At this festive time of year, there’s a good chance you just finished watching the young Macaulay Culkin in one of the iconic Home Alone Christmas films. However, there are more actors than you may realize who caught the acting bug before they finished middle school. Some have fallen off the radar (like Culkin or, ahem, Lindsay Lohan), but others have re-established themselves in adulthood to achieve thriving careers in show business.
One of the most prolific is Christian Bale, who burst on the scene in 1987’s Empire of the Sun at just 13 years old, and has since gone on to become one of the biggest actors in Hollywood thanks to roles like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho and Bruce Wayne/Batman in The Dark Knight trilogy. On the small screen, Neil Patrick Harris made it big with Doogie Howser, M.D., long before How I Met Your Mother, while Jason Bateman landed ‘80s sitcom roles on Silver Spoons and The Hogan Family decades before Arrested Development made him a superstar.
Who else joins the list? Here are 9 famous actors who had starring roles before they even hit puberty.
When you think Ryan Gosling today, you may think of the dreamy, 36-year-old who’s had starring roles in top-grossing movies like The Notebook, The Big Short, and, most recently, La La Land. But the Canadian actor with the perfectly chiseled jaw first started acting as a 12-year-old on Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club. He worked alongside others who went on to have equally successful careers in music or acting, including Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Keri Russell. Additionally, he appeared in kids shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps. But it was his role in the romantic Nicholas Sparks flick The Notebook in 2004 that really set his career in motion.
The recent unfortunate death of Alan Thicke may have reminded everyone that Leonardo DiCaprio actually had a role in the final season of Thicke’s popular sitcom, Growing Pains. Before he was an A-list lead in films like Titanic, Inception, and The Revenant – the list goes on and on — Dicaprio played a homeless boy named Luke Brower, whom the Seaver family took in. He was just 17 at the time. After Robert De Niro handpicked DiCaprio for a starring role in the 1993 film This Boy’s Life, the actor’s career skyrocketed, and the rest is Hollywood royalty history.
Most older fans realize that Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard Hofstadter on CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, is indeed the same actor who played Darlene’s boyfriend David on the ground-breaking ‘90s sitcom, Roseanne. But you may not know that Galecki also played Rusty, the eldest Griswold son, in 1989’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, one of the more successful films in the franchise. He was just 14 at the time, and is one of six actors who played the character over the years, the first being Anthony Michael Hall, and the second Jason Lively, the older half brother of actor Blake Lively. Today, Galecki is one of the highest-paid actors on television alongside his Big Bang co-stars, who reportedly rake in $1 million per episode.
We know Anna Chlumsky best today for her Emmy-nominated role on HBO’s Veep. But chances are, you can’t shake that feeling you’ve seen her face before. It isn’t your imagination: Chlumsky is indeed the sweet little girl who read a teary poem in class about her friend who had passed away (played by Macaulay Culkin) in the 1991 film My Girl. She was just 11 years old at the time, but delivered a powerful performance. It’s refreshing to see that Chlumsky has resurfaced in another (very different) starring role, now at the age of 36.
You may not recognize the name, but you certainly know this actor’s face. Particularly at this time of year, you’ll see him in the unofficial Christmas movie Love Actually, which was released in 2003 when the actor was just 13 years old. Now 26, most know him best as the baby-faced Jojen Reed in the third and fourth seasons of HBO’s Game of Thrones, as well as the voice of Ferb Fletcher in Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb. Blink and you may have missed his cameo in last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens as a First Order Officer as well. While Sangster got his start very early, it’s clear this young man’s career is just taking flight.
It’s hard to forget that 34-year-old Paquin was a child actor, given that she received an Academy Award at the age of 11 for her role in 1993’s The Piano, making her the second-youngest actor to win one. (Tatum O’Neal remains the youngest, with an Oscar at the age of 10 for 1973’s Paper Moon). Paquin’s career rose from there with starring roles in the X-Men franchise (as Rogue), and as Sookie Stackhouse in HBO’s True Blood. While she hasn’t been in the spotlight much since True Blood wrapped in 2014, she has several TV series projects in the works for 2017.
Anyone over the age of 30 knows Christina Ricci as the pale-skinned, but dark-natured Sunday Addams from the Addams Family movies, including The Addams Family (1991) and Addams Family Values (1993). Now 36, she’s been active on the scene, with roles in several indie films, as well as guest roles on series like Ally McBeal, Grey’s Anatomy, and Saving Grace. More recently, Ricci starred in 2015’s TV mini-series The Lizzie Borden Chronicles as the title character. She also had a role in the 2016 film Mothers and Daughters, as well as starring in Amazon’s original period drama Z: The Beginning of Everything.
Can we recall a time when we didn’t see Barrymore on screen? Born into a family full of stage and film actors, it’s no surprise she got her start very early on. Barrymore made big waves as Gertie in Spielberg’s 1982 blockbuster E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial when she was just seven years old, followed by the lead in the 1984 cult flick Firestarter at the age of nine. Since then, Barrymore (now 41) has been steadily acting, appearing in films like Scream, The Wedding Singer, Charlie’s Angels, and many more (several opposite Adam Sandler). She’ll next appear in Netflix’s original comedy series Santa Clarita Diet, produced by her own production company.
Interview with a Vampire (1994), which starred heavyweights Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, put Dunst on the map. At just 12, she held her own against the mega stars, and even earned a Golden Globe Award for her role as young Claudia. Since then, the 34-year-old has had a steady string of acting gigs that have kept her in the spotlight. Her best-known roles were from movies like the teen comedy Bring It On, as well as her role as Mary Jane in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films in the early 2000s. Most recently she received accolades for her role as a delusional hairdresser in the second season of Fargo, which aired in 2015. Dunst will next be seen in the upcoming movie Hidden Figures, and has additional projects underway for 2017 as well.
- 8 actors who should star in Superman: Legacy (and who they should play)
- John Boyega calls out Disney for how it treated his Star Wars character
- Max von Sydow, star of Seventh Seal, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones, dies at 90
- 11 Hollywood heavyweights who jumped from the big screen to the small screen