Acting is a very dynamic career. It is physically demanding, sometimes requiring rapid weight loss or gain, fight scenes and long, breathy soliloquies. Yet somehow there is a small clique of acting professionals that remain unphased by both the psychological and physiological strain that acting puts upon them; so much so that they have made it into their golden years without ever leaving the bright lights, the make-up, and the allure of the silver screen.
Here are some of the oldest actors that prove that retirement is optional.
Sir Ian McKellen
He is that thespian that made Gandalf and Magneto big names on the big screen, and he is widely considered to be one of the greatest actors of his generation. Born and bred a Wiganer, he moved to London and got involved with the Royal Shakespeare Company throughout the 60s and 70s. Now, he’s at the ripe old age of 74, and still performing in Peter Jackson’s epic Hobbit trilogy.
Sir Patrick Stewart
Playing Professor X, Magneto’s arch nemesis, in the X-Men films, Patrick Stewart is actually very good friends with Ian McKellen, who is even performing the ceremony for his marriage to singer Sunny Ozell. Both Stewart and McKellen are knighted, too. And there is only a year between them, Stewart being the younger. They recently collaborated on a theatre production of Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land.
An American icon with a fantastic film career, Jack Nicholson is still going strong at 76, having featured in over 65 films over his career. Despite garnering no academy awards for his performance as Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining, Nicholson is renowned for the role; it remains one of his most iconic personas. He hasn’t retired yet, but he might soon; after all, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
Probably most recognisable as loveable Aunt May from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, Rosemary Harris has established herself in the American Theatre Hall of Fame, despite being an English actress. She has been active in professional theatre since 1948, when she first appeared on the stage at 21 years old, making her 85 now. And she’s still going strong; most recently, you may have spotted her playing Chris Pine’s grandmother in last year’s This Means War.
Sir Christopher Lee
A veteran of theatre if there ever was one. He’s the man that made the villains of the popular Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings totally enthralling, as well as being – rather surprisingly – a heavy metal star. He was awarded the “Spirit of Metal” award in 2010 for a collaborative album with Charlemagne, called By the Sword and the Cross. Despite his youthful spirit, Lee features as the oldest actor on our list, at a staggering 91 years old.
We’ve had white beards, grey hair, death metal, knighthoods and some staggeringly long acting careers, but as of yet, we haven’t had any of these brilliant screen stars retire. That’s something to be thankful for.