Actors Who Started Acting Later In Life And Totally Nailed It

Voting Rules
Vote up the most impressive late transitions to Hollywood.

These actors who started acting later in life all had legitimate careers they gave up in pursuit of the bright lights of Hollywood. The reasons why they needed to change career directions around mid-life are all different. However, every single one of these successful actors took a major gamble so that they could follow their dreams. 

Which Emmy Award-winning actress was inspired to pursue her dreams in her 40s following her mother's passing? Which funnyman gave up being a doctor so he could play a doctor on the big screen? Which famous comedienne/actress left her high-clearance job at the National Security Agency so that she could pursue comedy?

Find out those answers and more. Plus, vote up the most impressive late transitions to Hollywood.

  • Brendan Gleeson Was A Schoolteacher In Ireland Before Finally Deciding To Pursue Acting Full-Time In His Mid-30s
    Photo: Braveheart / Paramount Pictures

    Brendan Gleeson worked for several years as a schoolteacher in Ireland. However, he always had one eye on the stage. "I was teaching English and Irish at the secondary school level, and I actually enjoyed it, but in the summer of 1989, I was working at the Tivoli Theatre and the Olympia Theatre in Dublin, and I was making a little bit of money," said Gleeson, per

    In his mid-30s, Gleeson decided to truly pursue his passion for acting and give up his stable job as a teacher.

    "It never crossed my mind I could be a movie star,” he tols the Irish Times. “I remember being asked when I was about three what I wanted to be, and I said, 'An actor.' You go through your teens, and you realize the world is slightly different to your dreams. I never put that down as something viable. I suppose everyone imagines themselves up on the silver screen at some point. I never worked towards that, though. I just liked the work.”

    It took one year to score his first Irish film role in 1990's The Field. Then, the prolific character actor found steady work in several mainstream acclaimed productions, including BraveheartMichael CollinsGangs of New YorkCold Mountain28 Days LaterTroyA.I. Artificial Intelligence, and Mission: Impossible 2. In 2005, he became an official part of the Harry Potter universe. The Dubliner played Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

    In 2009, Gleeson won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie for his performance as Winston Churchill in Into the Storm.

    1,188 votes
  • 2
    800 VOTES

    Dennis Farina Was A Chicago Police Officer For Almost 20 Years Before His First Movie Role In 1981 In His Late 30s

    Dennis Farina Was A Chicago Police Officer For Almost 20 Years Before His First Movie Role In 1981 In His Late 30s
    Photo: Crime Story / NBC

    Veteran character actor Dennis Farina worked as a Chicago Police officer from 1967 to 1985. He had no desire to become an actor. "I was always a movie fan. As a kid, we would go to the neighborhood theater and watch Bogart movies and Cagney movies and stuff like that," Farina told the Los Angeles Times. "I never thought I would be doing what I’m doing."

    Then, the Windy City native ran into director Michael Mann through a mutual friend. "Michael is a Chicago guy, anyway," Farina added. "He says he wants to talk to some real-life characters. I talked to him, and he asked me to do a part in the movie. I said, yes, sure."

    Farina worked as a consultant and played the small role of Carl in Mann's 1981 crime drama, Thief. He subsequently caught the acting bug. Farina landed additional supporting parts in Miami Vice, Manhunter, and Hunter. However, he didn't stop working the police beat until he scored a more permanent gig. 

    Farina took center stage on Mann's NBC detective drama Crime Story in 1986, where he played a Chicago police detective. The late star ultimately became one of the most prolific character actors of his generation. He co-starred on both the small and big screen with impressive performances in Midnight Run, Get ShortySaving Private Ryan, and Law & Order.

    800 votes
  • Danny Glover Worked In San Francisco's City Government Before Quitting To Become An Actor In His Early 30s
    Photo: Lethal Weapon / Warner Bros. Pictures

    Danny Glover acted in college when he attended San Francisco State University in the 1960s. After graduation, he decided to work for the city of San Francisco as an evaluations specialist and program manager.

    The acting bug hit Glover in his late 20s. The future movie star honed his craft in the Black Actors’ Workshop at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and on the New York City theater stage. Then, he set his sights on Hollywood. 

    His breakthrough role came in Steven Spielberg's Academy Award-winning drama, The Color Purple. In 1987, Glover became a household name when he co-starred opposite Mel Gibson in the buddy action comedy Lethal Weapon, which turned into one of the most successful franchises of the 1980s and '90s. Glover also appeared in Predator 2 and Angels in the Outfield

    Besides his prolific acting career, Glover is a recognized humanitarian who has fought for a variety of activist issues. Those include global human rights, the AIDS crisis in Africa, equal rights, social justice, and education. UNICEF named the actor a Goodwill Ambassador in 2004. 

