Child stars: then and now


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Now, let’s play a game (nope, not like that creepy horror movie) and think back to your childhood years. For most of us, our childhood years were full of fun, games, and getting up to mischief. We used to spend our days snoozing our alarm clock (actually, we still do this) and waiting for our parents to kick us out of bed to get ready for school, then pay attention to anything BUT our school work when we got there – because hanging out under the bleachers is so much more fun than learning geometry, right? Then, as soon as we get home we stick on our video game console to play Sonic the Hedgehog for hours on end. And it was great – can we go back, please?

But for some kids, growing up is a whoooooole lot different. Instead of school days, it’s shoot days. Instead of video games, it’s learning lines. And instead of fun – it’s a whole load of work. Yep, that’s the glamorous life of a child star!

During the ‘90s, our TV channels were full to the brim of TV sitcoms and TV shows that featured prominent child actors. There were a whole host of movies that featured nearly all-children casts – so child stars were in high demand! With Disney and the Mickey Mouse Club hot on the heels of any kid who had talent (to be fair, they had a keen eagle eye for actual talent), these shows brought us some of the biggest names of today – like Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and more. But there were also a bucket load of other child stars on our screens at the time…some you might not even remember! So check out this list of some of the most memorable child stars of our time, then and now.

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Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman made her first movie debut at the tender age of 13 when she appeared alongside Jean Reno in Leon: The Professional. Not bad for a first gig, ey? After her initial on-screen appearance, Portman soon grabbed the attention of high-profile casting agents and landed herself major roles in Beautiful Girls and George Lucas’s Star Wars prequel trilogy, as Padme Amidala (you know the one). Nowadays, Portman is still one of the biggest names in Hollywood and has recently starred as the First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy in Pablo Larrain’s bio-drama, Jackie.


Jennifer Love Hewitt

I mean, Jennifer Love Hewitt quite literally embodied the ‘90s as a child star. Just look at that hair! From a young age, Hewitt always knew she wanted to work in the world of acting and got her big break at 10-years-old after she was chosen to star on Disney’s Kids Incorporated. After this initial stint, the Love Hewitt began a staple in the professional world, and she went on to star in Sister Act: Back in the Habit, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Time of Your Life, and more recently, starred in Criminal Minds from 2014 to 2015 as Kate Callahan. She also continues to pursue her music career.


Zac Efron

Oh, how we love a good haircut! Zac Efron is one of the most prominent child stars of recent years and began acting during his adolescent years with guest roles on numerous TV shows such as ER. However, he got his big break in the movie franchise and everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure, High School Musical when he was just 18-years-old, which skyrocketed his career. He has recently appeared in Bad Neighbors 1 and 2, and Baywatch and is due to start shooting a new movie, in which he stars as the serial killer, Ted Bundy.


Emma Watson

Emma Watson is the girl we all want to be. With the brains, the talents and the looks – she has everything. Oh, and she was a witch! Watson shot to fame at the age of 9-years-old, when she was cast in the hugely popular Harry Potter franchise as Hermione Granger. Outside of the magical world, Watson made her second Hollywood debut in 2013 in Perks of Being a Wallflower and The Bling Ring. More recently, she appeared in the 2017 live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast and continues her work with the UN as a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.


Taylor Swift

Everyone has heard of T-Swizzle, whether you like pop and country music or not. At the age of 14, Swift and her family moved to Nashville to pursue her music career – and it definitely paid off! That same year, Swift was offered a recording contract and became the youngest ever artist to be signed by Sony/ATV. Nowadays, Taylor Swift has sold over 40 million albums worldwide, received 21 Billboard Music Awards, 10 Grammy Awards, 11 Country Music Awards and much more.


Taylor Lautner

The other Taylor. Although he began appearing in small roles from the age of 9, Taylor Lautner first graced the big screen with his adorable face in 2005 in The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl – little did he know his career had barely started. In 2007, he was cast as Jacob Black in The Twilight saga and became everyone’s teen heartthrob (if you were Team Jacob, of course). Now, he spends most of his time working on TV shows such as Cuckoo and Scream Queens.


Alexa Vega

Alexa Vega was one of our favorite child stars because she had some serious sass. Vega was cast in the first Spy Kids movie at the age of 13, and appeared in the subsequent sequels – and she did all of her own stunts! After saving the world, Alexa was in high demand, with many casting agencies looking for everything this child star had to offer. Needless to say, she was pretty busy during her teen years. Since her child star days, Alexa’s career has dwindled, but she did appear on Dancing With The Stars in 2015. Pretty cool.


Alyssa Milano

Where can we get that sweater? You probably recognize Alyssa Milano from the awesome TV show, Charmed. But before she started using the Power of Three, Milano had a hugely successful child acting career. At just 12-years-old, Milano was cast in ABC’s sitcom, Who’s the Boss? as the lovable tomboy, Samantha. After taking a little break from acting to focus on her family life, Milano will be returning with a bang to star in the 2017 reboot, Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later.


