While youth might be the golden ticket to fame and fortune in Hollywood, some celebs were well past their prime (in this case, that means over 30) before they became major stars. Viola Davis built her early career in theater, but it wasn't until she landed her Oscar-winning role in 2011's "The Help" at 45 that she became a superstar. The South Carolina native, who celebrates her 54th birthday on Aug. 11, 2019, is now the first black actor to have earned the Triple Crown of Acting (an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony). In honor of Viola's later-than-usual Hollywood breakthrough, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at other celebs who made it big later in life. Keep reading for more…
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As a young actress, Melissa McCarthy enjoyed a few small but solid roles ("Gilmore Girls," anyone?) but she didn't become a big star until she appeared in "Bridesmaids" at age 41. She received an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 2011 flick and has gone on to star on her own sitcom, "Mike & Molly," as well as a slew of successful comedies and dramas including 2018's "Can You Ever Forgive Me?" for which she earned a second Oscar nod.
Did you know that Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman wasn't a household name (or the voice of God) until after 1971 when he landed a regular gig on the children's learning series "The Electric Company" at 34? Before that, Morgan had only enjoyed small roles on screen and two major parts in theater productions and hadn't yet transformed into the movie star we know him as today.
Before Joy Behar was a host on "The View," she was a single mom in her 40s hoping to become the next big thing in comedy. In fact, she was 42 years old when she landed her first on-screen gig courtesy of "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels' comedy series "The New Show" in 1982.
For years, Harrison Ford was an actor who took bit parts here and there, but he was actually supporting himself and his young family with carpentry work, which paid far better. But that all changed after he appeared in "American Graffiti" in 1973 when he was 31. That, of course, led to his most iconic roles ever — Han Solo in the "Star Wars" movies starting in 1977 and the title character in the "Indiana Jones" franchise in the '80s.
If you thought Martha Stewart was warming our kitchens and styling our home decor for all eternity, think again. Although Martha, who was once a trader on Wall Street, had been running a multi-million dollar catering business since 1970, it wasn't until 1991 when she launched her lifestyle show "Martha Stewart Living," which later led to magazines, books and more, that she found real fame. At the tender age of 50, Martha became one of the most recognized lifestyle experts in the country.
Oscar-nominated star Steve Carell had small on-screen roles starting when he was 29, but it wasn't until 1996 when he was 34 that Steve got his first big break on the comedy series "The Dana Carvey Show." From there, he appeared in numerous comedy specials leading to his first major movie role in 2004's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy."
She's a writer, actress and producer but long before Amy Poehler was one of our favorite leading ladies in comedy, she was an up and comer trying to get her foot in the door in Hollywood. While she wrote for and starred on the "Upright Citizens Brigade" TV show, it wasn't until she made her debut as a "Saturday Night Live" cast member at age 30 that she truly became famous.
Sterling K. Brown had just turned 40 when he landed his breakout role in the critically acclaimed FX series "American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson." He went on to win an Emmy for his performance as Christopher Darden in the project. He solidified his all-star status in 2017 when he won his second Emmy, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award for his work as Randall Pearson on the hit NBC drama "This Is Us." "Sometimes people ask me, 'Are you upset that it look so long for things to transpire?' And I say, 'No, everything happens in its own time,'" Sterling told Wonderwall.com. "This was exactly the time for this to be happening. I think people who had success earlier on in life, sometimes it's too much to handle too soon. I thank God for all the struggles and hardships that I've had that have allowed me to come to this place to be able to enjoy it as much as I can."
Jon Hamm wasn't always one of the most objectified male actors in Hollywood. Initially, the onetime high school drama teacher only managed to snag small roles on TV shows and in films before landing a recurring part in 2000 on the drama "Providence." From there, he continued to land regular roles, but his big break came when he was cast as Don Draper on "Mad Men" in 2007 — at age 36.
Connie Britton didn't become a household name until she landed a starring role on NBC's "Friday Night Lights" at age 40. She received two Emmy nominations for her work on the series and went on to star on FX's "American Horror Story" and ABC/CMT's "Nashville," for which she earned an Emmy nod apiece.
Patience is a virtue and no celebrity knows that more than Samuel L. Jackson. He began acting in 1972 when he was 24. However, for years he only managed to snag small roles, like the part of the hold-up man in 1988's "Coming to America" (when he was 40). Still, Samuel persisted and in 1991, he was cast in Spike Lee's "Jungle Fever," which gave his career the boost it needed to land him future leading roles well into his golden years.
Before Sheryl Crow became a chart-topping singer, she wore numerous hats. For a while, she was an elementary music teacher in St. Louis, Missouri, before packing her bags and heading to Los Angeles where she worked as a backup singer for performers like Michael Jackson, Don Henley and Rod Stewart. She even wrote commercial jingles for corporations (like McDonald's)! At 31, Sheryl released her first album, "Tuesday Night Music Club" — which included the hit song "All I Wanna Do" — and was propelled to stardom.
