11 Former Child Stars Who Left Hollywood for Years and Came Back
Some of them thought they would never act again.
It shouldn't be surprising that many child actors don't stick to that career path forever. After all, plenty of us grow out of the things we loved as kids when we grow up. But while plenty former young stars left Hollywood forever and never looked back, others took a lengthy break and then returned—older, wiser, and in some cases, even more successful. Read on to find out why 11 former kid performers walked away from the business that made them famous, as well as why they were persuaded to make a comeback.
Ben Savage, like his brother Fred, became famous when he was just a kid. He first played the role of Cory Matthews in Boy Meets World from the ages of 13 to 20, then took a break from acting to further his education. (Among other things! TV Guide reported that he and his dad, Lewis Savage, followed Bruce Springsteen on tour together one summer.)
"I was really focused on going to college. I had gotten into Stanford two years earlier, but had to defer," he told Rolling Stone in 2014. "When the show ended I was tunnel-visioned about going to college and being a normal kid for awhile."
After graduating with a degree in political science, Savage continued to act here and there before reprising his role as Cory in the spinoff, Girl Meets World. After the series finale aired in 2017, Savage scored roles in shows including Criminal Minds and, most recently, played Nathaniel Kibby in the Lifetime movie Girl in the Shed.
Though Mayim Bialik appeared in hit shows like Webster and The Facts of Life in the late '80s, her big break came when she played the title role in Blossom as a teen. She took a step back from on-camera acting for most of the '90s, though she did do some voice acting in shows including Recess and Lloyd in Space. However, also during that time, Bialik earned a Bachelor's Degree in neuroscience from UCLA, later returning to receive her doctorate.
So why did Bialik decide to make a comeback, even starring in one of the biggest sitcoms in history? She explained to ABC News in 2017 that she needed insurance—it was that simple.
"The true story is I was running out of health insurance and figured if I could even get a couple of acting jobs here and there, and if it's enough to get you your Screen Actors Guild AFTRA health insurance, we would at least have insurance," she said. "My then-husband was still working on his master's degree. I was teaching neuroscience for about five years. And I was not expecting to be a full-time actor. But this show called The Big Bang Theory brought me on."
Long before starring in the music business drama Empire, Jussie Smollett got his start as a child actor—you might remember him as Terry Hall in The Mighty Ducks. But after playing Jesse Jerrico in the short-lived TV series On Our Own, which also starred all of his siblings, he took a break from acting for more than 10 years.
When he returned to Hollywood, Smollett got his feet wet guest-starring on shows including The Mindy Project and Revenge before becoming part of the main cast of Empire in 2015. His time on the show came to an end—and his career stalled—in 2019, when Smollett was charged with falsely reporting to police that he was the victim of a hate crime. In December 2021, he was found guilty of felony disorderly conduct and sentenced to a 150-day jail sentence, along with financial restitution and probation. He is currently in the process of appealing his conviction.
After sharing roles in Friends and Big Daddy as young children, Cole Sprouse and his twin brother Dylan Sprouse came into major Disney Channel fame on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and The Suite Life on Deck. After that, the brothers took a break from acting to attend New York University. In 2017, Cole returned to the spotlight in a big way playing Jughead Jones on the supernatural teen drama, Riverdale.
"This is going to sound a bit strange, but you develop a moral sickness when you're in front of a camera for a long time," he told W Magazine in 2019. "The act of performance is an incredible experience, and it's really nice. But the part of the industry that's fascinated with celebrity and idolatry and that part of the industry and the publicity and all that can be dangerously validating, especially for young men, and so I found myself needing to detox from a lot of that."
Dylan also returned to performing, though mostly in lower-profile projects like some independent films.
These days, Jason Bateman is instantly recognizable for his roles in Ozark and Arrested Development, but he was just a kid when he started acting. After becoming a child star thanks to the sitcoms Silver Spoons and The Hogan Family, Bateman shied away from acting for part of his 20s.
"It was a combination," Bateman told The Guardian in January 2022 of his reasons for taking a break. "Me stopping everything on purpose, to catch up with all these inabilities I had as a kid, because I was always working. I wanted to get the wiggles out."
He told the outlet he'd had trouble securing roles at first when he was ready to come back, thinking that maybe he'd been guilty of "staying at the party a little bit too long," but, fortunately, scoring the role of Michael Bluth in 2003 changed all that.
