“It felt like, all of a sudden, I was a poster. Like I was a billboard,” he continued. “It felt like it was for sale. Then my brain went through the fucking wringer. Like, I wasn’t sure if I was genuine. It really skews your view… It creates a very paranoid way of living.”
Christian Bale had a similar experience after finding fame at such a young age, starring in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun at just 13. “I had really enjoyed my anonymity before that,” he said in an interview with NJ. “But now, everyone was looking at me. Anonymity is so essential to your growth as a child because it’s a time for putting it all to the test, pushing boundaries, seeing how far you can take things. And I lost that.”
He even considered quitting, and though ultimately he persevered, he seems to have mixed thoughts about it. “I felt I dealt with it fairly well at the time, but I had problems. I wasn’t happy. And, you know, I can’t help looking at it now and saying there’s a point at which a child acting just becomes abuse. I really think it can just kill all the enjoyment a child is getting from it, and I look at it now with unease. Maybe there are some wonderful people, but me, I always suspect someone who wants to make their money from children.”
Margot Robbie also struggled with the pressures of sudden fame after starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street, especially when it came to the loss of privacy. “Something was happening in those early stages and it was all pretty awful, and I remember saying to my mom, ‘I don’t think I want to do this.’ And she just looked at me, completely straight-faced, and was like, ‘Darling, I think it’s too late not to.’ That’s when I realized the only way was forward.”
Michael Cera almost quit acting after Superbad due to the fame. “I didn’t know how to handle walking down the street,” he said. “Fame makes you very uncomfortable in your own skin, and makes you paranoid and weird. … When you’re a kid, people also feel they can kind of grab you — they’re not that respectful of you or your physical space. I didn’t know how to respectfully establish my own boundaries. It was like a burning feeling the whole time, just like everybody was so aware of me.”
He continued: “There was a point where I wanted to stop taking jobs that would make me more famous,” adding that he had a crisis where he “really didn’t know if [he] was going to keep being an actor” due to the “level of heat.”
Freddie Prinze Jr. became a heartthrob after starring in I Know What You Did Last Summer, but he’s since admitted that it “wasn’t the best experience” revealing he was nervous to take on the role because of his lack of experience. In particular, he had a rough time with director Jim Gillespie. “Right away the director did not want me in this movie and made it clear all the time,” he claimed, saying he wouldn’t give direction or would give notes like “You look dumb when you make that expression.”
He also claimed he was almost injured when he was forced to do a dangerous stunt, causing him to be “ready to kill” Gillespie. “It was so scary. And it was my first real experience in the business on a big movie, being the lead of a movie… I was like, ‘Yo, if this is how it’s going to be, I can’t handle this.'” However, costars Ryan Phillippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar helped convince him to just trust his gut and ignore Gillespie.
Later on, Prinze Jr. actually did step away from acting for a bit after appearing on 24 with Kiefer Sutherland. “I did 24, and it was terrible. I hated every moment of it,” Prinze said. “Kiefer was the most unprofessional dude in the world. That’s not me talking trash. I’d say it to his face. I think everyone that’s worked with him has said that. And I just wanted to quit the business after that. So, I just sort of stopped.”
Chris Evans had terrible anxiety filming Puncture that made him wonder if he should quit the industry. “It was the first time I started having mini panic attacks on set. I really started to think, ‘I’m not sure if this [acting] is the right thing for me, I’m not sure if I’m feeling as healthy as I should be feeling.'” In fact, this anxiety almost kept him from taking the role as Cap/Steve Rogers in the MCU, which he knew would only increase his fame.
Emma Watson nearly quit acting because of her experience on Harry Potter ahead of the fifth film, because the series made it difficult for her to pursue the kind of education she wanted. In fact, she almost quit in 2009, when she started attending Brown University. “I was finding this fame thing was getting to a point of no return. I sensed if this was something I was ever going to step away from it was now or never,” Watson told Vanity Fair. Since she’d first become famous as a child, she said it finally “dawned on me that this is what you’re really signing up for,” especially on a franchise as big as Harry Potter: “The Harry Potter phenomenon steps into a different zone” she said of fans. “It crosses into obsession.”
Speaking of her experience on the premieres for the last few films, Watson said, “I’d walk down the red carpet and go into the bathroom. I had on so much makeup and these big, fluffy, full-on dresses. I’d put my hands on the sink and look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘Who is this?’ I didn’t connect with the person who was looking back at me, and that was a very unsettling feeling.”
