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9 Actors Who Gained Recognition Later in Their Lives

By Indiewire | Indiewire July 9, 2014 at 12:31PM

The actors in "Land Ho!" aren't the only ones who are getting recognition later in life. Here are nine others we love who were a bit older when they got their foot in fame.
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Land Ho!
Sony Pictures Classics "Land Ho!"

"Someone said it takes a thousand days to reach a tipping point in a career – maybe I’m at ten thousand," Seattle-based Australian actor Paul Eenhoorn told Indiewire last year. The middle-aged actor was at Sundance about to premiere "This is Martin Bonner," a deeply affecting indie that finally brought him the critical recognition that long evaded him. He returned to Sundance this year with the roadtrip comedy "Land Ho!", further cementing his status as a go-to talent in the independent film community. With the comedy out this Friday, here's a list of 9 other actors who also gained recognition later in their lives.

READ MORE: Video Interview with 'Land Ho!' Co-Stars Paul Eenhoorn and Earl Lynn Nelson, the Unlikely Hits of Sundance

Steve Carell

Once playing the role of "Mailroom Guy Without Glasses" in "Tomorrow Night," Steve Carell owes his career to his inclusion in the Frat Pack comedy "Anchorman," which he shot when he was 40 years old. Now, Carrell wasn't totally a newcomer when he was cast as Brick Tamland alongside Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate and Paul Rudd. He appeared on a handful of episodes of "Saturday Night Live" in the '90s and served as a correspondent on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," showcasing his comedy chops that came into full, mass realization on "The Office." Slowly placing those comic talents aside, Carell has become a fixture in the indie market, getting serious in "Hope Springs" and even being the bad guy in "The Way, Way Back." With "Foxcatcher," which premiered this year at Cannes, many are predicting that Carell could earn a thing or two to show off on his mantle come awards season. (Brandon Latham)

Dennis Farina

INTERVIEW | Dennis Farina Talks Going Subtle in "The Last Rites of Joe May"
Dennis Farina in New York City. Photo by Nigel M. Smith/indieWIRE.

Veteran character actor, who passed away last year at 69, worked as a Chicago police officer before making a go for it at an acting career after working for director Michael Mann as a police consultant. He found early success by playing his fair share of weathered tough guys in films like "Out of Sight," "Get Shorty" and "Midnight Run." He had a brief high profile run from 2004 to 2006 on "Law & Order," but it wasn't until 2011 that Farina experienced a career breakthrough with the release of Joe Maggio's solemn character study "The Last Rites of Joe May," starring Farina as the titular short-money hustler clinging to the belief that he has a future in the game. In an interview with Indiewire, Farina said of the role, "Every character I’ve enjoyed doing, but this was another kind of character. Everybody likes to do that. Switch it up." Following that acclaimed turn, Farina continued his great run on the small screen by starring opposite Dustin Hoffman in Michael Mann's ill-fated HBO show "Luck," and as Nick Miller's father in the Fox's hit comedy show "New Girl." (Nigel Smith)

Morgan Freeman God

Morgan Freeman

The state of today's voice over industry would not exist without the smooth and clear tone of Morgan Freeman. That may be an exaggeration, but there's no denying that Freeman has become more of a presence in the past decade or so. Born in 1937, Freeman served a few years in the air force before turning to the stage. Throughout the 60s and 70s, he starred in theater productions and on television in "The Electric Company," but it wasn't until 1987's "Street Smart," when Freeman was 50 years old, that he began to turn heads. His performance earned him an Oscar nomination with 1989's "Driving Miss Daisy" earning him a second. Freeman's career then went wild throughout the 90s and the aughts and he received three more Oscar nominations, finally winning in 2005 for Best Supporting Actor for "Million Dollar Baby." After narrating the penguin documentary "March of the Penguins," Freeman's voice over acting became an enjoyable staple in a number of commercials, nature documentaries, science television shows and animated films. Freeman's voice has become just as famous as his face. Let's face it. Morgan Freeman is God. (Casey Cipriani)

Paul Giamatti

Fairly under the radar, Paul Giamatti has amassed an impressive resume that has - in one way or another - placed his names on a slew of American landmark films including "The Truman Show," "Saving Private Ryan" and recently "12 Years a Slave." But Giamatti didn't even receive a credit until he was nearly 30, and didn't break out in the main stream until he appeared in Howard Stern's autobiographical picture "Private Parts" in 1997. From there, he only kept going up, or should we say "Sideways." In spite of incredibly well received turns in pictures like "Cinderella Man" and "American Splendor," the finest we have seen Giamatti was in Alexander Payne's Oscar-winning ode to friendship and wine, which came out in 2004. Still being mostly granted small supporting roles and leads in indie fare, Giamatti continues to impress for defying expectations. Like the great Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti does not pop into the mind as precisely "right" for many roles, but somehow he embodies each and makes them his own. (Brandon Latham)

