20 Child Actors When They Got Their Start Vs. Now
They grow up so fast!
They grow up so fast! Yes, even our favorite child stars, many of whom will forever live on in our collective consciousness as precocious teens and tweens. Some, like Neil Patrick Harris, famously grew up to blow up the screen as adults. Others went on to form underground bands, nab some pretty impressive college degrees, or even took over the fashion world by storm. So if you’re curious to see what 20 of our favorite child stars went on to do—and what they look like today—read on!
Sara Gilbert (Then)
Despite popping up in some TV movies and a commercial for Kool-Aid, Sara Gilbert didn’t make it big until she was cast as Darlene Conner on Roseanne, which kept her busy for the next nine years, 1988 until 1997, and earned her two Emmy nominations. Though she was busy with the sitcom until adulthood, Gilbert also appeared in movies like Poison Ivy (1992) alongside Drew Barrymore.
Sara Gilbert (Now)
After attending Yale, Gilbert teamed up with Barrymore once again for Riding in Cars With Boys (2001) and popped up on shows like 24 (2002), ER (2004 to 2007), and The Big Bang Theory (2007 to 2010, and again in 2016), Bad Teacher (2014). Gilbert also created and executive produced the talk show The Talk in 2010, earning a Daytime Emmy for it. Currently, Gilbert both stars in and executive produces The Conners.
Neil Patrick Harris (Then)
Before he starred as the child prodigy doctor in Doogie Howser, M.D. from 1989 until 1993, a teenaged Neil Patrick Harris appeared in Clara’s Heart (1988) alongside Whoopi Goldberg. He also had guest spots on Murder, She Wrote (1993) and Will & Grace (2000), and voiced Peter Parker on the animated series Spider-Man (2003). His biggest movie gig during the ’90s was a role in Starship Troopers (1997).
Neil Patrick Harris (Now)
When you think of Harris, you almost certainly think of the high-fiving, suit-wearing Barney Stinson How I Met Your Mother, which he played for nearly a decade (2005 to 2014) and earned four Emmy nominations and two Golden Globes. Additionally, he had major roles in Gone Girl (2014) and Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017). He’s also been an awards show staple, taking the reins of the Tonys four times, the Emmys twice, and the Oscars once. Do we have a potential EGOT host?
Macaulay Culkin (Then)
Macauley Culkin is best-known, of course, for playing Kevin McCallister in the Home Alone series. But his acting career dates to earlier than that. He appeared in Rocket Gibraltar in 1988 and See You in the Morning and Uncle Buck in 1989. Not for nothing, he also had a one-episode turn in a 1994 episode of Frasier.
Macaulay Culkin (Now)
Between roles in Party Monster (2003), Sex and Breakfast (2007), and Changeland (2019)—not to mention a five-year stint doing vocal work on Robot Chicken—it’s clear that Culkin tried hard to shake the child star persona after Home Alone. He’s also a founding member of The Pizza Underground, a comedy rock band that primarily covers songs by The Velvet Underground…but puts a pizza-themed lyrical twist on every tune.
Scarlett Johansson (Then)
At the age of 8, Scarlett Johansson made her off-Broadway debut in Sophistry (1993) opposite Ethan Hawke. She had one line. The following year, Johansson’s big-screen debut came as John Ritter’s daughter in North (1994). After a few other films—like Just Cause (1995), Manny & Lo (1996), and Home Alone 3 (1997)—she truly began making a name for herself with Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer (1998). Wrapping up her notable teen roles, she also starred in The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) and Eight Legged Freaks (2002).
Scarlett Johansson (Now)
In 2003, Johansson had a one-two punch, appearing in both Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring—earning Golden Globe nominations for both. She then went on to collaborate with Woody Allen on three films—Match Point (2005), Scoop (2006), and Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)—before joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as Black Widow for a nine-year run, beginning with Iron Man 2 (2010) and continuing through Avengers: Endgame (2019). (Reportedly, she’ll be returning to the MCU in a prequel film.) Oh, and she also had a music career. In both 2009 and 2018, she released collaborative albums with indie music darling Pete Yorn.
Frankie Muniz (Then)
Though he made guest appearances on a 1998 episode Spin City, a 1999 episode of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, and a 2002 episode of Lizzie McGuire, Frankie Muniz is best known for Malcolm in the Middle. At age 15, Muniz—who got his start in commercials—starred on the series alongside Bryan Cranston for seven seasons, from 2000 until 2006, in a role that earned him an Emmy nomination and two Golden Globe nominations. Other notable roles for Muniz include movies like My Dog Skip (2000), Big Fat Liar (2002), Agent Cody Banks (2003), and Racing Stripes (2005), as well as vocal work on shows like The Fairly OddParents.