Asa Butterfield’s experience playing a boy in a concentration camp in The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas was traumatizing due to the film’s heavy subject matter, despite the fact that he “knew it was only acting.” In particular, the gas chamber scene was difficult. “I remember being in a room full of men, some of whom were completely naked, and it was dark, and they shut the door on us, and it was just…awful,” Butterfield recalled.
“There were a few times I came out and said, ‘I can’t do it.’ We took gaps between takes, we played games. But it’s hard for a kid. That topic,” Butterfield continued. After he was done filming, he apparently told his mother he didn’t want to act anymore, though he doesn’t remember saying so now and says his parents were always supportive of whatever he wanted. He ended up going back to acting a few years later.
Anna Faris considered quitting acting after she left the starring role on her sitcom Mom, mostly because she was enjoying having more free time for the first time in decades of hard work. “I really started to think about where I wanted to go in terms of career,” she said, revealing that she’d wondered if she had enough money to retire. However, in the end, Faris decided to be more selective about her projects and time.
Cate Blanchett has said she considered quitting acting after starring in Tar: “I think it was because it was such a physical role, the echoes of it are still with me and I think I’m like a lot of audience members, I need time to process it,'” Blanchett said on The Sunday Project. She laughed, “I don’t ever want to work again,” and said she hoped to spend some time gardening with her mother in Australia and “to be still and think.” She reiterated this sentiment in May at Cannes: “I’m always trying to get out of acting. I’ve been trying to stop acting my entire professional life.”
Lily James was similarly exhausted after playing Pamela Anderson in the limited series Pam and Tommy, especially considering the amount of time she had to spend preparing to play the real-life star, both before filming and in the makeup trailer. “I was dead by the end. I was on my knees and I-never-wanna-work-again tired,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “But luckily, that didn’t last too long. So it was all part of the experience, and I was grateful for that time.”
Shailene Woodley considered quitting acting after starring in the Divergent series — in particular, after filming The Divergent Saga: Allegiant. “The last one was a bit of a hard experience for everyone, and that was really what made me think I need to have some human experiences outside of this industry,” Woodley revealed, saying she “hit a wall with acting” and “felt it was time to do something different.”
Woodley told her agent not to send her any more scripts, but her agent was relentless when it came to Big Little Lies. The project ultimately made Woodley “fall in love with acting again.”
Kit Harington has discussed how, as Game of Thrones went on, starring in the wildly popular series took a toll on him. “I went through some mental health difficulties after Thrones, and during the end of Thrones,” he revealed after he finished a stint in a wellness rehabilitation center post-GoT. “I think it was directly due to the nature of the show and what I had been doing for years.” He ultimately decided to take a break from acting to “really concentrate on [him]self.”
He later admitted that he spent much of the COVID lockdown “getting over this TV show, where by the end of it I didn’t know if I wanted to be an actor any more.” However, Harington said he came “out on the other side” and “realized that I actually miss my craft, I miss what I do. It’s a nice revelation.”
Rooney Mara had a terrible experience making A Nightmare on Elm Street which caused her to almost quit the industry: I didn’t want to act anymore,” she told Entertainment Weekly. “I was like, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for.’ If this is what my opportunities are going to be like, then I’m not that interested in acting. So I was very discouraged and disheartened.”
Luckily, Mara was “reinspired” by the script for The Social Network, and she didn’t quit Hollywood, though her perspective had changed. “I got to this place, that I still live in, that I don’t want to act unless I’m doing stuff that I feel like I have to do. So after making [A Nightmare on Elm Street], I decided, ‘OK, I’m just not going to act anymore unless it’s something that I feel that way about.'”
Jessica Alba had such a bad experience in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer— in particular, while filming her character’s death scene — that she almost gave up on acting: “The director was like, ‘It looks too real. It looks too painful. Can you be prettier when you cry? … Don’t do that thing with your face. Just make it flat. We can CGI the tears in.’”
“It all got me thinking, ‘Am I not good enough? Are my instincts and my emotions not good enough? Do people hate them so much that they don’t want me to be a real person?'” Alba continued. “And so I just said, ‘F— it. I don’t care about this business anymore.’”
And finally, Daniel Day-Lewis actually did quit acting after his experience making Phantom Thread. “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. And then we stopped laughing because we were both overwhelmed by a sense of sadness,” Day-Lewis told W Magazine. That took us by surprise: We didn’t realize what we had given birth to. It was hard to live with. And still is.”
The “sadness came to stay … during the telling of the story,” Day-Lewis revealed. “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.”