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Actors We Thought Were Retired But Still Show Up On Screen

Everyone needs a little break now and again. Evidently that also extends to Hollywood actors, who, after years of pretending, dealing with the press, performing in front of green screens, and dealing with the pressures of Hollywood life, step away from the spotlight in order to focus on family life, their personal well-being, or just enjoy the spoils earned via a successful career. Megastars such as Sean Connery, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Gene Hackman, and Jack Nicholson all rode off into retirement following long stints in the business, many of them only sticking their heads out of safe seclusion for the occasional interview or — in Nicholson's case — Los Angeles Lakers home games.

Sometimes an actor's retirement may come prematurely, or stem from a remark made after an arduous film shoot. In many cases, the Hollywood elite may feel like moving on to other things, but find they can't ignore the acting bug for too long, or get lured back to the business by the almighty dollar. In any case, here's a list of actors we thought were retired but still show up on screen. 

Joaquin Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix's star power was on the rise in the early 2000s thanks to strong, critically acclaimed performances in films such as Ridley Scott's "Gladiator," M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs," and James Mangold's "Walk the Line," for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. So it was something of a shock when Phoenix announced in October 2008 that he had retired from acting to pursue a career in music. The actor even went on David Letterman to break the news in one of the more bizarre TV interviews you'll ever see, leaving many to believe the talented star had indeed made the leap — The Guardian, among other publications, wrote a piece about his retirement following Phoenix's initial revelation at a Paul Newman-backed charity event in San Francisco.

We later found out that it was all a ruse done for the sake of a mockumentary title "I'm Still Here," which he created with his friend and brother-in-law Casey Affleck. "We wanted to do a film that explored celebrity, and the media, and consumers, and the celebrities themselves," Phoenix told Letterman in 2010. "We wanted something that would feel really authentic." "I'm Still Here" split critics upon release and accrued a meager $626,000 at the box office

Thankfully, Phoenix quickly moved on from the stunt performance and has since starred in some of the most critically acclaimed films of the last decade, including Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," Spike Jonze's "Her," and Todd Phillips' blockbuster "Joker," which earned him the Oscar for Best Actor

Terrence Howard

Terrence Howard has collected over 100 TV and film credits since first appearing in the soap opera "All My Children" in 1992. Supporting roles in Stephen Herek's "Mr. Holland's Opus" and the 2000 Martin Lawrence comedy "Big Momma's House" gave way to star turns in Paul Haggis' "Crash," Taylor Hackford's "Ray,"  and Jon Favreau's "Iron Man," in which he played Tony Stark's friend James "Rhodey" Rhodes before behind-the-scenes issues led to him being replaced (via EW) with Don Cheadle. Howard later starred in the popular Fox drama "Empire" and dazzled audiences with his performance as antihero Lucious Lyon for six seasons.

Despite his success, Howard stunned the industry when he appeared on Extra and revealed his desire to leave the Hollywood game. "Oh, I'm done with acting. I'm done pretending," he told the entertainment news show in 2019. When pressed further, the star simply explained, "I'm just focusing on bringing truth to the world."

Howard later — kind of — confirmed his decision on the red carpet at the 2019 Emmys in a peculiar interview that saw him ramble about everything from his studies of Pythagorean theorem to the Flower of Life: "Why would I continue walking on water for tips when I've got an entire generation to teach a whole new world?"

Whether he truly intended to retire from acting or not is unknown, but Howard has since starred in films such as "Cut Throat City," "Triumph," and "The Walk," and has a slew of projects in various stages of development. 

Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin is one of Hollywood's more recognizable stars, with a resume featuring roles in blockbusters such as Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice," John McTiernan's "The Hunt for Red October," Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor," and a critically acclaimed run on the Tina Fey comedy series "30 Rock" from 2006 to 2013, among other notable gigs. 

Despite his success, the actor told Men's Journal in 2009 (via The Guardian) that he felt like his movie career was a "complete failure" and stated his intentions to retire. "Movies are a part of my past. It's been 30 years. I'm not young, but I have time to do something else," he said. The statement echoed one given to Playboy magazine (via CNN) earlier that year, where Baldwin revealed he would call it quits at the "30 Rock" wrap party in 2012.

Yet following his remarks, Baldwin has popped up in everything from "Saturday Night Live" to blockbusters such as "Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation" and its follow-up, "Mission: Impossible — Fallout." He even lent his voice to DreamWorks' "The Boss Baby" and its sequel. As to why he postponed his retirement plans, the actor told Extra in 2015: ”I thought I would be retiring from acting in about seven or eight years and now I'm going to work for the next 20 years. I've got kids — in New York!” 

In hindsight, Baldwin might have been better off tapping out as originally intended, considering the controversy that surrounded him following a fatal shooting on the set of his film "Rust."

