16 Stars Who Were Late Bloomers

These leading ladies of the big and small screen saw their careers getting hotter as they approached their 40s

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Julie Bowen

Recent MORE cover girl and Emmy-winner Bowen has been making a splash over the last two years as Type-A mom Claire Dunphy on Modern Family—a role she landed at 39. Prior to the primetime hit, Bowen had been relegated to the love interest role in Happy Gilmore and Ed.

Tatiana Beller / PR Photos

Sandra Bullock

Bullock could hardly be considered a struggling actress throughout the 90s and early 2000s, churning out box office hits like Speed, Miss Congeniality and Crash. But critical praise had eluded her until 2009, when, at age 45, she starred in both The Blind Side—which earned her the leading actress Academy Award—and The Proposal, one of the highest grossing romantic comedies of all time.

Bob Charlotte / PR Photos

Laura Linney

Though Linney had been on the scene for some time, Hollywood finally took note of her at age 34 when she played Jim Carrey's on-screen wife in The Truman Show. Since then, the current star of The Big C has won three Emmys and two Golden Globes, and been nominated for three Oscar and Tony Awards.

David Gabber / PR Photos

Megan Mullally

Though she was signed by an agent just two weeks after moving to Los Angeles, Mullally spent the first 13 years of her career in small spots on sitcoms like Seinfeld and Frasier. She finally got her big break in 1998, at age 40, when she won the role of Grace’s boozy assistant, Karen Walker, on Will and Grace.

Andrew Evans / PR Photos

Helen Mirren

Mirren’s breakthrough movie role was at age 34 in John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday and she didn’t earn her first Oscar nomination until she was 49. She’s 66 now.

Claudio Uema / PR Photos

Tina Fey

The bitingly brilliant Fey spent years in the writer’s room at Saturday Night Live before stepping in front of the camera for the show’s “Weekend Update” segment. After leaving SNL in 2006, the then 36-year-old developed her own sitcom, 30 Rock, which, as of October 2011, has been nominated for 79 awards and won 29.

Bob Charlotte / PR Photos

Kim Cattrall

By the end of the 80s, Cattrall had already had starring roles in Police Academy and Mannequin. But in 1998, at age 41, she found international stardom is now her signature role: maneater Samantha Jones on Sex and the City.

Robin Wong / PR Photos

Melissa Leo

In the 80s, Leo had a part on All My Children. But she wasn’t really a fixture in Hollywood until her early forties, when she had a standout role in 2003’s 21 Grams. After supporting parts throughout the 2000s, Leo won an Oscar in 2011 for her portrayal of the gruff mother-manager of boxer Micky Ward in The Fighter.

Mario Santoro / PR Photos

Amy Poehler

Poehler took over Fey’s spot on SNL’s “Weekend Update” after Fey left the show in 2006. In 2008, Poehler also moved on, quitting SNL to star in her own series, Parks and Recreation. The role earned her a 2011 Primetime Emmy nomination at age 40.

Sylvain Gaboury / PR Photos

Kathryn Bigelow

Bigelow is one of the few women to have successfully infiltrated the boys club of Hollywood directors. The former Mrs. James Cameron directed her first major film, Point Break, at age 40. Yet it wasn’t until she was 57 that Bigelow got her due praise when she became the first woman to win the Best Director Academy Award with The Hurt Locker.

Bob Charlotte / PR Photos

Martha Stewart

After working as a model and stockbroker, Martha Stewart started a catering business out of her basement. It wasn’t until 1982, with the release of her first book, Entertaining, that Stewart became famous—at age 41.

Marco Sagliocco / PR Photos

Patricia Clarkson

More of a character actress than leading lady, Clarkson appeared in major films like The Untouchables and The Green Mile in the 80s and 90s. But at age 43 in 2002, she won an Emmy for her role on Six Feet Under. Since then she’s had cameos on TV (SNL, Parks and Recreation) and dramatic and comedic turns on film (Shutter Island, Easy A). In her 50s, her career’s hotter than it’s ever been.

Glenn Harris / PR Photos

Sharon Osbourne

Wife of Black Sabbath rocker Ozzy, Sharon Osbourne became a household name in 2002, just as she turned 50, with the reality show The Osbournes. Sharon cashed in on the show’s success, landing judging roles on The X Factor and America’s Got Talent, authoring a bestseller and snagging several hosting jobs, recently on The Talk.

Albert L. Ortega / PR Photos

Jane Lynch

Audiences first laughed with Lynch in small roles in The 40 Year-Old Virgin and Role Models. However, it was 2009’s TV musical Glee that prompted people to learn her name. Her ruthless cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester, has nabbed Lynch, now 51, numerous nominations and a gig hosting the 2011 Primetime Emmys.

Andrew Evans / PR Photos

Brooke Burke Charvet

Model and host Brooke Burke Charvet spent years in front of the camera before breaking into the big time at 37 as winner of Dancing with the Stars. Burke Charvet so impressed executives that she was hired to co-host the show, and now—at 40—she can be seen there every week.

PRN / PR Photos

Anjelica Huston

The daughter of legendary film director John Huston gave acting a shot as a teenager in the 60s. But after critics panned her first film, she left the big screen to hone her craft in theater. Her film career launched at age 35—almost twenty years later—with a breakout performance and Oscar win for Prizzi’s Honor.

Wild1 / PR Photos

First Published October 27, 2011

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