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Actors That Have Major Regrets About Their Career

All of us have regrets, some big and some small. Working in the entertainment industry means being in the public eye, and the pressure to hold up a particular image can lead to difficult choices and substantial regrets. In fact, just about every actor, no matter how successful they are or how high the caliber of project they typically sign on to, has voiced some sort of remorse over an appearance that didn't pan out the way they wanted it to.

This kind of thing is common in Hollywood. The concept or role may seem perfect, but poor writing or direction can tank its potential. The pay may be great enough for an actor to convince themselves to take a role they aren't that excited about. Difficulties can arise at every level of production, from incompatibilities with co-stars and just plain bad acting to unexpected demands from higher-ups or editing debacles in post-production. If you're going to make a living in Hollywood, you're probably going to run into one of these situations at some point in your career.

But some mistakes extend beyond taking a role in a movie that bombed. Some high-profile actors have much deeper regrets about their careers that will come as quite the surprise to onlookers who have only seen the highlight reel of their lives.

Hugh Grant took any job he could

When you think of Hugh Grant's most famous roles, you probably think of the plethora of romantic comedies in which he has appeared over the years, often as an affable and clever leading man. It doesn't seem like being recognized in this way would leave you much room for remorse, but Grant believes that you can certainly have too much of a good thing — and sometimes, the thing wasn't even that good.

Grant recalls that he would occasionally take roles despite knowing from the beginning that a film would be bad — in fact, sometimes he would accept the part because of that knowledge. He enjoyed bad films, and would even, as a general rule, accept worse roles more quickly than better ones. Looking back, he realizes that he didn't have enough experience, or trust in himself, when it came to dealing with fame and success: He'd take roles quickly, without thinking, because he was still in the mindset of an unemployed actor.

By the time he knew better, he'd appeared in so many of the same types of roles that he felt he'd pigeonholed himself beyond rescue. "The world was my oyster," he admits, but instead of pursuing interesting roles, he "repeated himself almost identically about 17 times in a row." Not that we're complaining.

It's the Pitts being Brad

Even more surprising than regretting a type of role that has made you hugely popular is one of Brad Pitt's biggest career regrets. While the prolific actor has appeared in multiple films with less-than-stellar reception in addition to his more highly regarded filmography, his biggest regret actually falls in the latter group! 12 Monkeys, which came out in 1995, was beloved by audiences and critics alike, and Pitt's role actually earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

But years after this early appearance as the insane Jeffrey Goines, Pitt doesn't seem to see what everyone else does. While the role could easily be called a pivotal one in his career, one that pushed him out of the familiar realm of "brooding heartthrob" and into a place of depth and unpredictability, the accomplished actor instead states that it "haunts" him. That's right. It's not just that he's looking back with more experienced eyes and reasonable critiques: He says that he can't even watch the second half of the film. 

Jennette McCurdy: iWish I'd never become an actress

You may have heard the exciting news that iCarly, the immensely popular teen sitcom that ran from 2007 to 2012 on Nickelodeon, is getting a reboot with the original cast on Paramount+. The revival was announced in December of 2020 — just a couple of months before the original series began streaming on Netflix – to the delight of many fans who are grown now and seeking an escape to a simpler past.

The new series, which has been branded "iCarly for ADULTS," will feature much of the original cast, including Nathan Kress as Freddy, Miranda Cosgrove as Carly, and Jerry Trainor as Spencer. One notable absence, though, is that of Jennette McCurdy as Carly's best friend, Sam Puckett: McCurdy has quit acting in favor of writing and directing.

The former child actress feels embarrassed and ashamed of the roles she played throughout her career. She also doesn't miss the pressure of being the breadwinner for her family (which was her role by the time she was 10 or 11, by her reckoning), nor the imperative to put her own emotions on the back burner for the sake of her roles or the cruel reality of Hollywood's beauty standards that led her to develop an eating disorder. All this she endured for a career that she did not find fulfilling, making it easy to see how the star would harbor resentment.

Mel Gibson's heart wasn't in it

Jennette McCurdy isn't the only well-known star who has some major regrets about her career as a whole. Surprisingly, one-time action star Mel Gibson also regrets becoming an actor, period!

The man who wears the diverse hats of performer, producer, and director — sometimes all at once, like in the award-winning historical film Braveheart from 1995 — has actually said that if he could go back to his early 20s, he'd make a different choice regarding the direction of his career. (Other pithy advice he'd give to his younger self? "Live every day to the fullest," for one thing, and most importantly, "Shut the f*** up!" Interesting.)