    In Ability magazine, Glover talked about how he made the transition from community development into acting:

    I didn't think it was a difficult transition. Acting is a platform that can become a conveyer for ideas. Art is a way of understanding, of confronting issues and confronting your own feelings - all within that realm of the capacity it represents. It may have been a leap of faith for me, given not only my learning disability, but also the fact that I felt awkward. I felt all the things that someone that's 6'3" or 6'4" feels and with my own diminished expectations of who I could be [and] would feel. Whether it's art, acting, or theater that I've devoted myself to, I put more passion and more energy into it.

    685 votes
  • John Mahoney Of 'Frasier' Was The Editor Of A Medical Journal Before He Started Acting At Age 37
    Photo: NBC

    British-born John Mahoney came to the United States at the age of 19. He didn't necessarily land in America to be an actor, but he always had an interest in performing. 

    Mahoney walked down several career paths in his 20s and 30s. He worked as a hospital orderly, college teacher, and medical journal editor. 

    However, Mahoney could not find any real fulfillment with his day jobs. "There was this deep-seated frustration," Mahoney told the Chicago Tribune. "I knew that the only place I had ever been really happy was on stage."

    In his late 30s, he finally could no longer ignore his dream of being an actor. He started serious training and eventually worked alongside talents like John Malkovich at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre. In 1986, Mahoney won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play for his performance in John Guare's American Playhouse: The House of Blue Leaves.  

    Mahoney also became an accomplished character actor on the big screen with supporting parts in films like Say Anything..., Moonstruck, and Eight Men Out

    At the age of 53, Mahoney landed the star-making role of Marty Crane in the television spinoff series, Frasier. Marty was the blue-collar police officer juxtaposed with his two snobbish, uppity sons, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce). Mahoney worked on the successful Emmy Award-winning comedy for 11 seasons.

    537 votes
  • Ken Jeong always had an interest in comedy. However, his early road took him to Duke University, and then medical school at the University of North Carolina. “It was a tough decision. My parents weren't well off by any means, and I wasn't on a scholarship, so I really felt like I owed it to myself and my family to stick with what I started, to just see what happens afterward," Jeong told LA Weekly.

    However, the funnyman did not stop performing stand-up because he was a licensed physician. He moonlighted as a comic by night and practiced medicine by day. 

    Eventually, the Detroit-born star-in-waiting took off for Los Angeles. Jeong continued to work as a stand-up comedian, actor, and doctor. He scored several small roles, including stints on Entourage, MADtv, and Two and a Half Men. Jeong later met mega comedy filmmaker, Judd Apatow. The writer-director was searching for an actor who had medical knowledge for his 2011 romantic comedy, Knocked Up.

    The role proved to be a game-changer. Jeong can thank his wife for pushing him towards his dream career. "My wife, Tran, encouraged me to quit my job as a doctor [of internal medicine] at 36 and pursue acting full-time," Jeong told Redbook in 2011. "I had just finished filming Knocked Up, and it was life-changing. But I didn't have the courage to go for it until she persuaded me."

    Fame, fortune, and belly laughs followed. Jeong became a household name with hilarious turns in The Hangover series and Community. He even created his very own semi-autobiographical television comedy series called Dr. Ken. Jeong used his own life's story for much of the show's material.

    652 votes
  • 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 
    Photo: Sling Blade / Miramax Films

    Billy Bob Thornton grew up in various places around Arkansas. During one stop, he and his extended family lived in a shack with no plumbing or electricity, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Young Thornton excelled as both a rock drummer and a baseball player. 

    After graduation, Thornton ran the gamut of menial labor jobs, including drill press operator, bulldozer, band roadie, sawmill worker, and road paver. He even played in a touring rock band. 

    In 1981, he went out to California to study acting. His first big-screen part did not come until the age of 32, in the TV movie, The Man Who Broke 1,000 Chains. Unfortunately for Thornton, his scenes did not make it past the cutting room floor. 

    Several bit roles followed over the next several years, but Thornton hoped for something more. He met Billy Wilder at a party. The acclaimed Old Hollywood writer-director gave Thornton the advice that would change his entire life: Write your own screenplays. 

    Thornton eventually penned the script for Sling Blade. The movie would also be his first directing and major starring vehicle. Despite being an all-around novice, Thornton won the Academy Award in 1997 for best original screenplay and received a nod for best actor.

    Big-time Hollywood gigs followed as Thornton became one of the most in-demand actors of the 1990s and early 2000s. He showed off both his dramatic and comedic range in leading and supporting roles in Armageddon, A Simple Plan, Monster's BallThe Man Who Wasn't There, Friday Night Lights, Bad Santa, and Season 1 of the television anthology series, Fargo.

    543 votes