Ruth Gordon

Ruth Gordon memorably shot to international fame for her 1968 powerfully eerie performance in the Roman Polanski masterpiece "Rosemary's Baby," for which she won an Oscar at the age of 72. As a suspiciously friendly and forcefully "helpful" neighbor who is finally revealed to be a terrifying Satan worshiper, she left a strong imprint on our minds (and nightmares); yet, she she also used that cultish charm to successfully woo both audiences and a suicidal young man in 1972's "Harold and Maude." In a role that seems impossible today, she played a free-spirited, generous, and adventurous woman who awakens a downbeat teenager to the possibilities of life—including sex. Gordon had first appeared as an extra in a few 1915 silent films but did not begin to gain prominent visibility for screen acting until the 1970s, starting with "Inside Daisy Clover," for which she received her first acting Oscar nomination. In those intermediary years, she was a successful stage actress and collaborated on screenplays with her husband (including the Oscar-nominated "Adam's Rib," starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn). Gordon continued acting after her groundbreaking role as Maude and went on to publish several books and win an Emmy Award for "Taxi," until her death in 1985. (Melina Gills)

Jon Hamm as Don Draper.
AMC Jon Hamm as Don Draper.

Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm had acted in plenty of small roles on television before being cast in "Mad Men." Some notable appearances include "Gorgeous Guy At Bar" on "Ally McBeal" plus other random handsome guys on "Gilmore Girls," "Charmed" and "Providence." Hamm got his big break at the age of 36 when he was cast as Don Draper in AMC's 1960s-set drama about the advertising industry. We realize that's not terribly late in life, but for this post-millennium fame machine, 36 is practically retired. Since making his debut as the drunken hunk, Hamm has made his hidden comedy chops known with appearances on "30 Rock," "Children's Hospital," "Parks and Recreation," multiple hosting gigs on "Saturday Night Live" plus appearances in films like "Bridesmaids" and "Friends with Kids." Throughout the run of "Mad Men," Hamm has earned six primetime Emmy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Drama, and five Golden Globe nominations, winning in 2008. Hamms' as a result of the show, Hamm's star is on the rise, with a starring role in the Disney baseball flick "Million Dollar Arm," plus a role in the upcoming adaptation of William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury." With "Mad Men" wrapping up in 2015, we're hoping that Hamm finally gets that deserved Emmy. (Casey Cipriani)

Richard Jenkins

Richard Jenkins began his career as a stage actor but has been a ubiquitous character actor since the mid-1970s. He has appeared in smaller parts in several well-known comedies, such as "Hannah and Her Sisters," "The Witches of Eastwick," and "There's Something About Mary." Jenkins has a knack for playing witty, straight-faced men with authority, and his restrained, deadpan comedic style nicely grounded HBO's "Six Feet Under," in which he portrayed the ghost of the sarcastic patriarch whose death launched the pilot. He has also been an excellent fit for the Coen Brothers, who have cast him in several films, including "Burn After Reading" and "The Man Who Wasn't There." The most significant formal recognition of his talent, however, did not come until 2008, at age 61, when he received Academy Award and Independent Spirit Award nominations for his lead role in Tom McCarthy's sophomore effort "The Visitor." There he played a solitary professor and widower whose life is transformed after befriending a small family of illegal immigrants. New York Times critic A.O. Scott wrote that he handled the "repressed, circumspect character with exquisite tact," and Jenkins received near-universal acclaim for his pitch-perfect, un-showy yet powerful performance. (Melina Gills)

Breakthrough Octavia Spencer

Octavia Spencer

We all know that Octavia Spencer's most memorable pre-fame role was on TV's "The X-Files," but those days of little side characters are long behind her. Since breaking into the business in 1996 by playing a nurse in "A Time to Kill," Spencer had been on a roller coaster of supporting roles, in which she played about a million other nurses and a surprising number of characters also named Octavia, until a career changing performance in 2011's "The Help." Past the dreaded age of 40, Spencer made her mark as 1960s maid Minny Jackson, earning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Since then she's still been working non-stop, but her roles are no longer regulated to Nurse #3. This summer, Spencer appears in the sci-fi hit "Snowpiercer."(Casey Cipriani)

June Squibb

After seeing her incredibly fine-tuned and yet effortlessly engaging performance in last year's "Nebraska," it is hard to believe that June Squibb did not appear in films until 1990, at the age of 60. Squibb has spent most of her professional career on the stage, starring in off-Broadway plays and making her Broadway debut in 1960 's "Gypsy." Directly following her film debut in Woody Allen's "Alice," she had minor roles in the well-regarded films "The Age of Innocence," directed by Martin Scorsese, and "Scent of a Woman." It was director Alexander Payne, however, who first most markedly capitalized on her distinctive toughness and biting humor, by pitting her against domineering actors playing grumpy, self-involved men. She starred opposite Jack Nicholson in "About Schmidt" and most recently as the wife of Bruce Dern's increasingly senile, perpetually frustrated patriarch in "Nebraska." For the latter, she received a well-deserved Oscar nomination as well as recognition at several film festivals. During this period, she has also worked steadily in television, with a regular role on daytime soap "The Young and the Restless" and guest appearances on series as varied as "House" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Even Lena Dunham could not resist casting the sharp, self-assured Squibb as her onscreen grandmother, resulting in one of our favorite "Girls" guest performances. (Melina Gills)

This article is related to: Lists, Land Ho!, Jon Hamm, June Squibb, Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Richard Jenkins, Paul Giamatti, Octavia Spencer, Ruth Gordon





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