Throughout the pages of this magazine, we’ve moved through the whirlwind that surrounds stardom, spoken with the brightest minds in Hollywood about what it takes to make it in the ever-changing business of film and television, and detailed the growing careers of the faces that we believe you’ll see on screen for years to come. But initial success is never a permanent promise of fame. Some of our top ten predictions may not last, while others might find that being in the limelight is ultimately not for them. Leaving fame behind is often touted in the media as being full of drama and scandal, but the reality is that many actors and actresses simply step away, choosing to leave on their own terms.
From seasoned actors to fresh faces, leaving the game unnoticed is something of a blessing in disguise. Without the intrusive attention of the paparazzi, the talented stars that used to fill our movie posters can go on to live quiet lives, or even begin careers in a completely different field. These actors often leave on good notes, with industry relationships intact, simply choosing to go a different route without publicizing it -- so unless you’re Sean Connery, the exit generally goes unnoticed.
The reasons for leaving vary from actor to actor, but family is often involved. Being a well-known actor in Hollywood can be exceptionally taxing, and work-life balance goes awry. Between worldwide press tours, 14-hour film shoots, and the few hours of sleep between, it can be extremely hard for an actor in high demand to dedicate much time to their children. This often leads to the age-old rift between celebrities and their children: choosing career over family can leave a long-lasting impression on young kids. But some, such as Rick Moranis, leave when the needs of their children outweigh their own desire for a Hollywood career. In Moranis’ case, it was because of massive heartbreak: after the loss of his wife, he stepped away from the limelight to become a full-time dad and went on to support several charity organizations while leading a quiet family life.
Legendary acting casanova Cary Grant also left because of his children, though in his case it was a want, not a need. For Grant, the only legacy he truly cared about was the one that would continue through his daughter, actress Jennifer Grant. “My life changed the day Jennifer was born,” he told Redbook in 1987. “Now I live for her. I stopped acting when she came into this world because I wanted to have the time to spend with her. I wanted to be able to watch her grow up. I’ve tried to spend as much time with her as I can.”
Yet, the reasons for leaving aren’t always external. Along with the mountain of stress that actors face during shooting and promoting, the aftermath of any film release can be a potential slammer for anyone facing a bad review of their performance. Nerves of steel and a unshakeable confidence are often the strongest characteristics an actor can possess, and in the face of film critics, even the most stunningly talented can’t hold up. Lovers of classic films may remember Greta Garbo as a groundbreaking actress with a signature sultry stare, made immortal by five simple words: “I want to be alone.”
It was a prescient line. Garbo, a serious recluse and generally shy person, avoided the headlines and press as much as possible. The heat eventually got to her when critics slammed her for her performance in The Two-Faced Woman. The starlet that would eventually become the American Film Institute’s fifth pick in their lineup of greatest female stars of all time dropped out of acting shortly after; she didn’t even attend the Academy Awards in 1955 to accept her honorary Oscar for her "luminous and unforgettable screen performances." In one of her rare statements to the press before her retirement, Garbo made her introverted lifestyle quite clear: “I feel able to express myself only through my roles, not in words, and that is why I try to avoid talking to the press.”
Her departure was not left unnoticed by Hollywood, but her reclusiveness made it exceptionally hard for anyone to track her down. Garbo’s final move from Hollywood back to her home in Sweden was kept under tight security, and few outlets ever managed to catch a glimpse of the star before her death in 1990.
But it’s not simply industry veterans who choose to step away; sometimes, a career can be cut short quite early. For young stars in particular, the road ahead can lead to a break or permanent leave from acting. While many stars, such as Natalie Portman and Emma Watson, take time out to finish their education, so many other young actors simply drop out of the game completely. The most recent departure came from Game of Thrones star Jack Gleeson. "It was always a recreation beforehand, but when I started doing Game of Thrones, perhaps the reality was made too real for me," said the young star. "The lifestyle that comes with being an actor in a successful TV show isn't something I gravitate towards.”
Still, Gleeson’s future is brightly laid out before him, and young stars often return after a few years away to find themselves. The ones that leave permanently tend to do so for a reason: the industry is extremely taxing on children and teenagers, who often work days as long as their adult co-stars. The demanding schedule of stardom can deeply affect a young actor’s home life, developing social skills, and most forms of education, prompting some stars to quit in favor of their future. Acting, after all, can be a gamble. Even a prolific actor in a box office breaking film can crash and burn if the film doesn’t do well with fans, a fear expressed by Ms. Portman herself in the aftermath of the Star Wars prequels.
One of the biggest teen heartthrobs of the 90’s, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, became one of the few who decided to leave the game for good in the early 2000s. “I never took the fame too seriously,” the actor told People magazine in 2013. “It was a great period in my life, but it doesn't define me. When I think back on the time, I look at it with a wink. I focus on the good moments I had, not that I was on a lot of magazine covers.” Thomas has only returned for a few guest spots on friends’ shows, including that of his former TV dad -- he played the role of “Randy” in Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing in 2013. “JTT”, as he was known to wide-eyed fangirls in the 90s, left acting to study philosophy and history at Harvard University, and graduated from Colombia in 2010. These days, he works on the other side of the camera, scripting and directing new projects.
In other cases, actors simply lose interest in the profession or find that it’s not for them and leave to pursue careers in other fields. Mara Wilson, the wide-eyed bookworm who stole our hearts and united lonely kids everywhere within the magical mind of Matilda, left acting in favor of a career in writing and activism. She’s now a different kind of force in entertainment, writing hard-hitting pieces about the state of modern pop culture, as well being an advocate for public education on mental health and equality.
In March of 2012, the former child star detailed her reasons for leaving the business:
"Film can be exciting, but more often, it's tedious. The celebrity aspect is nothing short of ridiculous, and auditioning is brutal and dehumanizing. Every time I see a pretty young girl on the subway reading sides for an audition, my only thought is, 'Man, am I glad I'm not doing that anymore.' I never feel nostalgia, just relief."
Entertainers who retire “before their time” can leave a puzzling impression on fans, especially dedicated cult followings, but it’s key to remember that real people are bringing these characters to life; real people are walking the red carpet, stopping in cities for only a few hours at a time to promote a movie, working until four in the morning to get that perfect shot. Not everyone can do it, and even if they can, not everyone wants to spend the rest of their lives under the hot, heavy beams of an ever-demanding limelight. But it’s good to know that even if another actor decides to leave the game, these previous pioneers have assured them that, yes, there is a life after Hollywood.