Bonnie Wright

We’re all pretty jealous of Bonnie Wright – she’s such a cool witch! Wright rose to fame at just 10-years-old in her first professional acting debut in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Despite the fact she only had a small role in the first movie, Wright soon became a huge player in the franchise, and even ends up marrying Harry Potter himself! After her time on Harry Potter, Bonnie starred in numerous TV shows and movies but spends most of her time creating and producing movies for her own company, Bon Bon Lumiere.


Justin Timberlake

Believe it or not, but there was a time when Justin Timberlake was even more adorable than he is now! Before he became a singing sensation and pop idol, Justin rose to fame as child actor and singer in The All-New Mickey Mouse Club at the age of 13, alongside Christina Aguilera, Ryan Gosling, and JC Chasez. Since then, JT has been in the public limelight for all of his life, throughout his time in NSYNC, and his current role as both a musician and an actor. His next movie role will be in Woody Allen’s Wonder Wheel.


Christina Ricci

Christina Ricci won her first acting debut at the age of 10 in the 1990 movie, Mermaids (where she got to work alongside Cher!) and later appeared in Cher’s ‘Shoop Shoop Song’ music video. The next year, Ricci was cast as the obviously ominous and moody Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family franchise. After this, she appeared in the live-action Caspar, as well as Buffalo ‘66, Sleepy Hollow and more. She currently stars as Zelda Fitzgerald in the Amazon period drama, Z: The Beginning of Everything.


Hilary Duff

If you grew up in the ‘00s, Hilary Duff/Lizzie McGuire was probably your teen idol. The singer and actress scored her lead acting gig at the age of 14 and soon went on to star in Cheaper by the Dozen, Agent Cody Banks, A Cinderella Story and more – as well as launching her solo music career. She released her last album in 2015, but is in the process of releasing her next one, while raising her son.


Nicholas Hoult

Baby-faced Nicholas Hoult made his first professional acting debut at the age of 7 in Intimate Relations but received international recognition for his portrayal of the bullied schoolboy, Marcus Brewer in the British-American movie, About A Boy. After this, Hoults’ talents were snapped up for six years, while he appeared on Skins. He is now taking over the world of Hollywood and has starred in the recent X-Men films, as well as Mad Max: Fury Road. He also stars in the upcoming movie, The Current War, which sees Hoult play Nikola Tesla.


Michelle Trachtenberg

You may know her as the dastardly Georgina Sparks from Gossip Girl, but before Michelle was ruining the lives of those on the Upper East Side, she was a hugely popular child actress. From an early age (3-years-old, to be exact!) Michelle appeared in hundreds of TV commercials, before landing her first breakout role in Harriet and the Spy in 1996. Since then, Michelle has worked on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Black Christmas and 17 Again. She hasn’t appeared on our screens since 2016, so we hope to see her soon!


Kristen Stewart

Is that a smile we see?! As she was born into a family of entertainment industry buffs, it’s no surprise Stewart was drawn into acting from a young age. At just 12-years-old, Kristen was cast alongside Jodie Foster in the hit movie, Panic Room. Nowadays, Stewart is most known for her role in the Twilight Saga but has since branched out into more independent and unique movies, like Clouds of Sils Maria, Adventureland, and Into The Wild. She currently has a few new movies in the works.


Dakota Fanning

Dakota Fanning is perhaps one of the most well-known child stars out there, and started off pretty young – at just 7-years-old! She was first cast in the movie, I Am Sam, and then went to star in The Cat in the Hat, Uptown Girls, Charlotte’s Web, Coraline, the Twilight Saga, and more. Fanning is currently filming a movie adaptation of the classic novel, The Bell Jar, and has also joined the cast of the 2018 movie, Ocean’s Eight.


Paul Butcher

Well, Paul Butcher has definitely grown up. Paul first rose to fame from a young (and extremely cute) age, as Dustin Brooks on the popular Disney show, Zoey 101. Since then, he has had a rather slow and steady acting career, appearing in guest roles on Criminal Minds, Comedy Bang Bang and King of the Hill. He is currently in his final year of study at the University of California, so there could be a chance of seeing more of him sometime soon…


Shia LaBeouf

Controversy is never far away from the Shia LaBeouf name, even when he was a child star! Shia made debuted his acting talents in the early 2000s as Louis Stevens on the popular Disney show, Even Stevens. Since then, Shia has appeared in major movies such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I, Robot and Transformers, but is mostly known for his political views and activism – which he definitely doesn’t keep quiet! Let’s just say he’s been arrested a fair few times…


Jonathan Lipnicki

Well, that’s protein shakes for you, kids! Jonathan Lipnicki made his debut at the tender age of 6 alongside Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire but is best known for playing George Little in the family favorite, Stuart Little. After this role, Lipnicki’s movie career dwindled, and he now spends most of his time practicing his mixed martial arts skills and appearing in the odd independent film. Lipnicki also spends time working with animal rights charities and groups.