Gibson's reasoning is partly based on the "loss of personal anonymity," as well as the hijacking of one's pure intentions when fame and entertainment take on a life of their own. The choice to become an actor, which he made when he was 21 or 22, is one Gibson describes as "spur of the moment," one that lacked the context of experience or the sway of maturity — and one that, once made, could not be taken back.

Even when he took a break from acting for lower-profile creative pursuits, he said that none of the downsides changed: "You can't put toothpaste back in the tube." If young Gibson really had made the choice he "should have made when he was 21," Hollywood would probably look a lot different.

Carrie Fisher was reluctant royalty

Carrie Fisher was beloved by fans for years as the iconic Princess Leia in the Star Wars franchise. At least, that's how it seemed from the fan side of things — but the situation looked a little different on her end. Fame doesn't always convey the love of a fan base to its object: Sometimes it just makes things more complicated.

In Fisher's case, if she had known about all the fame that was going to come with it, she would have gone back and refused the role of Princess Leia. Rather than feeling beloved or iconic, the most salient effect of fame on her psyche was a quiet but ardent desire for it all to end: Waiting for that day was what consumed her life when she became really well-known, she admits.

This level of honesty was characteristic of the actress, who had been through a lot before her untimely death in 2016 at the age of 60. Her sense of humor and genuine personality were far more responsible for fans' adoration than any role, no matter how great.

Jennifer Grey went anonymous

Jennifer Grey was America's "Baby," the endearing co-star of 1987's Dirty Dancing alongside Patrick Swayze. This film, and the performance of its two top-billed stars, is synonymous with '80s nostalgia and remains timelessly quotable and meme-able to this day. Instagram influencers attempt time and again to recreate the iconic lift, and references to the film have made it into everything from casual conversation to modern-day sitcoms.

So if the film and its stars are so timeless, where is Jennifer Grey today? The actress, whose career took a dive after the success of this role, says that her "nose job from hell" was to blame for making her unrecognizable. She went into an operating room as a celebrity, she says, and came out anonymous: Even her friends didn't recognize her!

She even tried to make light of the catastrophe with a role as herself in the 1999 sitcom It's Like, You Know..., but the series was canceled after two seasons, and her career was never the same. Botched plastic surgeries aren't uncommon in Hollywood, but to be made anonymous is a terrible price to pay, even by industry standards.

More money, more problems for Charlie Sheen

Charlie Sheen has a lot of regrets, from his public fights with colleagues to the cringeworthy remarks he is now famous for, but one of the biggest is how poorly he handled his salary dispute on Two and a Half Men. At the time, Sheen was one of the highest-paid actors on television and also one of the most volatile, with his headline-making conflicts, outbursts, and bizarre remarks defining much of his life in the 2000s.

Sheen chalks a lot of this tumultuous time up to the fact that he was struggling with addiction and mental health problems: His private battles gave way to public ones, including an assault on his ex-wife that resulted in a stint in rehab, and a long-running beef with the creator of Two and a Half Men, Chuck Lorre, that involved a series of public, verbal attacks and aggressive rants in interviews after Sheen was fired from the show in 2011 for destructive behavior.

But of all of these mistakes, the one Sheen regrets the most might surprise you: He says that he shouldn't have asked for more money on Two and a Half Men, and that of the 55 ways he could have handled the situation, he picked number 56. It was a juvenile choice that, among others at the time, led him to pursue personal growth.

Game of Thrones was no education for Sophie Turner

Game of Thrones fans got a front-row seat to most of actress Sophie Turner's youth over the 10 years she appeared on the show. Her character, Sansa Stark, grew up right along with her, from a timid young girl promised in marriage to a sociopathic prince, into a strong young woman capable of protecting herself and her family. It's clear that Sansa learned a lot about her own fantasy world throughout Game of Thrones, from diplomacy to combat, conspiracy to family.

But these lessons aren't necessarily transferable to the life and coming-of-age of a young English actress: Instead, what would have been Turner's high school and college years were supplanted by her time on Game of Thrones. There are certain things about the "university experience," she muses, that can't be replicated, and ultimately it's an experience she wishes she had had — the stereotypical drunken nights with friends especially.

Still, from age 13 to age 23, she did have a great time on the set of the HBO fantasy drama, where she had plenty of people around her who took care to protect her from the adult world by which she was surrounded from a young age.

Betty White regrets the wait

Betty White has enjoyed one of the longest, most well-loved careers in Hollywood. The 99-year-old actress has been entertaining others since she was just eight years old, when she played a crippled orphan on a radio drama called Empire Builders. Many people know her best from shows like The Golden Girls, but by the time that popular sitcom aired in the 1980s, her career was already four decades old!

