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Actors Who Got A Late Start But End Up Having A Successful Career

These celebrities who began acting later in life all had genuine occupations to pursue the dazzling lights of Hollywood. They all had distinct reasons for needing to change careers around midlife. However, each of these renowned performers took a significant risk in order to pursue their aspirations.

An Emmy Award-winning actress was encouraged to pursue her aspirations in her forties, following her mother’s death. A comedian put up his medical career to play a doctor on film. A prominent comedienne/actor left her high-level job at the National Security Agency to pursue comedy. These celebrities all paid a price and luckily, they’re paid.

Let’s scroll down to find who these celebs are!

#1 John Hodgman was a literary agent and author before breaking out on ‘The Daily Show’ in 2005 in his 30s

Source: Comedy Central

Hodgman is a well-known novelist and humorist. In 2005, he appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show to promote his first book, The Area of My Expertise, a satirical almanac. Stewart asked Hodgman to return as a contributor after the interview went so well.

In 2006, he appeared in several successful films and television shows, including Bored to Death, Community, 30 Rock, and Baby Mama.

#2 Wanda Sykes worked for the National Security Agency before landing on ‘The Chris Rock Show’ in her late 30s

Source: Wanda at Large / Fox

Wanda Sykes, the funny lady, did what most college graduates in the Washington, DC, area do after graduation: she went to work for the government. However, the future stand-up all-star was always focused on the stage. Sykes was a stand-up comedian who worked at the NSA and knew how to make people laugh. Sykes began doing standup comedy about 1987, and her first serious show-business job was as a writer and performer on The Chris Rock Show. She eventually even starred in her own sitcom, Wanda at Large.

#3 Michael Emerson was an illustrator for 10 years before his acting career took off on ‘The Practice’ when he was in his 40s

Source: Lost / ABC

Emerson, like many aspiring actors, had to support himself with odd jobs like landscaping and retail while honing his acting skills on the community theater stage. He eventually found work as a freelance illustrator, but he never forgot about his passion. Emerson has performed on and off-Broadway. However, it was his breakout performance as the scary and extremely clever serial murderer William Hinks on The Practice that catapulted him to stardom. Emerson transferred his ability to play sinister characters to another blockbuster ABC show, Lost.

#4 Kathryn Joosten of ‘The West Wing’/’Desperate Housewives’ was a psychiatric nurse before she started acting at age 42

Source: The West Wing / NBC

Kathryn Joosten worked as a mental nurse in a hospital in the Chicago region. She married and had two children. Joosten pursued her childhood goal and began playing at a local community theater at the age of 42 in 1982.

#5 Jon Hamm was a teacher and waiter before landing his ‘Mad Men’ role at age 36

Source: AMC

Jon Hamm appears to be a movie star. He didn’t, however, always want to bask in the bright lights of Hollywood. After graduating from college, the gorgeous actor from Missouri taught high school theater for two years in St. Louis. In the mid-1990s, Hamm chose to move west to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. In 2002, he was cast as a supporting actor in the Hollywood film We Were Soldiers. He rose to fame after landing the part of Don Draper in Mad Men.

#6 Mr. T Was a bouncer and bodyguard before being cast in ‘Rocky III’ at age 30

Source: MGM/UA Entertainment Co.

Lawrence Tureaud was always a fantastic athlete. His football ability earned him a scholarship to play for Prairie View A&M University. Tureaud then joined the Army as a military police officer. He worked as a nightclub bouncer in Chicago in the 1970s. Mr. T had the opportunity to meet celebrities while guarding fashionable nightclubs. Mr. T was later cast in Rocky III as Clubber Lang.

#7 After retiring from The NFL In 1997, Terry Crews broke out in ‘Friday After Next’ in his 30s

Source: New Line Cinema

When you turn on the television in 2021, Terry Crews appears to be everywhere. That wasn’t always the case, though. Crews was picked by the Los Angeles Rams in 1991 to play defense. He retired from football in 1997 and went on to have a succession of minor roles in television and film. Crews made an impression as ex-con Damon Pearly in Ice Cube’s cult movie Friday After Next in 2002, at the age of 34. Crews also landed a regular role on television in the 2005 blockbuster comedy Everybody Hates Chris. In the flicks White Chicks and The Longest Yard, he continued to demonstrate his humorous abilities.