Joe Pesci

Few actors have enjoyed sustained success like Joe Pesci. The Academy Award-winning talent rose to stardom alongside Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull," often considered one of the greatest films ever made, and would go on to appear in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon a Time in America," Richard Donner's "Lethal Weapon 2" (and its subsequent sequels), the blockbuster comedies "Home Alone" and "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York," and Scorsese's "Goodfellas" and "Casino." 

In 1999, Pesci decided to step away from acting to pursuit a musical career, which made sense considering his past experience as a guitarist in the band Joey Dee and the Starliters in the 1960s, as well as his time spent performing under the stage name Joe Ritchie, during which he recorded the album "Little Joe Sure Can Sing!" In 1998, Pesci unveiled "Vincent LaGuardia Gambini Sings Just for You," a hip-hop album named after his character in "My Cousin Vinny," and has since released jazz albums "Falling in Love Again" in 2003 and "Pesci ... Still Singing" in 2019.

During this time Pesci appeared in a few small roles ("The Good Shepherd," "Love Ranch," and "A Warrior's Tail") before Scorsese talked him out of retirement for the Netflix epic "The Irishman," where he once again starred alongside De Niro. The gig landed him a Best Supporting Actor nomination and a slew of critical acclaim. While Pesci doesn't have anything else on the docket at the moment, a return to the screen is always possible under the right circumstances.   

Robert Redford

Paul Bratter ("Barefoot in the Park"), the Sundance Kid ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), Johnny Hooker ("The Sting"), Bob Woodward ("All the President's Men"), Roy Hobbs ("The Natural"), Martin Bishop ("Sneakers") ... these are just a handful of the memorable characters played by Robert Redford during his iconic, six-decade career. That doesn't include his time spent directing films such as the Academy Award-winning "Ordinary People," "Quiz Show," and "The Horse Whisperer." Which is why it was so heartbreaking to hear Redford call it quits from acting in 2018, following the completion of "The Old Man and the Gun."

"Never say never, but I pretty well concluded that this would be it for me in terms of acting, and [I'll] move towards retirement after this 'cause I've been doing it since I was 21," the legendary actor told Entertainment Weekly (via The Guardian). "I thought, 'Well, that's enough.' And why not go out with something that's very upbeat and positive?"

Following those comments, the actor still popped up for a surprise cameo in the blockbuster "Avengers: Endgame," where he reprised his "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" role as covert Hydra villain Alexander Pierce. He also lent his voice to the surreal Miami travelogue "Omniboat: A Fast Boat Fantasia": Redford plays a dolphin, a role he accepted for his grandson, Dylan, who serves as one of the 15 directors on the project. 

While Redford ultimately backtracked on his retirement statements in an interview with Variety, he has no projects on his radar for the foreseeable future. 

Rick Moranis

Rick Moranis' career began on the sketch comedy series "Second City Television" ("SCTV") alongside legendary comedians Eugene Levy, John Candy, Catherine O'Hara, and others. The actor then rode to fame and fortune in films such as Ivan Reitman's supernatural blockbuster "Ghostbusters," Joe Johnston's "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," and Ron Howard's "Parenthood."

Unfortunately, following the death of his wife Ann Belsky in 1991, Moranis decided to retire from acting in order to focus on his family, though he was seen in a number of titles throughout the 1990s, including "Little Giants," and the big screen adaptation of "The Flintstones" in 1994. Mostly he's stuck to voice acting ("Brother Bear," "The Animated Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie"). 

Moranis did return to the screen to appear in a cell phone ad alongside Ryan Reynolds and even agreed to reprise his role as scientist Wayne Szalinski in the upcoming Disney+ reboot of "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids." Otherwise, the actor has remained relatively picky about which roles he takes on, to the point that he turned down a role in the recent "Ghostbusters: Afterlife." He told The Hollywood Reporter, "I hope it's terrific. But it just makes no sense to me. Why would I do just one day of shooting on something I did 30 years ago?"

Jamie Lee Curtis

Iconic actor Jamie Lee Curtis has recently seen something of a career resurgence thanks to performances in 2018's "Halloween," a direct sequel to the 1978 shocker of the same name in which the actor made her big-screen debut, Rian Johnson's critically acclaimed whodunit "Knives Out," 2021's "Halloween Kills," and the A24 hit "Everything Everywhere All at Once." She will likewise reprise her role as Laurie Strode in "Halloween Ends" and is set to appear in Eli Roth's feature film adaptation of "Borderlands."

That's why it's so shocking to learn that Curtis nearly hung up her acting hat way back in 2006. During an interview with Access Hollywood to discuss her children's book, "Is There Really A Human Race?," Curtis said, "I'm not an actor anymore. I really don't imagine I'll do that again." When pressed further about her decision or if she would consider acting again, Curtis replied, "I don't think so. I just can't imagine, I'm just focused on my family and just can't imagine anything that's going to pull me away from them right now."   

