- Many of the world’s most acclaimed actors and actresses looked wildly different in their 20s.
- In addition to their physical looks, the careers of these actors looked very different than they do now.
- For example, Harrison Ford was a struggling actor throughout his 20s who used carpentry to supplement his acting career.
- Other actors, like Maggie Smith, were already getting cast in life-changing roles at age 22.
Some of today’s most iconic celebrities were once young actors struggling to make a name for themselves on the stage and screen.
Here is a look at 20 of the most prolific actors working in Hollywood today and what they, and their lives, looked like when they were in their 20s.
Tom Hanks was cast in a slasher film at age 23.
Now 62-years-old, Tom Hanks has had a prolific acting career that has spanned multiple genres of film. In his 20s, Hanks moved to New York City from California and got his first film role in the slasher “He Knows You’re Alone” (1980).
In 1981, he met actress Rita Wilson while filming the show “Bosom Buddies” Then, at age 29, Hanks acted alongside Wilson again in the film “Volunteers” and would later marry her in 1988.
Four decades later, Hanks is best known for his work in “Big,” “A League of Their Own,” “Cast Away,” and voicing Woody in the “Toy Story” franchise.
At 26, Meryl Streep was a successful Broadway actress.
Currently 69-years-old, Streep was born in New Jersey in 1949. After graduating from the Yale School of Drama at age 26, Streep moved to New York City and was soon cast in multiple Broadway shows.
Streep’s first feature role was alongside Jane Fonda in “Julia” (1977), and in 1978 she was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in “The Deer Hunter.” In the years since, Streep has appeared in seemingly countless films including “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Into the Woods,” and “The Post.”
Forest Whitaker was 21 when he was cast in his first film.
At 57-years-old, Forest Whitaker has had a long and celebrated career in film.
Born in Texas in 1961, Whitaker largely grew up in California and went on to study drama in college. At age 21, Whitaker was cast in Cameron Crowe’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and received roles in “The Colour of Money,” “Platoon,” and “Good Morning, Vietnam,” soon after.
As he has aged, Whitaker has gone on to receive acclaim for his acting abilities in dramas like “Bird,” “The Last King of Scotland,” and “The Butler.” Most recently, Whitaker has played prominent roles in the blockbusters “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and “Black Panther.”
Sigourney Weaver was 29 when she portrayed Ripley in “Alien.”
Though her acting background was theatrical, Weaver was cast in her first film in 1977 as a small character in “Annie Hall” at age 27. Just two years later she was cast as Ellen Ripley in Ridley Scott’s space thriller “Alien,” one of her most iconic roles to date.
In the decades since Weaver has risen to prominence through her roles in everything from “Galaxy Quest” to “Avatar” and “Finding Dory.”
At 28, Denzel Washington played the lead of “St. Elsewhere.”
Like many actors on this list, Denzel Washington was born in New York, although he lived in Florida as a teenager and attended graduate school at the American Conservatory Theatre in California.
In 1981, Washington made his first film appearance in the comedy “Carbon Copy,” and was soon cast in the hospital drama “St Elsewhere” as Dr. Philip Chandler at age 28. From then on his career skyrocketed, and Washington has starred in an array of films that span from biopics like “Malcolm X” to thrillers like “Training Day,” for which he won the Oscar for best actor in a leading role.
Washington continues to act in high-profile films including “Fences,” “The Magnificent Seven,” and “The Equaliser 2.”
Diane Keaton was cast in “The Godfather” at age 26.
Diane Keaton was born in Los Angeles, California in 1946 and would later study acting in New York City. After being nominated for a Tony for the Broadway play “Play It Again, Sam,”Keaton received her first film role in “Lovers and Other Strangers”(1970) at age 24.
Her breakout role came a couple of years later in Francis Ford Coppola’s film classic “The Godfather.” In her late 20s, she was cast in a slew of films that included “The Godfather Part II,” “Sleeper,” and “Love and Death.”
In 1978, Keaton won the Oscar for best actress in a leading role for her work in “Annie Hall” and has since earned great acclaim for work in “Because I Said So,” “And So It Goes,” and “The Young Pope.”
