Cranston’s acting career itself happened by chance. After joining the Los Angeles Police Department’s Law Enforcement Explorer Program at the age of 16, Cranston was advised by his guidance counselor to pick an elective, which so happened to be acting. His early career was limited to small roles in various TV shows, until he was asked to audition for Hal in 2000.
5. Jenna Fischer
Jenna Fischer slipped her feet into the shoes of the adorable receptionist Pam Beesley in the hit sitcom, The Office, when she was 31. The show was so successful that it ran for 9 seasons, with Jenna even taking on the role of producer for the series’ final run. Her portrayal of Pam got her nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 2007, and she received multiple Screen Guild Awards nominations as part of the show’s cast.
Jenna’s career is a great example of subtle acting prowess, proving that not every role has to be loud and extravagant to be noticed, and that even the simpler roles are prominent as long as they’re real and played with genuine passion.
4. Alan Rickman
It’s hard to believe that a show-stealer like the late, great Alan Rickman was not an actor all his life. His ability to morph into the characters he plays is what landed him the iconic role of Professor Snape in the Harry Potter series. Yet, Alan Rickman would only rise to mainstream prominence at the age of 42 with the role of Hans Gruber in Die Hard.
Rickman started to seriously consider acting and went to school at the age of 26. Then, he worked in theater and found mild success there. But it was not until 1988 that he won a Tony Award for his work on Les Liaisons Dangereuses, as well as broke into Hollywood with his villainous role opposite Bruce Willis.
3. Ricky Gervais
Before he was an internationally successful stand-up comedian with a few hit shows and a hugely popular podcast under his wing, Ricky Gervais was the lead singer of a new-wave rock band called Seona Dancing. Yes, you read that right. The group didn’t really take off, but the band’s single “More To Lose” saw significant airtime in the Philippines in 1985. Soon after, Gervais became a voice on the radio, around the same time he hired Stephen Merchant to be his assistant.
At the age of 40, Ricky Gervais created The Office, which became a major success in both the UK and in the US. Although he received numerous offers to star in major motion pictures like Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest and Da Vinci Code, Ricky kindly declined and continued to work on his own content and stand-up comedy career instead.
2. Ken Jeong
That weird mobster from The Hangover used to be a doctor. Or still is a doctor. The fact is, comedian Ken Jeong was a practicing physician with 7-years etched in his career before he even got his first film role. He experimented with stand-up comedy and acting on the side while completing his residency in New Orleans. His first film role would come in 2007’s Knocked Up, in which Ken played, you guessed it, a wisecracking doctor. This role opened up several doors for Ken, which inevitably led to him stealing the show in The Hangover as Mr. Chow. He was 40 at the time.
The takeaway from all this is that it’s never too late to start doing what truly makes you happy. In the wise words of C.S Lewis, “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
1. Morgan Freeman
Ah, the voice of “God” himself. He’s also Andy Dufresne’s best friend, and the guy who makes Batman’s badass gadgets. At 30-years-old, Morgan Freeman would nab a part in the all African-American Broadway production of Hello, Dolly! This helped him transition to television, which unfortunately he found to be too grueling and demanding. Things slowly started to unravel for Freeman, both in his career and personal life. He soon found that his attempts at breaking into Hollywood were not panning out too well, and his career was in fact dwindling. It wasn’t until he was cast in Street Smart at the age of 50 that things really started looking up.
He won critical praise for the film, and soon found himself in big productions throughout the 90s, in films like Seven and The Shawshank Redemption garnering him a lot of respect as an actor. Freeman’s career continued to expand, and today he’s one of the most prominent actors in Hollywood, often starring in giant franchises and critically-acclaimed masterpieces.