5 actresses who made it BIG later in life

One of the many subjects often found running through an aspiring or professional actor's mind is age. Gender, race and class are currently at the forefront of casting equality discussions – and rightly so – but age is still a key concern for many performers. In an industry where the next hot, young thing is forever sought, what hope is there for the next hot, slightly older things?

26th February 2018
/ By Matthew Whitehouse

actresses famous later in life judi dench melissa mccarthy jane lynch acting GETTY

Whether you're after superstardom or just a solid slew of work, thoughts of age needn't plague you. Yes, the front pages of entertainment websites and glossy magazines are packed full of stories about sensational youngsters making it big early on, but there are also plenty of excellent thespians who didn't hit their stride until later in life. 

Here are five actresses who made it big beyond their 20s and have sparkling careers to show for it:

Kathy Bates (69)
With a steady stream of TV and minor film roles under her belt since the early 60s, it wasn't until American actress Kathy Bates hit the age of 41 that director Rob Reiner's adaptation of Stephen King novel Misery came a-knocking. The role earned her an Oscar and Kathy has since found herself much more in demand, gathering up a number of Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, as well as starring in one of the biggest shows on TV, American Horror Story.

Judi Dench (83)

Dame Judi Dench is such a British acting institution in and of herself that it seems like there was never a time that she wasn't top of the heap. But it wasn't really until Goldeneye, where she played M, at age 66, that the British actress broke into the big time. Since she began her career in 1959, Dame Judi accrued many credits mainly in theatre and British film and TV productions. 

Goldeneye took her mainstream and stateside, and jettisoned her into Hollywood stardom. Since then she has been nominated for seven Oscars – winning one for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her work on Shakespeare in Love – 12 Golden Globes and 13 BAFTAs. Dame Judi still regularly does theatre and British television and most recently appeared in Oscar-nominated Victoria & Abdul and Murder on the Orient Express.

Jane Lynch (57)

A regular supporting actor in films like Role Models and The 40 Year Old Virgin, Jane Lynch was consistently cast in minor roles until she landed the part of cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester in musical comedy-drama series Glee. The show was a world wide smash hit, gained Jane a Golden Globe, ran for six seasons and led to her voicing the character of Calhoun in Disney blockbuster Wreck-It Ralph as well as earning her an Emmy for her role in new sitcom Dropping the Soap – and she got Glee at 47.

Jessica Chastain (40)

Jessica Chastain has starred in some gigantic movies shot by major A-list directors, including Christopher Nolan's  Interstellar, Kathryn Bigelow's  Zero Dark Thirty and most recently Aaron Sorkin's directorial debut Molly's Game. So you'd be forgiven for thinking it's been plane sailing for the American actress and producer. But Jessica struggled with castings for a large portion of her career, and her break only came when awards season movies The Help and Tree of Life came out in close succession. She then broke into the mainstream, aged 34.

Melissa McCarthy (47)

When wedding comedy  Bridesmaids became a sleeper hit in 2011, Melissa McCarthy's marvellous Megan was the standout character – brash, loud, rude, loveable and hilarious. The hit movie led to a whole host of leading roles for McCarthy including The Heat, Tammy, The Boss, Ghostbusters, Spy and Identity Thief. But – as so often is the way – McCarthy was no overnight sensation. Her success all came well after she started out in 1997, taking smaller roles in comedy shows and bit parts in movies. 

Bridesmaids happened for McCarthy when she was 40.


Sarah Ward


Thank you for this article. As an actress who has recently returned after a (too long!) break to bring up family, this is inspiring stuff. For me, there's no doubt that with age comes emotional maturity and an increased inner confidence that I, certainly, did not possess 20 years ago. Many of us are much better emotionally equipped as 'older' actresses, and are loving our middle years!

Caron Ford-Wilson


I personally think age is an asset as it brings understanding, experience and empathy as well as a greater sense of self development as a person and as a performer

Dawn Funnell


Great article and it's true you never know what tomorrow will bring and I've had some very interesting work since turning 50. I personally think the main thing is do what you love and don't worry about your age, life isn't a rehearsal after all.

Paulette McMasters


What an inspiration Judi Dench, Kathy Bates and Jane Lynch are to me as an older actress, it warms my heart, you never know what the future will bring and its best to be prepared, keep fit, do as much as you can and enjoy it, who knows where you'll be tomorrow. Thank you!