It’s interesting how appropriate a movie title can be, even beyond encapsulating the central conceit or touching upon some important plot point. Take for example Jee-woon Kim’s The Last Stand. On the surface, the title may only appear to reference that the story revolves around a sheriff whose small border town is the last line of defense against a marauding escaped convict. But there is another connotation: this actioner stars sixty-five-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie has enjoyed a long, celebrated career of cinematic action heroism, but has reached the point where each new film feels like a last stand, a potential final note of glory for his expansive catalog.
Despite the harsh physical demands imposed by the genre in which he has become a staple, Arnold has managed the remarkable feat of continuing making action films well past his peak. Hollywood has long had a reputation of being a world suited for the young; where age is an insidious enemy. And yet a few special performers have managed to jump into the acting game well into their 30s and beyond with profound success. Others simply didn’t get their big break until they were more mature. We thought we’d take a look at some of our favorites and discuss why it took so long for them to achieve success.
Thanks to the Harry Potter films, Alan Rickman is more popular now than ever, but it was a certain skyscraping action classic that put him on the map back in 1988. Rickman was forty-two when Die Hard, his first film, was released. Like many British actors, he got his start on the stage, but he didn’t even enroll in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts until he was twenty-six. So what delayed him from tackling acting sooner? Believe it or not, it was a successful graphic design business, which Rickman ran with his friends. Is it too much to hope for that those friends were the other dastardly thieves on the Nakatomi heist? Regardless of his previous occupation, his maturity upon entering acting school, coupled with the stage roles prior to Die Hard, is precisely what allowed for Rickman’s dazzling film debut.
Harrison Ford has become one of the most recognizable figures in cinema. His resume reads like a who’s who of superlatively iconic film characters. He’s Indiana Jones, he’s Deckard from Blade Runner, and, possibly most renowned, Han Solo from the original Star Wars trilogy. When Ford beat out the likes of Nick Nolte, Kurt Russell, Jack Nicholson, and Christopher Walken, among many others, for the role of Solo, he was thirty-five-years-old. With such raw talent and magnetism, why did Ford wait so long to give performing a whirl? It turns out he had tried acting once before, even got signed to a contract with Universal after he dropped out of college. But after becoming frustrated with his stagnating career, he decided to go into carpentry. It wasn’t until he met George Lucas and worked on American Graffiti that he got back into the movie star game. Thankfully, his rugged good looks only improved with age.
There have been a great many film stars who began their careers on TV before making the leap to film. However, in the case of Steve Carell, he has jumped back and forth between the mediums with great success. But even if we go back to his seminal gig on The Daily Show, where he was a favorite correspondent, he was already thirty-seven. The first film role that would bring him notice was as the slimy anchorman Evan Baxter in 2003’s Bruce Almighty. A couple more film victories later, he landed the role of Michael Scott in the American version of The Office; Carell now forty-three. Once again, when it comes to burgeoning talent, comedy proves to be a genre without age restrictions.
When scanning back through all the actors who either began their career or got their big break later in life, one thing that becomes exceedingly clear is that there are far more men in that category than women. It seems the proverbial system is not as accepting of aged female performers as it is their male counterparts. We could postulate in-depth about the superficiality and sexual double standards of showbiz all day, but one thing is for certain, Dame Judi Dench is a force of nature on the screen whose age has not at all slowed her down. Like Rickman, she too got her start on the stage, but won her first major acclaim on British TV, just as she entered her late 40s. Of course, it was her casting as the James Bond franchise’s first female M in 1995’s GoldenEye that broadened her appeal stateside. She was sixty-one. Talent, real talent, has no expiration date, and Dench serves as a fantastic testament to that.
Transitioning from one entertainment arena into cinematic fame becomes a common theme the more we examine these late-in-life movie stars. In the case of Rodney Dangerfield, he developed a name for himself as a standup comedian long before his first foray into film came in 1980, when he was just shy of sixty-years-old. His role as the outlandish millionaire Al Czervik in Caddyshack launched him into the filmic comedy stratosphere and made him a fixture of the 1980s. There is something to be said for comedy being more accommodating for this sort of post-mature transition. Comedy does not tend to present the same physical demands as do action films, nor are the standards of beauty as lofty. No disrespect intended, Rodney.
[Photo Credit: Lionsgate; Columbia; Warner Bros Pictures(2)]