Ten People Who Didn't "Make It" Till Their 30's - Raindance

For whatever reason, the big 3 – 0 always seems to be the milestone that anyone under the age dreads. Have a career by thirty, have a family by thirty, have money by thirty, be happy by thirty…

Setting this biological or financial timeline for ourselves only creates unnecessary pressure.

“If you’re gonna do it, you’re gonna do it!” As someone said.

Take it from these ten below, who didn’t technically “make-it” into well into, or past their thirties…

1. Sylvester Stallone


Possibly one of the most awesome stories about not making it till 30.

Sylvester Stallone received virtually no attention as an actor in his 20’s, so what did he do to attack his 30’s? What any aspiring actor should: he wrote a film where he was an all-American hero with incredible sporting ability.

That movie was Rocky (1976). Incredibly enough, he supposedly wrote the entire screenplay in three days, in between working at a deli counter and a cinema. Little did he know, the movie launched his career with an Academy Award for Best Picture.

In his twenties he was the prime example of a struggling actor. He sold his wife’s jewellery, and eventually, even his own dog. Apparently, he walked away crying from that sale. His inspiration for Rocky came after watching a boxing match between World-Champ Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner.

Upon trying to sell the script, he was first offered $125,000 – but without Stallone in the film. Stallone refused. A few weeks later the studio upped their offer to $250,000, and then $325,00 – again, without Stallone in the film. Stallone once again refused.

Finally, the studio gave in and offered him $35,000 for the screenplay, with him as the starring role.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Oh, and as for his dog, Stallone bought him back, albeit with great difficulty – the new owner was not willing to give him up. Stallone offered $100, then $500, then $1000. Eventually, Stallone got his dog back for $15,000 and a role in Rocky for the new owner.

Determination guys…. determination.

2. Harrison Ford


Harrison Ford starred in the film, American Graffiti (1973), directed by George Lucas, when he was 30. Even though it was a hit, he got paid little to nothing for it and didn’t receive the attention he would have needed to make it big.

At that point, he turned his back on acting and figured that he would never make it. Ford quit the acting business and started to get back into construction and carpentry, which was his trade.

Four years later, he met up with Lucas again, who offered him the part of Hans Solo in a new film he was directing…

3. Brenden Gleeson 


Brendan Gleeson was 34 when he quit being a teacher to become a full-time actor.

He started with very small roles but eventually worked his way into more and more hit films including Braveheart (1995), Mission: Impossible II (2000), A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001), Gangs of New York (2002), and Troy (2004).

Harry Potter fans will know him as Alastor “Mad Eye” Moody.

Considered Ireland’s greatest living actor, that isn’t bad going for someone who started pursuing their career at 34.

4. Jon Hamm 

What was Hollywood before Jon Hamm and Don Draper? We don’t really know.

But before the colossal success of  the hit series Mad Men, Hamm was a struggling actor who has even given himself the deadline of 30 to make something of himself.

He graduated from University with a degree in English and also worked as a Drama teacher for a while.

In 1995, he decided to move out to Los Angeles with his car and $150 to pursue acting. He signed up with an agent from the prestigious William Morris Agency, however, didn’t get a single acting job for over three years. The agency dropped him, saying that he looked too old, even for a 25 year old.

Other jobs he worked while pursuing acting were as a set dresser for soft core porn films and a waiter.

At 25, he had given himself five years to make it as a working actor. At 29, he still had no success. With the safety net of teaching as a back-up plan, he knew that if he didn’t make it he could at least go back to that.

“You either suck that up and find another agent, or you go home and say you gave it a shot, but that’s the end of that. The last thing I wanted to be out here was one of those actors who’s 45 years old, with a tenuous grasp of their own reality, and not really working much. So I gave myself five years. I said, if I can’t get it going by the time I’m 30, I’m in the wrong place. And as soon as I said that, it’s like I started working right away.”

At 29, he got a part in the TV show Providence. When he turned 30, he got a part in, We Were Soldiers (2002) starring Mel Gibson.

Small roles started coming to him before finally in 2007  he bagged the role of Don Draper on Mad Men.

