For most actors, a successful Hollywood career is a dream come true. That might explain why many screen legends act well into their golden years; Clint Eastwood’s still directing and acting at 89, and Betty White’s still occasionally performing at 97. And thanks to de-aging technologies, actors like Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are playing much younger versions of themselves in The Irishman. We can’t blame them. Hey, if you’re lucky enough to make it big, why not stay big?
I hope I'm like Betty White… still acting when I'm 100!!!
— Vitelle (@Vitelle) January 19, 2011
Of course, some stars don’t want to stay in the limelight for their entire lives. Actors are human (other than the ones that are secretly reptile-alien hybrids), and sometimes they lose their motivation. Maybe they lose passion for their craft, or they grow frustrated with the roles they’re offered, or they simply tire of the hectic schedule and difficult travel requirements of major Hollywood films.
The point is that there are many good reasons to retire from acting, even if you’ve had a great career. Here’s a look at a few recent actors who’ve decided to call it quits—and what they’re doing now.
1. Daniel Day-Lewis Quit Acting Because He’s Weird
Why he retired: Daniel Day-Lewis is famous for taking roles sporadically, and when you read about his technique, it’s no wonder why: A dedicated method actor, Day-Lewis spends months or years preparing for every film. He fully embodies his characters, sometimes refusing to answer to his own name on set.
While that seems extreme, it also works; Day-Lewis has three Academy Awards for Best Actor, and he was knighted for his services to drama. Nevertheless, he’s officially done.
“I haven’t figured it out,” he said. “But it’s settled on me, and it’s just there. …I dread to use the overused word ‘artist,’ but there’s something of the responsibility of the artist that hung over me. I need to believe in the value of what I’m doing. The work can seem vital. Irresistible, even. And if an audience believes it, that should be good enough for me. But, lately, it isn’t.”
His final role was Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread, a drama about the fashion industry of 1950s London. To play his part, Day-Lewis apprenticed at the New York City Ballet and sewed a Balenciaga dress.
“Before making the film, I didn’t know I was going to stop acting. I do know that Paul and I laughed a lot before we made the movie,” he said. “And then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness. That took us by surprise: We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is.”
Despite Day-Lewis’ painstaking preparation for Phantom Thread, he says he’ll never actually watch it.
“Not wanting to see the film is connected to the decision I’ve made to stop working as an actor,” he said. “But it’s not why the sadness came to stay. That happened during the telling of the story, and I don’t really know why.”
We hope “the sadness” lifts at some point in the future.
What he’s doing now: Day-Lewis doesn’t have to work another day in his life, but if his past is any indication, he’ll stay busy. During an earlier semi-retirement, he took up shoe cobbling. We’re guessing that he’ll spend some time pursuing hobbies (one source claims that Day-Lewis wants to keep making dresses), but he won’t be acting.
While Day-Lewis seems earnest about his decision to quit, some fans have speculated that he’ll return to the screen when the time is right. He maintains that he’s done.
“I didn’t want to get sucked back into another project,” he said. “All my life, I’ve mouthed off about how I should stop acting, and I don’t know why it was different this time, but the impulse to quit took root in me, and that became a compulsion. It was something I had to do.”
We’d prefer to look on the bright side: Maybe he’s already signed on for another movie about a retired actor.
2. Cameron Diaz Quit Acting Because She Was Overwhelmed
Why she retired: One of the highest-paid actors of the 2000s, Cameron Diaz has a long resume including films like Charlie’s Angels, Gangs of New York, There’s Something About Mary, and My Best Friend’s Wedding. That’s especially impressive when you know that she started as a total amateur—she auditioned for her first role in The Mask with no film experience whatsoever and started acting lessons after landing the gig.
“I’m a pretty girl who’s a model who doesn’t suck as an actress,” she said at the time.
Her last role was 2014’s adaptation of Annie, and that’s probably the last we’ll see of the 46-year-old, as she quietly retired shortly afterward.
Selma Blair, who co-starred with Diaz in 2002’s The Sweetest Thing, mentioned Diaz’s retirement in March 2018. While Blair quickly claimed that she was joking, Diaz referred to herself as “actually retired” later that month.
At the Goop Wellness Summit in 2017, Diaz mentioned that she felt overwhelmed by the travel and work requirements of her career.
“I just went, ‘I can’t really say who I am to myself.’ Which is a hard thing to face up to,” she said. “I felt the need to make myself whole.”