#8 Billy Bob Thornton paved streets, drove a bulldozer, worked at a mental health facility, and more before his first movie role in 1987 at age 32

Source: Sling Blade / Miramax Films

Billy Bob Thornton grew up in numerous locations throughout Arkansas. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, he and his extended family lived in a shanty with no plumbing or power during one stay. Thornton excelled as a rock drummer as well as a baseball player when he was young.

He moved to California to study acting in 1981. His first major film role did not occur until he was 32 years old. Sling Blade’s script was eventually written by Thornton. It would also be his first major starring and directing role. Despite being a relative unknown, Thornton won the Academy Award for best original screenplay in 1997 and was nominated for best actor.

#9 Ken Jeong was a doctor at Kaiser before breaking out in ‘Knocked Up’ at the age of 39

Source: Universal Pictures

Ken Jeong has always been interested in comedy. His early path, however, led him to Duke University and subsequently to medical school at the University of North Carolina. Despite being a qualified physician, the comedian did not quit performing stand-up. He worked as a humorist at night and as a doctor during the day. Eventually, the Detroit native jetted off to Los Angeles. Jeong kept working as a stand-up comic, actor, and doctor. He has various minor parts, including appearances on Entourage, MADtv, and Two and a Half Men. Judd Apatow, the mega-comedy filmmaker, later met Jeong. For his 2011 romantic comedy, Knocked Up, the writer-director was looking for an actor with medical experience.

#10 John Mahoney of ‘Frasier’ was the editor of a medical journal before he started acting at age 37

Source: NBC

In his twenties and thirties, Mahoney pursued a variety of careers. He was a hospital orderly, a college professor, and a medical magazine editor.

He could no longer disregard his desire of becoming an actor in his late 30s. He began formal training and eventually worked alongside actors such as John Malkovich at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. Mahoney received a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play in 1986 for his work in John Guare’s American Playhouse: The House of Blue Leaves.

#11 Danny Glover worked in San Francisco’s City Government before quitting to become an actor in his early 30s

Source: Lethal Weapon / Warner Bros. Pictures

Danny Glover studied acting at San Francisco State University in the 1960s. He decided to work for the city of San Francisco as an assessments specialist and program manager after graduation. Glover caught the acting bug in his late twenties. The future movie star polished his art at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco’s Black Actors’ Workshop and on the New York City theater stage. Then he decided to go to Hollywood. His breakout performance came in Steven Spielberg’s Academy Award-winning film The Color Purple.

#12 Dennis Farina was a Chicago Police Officer for almost 20 years before his first movie role in 1981 in his late 30s

Source: Crime Story / NBC

From 1967 to 1985, veteran character actor Dennis Farina worked as a Chicago Police officer. He had no ambitions to become an actor. Then, through a common connection, the Chicago native met director Michael Mann. Farina worked as a consultant and as Carl in Thief, Mann’s 1981 crime drama. Farina went on to play supporting roles in Miami Vice, Manhunter, and Hunter. In 1986, Farina starred as a Chicago police investigator on Mann’s NBC detective thriller Crime Story.

#13 Brendan Gleeson was a schoolteacher in Ireland before finally deciding to pursue acting full-time in his mid-30s

Source: Braveheart / Paramount Pictures

Brendan Gleeson was a schoolteacher in Ireland for many years. He did, however, keep one eye on the stage at all times. In his mid-30s, Gleeson chose to pursue his acting career full-time and leave his secure position as a teacher.

It took him a year to land his first Irish film part in The Field in 1990. The talented character actor thereafter earned consistent work in a number of critically acclaimed mainstream films. He was made a formal member of the Harry Potter universe in 2005.

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