See What the Kid From "Free Willy" Looks Like Now
Jason James Richter starred in the movie when he was only 13.
One of the biggest child-led films of the 1990s was Free Willy, which is about a kid, Jesse, who befriends and releases from captivity and orca whale named Willy. The movie stars Jason James Richter in his first-ever role and was released when he was 13 years old. The same as many child stars, Richter's life took some turns over the years—he went in and out of acting and made headlines for some more troubling news—and he remains best known for starring in all three Free Willy movies. If you're interested to see what the now-41-year-old has been up to in the years since bringing Jesse to life on screen, read on.
Richter has great memories of working on Free Willy.
In 2013, Richter was interviewed by The Daily Beast for the 20th anniversary of Free Willy. He talked about working with the whale, named Keiko, who he actually had to interact with.
"I remember it being one of those moments of pure and utter fascination as a child," he said. "You don't see the danger. At 11 years old, you're just like, 'Oh my God, a whale! That's amazing! This will be awesome!' Had I been 17, I might have been like, 'Hey, this thing is going to bite my hand off,' but when you're 11 you're just like, 'Oh, wow. Cool. Let me touch it.'"
Richter was cast out of 4,000 hopeful young actors. "The producer said I had a heart of gold but a face of trouble," he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1993.
He went on to act in other films and TV shows.
In addition to the three Free Willy movies—which were released in 1993, 1995, and 1997—Richter appeared in Cops & Robbersons, The NeverEnding Story III, The Client, and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, among other projects. In 1998, at the age of 18, he decided to stop acting. "I had been on sets since I was 11 years old. I just needed a break," he told The Daily Beast.
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He focused on music for a long time.
After quitting acting, Richter pursued a career in music. He played guitar and bass in various bands, including one called Fermata, and toured around the country. "[T]he beauty of the experience for me was the autonomy," he told The Daily Beast. "No one gave a crap that I was the kid from Free Willy. You're not in some wispy fantasyland where everyone's telling you 'yes' all the time, which happens a lot to actors. I was just one of the guys. It was all about whether your music was good."
He returned to acting in the late '00s.
Richter returned to acting in 2009 with an appearance on Bones. Since then, he's also appeared on Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior and The Last Rampage, and played other small roles. This year, he was in the movies The Little Things, which stars Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto, and Last Call with Jeremy Piven and Taryn Manning. Richter also wrote, directed, and starred in a short film in 2013 called The Quiet Loud.
He's dealt with some legal issues.
In 2018, Richter made headlines for being arrested on charges of domestic violence and vandalism. As reported by Entertainment Tonight, the charges stemmed from an argument with his then-girlfriend. The domestic violence charge was dismissed, and he denied all allegations of physical abuse. For the vandalism charge, Richter pleaded no-contest and was sentenced to 36 months of probation, four days in jail, and fines, and ordered to attended a 52-week domestic violence treatment program.
"I never took any plea for a lesser punishment," he told Page Six. "I accidentally broke a door lock and plead no contest to vandalism. I was ordered to pay for the door (a total of $24). This situation is deeply embarrassing and upsetting. My character has been defamed … I always believed that these false charges would be dropped, and I just want to make it clear that there was an investigation and the findings were that there was no evidence to support her claims."