It may sound like a natural arc; after a long, successful career, and with a mantel filled with awards and honors, it’s finally time to contemplate retirement. But for many veteran actors the idea of quietly shuffling off stage as they hit their 60s holds zero appeal. In fact, they seem to be working harder than ever. So what have they learned throughout their careers that has helped them maintain that hunger and longevity?
For Ed Harris, now celebrating his third Emmy nom, this time for “Westworld,” it’s a simple equation. “If you want to keep working, you need to stay in good shape physically and mentally,” he says. “And as the years go by, it’s important to stay relaxed, focused, and not take things too seriously. You have to remember that eventually, none of this stuff’s going to matter one way or another. So you want to do the things that you care about with the people you like, and do them to the best of your ability.”
He notes that acting “is also one of those things you can keep doing professionally well into old age, unlike sports.” It’s also something that can be refined as the years go on, grounding performers with a gravitas their younger selves could only aspire to and had to earn.
Ted Danson is a 16-time Emmy nominee (12 in the lead comedy actor category alone) and two-time winner, but his nomination for “The Good Place” marks his first comedy nom in 25 years.
“I think several things factor into longevity,” he says. “First, I love working and going to the studio and seeing the guards, the other actors, the crew, doing hair and makeup — the whole thing. I’m just as excited as the first day I drove up to the Paramount lot.”
For Danson, it’s also key to “be blessed with good material.
“You have to find the most creative person in the room and become a part of what they’re doing, and not worry about the size of the part or the money,” he says.
However, he admits there can be a “huge element of luck in any career,” noting that “you may have talent, but you need the breaks and opportunities to let it shine.”
With a career that’s now in its 42nd year, Jeff Daniels happily admits that this year’s Emmy attention has been “an embarrassment of riches” for him, thanks to a limited series/movie lead actor acknowledgement for “The Looming Tower” and a limited series/movie supporting actor nom for “Godless.” These two add to his previous three noms — and one win — for “The Newsroom.”
“Longevity has always been a goal for me over the past two, three decades,” Daniels says. “I’d look up to guys like Jimmy Stewart and Spencer Tracy and Henry Fonda, and think, ‘That’s the kind of long, varied career I want.’
“But it was a different game back then,” he notes. “Those guys just focused on movies and Hollywood, with maybe the occasional TV or theater role. But with the explosion of television content and quality over the past decade or so, going back to HBO and ‘The Sopranos,’ you had far more career opportunities — even though I moved to Michigan, which you’re not supposed to do, and where they don’t make movies.”
Daniels partly credits his own longevity to recognizing he had to move between media to “keep pushing my range out.
“I still get so much satisfaction from new roles that really push me,” he says. “I’ve never played characters anything like the ones in ‘Tower’ and ‘Godless,’ and those challenges keep me going.”
William H. Macy has also been working steadily over the past four decades, and says the secret to such success is “never giving up when you hit a rough patch — and never having a backup plan, as you’ll use it.” Instead, when acting roles have slowed down for him through the years, he has moved into other areas in the industry, such as writing and directing.
“That way, you just keep moving forward,” he says.
Macy is nominated for the fifth time for playing polarizing patriarch Frank Gallagher in Showtime’s dark comedy “Shameless.” He originated the role in 2011, the first time he took on a lead role in a television show, but has been “happily amazed” to have such great material at this stage of his career.
“You’re always afraid it’ll be bad, or that it’ll be a hit and then go bad,” he says. “It happens. Shows run out of steam and start repeating themselves. But not with this. We’re nine seasons in, we have great new writers and the scripts are better than ever.”
Milo Ventimiglia may be decades younger than his competitors, but the actor, who is in contention for the second year running as Jack Pearson in “This Is Us,” has been working professionally for 23 years. He has long studied the careers of other veterans, “partly for tips on longevity and how to survive in this industry,” he says.
“My first TV gig was opposite Will Smith in ‘Fresh Prince [of Bel-Air],’ and he was already this big movie star, but he treated the crew and all of us so well, and he was so humble,” he says. “That had a big impact on me.”
Realizing that “reputation is a very big thing in this town,” Ventimiglia has since “quietly watched older actors, like Sly [Stallone] and Nicole Kidman, on set, and tried to absorb their experience.
“For me, long careers are endlessly fascinating,” he says.