Picking a career is pretty hard, it turns out. Not only do you have to choose something you could see yourself doing for the rest of your life, but you also have to be somewhat competent at it. Most of us will just fall into something and go with it.
After all, if you haven't found your calling by, say, age 30, it's pretty much hopeless, right? If you were going to make it, you'd have made it by now.
Well ... maybe not. After all ...
If you are an aspiring movie actor, how long would you plug away at it before deciding it's not for you? Like, if you've made it to your mid-40s without ever appearing in a movie, that's probably a sign that you're never going to have an action figure made from you, right?
Mid-Life Crisis Man! Gets drunk, chats up the college-age waitress and crashes his Harley into a Dumpster!
The Rock Bottom Moment:
So there was this guy named Alan who had gotten an art degree (because enrolling in drama classes "wasn't considered the sensible thing to do"), and by his late 20s was doing as well as you'd expect anyone with a degree to do. He was running his own graphic design business ... and that's when he decided to drop absolutely everything and sign up for acting classes. He even left his own company to concentrate full-time on acting, which doesn't do a lot for your financial security, it turns out.
While studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, Rickman was pushing 30 and supporting himself by working as a dresser for other actors (and we mean literally helping them put their clothes on). He did get to meet stage actors like Sir Nigel Hawthorne, but their interaction at this point was probably limited to "fetch me my leotards, boy."
"Now put them on, very slowly. Yes. Yes."
And this went on for years. Rickman farted around the theater scene for over a decade.
Then finally, at age 42, Rickman was cast as one of the leads in the stage version of the book Les Liaisons Dangereuses. The play was a hit and was soon adapted by Hollywood as Dangerous Liaisons. Boom! Success! Everyone involved in it became internationally famous!
Except Rickman, because they replaced him with John Malkovich.
Everyone knows Alan Rickman is famously terrible at playing creepy, evil characters.
However, Rickman's performance did catch the attention of producer Joel Silver, who two years later asked him to star as the villain in some action movie with some TV actor named Bruce Willis. Something about a bunch of terrorists taking over a skyscraper.
Yep, Alan Rickman, the best bad-guy actor maybe ever, the man behind Hans Gruber and Professor Snape from the Harry Potter series, started his film career at age 46.
Above: Proof that you're never too pale or skeevy for greatness.
It's not that Peter Roget went through life broke. By age 61, he was an accomplished doctor, lecturer and inventor. He was a respected man of science. He was also, however, pretty insane and most definitely miserable.
The Rock Bottom Moment:
Being nuts, it turns out, was in his blood: His grandmother was mentally unstable, his mother was nearly psychotic and his sister and daughter had suffered severe mental breakdowns. As if that wasn't enough, his father and wife died young, and one time his uncle slit his throat in front of him. Peter was actually the sane one in the family, or as it was known to people who weren't in his family, "still crazier than a shit house rat."
Roget himself was described as "humorless and judgmental" and a little bit paranoid. His obsessive personality slowly took over his life and led him to, for example, count his steps every day. He was also obsessed with cleanliness ... which was unfortunate, because he lived in 19th century London, which had no clean water or toilets.
Civilization didn't beat out nomadic tribalism with the invention of the British accent.
The only thing that seemed to calm him was making lists, a somewhat creepy hobby he'd had since childhood. When he retired from medicine at 61, he realized he might as well spend all day making one huge, all-encompassing list of all the things ever -- so that's exactly what he did.
Twelve years later, at age 73, Peter Roget published his giant list of words as a book, Roget's Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases ... otherwise known as "the thesaurus."
Or "wordbook" or "phrasehouse" or "table-leg prop."
Back in 1805, he had compiled a small indexed catalog of words for personal use, presumably to help him cheat in crossword puzzles. Roget kept building on his initial list over the years, but only as a pointless hobby, because as we explained before, he was pretty much insane. It wasn't until he retired that he decided to devote himself seriously to creating a collection of synonyms and antonyms that writers could use as an easy reference.
The thesaurus was an instant success and made Roget's name synonymous with, well, synonyms. He kept working on it until his death at age 90, and in the meantime managed to not kill himself or anyone else. Pretty impressive, we think.
Look out! He's going to off, rub-out, liquidate or slay somebody!
Now it's true that a lot of writers don't publish their big novel until after a lot of years of trying. In the days before everybody had a blog, you'd maybe you get your English degree and then write some short stories that get published in some magazine, or take work writing greeting cards -- whatever pays the bills.
"I don't know what this is. It just makes me look unattainable and interesting."
But others, well, they take a more roundabout approach.
The Rock Bottom Moment:
In 1878, Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski, a young Polish sailor working for the French marine service, tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. The reason? Pick one: His family was exiled from his country, he was orphaned by age 11, he was involved in a gun smuggling plot, he had just gone through a disastrous love affair that apparently ended in a duel and his gambling had left him riddled by debt.
So he tried to shoot himself. The bullet didn't seem to hit anything important, though, so Jozef shrugged it off and kept working. In the same year, he joined the British Merchant Marines, even though he was already in his 20s and didn't know a word of English. Over the following decade, Jozef slowly picked up on the language during his many voyages around the world -- which, by the way, he barely survived.
English is a notoriously dangerous language.
A trip to Congo in 1890, for example, left him physically and psychologically drained. During his tour of Africa, Jozef witnessed enough horror and evil to shatter anyone's faith in humanity. It was almost like in Apocalypse Now.
No, wait, it was exactly like Apocalypse Now -- he wrote it. All that shit Martin Sheen's character goes through in the movie is based on Jozef's own experiences as a merchant sailor in the Congo, which Francis Ford Coppola updated to the Vietnam War for the film.
The book's surfing scene was left unchanged.
You see, after 20 years of being a full-time sailor, one day Jozef decided to switch careers and become a novelist. He published his first novel in 1894, at age 37, under a name you are slightly more likely to recognize: "Joseph Conrad." This didn't exactly come out of nowhere: His father had tried to instill in him a love of literature before, you know, dying, and Conrad's life going to shit for the next 30 years gave him some material to work with.
In 1899, Conrad began publishing Heart of Darkness, the novel that Apocalypse Now is based on, and by the early 20th century he was recognized as one of the most important writers in the English language -- a language he didn't even speak until adulthood and that, perhaps most impressively, he apparently taught himself while listening to sailors.
Which explains why Marlon Brando's character is pretty much incomprehensible.