Frankie Muniz (Now)
Starting in 2004, Muniz began competitive car racing, and did so up until a wrist injury forced him out of the game in 2009. (He returned to the track for just two races in 2011 before retiring for good.) In 2012, Muniz joined the band Kingsfoil, but left in 2014 due to scheduling conflicts. In 2017, however, he began managing the band Astro Lasso. He competed on Season 25 of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, coming in third place for the 2017 season, and then went on to become the host of Dancing With the Stars: Juniors. As far as acting, his biggest gigs have been single-episode appearances on Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 and Preacher. Oh, and he also popped up in Sharknado 3.
Christina Ricci (Then)
Christina Ricci made her film debut in the dramedy Mermaids (1990). After that, she took on roles like Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family (1991) and its sequel, Addams Family Values (1993). She also appeared in Casper and Now and Then (both 1995). Still, 1998 may have been her big break. Just that year, she appeared in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Small Soldiers, and The Opposite of Sex.
Christina Ricci (Now)
Ricci starred in movies like Sleepy Hollow (1999) Monster (2003), Penelope (2006), and Speed Racer (2008). She also tried her luck on the small screen, taking on roles in Ally McBeal in 2002, Pan Am (2011), and Z: The Beginning of Everything (2017). (She also had an Emmy-nominated guest spot on Grey’s Anatomy in 2006.) Ricci also tapped back into her dark side as she took on the role of Lizzie Borden for two Lifetime projects, one movie and one TV show.
Mae Whitman (Then)
Mae Whitman‘s career started at the ripe old age of 2 when she did voiceover work for Tyson Chicken commercials, but her first big screen appearance didn’t come until four years later, in 1994, as Andy Garcia’s daughter in When a Man Loves a Woman. She frequently appeared in theaters across the countries in the mid-late-’90s, including playing George Clooney’s daughter in One Fine Day (1996), Bill Pullman’s daughter in Independence Day (1996), and Sandra Bullock’s daughter in Hope Floats (1998).
Mae Whitman (Now)
As a teen, Whitman starred on the Fox Family series State of Grace and then gained a new, more adult fan base as Ann Veal on Arrested Development. After a series of guest-star gigs in the late 2000s—on shows like Law & Order: SVU and Grey’s Anatomy—Whitman finally returned to the spotlight on the ensemble family drama Parenthood, playing Lauren Graham’s daughter. She also made it back to the big screen (in movies like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and currently stars on the NBC sitcom Good Girls. At just 31, she’s been working consistently for the past two-and-a-half decades. Not too shabby!
Anna Chlumsky (Then)
Though she had already been modeling with her mom in advertising campaigns, Anna Chlumsky got her big break when she starred in My Girl (1991) and its sequel, My Girl 2 (1994). In addition, Chlumsky also starred in Trading Mom (1994) as Sissy Spacek’s daughter. Shortly after that role, she took a hiatus from acting to focus on college at the University of Chicago, majoring in International Studies.
Anna Chlumsky (Now)
Since graduating, she has had gigs as a fact-checker for Zagat Survey and an editorial assistant for HarperCollins. After finding the work unsatisfying, Chlumsky went to acting school. In 2009, she starred in Armando Iannuci’s In The Loop. Iannuci went on to create Veep, and tapped Chlumsky for the leading role of Amy Brookheimer. Over the course of the show’s run, Chlumsky was nominated for five Emmys.
Thora Birch (Then)
After a commercial career, Thora Birch made her debut on the big screen in Purple People Eater (1988) at the age of 6. This was before she rose to child stardom with roles in Paradise (1991), All I Want for Christmas (1991), Patriot Games (1992), Monkey Trouble (1994), Now and Then (1995), and Alaska (1996). It’s likely Hocus Pocus (1993), though, that gave Birch the most memorable role of her childhood, as she is now viewed every single Halloween by those who can’t get enough of spooky movie. She wrapped up her teens years in American Beauty (1999).
Thora Birch (Now)
Birch starred in movies like Dungeons & Dragons and Ghost World (2001)—earning her a Golden Globe nomination in the process—as well as Silver City (2004), Dark Corners (2006), and Petunia (2012). After that, she took a break to focus on academics, but has since resumed acting, largely taking on roles independent films. Most recently, Birch starred in The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019).
Mary Kate Olsen and Ashley Olsen (Then)
The acting careers of Mary Kate (left) and Ashley Olsen launched in tandem. At just 6 months old, they were cast as Michelle Tanner on Full House. (Since the two are twins, they took turns portraying Michelle on-screen.) Over the course of the show’s original eight-season run, viewers watched the sisters grow up before their own eyes. After Full House wrapped, the sisters Olsen went on to star in multiple films—including It Takes Two (1995), Passport to Paris (1999), The Challenge (2003), and New York Minute (2004)—before throwing in the towel on acting altogether (and all together).
Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen (Now)
At the age of 18, the Olsen twins became co-presidents of Dualstar Entertainment Group (the production company behind many of their films). They began building their personal brand by releasing home decoration and fragrances to the teen market. What’s more, they’ve become fashion royalty, dropping everything from a Wal-Mart collection (for young women) to a couture label, the Row. For their efforts, they’ve received five awards total from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. While Ashley (left) hasn’t acted since becoming an adult, Mary Kate has appeared in a few projects, like the third season of Weeds (2007).
Mayim Bialik (Then)
Even before taking on the lead role of Blossom Russo on Blossom, at the age of 15—and carrying the show from 1990 through 1995—Mayim Bialik had already had a pretty decent start. Thanks to movies like Beaches and Pumpkinhead (both 1988) as well as shows like Webster (1988), MacGyver (1989), and Molloy (1990), she was already pretty well-known before reaching adulthood.
Mayim Bialik (Now)
Any fame Bialik experienced with Blossom pales in comparison to the massive success of The Big Bang Theory (2007–2019), which she joined in a guest role in Season 3 before being upped to a main role for the final eight seasons (for which she earned four Emmy nominations). Fun fact: Bialik plays a doctor, neurobiologist Amy Farrah Fowler, on the show, and has an actual doctorate IRL. (Bialik received a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA in 2007.)
Joey Lawrence (Then)
Joey Lawrence is probably best-known for starring on Blossom (as Joey Russo) alongside Mayim Bialik. But his acting career really dates back to a big break on the TV show Gimme a Break! (1983–1987), which was followed by a vocal lead in Disney’s Oliver & Company (1988). The last major role before he reached adulthood was the series Brotherly Love (1995–1997), which featured Lawrence’s real-life brothers Matthew and Andrew Lawrence.
Joey Lawrence (Now)
Since then, Lawrence has appeared on the first season of the TV series American Dreams (2002), starred on Run of the House (2003), and held down Melissa & Joey alongside Melissa Joan Hart for more than 100 episodes, from 2010 through 2015. While Lawrence came close to taking home the trophy on the third season of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars in 2006—he came in third—he didn’t perform as well when it came to CBS’s Celebrity Big Brother in 2019. (He came in ninth place overall.) Most recently, Lawrence had a five-episode run on Hawaii Five-0.
Gaby Hoffmann (Then)
Thanks to some commercial work, Gabby Hoffman’s acting career begin when she was just 4 years-old. Her big-screen debut came along three years later, Field of Dreams (1989), as Kevin Costner’s daughter. That same year she also appeared in Uncle Buck, alongside fellow up-and-coming child star Macaulay Culkin. Other early projects included This Is My Life (1992), Sleepless in Seattle and The Man Without a Face (both 1993), and Now and Then (1995). In 1994, NBC gave Hoffmann her own sitcom, Someone Like Me, but it only lasted six episodes.
Gaby Hoffmann (Now)
In more recent years, Hoffmann has appeared in films like 13 (2010) and Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (2013)—though she has made more of a splash on TV shows like Louie and Girls. Though the Louie role lasted just one episode, Hoffman appeared for eight episodes on Girls (and even nabbed an Emmy nomination for her work). Still, Hoffman’s biggest claim to fame is her role as as Ali Pfefferman on Amazon’s Transparent, for which she has received two Emmy nominations.
Mandy Moore (Then)
Sure, Mandy Moore initially made her name as a pop star. But come 2001, she tried her hand at acting, starting with mean girl Lana Thomas in The Princess Diaries. The following year, Moore headlined the coming-of-age romantic drama A Walk to Remember. Aside from that, she also appeared in movies like How to Deal (2003) as well as, in 2004, Chasing Liberty and Saved!.
Mandy Moore (Now)
Flying under the radar—though working steadily—for the rest of the aughts, Moore swung into the pop culture zeitgeist as the long-haired Rapunzel from Disney’s Tangled (2010) alongside Zachary Levi. For this movie, Moore and Levi performed the song “I See the Light” at the Oscars—where it was nominated for Best Original Song—and saw the tune win a Grammy. Moore later went on to do voice work in the animated hits Tangled: The Series and Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018). After a few minor projects, Moore hit it big with the age-defying role of Rebecca on NBC’s This Is Us, delivering tears each week and snagging a Golden Globe nomination. And not for nothing, she is set to release her seventh studio album soon.
Maude Apatow (Then)
Maude Apatow (left), the eldest daughter of director Judd Apatow and actress Leslie Mann, has made a habit of starring in movies directed by her dad and starring her mom. She first appeared in an uncredited role in The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005) before appearing, at just 10 years old, in Knocked Up (2007). Five years, later she returned for Knocked Up’s sequel, This Is 40 (2012). Sandwiched between those gigs was an appearance in Funny People (2009).