After shooting to stardom practically overnight for playing Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter franchise, Emma Watson took a break to pursue higher education at Brown University, though she told JoBlo the life change took a bit of getting used to.
"My whole life was on a schedule, on a call sheet, every day, and being at university, you decide when you eat, where you go, if you work, if you don't. No one cares and it's all down to you, so yeah, I had days where I feel 'Oof' but it was always going to be an adjustment and I feel lucky that I kept going with school and that I have that kind of infra-structure to fall back on," she said in 2010. "I dunno. It feels nice to be able to take a bit of a break."
In 2021, rumors circulated that Watson was retiring from acting completely after not having another role lined up after 2019's Little Women, but her manager shot down those claims.
Hilary Duff was still a teenager when she became a household name starring in the Disney Channel series, Lizzie McGuire. She continued to act after the show came to an end, playing roles in the romantic comedies A Cinderella Story and The Perfect Man, and released her own pop music as well. But when Duff became a mom for the first time in 2012, she quit acting for a while to figure out her game plan going forward.
"I took a big break before and after my first pregnancy, and that space allowed me to reevaluate what was no longer working for me," she told Entrepreneur in 2018. "I broke away from my team of 10 years. After having someone else make all of my business decisions, do all of my negotiating, it was time for me to grow up and be an entrepreneur. I surrounded myself with new people and made more decisions for my business."
Into adulthood, Duff has continued to find success, starring in Younger and Hulu's How I Met Your Father.
Ke Huy Quan
In the 1980s, Ke Huy Quan had roles in two of the biggest adventure movies of the decade: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Goonies. Not long after, he disappeared from the screen for about 20 years, attending film school at USC and working as an assistant director and stunt coordinator. He told People in 2022 that he gave up performing because the roles just weren't there for Asian actors. But after seeing Crazy Rich Asians in 2018, Quan was inspire to give acting another try. He returned to the screen in 2021's Finding Ohana and 2022's Everything Everywhere All At Once, in which he stars opposite Michelle Yeoh.
"I was happy working behind the camera but I had serious FOMO," he told the magazine. "I wanted to be up there with my fellow Asian actors!"
Home Alone wouldn't have been the cultural phenomenon it was without Macaulay Culkin, who also starred in The Pagemaster, Richie Rich, and the first Home Alone sequel. But, after becoming emancipated from his parents in the early '90s, Culkin took time off from his career to go to high school.
"I was tired of it, to be honest," he told Ellen DeGeneres in 2018. "I did like 14 movies in six years or something like that. I was away from home a lot. I was away from school. I needed something else. It was the smartest thing I could have possibly done was to take eight years off."
Culkin's most recent roles include American Horror Story and The Righteous Gemstones.
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Andrea Barber made a name for herself playing annoying neighbor Kimmy Gibbler on Full House, but after the show ended in 1995, her acting career was largely on hold until the 2016 Netflix reboot, Fuller House. In that time, she attended college, interned at the United Nations in Switzerland, and became a mom to her two children. Before Fuller House, Barber "never thought [she] would go back to acting" again, she explained to People.
"Maybe for a brief second I thought, 'Do I want to do this?' Then I thought about the audition process. The auditions were always the worst part for me as a child actor. So I thought, nope, 'I've found new passions in college,'" she said in 2017.
But when the opportunity to play Kimmy came up again, she couldn't say no. "I didn't even hesitate. I said, 'Yes!' That was a no-brainer," Barber said.
Tami Stronach will forever be known to some as the Childlike Empress in 1984's The Neverending Story—a role she played when she was just 11 years old. But she disappeared from the screen right afterwards. Stronach told Slash Film in 2016 that she preferred dancing and acting in the theater to what Hollywood had to offer.
"I made a decision that I would throw myself into dance and that if I really missed acting, I would return to it as an adult when I was in charge of my life and I wasn't upsetting my parents, who both had really active full careers and couldn't just give over all their time to pursue being my manager," she said at the time. "So that's what I did and I ended up dancing for 20 years professionally in New York."
Stronach is now set to make her feature film return in Man and Witch, a movie that she and husband Greg Steinbruner are producing and starring in, along with a cast that also includes Rhea Perlman, Sean Astin, and Christopher Lloyd.