Jerry O’Connell

When it comes to your first movie role, you want something that will make an impact – will a Stephen King movie do the trick? Jerry O’Connell landed his first acting role on Stephen King’s Stand By Me just after his 11th birthday and has since appeared in the likes of Calendar Girl, Camp Wilder, Jerry Maguire, Kangaroo Jack and so much more. More recently, O’Connell has moved from movies to musicals and has worked as a ghostwriter and performer on Broadway plays.


Lee Norris

Throughout his child acting days, Lee Norris was often stereotyped into the ‘nerd’ category – and as much as we know he’s much more than that, it definitely worked out well for him! Norris first appeared on our screens as a young’un on Boy Meets World. After this, Norris was awarded a main role in the hit teen series, One Tree Hill. Norris is still acting today, having recently appeared in five episodes of the Boy Meets World spin-off show, Girl Meets World.


Nicole Richie

We’re digging the purple hair! As the daughter of music legend, Lionel Richie, Nicole was used to the limelight – but didn’t really get a lot of it during her child star days. While appearing on the reality show, The Simple Life, Nicole’s co-star and best friend, Paris Hilton often overshadowed her. After five seasons, the show was scrapped and has since worked on her own reality TV show. Along with her husband, Joel Madden, they have also created their own children’s foundation called The Richie Madden Children’s Foundation.


Anna Chlumsky

She’s our girl. Child star, Anna Chlumsky was offered her first acting gig at 11-years-old as the lead role, Vada Sultenfuss, in My Girl, and later My Girl 2. She then starred in Trading Mom in 1994, before taking a break from acting to focus on her studies. Chlumsky returned to the world of acting in 2006 and has since worked on TV and on the stage. She will soon be appearing on season four of Halt and Catch Fire.


Candace Cameron-Bure

Candace always wanted to follow in the footsteps of her older brother, who was an actor, and soon became one of the most notable child stars in the business – after appearing as DJ Tanner on Full House. Post Full House, Candace used her status as DJ Tanner to appear on a plethora of TV shows, including That’s So Raven, Boy Meets World and Make It Or Break It. In 2015, Candace returned to her role as DJ Tanner on the Netflix spin-off, Fuller House.


Lindsay Lohan

When it comes to being a child actor, Lindsay Lohan knows what it’s like to do double the work! The actress made her first movie debut at the age of 11 in Disney’s 1998 The Parent Trap (which you all should have watched, BTW). After this, Lohan’s career was set – and she soon landed major movie roles in Freaky Friday, Mean Girls, and Herbie Fully Loaded. However, the actress began to struggle with the pressures of fame and had a momentary blip (we all know the one!). Now, Lohan has righted her wrongs and is even in the process of making her own TV show.


Abigail Breslin

Abigail Breslin has not really known a normal life – considering she started acting at the age of three! After appearing in commercials, Breslin had small roles in Signs and the Princess Diaries 2, but her breakout role came in 2006 in the film, Little Miss Sunshine, in which she was the lead role and was nominated for numerous awards. Recently, Breslin has appeared in Scream Queens and was cast as ‘Baby’ in the 2017 remake of Dirty Dancing.


Jaleel White

Jaleel White landed his most notable acting job at the age of 12, as a guest star on Family Matters. Appearing as funny-man Steve Urkel, Jaleel was only meant to be on just one episode but proved so popular that producers kept him on as a regular! After the show, Jaleel worked on Grown Ups and provided the voice for Sonic in the Sonic the Hedgehog video games. He has since been pretty quiet on the acting front but has written a comedy sketch show which will make its debut in the fall of 2017.


Kelly Osbourne

Well, she’s certainly ditched the eyeliner! As the daughter of the legendary Ozzy Osbourne and Sharon Osbourne, Kelly was brought up surrounded by TV cameras – especially during the filming of their reality show, The Osbournes. Nowadays, Kelly can be found presenting TV shows such as Project Runway Junior and judging on the panel of Australia’s Got Talent, as well as building her own fashion line. Most recently, she’s had her own character in the 2017 Captain Underpants movie!


Keke Palmer

We wonder if Keke Palmer is still a good speller? At just 9-years-old, Keke Palmer was already a huge name in the acting and singing world, and as time wore on, Palmer recorded songs for movie soundtracks and even appeared in them. However, her breakthrough role came in 2006, when she starred as the lead spelling bee champ in Akeelah and the Bee. Since then, Palmer’s career has been non-stop, continuing her singing, acting, and hosting duties.