We couldn't find a reason as to why Curtis returned to the world of acting, But suffice to say she will continue to add to her impressive resume for the time being. Now, can we get a "True Lies 2?"

Shia LaBeouf

Is there another actor who stumbled over success more than Shia LaBeouf? He enjoyed a meteoric rise to fame thanks to the television series "Even Stevens" and roles in blockbusters such as "I, Robot," Michael Bay's "Transformers," and Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which allegedly positioned the young star to assume the iconic mantle from Harrison Ford. 

However, since his foray into the spotlight, LaBeouf found himself on the wrong side of the law with numerous arrests, public disputes, and even charges of plagiarism. On that last note, the actor once dubbed by Vanity Fair as "the next Tom Hanks" took to Twitter in 2014 to tell the world: "In light of recent attacks against my artistic integrity, I am retiring from all public life." 

Naturally, one assumes "all public life" would include his acting career. Alas, LaBeouf has continued to appear in various roles since that tweet, notably the critically acclaimed 2019 drama "The Peanut Butter Falcon," David Ayer's "The Tax Collector," and "Pieces of a Woman," alongside Vanessa Kirby and Ellen Burstyn. He also has the films "Padre Pio" and "After Exile" waiting in the wings, and was set to star in "Don't Worry Darling" with Florence Pugh, but was kicked off the movie by director Olivia Wilde (via Variety) and replaced by Harry Styles. 

Richard Dreyfuss

Where does one go after appearing in monster hits such as Steven Spielberg's classic "Jaws," winning an Academy Award for "The Goodbye Girl," or battling Bill Murray in "What About Bob?" One steps away, of course. At least, that's what actor Richard Dreyfuss chose to do in the early 2000s after nearly 40 successful years in the Hollywood machine. So why step away from success?

"I feared for my country," Dreyfuss told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, "because we had taken civics out of the curriculum and we no longer knew the values we stood for ... we didn't know anything about it anymore. So I went to England and I studied at St. Anthony's at Oxford." 

As it turns out, his hiatus was short — just four years — and he continued to pop up in supporting roles in everything from 2006's "Poseidon" to Oliver Stone's 2008 feature "W.," in which he plays Dick Cheney, to the 2010 trashy horror film "Piranha 3D." He has since returned to acting full-time, telling The Daily Mail in 2016 that he needed the money. "I went to Oxford for four years and changed the direction of my life," he explained. "Then I realized that I only had one talent to make a living, one talent to feed my family, and that was acting, so I needed to come back to it."

With a number of projects in the pipeline, it seems Dreyfuss is here to stay for the time being.

Emma Watson

After growing up before our eyes in eight "Harry Potter" films as the beloved Hermione Granger, Emma Watson caused quite a stir when she revealed to the morning show Daybreak in 2010 that "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" would likely end her acting career. "I'm going to say something really sad," she said. "Knowing that there's still more to come from me — it feels very strange to feel like you're retiring when you're 20 years old." Later, she noted that unless something came along that really blew her away, "I don't want to act again."

Following those remarks, however, Watson starred in a number of projects, including the comedy "This is the End," Darren Aronofsky's "Noah," "Beauty and the Beast," and Greta Gerwig's "Little Women." In 2021, the actor caused another stir among her fanbase when her agent announced the she had gone "dormant," leading many to speculate she had indeed called it quits. The Daily Mail compounded matters by asserting Watson had given up acting to spend time with rumored fiancé Leo Robinton. 

As it turns out, those rumors were false, according to Watson's manager, who told Entertainment Weekly, "Emma's social media accounts are dormant but her career isn't." While the young star doesn't have anything in production at the moment, we can at least rest soundly knowing she will grace the screen again at some point or another.

Ke Huy Quan

Everyone remembers Ke Huy Quan for his incredibly charismatic performances in the one-two punch of Steven Spielberg's "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and the Spielberg-produced "The Goonies" in the mid-1980s. Then, without warning, the actor vanished from the limelight almost immediately. Quan found roles in the TV series "Nothing is Easy" and "Head of the Class," and on the big screen alongside fellow Goonie Sean Astin in "Encino Man," but none of his roles matched the heights achieved by his earlier vehicles.

As a result, in the early 2000s, Quan stepped away from acting and decided to pursue a career behind the camera as a stunt coordinator ("Enigma") and assistant director ("The One," "2046"). So it was a surprise to see Quan suddenly appear in A24's breakout 2022 hit "Everything Everywhere All at Once," where he stars alongside Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu and Jamie Lee Curtis. "It was the script that I wanted to read for decades that just didn't exist before," Quan told Cult MTL. "I loved the script so much and wanted this role so bad."

As of now, Quan has the TV series "American Born Chinese" in development. Hopefully, his return to acting will continue with bigger roles to come.