What she’s doing now: She’s apparently making herself whole.
In recent years, Diaz has written two books, The Body Book and The Longevity Book. She’s married to musician Benji Madden, and she went on Dr. Oz to chug a bunch of water. That’s what we call healthy living.
From Cameron Diaz's "The Longevity Book @TheBodyBook32 pic.twitter.com/AdIXpzUR7p
— The Body Book (@TheBodyBook32) December 1, 2018
Other than that, Diaz seems content to live a quiet life. Whether or not she stays retired, she seems happy—but then again, she always seems pretty happy. It’s kind of her thing.
3. Gene Hackman Quit Acting Because of Ray Romano (Sort Of)
Why he retired: Gene Hackman achieved leading-man status relatively late in life, as he was in his 40s when he landed the star role in The French Connection.
He won an Academy Award for that film, and over the next three decades, he built up an impressive resume of hit films like A Bridge Too Far, Superman, Hoosiers, and Mississippi Burning. He often took roles as gruff older men who shouted at people, and he brought the characters to life by drawing on his experience as a gruff old man who shouts at people.
However, after 2004’s Welcome to Mooseport, a critically panned satire co-starring Ray Romano, Hackman stepped out of the spotlight. He never officially announced his retirement, but he stopped taking projects; he told GQ he might do one more film “if I could do it in my own house, maybe, without them disturbing anything and just one or two people.”
That wasn’t just a toss-off comment. When asked whether fans would ever see him onscreen again, Hackman told Yahoo!, “only in reruns.” Unless there’s a secret project called Reruns, it sounds like he’s officially done.
“I’m at a place where I feel very good about not having to work all night.”
What he’s doing now: Hackman writes novels. His latest effort is about a hard-as-nails female detective who’s annoyed by nearly everyone she meets. He admits that part of the character comes from him—or, at least, his on-stage personae.
Also sad: this is a book by Gene Hackman. pic.twitter.com/032v2G22PQ
— CalmTomb (@CalmTomb) January 19, 2014
“In a sort of way,” he said, “[writing] is liberating because you don’t have a director right there at your elbow giving you a little nudge now and then or telling you how he thinks you should pronounce a certain word or emphasize a certain phrase or whatever.”
“Many times it goes against the grain, you know? You have to have an ego to be an actor, you really do. I think that compared to the writing it’s liberating in a strange way. I know that I’ll never be the writer as successful as I was as an actor, but in some ways it’s maybe more creative.”
4. Sean Connery Quit Acting Because He’s Not a Leading Man
Why he retired: Arguably the most famous actor to play James Bond, Sean Connery built his career as a “man’s man” actor. He took dozens of leading roles, often portraying gruff, no-nonsense personalities. However, he left Hollywood after 2003’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and he’s unlikely to return to the silver screen anytime soon. While he’s kept quiet about the factors that prompted his retirement, his friends have a few theories.
“The movie business retired him because he didn’t want to play small parts about old men and they weren’t offering him any young parts in romantic leads,” Connery’s close friend Sir Michael Caine told The Telegraph.
“I phoned him the other day, but we never see each other because he doesn’t move around a lot now. He won’t make another film now. I just asked him. He said, ‘No, I’ll never do it.’”
In his final major film role, Connery clashed with director Stephen Norrington, which might have compelled him to finally hang up his acting boots (assuming that acting boots actually exist).
“The last one I did, [Norrington] was given $85 million to make a movie in Prague, but unfortunately he wasn’t certified before he started because he would have been arrested for insanity,” Connery told a reporter in 2007. “So, we worked as well as we could, and [I] ended up being heavily involved in the editing and trying to salvage.”
Later, director Steven Spielberg offered Connery the chance to reprise his role as Henry Jones in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Connery turned him down.
“It was not that generous a part, worth getting back into the harness and go for,” Connery said. “And they had taken the story in a different line anyway, so the father of Indy was kind of really not that important. I had suggested they kill him in the movie, it would have taken care of it better.”
What he’s doing now: Connery seems to be the most “retired” retired person on this list. He’s living a life of leisure, occasionally golfing, but mostly staying out of the public eye.
Connery officially confirmed his retirement in 2006, and while he took a voice acting role in 2012, we probably won’t see him in a major Hollywood movie again unless someone offers him a major role as a gruff, no-nonsense man-among-men.