Kirsten Dunst

Awww, look how adorable she was! Dunst was no stranger to fame from a young age, appearing in TV commercials from the age of three. Three years later, Dunst broke into the movie business, when she appeared in Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks. Since then, she has bombarded the world of Hollywood with her talents in the likes of Bring It On, Spider-Man, Jumanji, Marie Antoinette, and more. This year, she will star in The Beguiled, and Woodshock.


Matthew Lewis

Ever wondered where the phrase ‘Longbottomed’ comes from? Well, you’re looking at it. Matthew Lewis began acting at 5-years-old but earned his first major role in 2001 as Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter franchise. Throughout the franchise, fans watched him grow up into the (very, very attractive) man he is today. Recently, he has starred in the hit movie, Me Before You, and appeared in popular BBC television series, such as Bluestone 42 and The Syndicate.


Nicola Peltz

If you’re a fan of The Last Airbender (which is everyone, right?), you’ll recognize Nicola Peltz as Katara. Katara bagged the role at the age of 11 and has since become one of the most promising young actresses in Hollywood. Peltz has recently starred in Bates Motel, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Youth in Oregon, and is currently in the post-production process of two new movies – Our House, and Alex Pettyfer’s (remember Stormbreaker?) directorial debut, Back Roads.


Adrian Grenier

I mean, this is just the same photo, right? Although he still looks like a spring chicken, Grenier has actually been acting for over 20 years! Adrian made his debut in the indie film, Arresting Gena and impressed casting directors so much he then starred alongside Melissa Joan Hart in Drive Me Crazy. Since then, Grenier has continued to wow us with his roles in the movie adaptation of Entourage, and The Devil Wears Prada.


Joseph Gordon-Levitt

I mean, he’s still super cute. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the ultimate child star. From the age of six years old, JGL began making his acting debut, with small roles on TV and film. However, his breakout role came in 1996, when he was cast as the adorable Tommy Solomon on 3rd Rock from the Sun. After this, he appeared in major motion pictures, such as 10 Things I Hate About You, (500) Days of Summer, 50/50 and more. Recently, he has been working on his own films with his production company, HitRecord.


Freddie Highmore

It was no surprise when Freddie Highmore made his acting debut at 7-years-old, considering his whole family work within show business! As a child star, Highmore appeared in Women Talking Dirty, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story and more. Recently, Highmore has taken a step behind the camera, and has delved into the world of screenwriting – and has even written numerous episodes for the show in which he stars, Bates Motel.


Alex D. Linz

Awww, it’s as if butter wouldn’t melt! Alex D. Linz was just 7-years-old when he made his professional acting debut on the popular TV series, Cybill. Throughout the ‘90s, Linz also took over from Macauley Culkin in Home Alone 3 and even voiced the character of Tarzan in the 1999 animated movie! Despite his pretty impressive career as a child actor, Alex D. Linz has now left the acting world and hasn’t been in any TV show or movie since 2007.


Kylie Jenner

If you keep up with the Kardashians (which is everyone, right?), you’ll know that Kylie Jenner is the youngest sibling in the Kardashian/Jenner clan. As the daughter of Olympic medalist Bruce Jenner (now Caitlyn Jenner) and Kris Kardashian, Kylie first appeared on our screens at the age of 10 on their popular reality TV show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians. Despite her overpowering siblings, Kylie has created her own career through her impressive social media profile and built up her own brand with a makeup line, and a clothing line with her sister Kendall.


Josh Peck

Hug me, brothaaaa! As a kid, you probably watched Nickelodeon (and if you didn’t – why not?!), which means you probably watched the hilariously funny, Drake & Josh. Well, Josh Peck makes up ½ of the iconic childhood duo. However, Peck actually made his first professional acting debut at the age of 13, where he appeared on The Amanda Show. Since his younger years, Peck has slimmed down and starred in Ice Age: Continental Drift and Ice Age: Collision Course as well as the upcoming Netflix original movie, Take the 10. He’s also recently got hitched. Congrats, Josh!


Neil Patrick Harris

Awww, who remembers Doogie Howser?! One of Neil Patrick Harris’s earliest bookings as a child actor was on the popular TV show, Doogie Howser, M.D in which he played the coolest child doctor – and even gained a Golden Globe Award nomination! After this, Harris’s cute-as-a-button face was snapped up to star in numerous TV and film roles, and he soon smoothly transitioned into one of the best actors in the world of adult acting, both on screen and on the stage (did you know he has an epic singing voice?). He is currently starring in Netflix’s Series of Unfortunate Events reboot as the evil Count Olaf.


Brooke Shields

Just like many other child stars, Brooke Shields was born into the world of showbusiness. She was cast in her first movie at 12-years-old when she appeared in Pretty Baby. As she grew older, Shields adorned the covers of Vogue and appeared in numerous films and TV shows. Nowadays, Shields is more of a famous personality than an actress and spends her making personal and guest appearances and campaigning for mental health awareness.