Samuel L. Jackson had a background in stage in his early 20s.
Samuel L. Jackson was born in 1948 and eventually studied drama at Morehouse College in Georgia. After a background in stage plays, Samuel L. Jackson appeared in a few films made for television in his early 20s and made his film debut with “Together for Days” at age 24.
He then moved to New York City and continued acting on the stage until he returned to film with a small role in “Coming to America,” and was then introduced to director Spike Lee. Lee cast him in “Jungle Fever,” which got Jackson said got him attention at The Cannes Film Festival.
Since then Samuel L. Jackson has gained fame for his work in “Goodfellas,” “Jurassic Park,” “Pulp Fiction,” and his portrayal of Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Jessica Lange’s first film role was in the 1976 remake of “King Kong” at 27.
Jessica Lange was born in Minnesota in 1949. As a young adult, Lange moved to Paris to study mime theatre and dancing. When she was 24, Lange moved to New York City and became a model, which later lead to her film debut role as the leading lady in 1976’s “King Kong.”
At 27 Lange won the Golden Globe Award for new star of the year for her role in the film. From then on Lange’s career quickly accelerated and she now lays claim to award-winning roles in “Tootsie,” “Frances,” “Grey Gardens,” and “American Horror Story.”
Robert Downey Jr. portrayed Charlie Chaplin when he was 27.
He starred as Charlie Chaplin in the biopic “Chaplin” (1992) at age 27. Downey had a very public battle with drug addiction which followed him into his 20s and 30s.
As he has aged, Downey has been open about his problems with drug addiction and his path to recovery. Today Downey is best known for his work in “Zodiac,” “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and as billionaire superhero Tony Stark in the Marvel movies.
Julie Andrews filmed “Mary Poppins” as she turned 28.
On her 19th birthday, Andrews made her Broadway debut in “The Boy Friend.”Throughout her 20s, she would go on to star in huge Broadway shows including “My Fair Lady,” and movies made for television like “Cinderella.”
At age 28, Andrews started filming the Disney musical “Mary Poppins,” which would go on to become an iconic touchstone in her filmography. Now 83-years-old, Andrews has built an incredible acting career that includes beloved films like “The Sound of Music,” “Victor/Victoria,” and “The Princess Diaries.”
Harrison Ford took up carpentry in his 20s to support his film career.
Harrison Ford was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1942. At age 22 Ford moved to California to pursue a career in acting and was cast in a few minor film roles in his early 20s. When he was 25-years-old he was cast his first credited role in the Western “A Time for Killing.”
In his late 20s, his career stalled and Ford took up carpentry full time to support his wife and two children. It wasn’t until 1973 that Ford was cast in “AmericanGraffiti,” which would open new doors for him in the entertainment industry and make way for starring roles in blockbuster franchises like “Indiana Jones” and “Star Wars.”
Maggie Smith made her Broadway debut when she was 22.
By 1958 she received her first BAFTA nomination for her role in the film “Nowhere to Go.” At age 26 she performed opposite Laurence Olivier in the Royal National Theatre’s production of “Othello.” Throughout her late 20s Smith continued to perform high-profile roles in theatrical plays and numerous films.
Six decades later at age 84, Maggie Smith is one of the most-established actresses of her generation and has made her mark in countless films that include the “Harry Potter” films, “A Room with a View,” and the acclaimed drama series “Downton Abbey.”
Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Oscar at 22.
Jeff Bridges was born in Los Angeles, California in 1949 to parents who were both working actors. Although he made minor appearances on his father’s projects as a child, his first major acting role was in the 1971 movie “The Last Picture Show,” which earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor at age 22.
From then on he began an impressive career in film and even performed alongside Clint Eastwood in 1974 in the film “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.” By 27, Bridges was cast in the 1976 remake of “King Kong” with Jessica Lange.
Now 69-years-old, Bridges boasts an acting career with an impressive range that includes dramas like “True Grit” and dark comedies like “The Big Lebowski.”
Sally Field had roles in film and TV, including a breakout role at 29.
Sally Field was born in Pasadena, California in 1946 and was the daughter of actress Margaret Field. At just 19-years-old, Field broke into television with the sitcom “Gidget,” and was cast in the show “The Flying Nun” two years later.
