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The Real Reason These Celebs Quit Acting For Good

Quitting a job is a difficult decision — walking away from a career you've spent years building is an even harder one. And then it's only more aggravating if you're actually successful at the line of work you're considering abandoning. After all, why would you even think of leaving a secure profession that comes easy to you that also, for what it's worth, pays well? 

This is the conundrum multiple stars of stage and screen have faced. At some point in their careers, these celebrities looked at their artistic and professional achievements, fame, fortune, and shelves full of awards and said, "This is not for me." And then, they left acting behind and were fortunate enough to discover the things they really wanted to do with their short time on this planet, pursued those new paths, and found that elusive happiness. Here are some people who were in some major movies and TV shows until they realized they didn't like acting and retired...forever (more or less).

There is no emoji for what Jordan Peele felt

After five seasons of Key & Peele, the extremely popular and insightful Comedy Central sketch show that bore his name, it was obvious that Jordan Peele would move on to something even bigger. Most people would have predicted starring roles in a string of big-screen comedies. He threw the world for a loop when he chose to be a filmmaker instead, writing and directing the satirical horror movie Get Out...for which he won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (and got nominations for Best Director and Best Picture). In other words, this new trajectory quite suits Jordan Peele. "Acting is just nowhere near as fun for me as directing," he told CBS This Morning (via Complex).

One of the best-reviewed movies of 2017, Get Out clinched his decision, but so did one of the worst-reviewed. "The Emoji Movie actually helped me quit acting," Peele said during his acceptance speech for best rookie director at the Directors Guild of America Awards in February 2018. "I was offered the role of Poop. This is true. I would not make this up." He emphatically asked his manager to turn it down, but the next day asked "how much the gig would pay," because he was curious, but the role had already been given to Sir Patrick Stewart. "I was like, 'F*** this.'"

The Heather Donahue Project

There was a brief period after the release of The Blair Witch Project in 1999 in which many thought that Heather Donahue would never work again because she was dead — such was the believability factor of the pioneering classic of modern "found footage"-style horror movies. When the world realized the movie was fiction, Donahue got very famous very fast, but was also so closely tied to The Blair Witch Project — she's even on the movie poster, and the film's most resonant scene is of Donahue weeping over her impending death — that she couldn't keep a decent career going. "The acting projects I was lucky enough to work on weren't always things that I felt good about putting out into the world," Donahue wrote on her now defunct website (via People). And so she gave it all up...for marijuana. In her 2012 memoir GrowGirl: How My Life After The Blair Witch Project Went to Pot, Donahue recounted how she followed a boyfriend into the world of high-scale marijuana farming in California.

From Mrs. Doubtfire to doubting everything

You might remember Lisa Jakub from such indelible mid-1990s blockbusters as Mrs. Doubtfire (she played one of Robin Williams' daughters, Lydia) and Independence Day (she was Alicia, daughter of Randy Quaid's kooky fighter pilot). You might also remember her from some other things, but nothing since around 2000 or so, because that's when she quit acting. In 2013, Jakub wrote on her blog that while she enjoyed the art and practice of acting, "the competition and the politics and the superficial nature of the industry started to get to me. I felt like a phony who was trying to live someone else's dream." The nastiness of Hollywood exacerbated her anxiety and depression, and so she left show business before, she says, she could turn into "one of those alcoholic / eating disorder ravaged / drug-addicted train wrecks of a former child actor. I had no desire to be a cautionary tale." These days, Jakub plays a lot of roles, just offscreen: She writes a lot — in addition to her blog, she's published some books — and she's also a speaker and teacher of both yoga and writing.

More like Art-iana Richards

Ariana Richards was a very successful child and teen star in the late 1980s and early 1990s, representing for the pint-sized in movies like Prancer, Tremors, Spaced Invaders, and an obscure Steven Spielberg movie about a dinosaur-filled theme park where the dinosaurs run amok called Jurassic Park. (She played Lex, one of park mastermind John Hammond's plucky grandkids.) Richards appeared in a few more films after the release of that box office smash in 1993, but she's basically retired from the art of filmmaking in favor of the art of painting. Oddly, it was Jurassic Park that inspired her career shift and artistic awakening. "I wanted to boil down the whole experience of Jurassic into my art," Richards told People in 2011. "I painted an image of me from the Jell-O scene. I ended up presenting Steven [Spielberg] with one of my paintings at the end of filming." Nowadays, Richards has her own art gallery in Salem, Oregon, called Gallery Ariana.

From Weird Science to not-weird medieval literature

Anthony Michael Hall and Ilan Mitchell-Smith brought a classic comedy duo vibe to the 1985 classic Weird Science. Comedy pairs, like Abbott and Costello, or Martin and Lewis, almost always feature a wacky one and a reserved foil — as suburban nerd Wyatt, Ilan Mitchell-Smith was the latter, showing real comic chops playing off of the zanier Hall. Weird Science was Mitchell-Smith's breakout role, but he only sporadically appeared in films and on television throughout the rest of the 1980s. The last acting gig of his young life: a single episode of the erotic thriller Silk Stalkings. While Mitchell-Smith enjoyed acting, it interfered with his other passion: academics. He didn't have time to pursue roles and go to class, so he chose school. Mitchell-Smith got a Bachelor of Arts, a Masters, and a doctorate in medieval studies, and he's currently a professor of Medieval English literature at California State University, Long Beach. He made his decision and stuck with it, although he's not above a little stunt casting. On a 2017 Weird Science-themed episode of the 1980s-set ABC sitcom The Goldbergs, Mitchell-Smith played a science teacher.