Maude Apatow (Now)
Apatow is set to star in another one of her dad’s movies: an untitled project set for June 2020—and absent Mann entirely. Elsewhere, she has starred in The House of Tomorrow (2017) and Assassination Nation (2018), and played a recurring part on season 4 of HBO’s Girls. Currently you can see her as a series regular on HBO’s Euphoria, playing the childhood best friend of Zendaya‘s character.
Iris Apatow (Then)
Much like her big sister Maude, Iris Apatow has had a similar trajectory of popping up in dad Judd Apatow’s films—playing the daughter of mom Leslie Mann in both Knocked Up (2007), when she was just 5, and returning for its sequel, This Is 40 (2012). Again, like her elder sister, Funny People (2009) came between both films.
Iris Apatow (Now)
Aside from popping up in a small role in Sausage Party (2016), Iris made it to the big leagues when she booked a recurring role on the Netflix series Love—co-created by Judd Apatow and starring Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust. Though the show has since been canceled by the streaming service, Iris appeared in 13 episodes between 2016 and 2018.
Miley Cyrus (Then)
Miley Cyrus’ first acting credit was on dad Billy Ray Cyrus’ show, Doc, for a few episodes between 2001 and 2003. After that, she had a small role in the film Big Fish (2003) before catapulting to teen fame on the Disney Channel series Hannah Montana. Other acting résumé lines include a small role in High School Musical 2 (2007) and bigger roles in Bolt (2008) and The Last Song (2010).
Miley Cyrus (Now)
After Hannah Montana, Cyrus seemed ready to do anything. This meant roles in movies like LOL (2012) and on shows like Two and a Half Men (2012) and Black Mirror (2019). Cyrus also used her music to drive home the fact that she was more than a Disney Channel star with tunes like “We Can’t Stop,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Adore You,” “Malibu,” and “Younger Now”—snagging a Grammy nomination along the way throughout seven studio albums thus far. Elsewhere, Cyrus has also been a judge on The Voice for two seasons, once in Season 11 and once in Season 13.
Elle Fanning (Then)
Elle Fanning actually got her start playing the younger version of older sister Dakota Fanning’s character in I Am Sam (2001). In 2002, she did that same thing in the TV show Taken. The younger fanning had a bigger role in Daddy Day Care (2003), but really captured audience’s hearts with roles in Because of Winn-Dixie (2005), Babel (2006), Reservation Road (2007), and Super 8 (2011).
Elle Fanning (Now)
Elle Fanning has continued to blossom into a sterling indie actress. In 2017, she took on role in How to Talk to Girls at Parties, The Beguiled, and Mary Shelley. The following year, she starred in I Think We’re Alone Now, Galveston, and Teen Spirit. In 2019, her IMDB includes roles in A Rainy Day in New York, All the Bright Places, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. Keep an eye out for this young actress.
Dakota Fanning (Then)
At the age of 7, Dakota Fanning burst onto the scene in the film I Am Sam (2001), becoming the youngest nominee in Screen Actors Guild Award history. She followed that up with young career chock full of roles in major movies like Sweet Home Alabama (2002), The Cat in the Hat (2003), War of the Worlds (2005), Charlotte’s Web (2006), The Secret Life of Bees (2008), Coraline (2009), and the Twilight franchise. During this time, Fanning also had one-off gigs on popular TV shows like ER (2000) to The Ellen Show (2001) and even Friends (2004).
Dakota Fanning (Now)
After childhood, the elder Fanning scored roles in Now Is Good (2012), Night Moves (2013), Effie Gray and Every Secret Thing (both 2014), and American Pastoral (2016). But her biggest role to date was in Ocean’s 8 (2018). She’ll have a role in Quentin Tarantino’s hotly anticipated Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (this year), too.
Jaden Smith (Then)
Jaden Smith’s first acting project was in 1998 (the same year he was born) when he appeared in dad Will Smith’s music video for “Just the Two of Us.” Then, from 2003 to 2006, the younger Smith then had a small role in the TV show All of Us (also co-created by his dad) before starring in The Pursuit of Happyness in 2006 (also alongside his dad). He also starred in The Karate Kid (2010) and After Earth (2013). Both films featured Will Smith.
Jaden Smith (Now)
More recently, Jaden Smith has distanced himself from dad. He had a main role on the Netflix series The Get Down (2016)—before it was cancelled after just one season—and also in the streaming site’s anime series Neo Yokio. As for movies, he appeared in Skate Kitchen (2018) and is set to appear in Life in a Year sometime later this year. He has taken music more seriously, too, having released two albums, Syre (2017) and Erys (2019), in recent years. And for more celebs who had a leg-up from the get-go, meet these 23 Actors You Didn’t Realize Have Famous Parents.
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