Come to think of it, we’d pay to watch an 88-year-old Sean Connery play that type of character. He could team up with other old dudes to form an Old Dude Special Forces Unit, and they could fight werewolves. Make it happen, Hollywood.
5. Rick Moranis Quit Acting to Raise His Kids
Why he retired: With classic comedies like Ghostbusters, Little Shop of Horrors, and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids under his belt, Rick Moranis was one of the most unmistakable actors of the 1980s. Often playing nerdy, socially awkward characters, he was building momentum when tragedy struck.
Moranis’ wife died of cancer in 1991, and he quickly scaled back his schedule to concentrate on raising his children. In 1997, he retired completely from on-screen work.
“I’m a single parent, and I just found that it was too difficult to manage raising my kids and doing the traveling involved in making movies,” he said in a 2005 interview with USA Today.
“Stuff happens to people all the time, and people make adjustments, change careers, move to another city,” he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2015. “Really, that’s all I did.”
Unlike the other actors on this list, Moranis maintains that he isn’t officially retired; he has simply realigned his priorities. He’ll occasionally lend his voice to the screen; in 2018, for instance, he had a small role on ABC’s series The Goldbergs, reprising his Dark Helmet character from 1987’s Spaceballs.
Goldbergs creator Adam F. Goldberg says he “worked for several weeks” to secure Moranis’ appearance, so don’t count on the comedy legend to make a sudden comeback. He seems perfectly content staying out of the spotlight and caring for his family—unless the perfect role comes along.
“I took a break, which turned into a longer break,” he said. “But I’m interested in anything that I would find interesting. I still get the occasional query about a film or television role, and as soon as one comes along that piques my interest, I’ll probably do it.”
One role he turned down: a cameo in the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot.
“I wish [the reboot] well,” he said. “I hope it’s terrific. But it just makes no sense to me. Why would I do just one day of shooting on something I did 30 years ago?”
“Yes, I am picky, and I’ll continue to be picky. Picky has worked for me.”
What he’s doing now: Until the right role comes along, Moranis is content to work on other projects: Since ‘97, he has appeared in radio commercials, written op-eds in The New York Times, and released two comedy albums. He says he’s occasionally recognized on the streets of New York, and fans inevitably ask the same types of questions.
“People are very nice when they see me,” he said. “They ask me, ‘How come they don’t make movies like they used to?’ We were governed by a certain kind of taste at that time, and there were places we wouldn’t go with language and bodily fluids and functions. I think that’s what they’re nostalgic for.”
While he’s elusive, Moranis hasn’t officially retired, so we’re hoping he makes an appearance in one of the Ant-Man movies—he could reprise his role from Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
6. Jack Gleeson Quit Acting Because People Are Terrible
Why he retired: If you’re like us, the name “Jack Gleeson” doesn’t ring a bell, but “King Joffrey Baratheon” certainly rings a big one (shame, shame, shame). Joffrey was one of the main antagonists in the first four seasons of Game of Thrones, before the show’s controversial last season sapped fans’ goodwill and made showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss into the clear villains. Yes, we’re bitter. When a finale’s so bad that a computer can write a better ending, you’ve made some dragon-sized mistakes.
Anyway, Gleeson played Joffrey during the Game of Thrones glory days, and his performance was nothing short of perfect. Unfortunately, he won’t be returning to TV anytime soon, as he announced his retirement in a 2014 interview with Entertainment Weekly.
So, why’s he retiring at the tender age of 21?
“The answer isn’t interesting or long-winded. I’ve been acting since age 8,” Gleeson said. “I just stopped enjoying it as much as I used to. And now there’s the prospect of doing it for a living, whereas up until now it was always something I did for recreation with my friends, or in the summer for some fun.”
“I enjoyed it. When you make a living from something, it changes your relationship with it. It’s not like I hate it, it’s just not what I want to do.”
What he’s doing now: Gleeson attended Trinity College in Dublin, studying philosophy and theology. He’s apparently still living in the Irish capital, staying mostly out of the spotlight (though he occasionally pops up at fan conventions).
He hasn’t quit acting completely, as he opened a small theater company called Collapsing Horse.
“We produce, write and perform our own work,” he said in 2016. “I prefer that kind of thing, collaborating with friends, than acting in a blockbuster. I could change my mind in a year, or a day. I’m 23. I’m quite open to change.”
