10 creators who made it big later in life

Not all those who wander are lost. — J.R.R. Tolkien

J. K. Rowling, 32

Before J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter she has struggled with depression, poverty and as a single mom needed to provide for her child. Freshly divorced, she moved from Portugal, where she was teaching English, to Edinburgh. She signed up for government-assisted welfare and began working on THE idea that occurred to her on a train to London a few years prior.

She finished her manuscript for “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone” in 1995, but every publisher rejected it. A year later a small publishing house accepted it and paid her £1,500. The book was then published in 1997 with only 1000 copies, but as we know, everything took a rather unexpected turn.

“You control your own life. Your own will is extremely powerful”
J.K. Rowling

Bryan Cranston, 44

Cranston kept bouncing around different single-appearance television roles, including doing voice dubbing for Power Rangers.

His first breakthrough came when he was 44 years old. He landed a role in the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle. However, the role of his lifetime came 8 years later, when he broke bad and became the big Heisenberg.

“I will pursue something that I love — and hopefully become good at it, instead of pursuing something that I’m good at — but don’t love.”
―Bryan Cranston, A Life in Parts

Ridley Scott, 40

Ridley Scott, the director of Alien, didn’t direct his first feature-length film, The Duellists, until he was 40 years old. He made his breakthrough with Alien 2 years later. He then followed with Blade Runner, Gladiator and many others.

He began his career after in advertising. After graduation, he secured a job as a trainee set designer, making television commercials and mini films.

“I want to make films about the human condition, what we’re doing to the world or ourselves.”
- Ridley Scott

Edmund McMillen, 30

Edmund, born in 1980, grew up in a poor family, where abuse ran rampant, and struggled all his life with dyslexia. He had to attend “special classes” due to his disability.

Despite the adversity, he remained faithful to the career of a graphic artist and game developer.

McMillen’s initial graphic work was in independent comics. He supported himself working in animal control.

He became famous in 2008, when he created the flash game Meat Boy, which became very popular. The turning point came in 2010. He was 30 years old, when he and his friend Tommy Refenes created the extremely successful independent game Super Meat Boy. It took them 18 months to build the game. Edmund had even more success with the game Binding of Isaac, which he released a year after.

“I just made a deal with myself that I wasn‘t gonna fucking pussyfoot around and just sit on my hands all day, that I was going to work as hard as I possibly could and be as honest as I possibly could with what I was working on and only work on stuff that I really loved and felt passionate about and just see where it would take me.” —Edmund McMillen

Alan Rickman, 42

Before Rickman made it on-screen he was a graphic designer. He even opened a graphic design studio. When he was 26 he decided to become an actor and attender the Royal Academy of Dramatic arts.

His talent was recognized after starring in Die Hard when he was 42 years old. He then portrayed Snape in Harry Potter at the age of 55. He died at the age of 69, leaving a great acting achievements behind him.

“It’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are, where we come from, and what might be possible.”
― Alan Rickman

Jonathan Blow, 37

Jonathan Blow has been making games for 22 years.

He was born in 1971. He studied computer science and creative writing at the University of California, Berkeley. He dropped out of the university in 1994, a semester before graduation.

He worked in contracting jobs and later founded a game design company. However, the company was forced to take some online database work to cover the expenditures. In the wake of the crash of dot-com bubble the company ended $100,000 in debt.

During a trip in Thailand in 2004, Blow felt inspired and made a prototype for a time manipulation game. It would later turn out to be the breakthrough hit, Braid. The prototype won a game festival award in 2006 and that motivated him to continue working on it further.

He released the game in 2008 on Xbox Live Arcade, but he was $40,000 in debt by then and had invested $200,000 into the game’s development. Fortunately, the risk paid off, as the game became one of the best selling games on Xbox Live Arcade, selling 55,000 copies in the first week.

He used the money he made and invested them all into the development of his next game, The Witness, which also turned out to be a great success.

“As a designer, for games to be important to you, they have to, by necessity, operate successfully with whatever your picture is of what life’s about or they’re going to be meaningless”
— from Fireside Chat with Jonathan Blow

Samuel L. Jackson, 46

Jackson took interest in drama back in his early 20’s, when he was a social activist, however he became famous at the age of 46 for his role in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. A year before he appeared in, also Tarantino’s, True Romance.

Now he’s one of the highest-grossing actors of all time and starred in more than 100 movies.

“Painters get up and paint. Writers get up and write. I like to get up and act. It’s not a big deal. It makes me happy.”
— Samuel L. Jackson

Christopher Nolan, 30

The director known for masterpieces like The Dark Knight, Inception and Dunkirk had at first little to no success in his career. He says he never had any support from the British film industry. However, he released his first feature film, Following, in 1998. He wrote, directed, photographed and edited the film, which depicts and unemployed young writer living in London. The film was made on a budget of £3,000 and won several awards.

Thanks to the Following’s success he was able to make Memento, which became his breakthrough film in 2000, when he was 30 years old. The film is based on a short story written by his brother; Christopher turned the story into a screenplay that told the story in reverse.

“I’ve always believed that if you want to really try and make a great film, not a good film, but a great film, you have to take a lot of risks.”
— Christopher Nolan

Christoph Waltz, 53

Waltz was consistently booking roles in German and British TV shows and films since 1980. He didn’t get into the spotlight until he was 53, for playing the infamous Colonel Hans Landa in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds.

Tarantino discovered him by sheer luck, when he walked in on the last day of the Inglorious Basterds auditions. Waltz blew them away with exactly the linguistic skills they needed for the role of a “Jew hunter”.

“I only do what I like to do.”
Christoph Waltz

Bill Burr, 36

Burr’s comedy career began when he was 24. He started doing stand-up but wasn’t very good at it, in fact, he was terrible at it. It took him years to get the right feeling for stand-up comedy. During that time he had to support himself with a series of “normal” jobs, for example landscaping, but he also sold hot dogs in the city. He prides himself in doing the job right even when it sucked to do.

He was sleeping on a futon until he was 36. Then his stand-up career really started taking off and 4 years later he made his first special Why Do I Do This?

He is known for his unapologetic humor and he certainly isn’t afraid to offend people in today’s sensitive climate.

“Your big fear is what everybody‘s big fear is — „What if I fucking go after this dream, and I am 30, and I am sleeping on a fucking futon and it hasn‘t happened yet.“ Well I gotta tell you something sir, I‘ve been there, I was there at fucking 34 I was still sleeping on a futon in a fucking studio apartment. All you gotta do, you just gotta commit to this shit and then realize sleeping on a futon when you‘re 30 is not the worst thing. It isn‘t. You know what‘s worse that sleeping on a futon at 30? Sleeping in a king bed, next to a fucking woman you are not really in love with, but for some reason married, and you got a couple of kids and you got a job that you fucking hate. Okay? You‘re going to be laying there, fantasizing about sleeping on a futon. There is no risk when you go after a dream, it‘s all fucking reward, it‘s all going to lead to something good, it always does. There‘s tremendous amount of risk to playing it safe and that leads to unbelievable levels of regret, which is something else I‘ve also experienced because I am an old motherfucker”
- Bill Burr

Written by

INTP, Master’s degree in comp-sci, Creator, indie game developer, director, writer, photographer. I like BJJ, Jungian psychology, mythology and memes.

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