Skip To Content

    11 Actors Who Only Became Famous After They Turned 35

    No matter your age, it's never too late to star in a blockbuster movie.

    1. Samuel L Jackson was 45 when he got his big break in Pulp Fiction.


    Before his breakthrough role, the actor featured in some big movies like Jurassic Park, Goodfellas, but only as minor characters. It wasn't until his role as Jules Winnfield that he really became a household name.

    2. Kathryn Joosten was 60 when she became a household name on The West Wing.


    Prior to acting Joosten was a nurse, and it wasn't until her mother told her about regretting not following her dreams that Joosten decided to follow her own. At 42 she took up acting classes and then eventually landed her first major role 18 years later.

    3. Alan Rickman was 42 when he got his first major role as Hans Gruber in Die Hard.

    20th Century Studios

    Rickman did a lot of plays and small television roles before being spotted by the Die Hard producer. His iconic role as the Die Hard villain became an instant classic, propelling him to new heights.

    4. Jane Lynch was 45 when she played Paula in 40 Year Old Virgin.

    Universal Pictures / Via Universal Pictures

    Lynch had appeared in plenty of famous TV shows prior to this, including Fraiser, Gilmore Girls, and even Friends, but only as minor characters. Her role in 40 Year Old Virgin led to bigger TV and film roles including her part as Sue Sylvester in Glee.

    5. Kathy Bates was 42 when she first gained recognition in her role as Annie Wilkes in Misery.

    Columbia Pictures

    Bates worked as an actor both on the stage and screen, but it wasn't until Misery that she got the exposure she deserved. She won the Academy Award for best actress for her unforgettable performance.

    6. James Gandolfini was 38 when he landed the starring role in The Sopranos.


    Gandolfini spent most of his early acting career on the stage, he notably acted alongside Jessica Lange and Alec Baldwin in the stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire back in 1992. But It wasn't until 1999 and the role of Tony Soprano that transformed the actor into a huge star.

    7. Melissa McCarthy was 41 when she hit the big time with her role in Bridesmaids.

    Universal Pictures

    McCarthy became famous as Lorelai Gilmore's haphazard best friend Sookie St. James on Gilmore Girls. Although she featured in over 150 episodes of the show, it wasn't until she starred as the hilarious Megan Price in Bridesmaids that she became a household name.

    8. Jon Hamm was 36 when he got his breakout role in Mad Men.


    The super suave actor struggled with his acting career for years, taking small parts such as "Gorgeous Guy in Bar" in the TV show Ally McBeal. His break on Mad Men came when the show's director wanted someone who was relatively unknown. Hamm went on to win a Golden Globe for best actor in 2008 and 2016 for his role in the show.

    9. Morgan Freeman was 49 when he got his breakthrough role as Leo Smalls in Street Smart.

    Cannon Group

    The actor had plugged away at his career getting minor roles in TV and film in the late '60s and '70s, but it wasn't until his role as Leo Smalls AKA Fast Black, that he gained real recognition.

    10. Tiffany Haddish was 37 when she achieved widespread fame for her role in Girls Trip.

    Perfect World Pictures

    Haddish had appeared in some well known favourites like That's So Raven, My Name Is Earl, and New Girl, early on in her career, but only in singular episodes. It wasn't until her role as Nekeisha Williams-Carmichael in The Carmichael Show that her career began to gain traction. Her role as Dina in Girls Trip alongside Regina Hall and Jada Pinkett Smith, propelled her to fame and earned her critical acclaim.

    11. Christoph Waltz was 51 when he landed his first starring role in Inglourious Basterds.

    Universal Pictures

    The Austrian-German actor worked mostly on German TV in his early career. He did however feature in Ordinary Decent Criminal alongside Kevin Spacey and Catherine The Great with Catherine Zeta-Jones, but only as small parts that if you blinked you would miss. By luck Quentin Tarantino needed someone who could handle the German, French, and English dialogue with vigour and style for the character of Colonel Hans Landa, and Waltz completely fit the bill. His role earned him the best supporting actor Oscar.

    TV and Movies

    Get all the best moments in pop culture & entertainment delivered to your inbox.

    Newsletter signup form