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A Leading Lady Disappearing Act: Why These 6 Actresses Retreated From Hollywood

It wasn’t goodbye—it was “see you later.”

While they didn’t exactly banish themselves entirely away from the bright lights of Hollywood, these six famous faces spent significant portions of their later careers with a healthy distance out of the limelight.

Whether their hiatuses were the result of raising children, strengthening other talents or simply needing a well-earned breather, silver screen superstars like Meg Ryan, Goldie HawnMichelle Pfeiffer and Renée Zellwegerhave proven, for better or worse, Tinseltown doesn’t always have to be their destination. 

Renee Zellweger

Alban Wyters/ABACA/startraksphoto.com

“I got sick of the sound of my own voice: it was time to go away and grow up a bit,” the Bridget Jones star told British Vogue a few months before her grand return to the screen in Bridget Jones’ Baby, her first film in six years. “As a creative person, saying no to that wonderful once-in-a-lifetime project is hard. But I was fatigued and wasn’t taking the time I needed to recover between projects, and it caught up with me.” 

The Oscar winner wanted to pop her own celebrity bubble, for both personal and professional benefit. 

“I found anonymity, so I could have exchanges with people on a human level and be seen and heard, not be defined by this image that precedes me when I walk into a room,” she continued. “You cannot be a good storyteller if you don’t have life experiences, and you can’t relate to people.”

Goldie Hawn had a similar philosophy in mind when she retreated from making movies for 15 years, finally returning this May alongside Amy Schumer in Snatched. Instead of rehearsing lines, Hawn shifted her focus to children and charity. 

“You just keep growing, embracing change, being present with what is. We are the sum total of our life experiences—that’s what builds us; that’s who we become,” she explained during an interview with PORTER in June 2015. “If we don’t do any personal research or any personality and psychic excavation, we really aren’t growing—we’re only just existing.”

Meg Ryan

Ken Katz/startraksphoto.com

While some of the women wanted to expand their talents beyond the movie set, it seemed others had somewhat fallen out of love with the industry. Meg Ryan, who had been the subject of tabloid scrutiny for the four years she spent without a project and an additional two without a film, returned to her audience in 2015 with her directorial debut, Ithaca. While promoting the project, her evolving feelings about the place she had worked for more than three decades poured out, including the high regard she has for her privacy. 

Fame is “definitely something I have had an evolving relationship to,” she said in an interview with PORTER in 2015. “I’m the kind of person who doesn’t want to be separated out…Fame is so cheap. Actually it’s not cheap, it’s privacy that is expensive.”

However, as Michelle Pfeiffer learned, limits and Hollywood can often mix like oil and water. 

“I was pretty careful about where I shot, how long I was away, whether or not it worked out with the kids’ schedule,” the actress told Interview. “I got so picky that I was unhirable. And then…I don’t know, time just went on.”

Time went on for three years with Pfeiffer on the silver screen. However, this year marks the three-time Oscar nominee’s grand return with three roles in the works for 2017. As she told the magazine, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” Needless to say—Pfeiffer is ready. 

Meg Ryan, Geena Davis

Ernesto Di Stefano Photography/Getty Images

As for Demi Moore and Geena Davis, instead of taking full-blown hiatuses, they’ve narrowed their Hollywood focus to a few projects they’re interested in. For Davis, that means devoting time and energy to her longtime Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and championing for more opportunities for women on-screen from behind the scenes. 

“My message always has been that gender inequality in entertainment can be fixed overnight,” she wrote for The Hollywood Reporter. “It doesn’t have to be done in stages or phases. The next movie or TV show you make can be gender-balanced with diverse females as leads, supporting characters and extras. We can easily create worlds where women are half of the characters and do half of the interesting things.

As a part of that vision, the star is also executive producing an upcoming documentary slated for release in 2018 that will provide an investigative look at gender in media. 

Moore, a two-time Golden Globe nominee, hasn’t walked away from Hollywood, but rather, taken a supporting seat to her yearly film projects in recent years, like 2013’s Very Good Girls, 2015’s Forsaken and 2016’s Wild Oats

However, with two upcoming lead film roles and a recurring stint on Fox’s Empire for Season 4, it seems the longtime star is ready to take center stage yet again. 

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