Hamm was 36.

5. Ang Lee

Ang Lee made his directorial debut in 1992 with the film Pushing Hands. He was 38.

After earning his master of fine arts, instead of going straight into the pursuit of his career, Lee spent six years as a stay-at-home husband. Lee has often said that if it wasn’t for the encouragement of his wife, he most likely would never have made it.

“It was nearly unheard of for a Chinese newcomer to make it in the American film industry. Beginning in 1983, I struggled through six years of agonizing, hopeless uncertainty. Much of the time, I was helping film crews with their equipment or working as editor’s assistant, among other miscellaneous duties. My most painful experience involved shopping a screenplay at more than thirty different production companies, and being met with harsh rejection each time.

That year, I turned 30. There’s an old Chinese saying: ‘At 30, one stands firm.’ Yet, I couldn’t even support myself. What could I do? Keep waiting, or give up my movie-making dream? My wife gave me invaluable support.”

Read his full quote talking about his difficulties with breaking into the film industry, here.

6. James Cameron


James Cameron‘s first role in the film industry was as a truck driver. He made his first short, Xenogenesis, in 1978 and the film got him a job with B-Movie connoisseur Roger Corman. Cameron worked in as an art director and in the SFX department for Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) and directed Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981).

At 30, Cameron wrote and directed The Terminator (1984) which would be a game-changer for him and his career.

7. Dustin Hoffman


Dustin Hoffman started his pursuit of a career as an actor at the age of 19, with fellow young aspiring actor Gene Hackman. The two moved to New York to try and make something of themselves.

For Hoffman it was slow going. He has acquired small roles here and there, but not enough to live comfortably.

“I lived below the official American poverty line until I was 31.”

Finally, at the age of 30, Hoffman beat out the likes of Robert Redford and Charles Grodin for the part of Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate (1967), which would not only kick-start his stardom, but become one of the most critically acclaimed romantic comedies of all time.

8. Christopher Nolan

Man of Steel - European Film Premiere

Christopher Nolan made his first short at the age of 7, and as a teenager and young adult, received recognition for his shorts. His major film debut came with the film Following (1998). He was 28.

Nolan’s name was put on the proverbial map at the age of 35, when he directed what would be the first of possibly the most succesful Batman series of all time, Batman Begins (2005)

9. Kristen Wiig


When Kristen Wiig decided to pursue the acting dream, she up and moved to LA and got a job as a retail assistant at a clothes shop. In the next few years she would also acquire work selling peaches at a farmer’s market, catering Hollywood events, babysitting, working in a floral design shop and selling hot dogs.

“When you go out of your comfort zone and it works there’s nothing more satisfying”

“I know from my own experience and from other people in the business that when you come from a place where nobody knew who you were and then there is this sudden shift to where everybody now knows who you are, there’s an adjustment that you have to make.”

Wiig was 32 when she made her debut on SNL in 2005, and two years later she made her film film debut in Knocked Up (2007) at the age of 34.

These roles then brought her to the likes of Whip It (2009), Despicable Me (2010) and the immensely popular and critically acclaimed comedy, Bridesmaids (2011), that she co-wrote and starred in.

10. Kathryn Joosten


Kathryn Joosten moved to LA in 1995 to live with her son while she tried to pursue her dream of working in the film industry. Joosten was 56.

Joosten had made a career for herself as a nurse during the 60s and 70s, before giving it up for marriage and family life. A divorce and two children later, Joosten decided she was going to pursue her ambitions as an actress.

A spot in Family Matters saying two lines with Jaleel White would change her life. The part got Joosten an agent who loved her image of the ‘sassy-no-bullshit’ older woman. Soon she got herself guest parts in Sitcoms from Seinfeld to Will & Grace to Scrubs.

Although not an “A-list” by the Hollywood standard, Joosten wins for being possibly one of the most recognisable faces on TV.


Know of any more late-bloomers? Post them in the comments below!

Raindance Film Festival 2014 – Discover Fresh Talent

24 Sept – 5 Oct 2014 Piccadilly Circus, Central London

Raindance Film Festival 2014