Bryan Cranston was 44 when he booked his starring role on "Malcolm in the Middle." He earned three Emmy nominations for his performance on the FOX sitcom but it was his role on AMC's critically acclaimed series "Breaking Bad" — which he landed at 52 — that made Bryan into a true superstar. The Hollywood native went on to win four Emmys (the first three of which were consecutive wins), four Screen Actors Guild Awards and one Golden Globe.
Although Oscar-winning actress Whoopi Goldberg appeared in her first movie in 1982 when she was 27, her first major part didn't come until 1985 when she starred as Celie Johnson in "The Color Purple" at age 30. By 1986, Whoopi was officially in the big leagues as a recognized talent in Hollywood, landing roles in films like "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Ghost."
Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award-winning actor John Goodman was 31 before he ever landed an on-screen role. Before he got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or starred as Dan Conner on the '80s sitcom "Roseanne," John appeared in a slew of movies as minor characters, like Coach Harris in "Revenge of the Nerds" and Gale in "Raising Arizona."
The name Vera Wang brings to mind images of bridal gowns, jewelry and perfume, but you might be surprised to know that Vera had a much sportier career path in mind before becoming one of the most coveted designers around. Vera was a top-level figure skater in her teens and later decided to transition into fashion. It paid off when she became a senior fashion editor at Vogue magazine. After spending 15 years at Vogue, Vera (who was by then 38 years old) took on a position as accessories director at Ralph Lauren. By the time she was 41, she'd opened her own bridal boutique in New York and later became one of the most sought-after bridalwear designers in the world.
Even the biggest Stephen Colbert fans might not know that he got his start on TV shortly before turning 30 on the Comedy Central sketch comedy series "Exit 57," which he co-created, wrote and starred in. His name didn't become synonymous with funny, however, until 1997 when he began appearing on "The Daily Show" as a guest correspondent, which eventually led to his own series, "The Colbert Report," in 2005 when he was 41.
First of all, we need to give major props to Betty White. The Golden Globe-winning comedic actress was born in 1922 — meaning she's witnessed a whole lot of history in her long life. It turns out Betty was 30 years old before she landed her first regular role as the title character on the TV series "Life with Elizabeth." From there, she took on small parts on numerous shows until she landed one of her most iconic roles ever — Sue Ann Nivens on "Mary Tyler Moore" — when she was 51 years old.
Tyler Perry is the genius behind the "Madea" hit comedy franchise and is also the actor who portrays her. He's also one of Oprah Winfrey's BFFs, but surprisingly, he's only been in the biz since 2002. Tyler was 33 when he first got a chance to write, direct, produce and act in the comedy "Madea's Family Reunion," which became the foundation on which the Tyler Perry empire was built.
Sometimes, greatness takes a while to achieve. Years before J.K. Rowling became one of the bestselling authors of the century, she was a single mom living on public assistance. For years, she worked on a manuscript about a young wizard and a school of magic, which later became the acclaimed "Harry Potter" book series. Her first book, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," wasn't published until 1997, when J.K. was almost 32 years old.
Dearly departed Alan Rickman (aka Professor Snape) may no longer be with us in the mortal realm, but his legacy will live on forever. The actor known for his unparalleled talent and glorious voice was 32 when he landed his first acting role in the TV movie "Romeo and Juliet," in which he played Tybalt. His breakout role, however, didn't come until 1985 — when he was 39 — when he landed the part of Le Vicomte de Valmont in the theater production of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," earning him a Tony Award nomination. On the heels of turning 40, Alan — who passed away in 2016 — embarked on a successful acting career that lasted for more than 30 years.
Chinese-American author Amy Tan, who's written masterful works of fiction like "The Hundred Secret Senses" and "The Kitchen God's Wife," didn't publish her first novel, "The Joy Luck Club," until 1985 — when she was 33. As you probably remember, that novel was later turned into a major motion picture, giving Amy even more bragging rights. Now a celebrated writer of fiction, a memoir and children's stories, Amy is proof it's never too late to follow your dreams.
It might seem that Simon Cowell has enjoyed a near lifetime of fame and fortune, but he actually didn't get TV-famous until 2001 when he was 42. That's the year Simon (who was an exec with BMG Records) and producer Simon Fuller joined forces to start Britain's reality competition series "Pop Idol," which led to the 2002 U.S. version, "American Idol."
Oscar-nominated actress and legendary talk show host Oprah Winfrey has long been a force in the world of TV and film, but even she had to start somewhere. Oprah landed her first major TV gig at the age of 30 in 1984 on "A.M. Chicago" before she started hosting "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 1986.