Duncan Kane, Esq.

With the rise of The OC and The CW, the mid-2000s were a golden age for teen-centric television entertainment, and for the actors and actresses who populated that world. Among those young rising stars was Teddy Dunn, who starred as Duncan Kane, the distant and mysterious ex-boyfriend of Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) on the cult classic high school noir series Veronica Mars. Dunn told TV Guide that prior to the start of season two, Mars creator Rob Thomas announced he'd resolve the show's simmering love triangle between Duncan, Veronica, and bad boy Logan (Jason Dohring)...by writing Duncan off the show. After Dunn's abrupt departure from Veronica Mars, he appeared in a couple of movies and TV shows, and that was it for him, showbiz-wise. His heart just wasn't in it anymore. Dunn said that working on Mars "was a very eye-opening experience in the business side of it," adding that his career choices "became more and more of a business calculation up until the point that I had the realization that if it's going to be just a business, there are a ton of other things I could do and a ton of other things that maybe interest me more." Dunn quit acting and went back to school, got a doctorate in law from Boston College, and has worked as an attorney and as a clerk for a district court judge.

There will be terminations

Paul Dano played two roles in Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece There Will Be Blood: twins Paul and Eli Sunday. If it seems weird that such a serious movie would feature a Parent Trap-style gimmick, it's only because it wasn't Anderson's initial intent. Actor Kel O'Neill was cast as Eli but left the production shortly after filming began...and then he was replaced by Dano. While a rumor persists that O'Neill left the film because co-star Daniel Day-Lewis terrified and intimidated him with his intense performance as Daniel Plainview, the truth is that he just wasn't right for the part, and Anderson made a course correction. 

"Filmmaking is so alchemical that sometimes certain factors don't add up," O'Neill told Vulture. He thinks he failed to connect with Anderson, for which he takes full responsibility. "An actor should, with every ounce of their humanity, be attempting to give the director what he or she wants. And I recall going in and out on whether I could really do that." O'Neill landed a few more roles after Blood, but his termination was the kick in the pants he needed to figure out what he really wanted to do. "There's a lot of fun to be had in acting, but it's not a craft I wake up with the desire to do everyday," he said. O'Neill still makes movies, but now he directs documentaries and experimental virtual reality films.

Not-so-fast times at Phoebe Cates' house

In the 1980s, millions crushed hard on Phoebe Cates, star of VHS and cable TV classics like Private School, Gremlins, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. She's mostly known for playing precocious teenagers, but Cates tried to move on to more adult roles early on. While she wasn't ultimately cast in The Big Chill, she met actor Kevin Kline at a script read-through. After dating for years, the couple married in 1989 and had a couple of kids. With two major actors in the family, Cates and Kline worked out an arrangement where one of them would go off to film a movie while the other would stay home with the kids. That was all well and good, but whenever it was Cates' turn to act, she rarely found a project she liked enough to miss out on family time. Her de facto retirement set in, and in the past 20 years, Cates has appeared in just one film: 2001's The Anniversary Party, co-written and co-directed by her Fast Times co-star and close friend Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Jake Ryan is out there somewhere

Michael Schoeffling will always be a teen cinema icon and dream boyfriend to millions — he was Jake Ryan in 1984's Sixteen Candles. His status as an idealized guy has only grown larger over the past three decades because Schoeffling quit acting, thus forever intertwining his own legend with that of Jake Ryan. Schoeffling could have become the rare star of teen films that transitioned to adult parts, like Jake Gyllenhaal or Ryan Gosling. Instead, he appeared in just a handful of projects in the 1980s and early 1990s, such as Vision Quest, Mermaids, and Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken. Schoeffling gave up acting, Hollywood, and any public visibility whatsoever around 1991 — The Washington Post says that's the last time he even did an interview. He's reportedly married with two kids and runs a handmade furniture business outside of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Many reporters have tried to track him down to little success — GQ compared him to reclusive author J.D. Salinger.

There's something about happiness for Cameron Diaz

The central cast of the raunchy 2002 cult classic The Sweetest Thing — Christina Applegate, Selma Blair, and Cameron Diaz — reunited in 2018 for an Entertainment Weekly profile. The actresses were supposed to reveal "untold stories" from the set of the film, but Diaz wound up sharing more about her future than the past. When writer Natalie Abrams asked if the actresses ever hung out, Diaz said she'd like to and had the time, off-handedly noting that she's currently "literally doing nothing," then adding that she's "actually retired." 

That echoes remarks Blair had made about Diaz a few weeks earlier to Metro. Blair claimed that since appearing in the remake of Annie in 2014 and marrying Good Charlotte guitarist Benji Madden in 2015, Diaz had quietly quit Hollywood. "Cameron's retired from acting," Blair said. "I mean, she doesn't need to make any more films, she has a pretty great life, I don't know what it would take to bring her back. She's happy."