She has only become more of a household name in the intervening years. The secret to her long life, White has quipped, is her love of pets, hot dogs, and vodka. But one of her greatest loves was the one that taught her not about how long life is, but how short.

Part of the reason we love Betty White so much is the effort she put into building her television career over the years. But this is, in a way, her greatest regret. After two short-lived marriages, White finally met and fell in love with Allen Ludden, whom she remained with for 18 years.

But when he died of stomach cancer, she realized that she deeply regretted wasting time that she could have had with the love of her life. She kept saying to herself that she wouldn't leave her life in California for New York, despite his multiple proposals. It took her a year to finally say yes, and that year is something she'd redo in a heartbeat.

Jennifer Aniston made a hair-brained move

Jennifer Aniston has a complicated relationship with her iconic character from the seminal '90s sitcom Friends. The role became so well-known that Aniston felt she might never be able to separate herself from it: She once said that the part felt completely inescapable — she just "couldn't get Rachel Green off her back" and wanted the show to stop running.

But her back wasn't the place that Rachel did the most damage: For Aniston, it was the top of her head. During the first season, the actress and her character became famous for a hairstyle popularly dubbed "the Rachel," to the point where women across the country went to their stylists in droves asking for the star-powered cut. To Aniston, though, it's simply another example of Rachel's inescapable allure: She could convince an entire audience of women to get a layered and highlighted shag cut that was "the ugliest haircut [Aniston] had ever seen."

Aniston hated the cut because without the assistance of the man who created it, Chris McMillan, she simply couldn't style the "frizzy mop" on her own. She's also on record saying that her stylist at the time, whom she still loves, was stoned when he created it.

Life was too chaotic for Britney Spears

One of the least surprising regrets on this list is Britney Spears' embarrassment over her reality show, Chaotic, which chronicled her relationship with ex-husband Kevin Federline. Critics called it "career suicide by videocam," and the general consensus about its impact on her career has been about the same. Capturing the chaos (at least the title was accurate) in one scene among many like it, she demands whether the audience can "handle her truth" in between shots of glitter and makeup.

Apparently, fans weren't that interested in the truth, or perhaps didn't find much of it in Chaotic. The series, whose viewership was modest to begin with, lost almost half of its audience over its five episodes before it was canceled due to Spears' knee injury during the "Outrageous" music video shoot.

But while she regrets the endeavor now, her original intentions were relatively pure: The show simply had the exact opposite effect to the one she wanted. When she announced the series, she expressed a desire to become free of the tabloid media portrayals that had "run her life" the previous year, and was excited to communicate honestly with fans. But Chaotic just gave critics something new to run with, and she now acknowledges it as "probably the worst thing" she's done in her career.

Kate Winslet went the wrong way in Wonder Wheel

There was a considerable reckoning in Hollywood in the latter half of the 2010s, with hundreds of women from all industries launching a movement known as Time's Up, aimed at ending gender discrimination and sexual harassment in the professional world. After the revelations of Harvey Weinstein's misconduct opened the floodgates for survivors to speak up about incidents involving many different individuals, actors and actresses throughout Hollywood were forced to re-evaluate their career and company choices.

The renewed attention placed on sexual misconduct in Hollywood illuminated some unpleasant truths about long-revered directors such as Woody Allen, whose daughter Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter to the New York Times in 2014 alleging that her father had molested her as a child, and Roman Polanski, who has been the subject of multiple assault allegations.

Although she has expressed remorse over other areas of her career, Kate Winslet has stated that working with morally shady directors like Woody Allen on Wonder Wheel and Roman Polanski on Carnage is one particular regret that she continues to "grapple with." Winslet questions what she thought she was doing at the time, while acknowledging that she must take responsibility for the part she played in the high regard these men enjoyed for so long.

Playing the Caped Crusader drove George Clooney bats

George Clooney regrets assuming that Batman & Robin would be his big break. To be fair, that's a reasonable assumption to make of a big-budget superhero flick, but it's certainly a far cry from the reality of a film he has since called a "waste of money" — although he also said that the experience taught him to pick better films to take part in.

The gravity of this regret is what makes it so notable: Clooney went from calling his friends screaming when he got the part to being utterly disgusted (along with critics and theatergoers) with the final product, apologizing profusely to fans multiple times and even expressing a fear that he had destroyed the role and the franchise.

But most importantly, Clooney holds the experience close to his heart as a reminder of the lesson it taught him. By assuming that the role would be his big break, he made the mistake of focusing more on the commercial motivations for making a film than the actual merit of the project. He displayed a photo of himself as Batman on his office wall so that he would never forget that lesson.