We’re often suitably impressed when a young upstart absolutely nails it on their debut. Think perhaps Natalie Portman in The Professional or that Presley guy with “That’s All Right”.
Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. The old codgers who were too busy with life and stuff before they hit the big time. Some are the perfect examples of persistence – they kept plugging away for decades until somebody gave them their shot.
Others were either too busy just putting food on the table, lost in self destructive substance stupors or were simply biding their time.
Whatever the case, it was worth the wait. All did come to those who waited.
Gene Hackman 36
On one of the most natural actors to grace our screens, is big Gene.
Many of us assume Hackman got his start in 70s classics such as The French Connection and The Conversation. However it was in the 1967 blood-splattered blockbuster Bonnie and Clyde where he made his first big screen debut as the humorous sidekick Buck Barrow.
Hackman was 36 and it showed. A hint of a paunch and receding hairline, both of which he thankfully never seemed to give two hoots about – it was the acting that counted.
Blondie (Debbie Harry) 33
33 mightn’t seem overly old, but in the music world that’s like being 73 – with all respect to the 73 year olds out there. Most singers have well and truly given up by their late 20s if success has evaded them.
They breed ’em tough on the East Coast though, and Blondie paid her dues before her breakout album Parallel Lines in 1978. She was adopted as an infant and grew up in New Jersey, with waitressing and Playboy bunny featuring on her resume.
Blondie’s razor-sharp looks, raspy voice and oh-so-cool elegance made her one of punk’s more influential artists in the mid to late 70s. She’s now a still razor-sharp looking 77 year old.
Bryan Cranston 44
Before he portrayed that lovable meth-cooking rascal Walter White in the seminal Breaking Bad, Cranston was fast running out of options.
He got his first break as a goofy dad in the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle at the ripe old age of 44. Before that he’d slaved away in voice acting for Japanese anime as well as the odd appearance on shows such as Seinfeld.
But it was his effortless ability to make the crew laugh during his Malcolm audition that finally saw Cranston’s career take off. A natural comedian then and thankfully not a natural drug cartel leader.
JK Rowling 36
Sure, writers often go for ages without being noticed, but Rowling showed some impressive grit to get her first Harry Potter into the bookshops.
Although she finished The Philosopher’s Stone draft when she was 30, it took another six years for it to come to fruition. In the meantime, life happened. Rowling’s mother died, her first child was born, she was divorced and then flirted with poverty before finally getting her wizard draft to the printing presses.
Twelve publishers turned her down before Bloomsbury famously decided to take a chance. That’s twelve publishing executives out of a job then.
Samuel L Jackson 40
Ironically, not starring in movies is now Jackson’s challenge. He’s estimated to have appeared in at least 180 films, which is a classic case of making up for lost time.
Most of us remember him blowing the proverbial door of its hinges with his explosive Jules in Pulp Fiction. Jackson actually got his first big shot five years earlier, in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing as a quick-witted DJ.
What took such a gifted actor so long to finally get noticed?
Probably a devastating crack cocaine addiction, which put the brakes on his career, marriage, eating and pretty much everything for much of his 30s.
Jessica Chastain 34
Chastain can be relied on to bring some class to whatever project she’s working on. As an unfazed CIA anti-terror agent in Zero Dark Thirty or the illegal gambling entrepreneur in Molly’s Game, Chastain has delivered some impressively weighty performances.
It wasn’t for the lack of trying. She’d pretty much settled on acting as a career from when she was 7, but it took endless years of bit parts before her first real debut. These gigs were supplemented with part time jobs such as dressing up as Minnie Mouse for children’s parties. That alone may have driven some to drug and booze binges, but not our Jess.
No fooling around, no slacking off or world travels.
Chastain had simply been grinding away when Al Pacino noticed her and liked what he saw. Al recommended her for The Tree of Life with Brad Pitt. Her performance made filmgoers sit up, take notice and she was away.
An overnight success after 27 years.
Ricky Gervais 40
If ever there was an example of “you never know until you try”, Gervais would be it. The creator of comedy smashes such as The Office, Extras and After Life cheerfully admits he “never really tried at anything” before The Office.
Before that he’d made an amusing attempt to break into the music industry, worked as an events manager at a university and basically done as little as possible.
It was when he met Office co-creator Stephen Merchant on a radio station that Gervais realized he needed to get cracking. The pair started writing the series and it was a massive hit. He now juggles his time between insulting precious Hollywood types at awards shows, developing Netflix comedies and eating and drinking.
Gervais maintains a refreshingly honest outlook on the benefits of exercise as we get older. “I work out because I want to live longer,” he’s said. “And I want to live longer because I want to eat more cheese and drink more wine”.
Well said sir, well said.