The young actor might eventually make his way to Hollywood, but fans shouldn’t hold their breath.
“When I’m destitute in 10 years time, I’ll accept any script!” he joked to Entertainment Weekly.
7. Mara Wilson Quit Acting Because Acting Quit Her
Why she retired: Wilson built a sizable resume in the 1990s, landing lead roles in major films like Mrs. Doubtfire, Miracle on 34th Street, and Matilda. That last role was her most famous—and one of her most personal.
“I loved the book,” Wilson said later. “My whole family loved that book. My brother was reading it in his fourth-grade class and my mom would go to his classroom and read the book out loud because she had this wonderful voice and could become all the characters. I loved it so much that I started quoting it.”
After Matilda, however, Wilson’s career slowed down.
“I wasn’t getting any parts,” Wilson wrote in her book Where Am I Now? “Something didn’t make sense—at least until I was called for a role in a pilot. I would be auditioning for the ‘fat girl.'”
Unfortunately, Hollywood’s not a great place for people with body issues—and it’s a downright dangerous place for teenage girls.
“I had good experiences [in Hollywood], but I always knew there were girls much prettier than I was, and I knew that I was always competing with them,” she told People. “That has followed me my whole life.”
“Even though part of me knew I wouldn’t go back to film acting, sometimes I wished I’d be in an accident where I’d injure my nose and jaw so I could get reconstruction guilt-free. As I saw it, I had three choices: get cosmetic surgery and go out on auditions for the cute and funny best friend characters, stay the way I was and go out for the meager character actor roles for young women, or accept myself and give up the idea of a Hollywood film acting career for good.”
What she’s doing now: Wilson has become a successful author, penning plays, fiction for young adults, and the aforementioned Where Am I Now?, a memoir about her life as a child star.
“Writing is my life now,” she told Parade in 2013.”My play Sheeple went up at the New York International Fringe Festival and I’m shopping it around right now to see if anyone else wants to get it produced.”
“Acting is something I did when I was a kid. I do act sometimes in friends’ projects but, when I do, it’s just for fun. It is actually a hobby for me now. I do still love stage acting, but the day-to-day process of being an actor is so exhausting and so taxing. There are parts here and there that I’d like to play, but they’re not as interesting to me as writing.”
Even so, Wilson makes occasional appearances on TV, primarily as a voice actor. She played Jill Pill on BoJack Horseman and voices several characters on Big Hero 6: The Series.
8. Phoebe Cates Quit Acting For Her Kids
Why she retired: At a certain point in the ’80s, Phoebe Cates was just about as big as you can get. She starred in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, one of the decade’s most iconic teen comedies, and followed it up with notable turns in Gremlins, Shag, and Bright Lights, Big City.
Alas, Cates wasn’t able to keep her promising career on track. Her star dimmed a bit in the ’90s, and after a few box-office disasters (Drop Dead Fred, we’re looking at you), she disappeared. Her last film was 2001’s The Anniversary Party.
In 1998, Cates’ husband, Kevin Kline, announced that his wife retired to raise their family. That’s an admirable decision—especially when you’re one of the most recognizable actors of a particular decade.
“We have agreed to alternate so that we’re never working at the same time,” he said, “[but] whenever it’s been her slot to work, Phoebe has chosen to stay with the children.”
In other words, while Kline would be happy to stay home, Cates called dibs. She effectively retired in 1994 after starring in Princess Caraboo and only took her role in the aforementioned The Anniversary Party as a favor to her best friend, Jennifer Jason Leigh, who directed the film.
What she’s doing now: In 2005, Cates opened Blue Tree, a gift shop in uptown New York.
“I always wanted to have a general store,” she told USA Today. “If I could have had a photo booth and sold candy, I would have.”
Cates told the paper that shoppers often recognized her from her most famous roles (especially Fast Times at Ridgemont High).
“If they don’t, they tell me I look like Phoebe Cates, and I say, ‘I get that a lot,'” she joked.
According to the shop’s website, Blue Tree “has built up a loyal following not only in the neighborhood of Carnegie Hill but all over the world … There are no rules. And we are always re-inventing, recreating in the hopes of delighting.”
We can’t really fault Cates—or any of these other celebrities—for leaving Hollywood behind. Ultimately, the limelight isn’t for everyone, and it’s easy to grow tired of the celebrity lifestyle after a few years of award shows and paparazzi (we assume).