When she was 29, Field was cast as the titular character in “Sybil,” a performance that rendered an Emmy Award for best dramatic actress one year later.
In the time since, Field has earned a place among other high calibre actors due to her work in films that include “Norma Rae,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Forrest Gump.”
Amitabh Bachchan began getting prominent film roles at age 29.
A prominent Bollywood actor, Amitabh Bachchan was born in Allahabad, India in 1942. Bachchan made his film debut in 1969 at age 27 as a voice narrator in “Bhuvan Shome” and landed his first on-screen role the same year in “Saat Hindustani.”
At 29-years-old, Bachchan earned the Filmfare best supporting actor award for his performance in “Anand” and starred in two more films: “Parwana” and “Reshma Aur Shera.” Outside of “Anand” Bachchan did not earn wide appreciation for his work until the action film “Zanjeer” (1973) a few years later.
From there his career blossomed and he became one of the go-to actors in Bollywood and has since starred in over 190 films in Indian cinema.
Rita Moreno’s smaller roles throughout her 20s helped her get cast in “West Side Story.”
Rita Moreno was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico in 1931 and has seven decades of acting talent under her belt. Although she had her first Broadway role at 13, Moreno largely acted in minor film roles until she played a star in “Singin’ in the Rain” at 21.
Four years later Moreno’s career gained a huge boost from her supporting role in “The King and I” (1956). When she was 29-years-old Moreno was cast as Anita in “West Side Story” and went on to win the Oscar for best supporting actress for her performance.
In the years since Moreno has stayed active in film and television and is set to appear in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming remake of “West Side Story.”
Jackie Chan used his martial arts training to break into acting at age 20.
Born in Hong Kong in 1954, Jackie Chan gravitated towards martial arts at a young age. Outside of a few small roles in films as a child and young teen, Chan had his first starring role in the movie “Little Tiger of Canton” right before he turned 20.
Throughout the next decade Chan starred in numerous films that featured his martial arts abilities like “New Fist of Fury,” “Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow,” and “Drunken Master.” At age 26, Chan began acting in Hollywood movies that included “The Big Brawl” and “The Cannonball Run.”
Now 64-years-old Chan has acted in over 150 films and has become one of the most prominent actors in the world.
Angela Bassett began her acting career on the stage before moving to LA in her late twenties.
Angela Bassett was born in New York City in 1958. She would later study ad earn her masters in theatre at the Yale School of Drama. At 27, Bassett appeared in Second Stage theatre’s production of “Black Girl,” and also made her first television appearance in the television movie “Doubletake.” A year later she played a news reporter in the film “F/X” and soon moved to Los Angeles to pursue film acting full time.
In the years since Angela Bassett has become a sought-after actress in Hollywood due to her work in multiple films like “Malcolm X,” “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “Notorious,” and “Black Panther.”
Robert De Niro began acting at 20 but was not credited until age 26.
Robert De Niro was born in New York City in 1943. He got his first acting role when he was only 20-years-old, but the film “The Wedding Party” was not released until six years later in 1969. After its eventual release De Niro was cast in “Bloody Mama” at age 27 and then “Bang the Drum Slowly” and “Mean Streets” right before he turned 30.
His breakthrough role wouldn’t come until 1974 when he portrayed Vito Corleone in “The Godfather II” and earned an Oscar for best supporting actor.
Now 75-years-old, De Niro is an accomplished actor as well as director, and is best known for his performances in “Raging Bull,” “Taxi Driver,” and “Goodfellas.”
Betty White began her acting career by voicing ads on the radio.
White made a short appearance on television after graduating high school but put her dreams of acting on hold during World War II to serve the troops. In her 20s White made money reading radio commercials and voicing bit parts in radio shows.
At 27, White starred as a television co-host for the variety show “Hollywood on Television.” It wasn’t until her 30s that White would go on to host her own show “The Betty White Show” and appear in a slew of sitcoms.
Now 97, White’s career on film and television has spanned eight decades and includes landmark shows like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Life with Elizabeth,” and most notably, “Golden Girls.”
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