Hollywood history is littered with tragic tales of young actors falling on hard times in adulthood. Substance abuse and mental illness are sad themes among Tinseltown’s washed-up pups. Some choose to hang around and occasionally resurface in paparazzi pics looking worse for wear, while others get as far away from the industry as possible—Danny Lloyd (the kid from The Shining) went on to dabble in pig farming before settling into a career as a high school science teacher. While burning out and disappearing is a common script, not every child star suffers this fate.
Some child actors have managed to break the mold and maintain healthy careers in Hollywood into adulthood. Many become character actors and appear in supporting roles often looking barely recognizable (in fact, there’s a good chance you’ll have seen some of these former child stars on screen recently without even knowing it.) Without further ado, let’s take a look at the former child stars you’ll barely recognize now.
The son of a Texan writer and a German artist, Lukas Haas made his film debut in the 1983 nuclear holocaust drama Testament at age 6, but he didn’t actually gain wider recognition until 1985, when he portrayed a young Amish murder witness in the classic Harrison Ford crime thriller Witness.
In the years that followed, Haas popped up in numerous forgettable roles in films such as 1996’s Mars Attacks! and 2001’s Zoolander. He became better known for his close friendship with Hollywood A-lister Leonardo DiCaprio than his acting.
Haas seemed to get a new lease on Hollywood life in 2005 when his work as a disabled drug dealer in Rian Johnson’s cult indie hit Brick was praised by critics. Haas played alongside his buddy Leo in 2010’s Inception and then gave himself a frontiersman makeover so he could do it again for The Revenant in 2015, appearing almost unrecognizable with a bushy grey beard.
The slender actor is clearly a likeable guy, as he seems to have struck up a friendship with another big Hollywood name, Tom Hardy, while making The Revenant. Haas will get the chance to add Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, and Colin Farrell to his impressive list of famous friends in 2018 when he begins work on the Steve McQueen heist thriller Widows.
Veteran actress Diane Lane is best probably known to contemporary movie audiences as the mother of Henry Cavill’s Superman in the DC Extended Universe, portraying Martha Kent in 2013’s Man of Steel and again in 2016’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. She will reprise the role in the upcoming Justice League team-up movie, adding another superhero flick to a diverse resume that began in 1979 with a romantic comedy called A Little Romance.
Lane has been involved in the theater scene since she was 6, and she starred in a Broadway-bound production of Runaways by the age of 13. It was her work in this production that convinced director George Roy Hill to offer her the lead female role in A Little Romance, in which industry legend Laurence Olivier played matchmaker between Lane and a French boy in Paris. Olivier reportedly called Lane "the next Grace Kelly." She even appeared on the cover of Time magazine, but aside from her much-deserved Oscar nomination for 2002’s Unfaithful, Lane never reached the heights many predicted for her.
She quit acting in 2008 after becoming despondent about the lack of varied roles for women in Hollywood, but decided to return to the biz when TV became a promising outlet for female talent. "I’m very grateful for television," Lane told Slant magazine. "There’s such diversity of roles available for women to relate to and feel spoken to, in terms of experiences that they’d never seen reflected back before."
Haley Joel Osment
Haley Joel Osment’s career began at age 4 when he was reportedly spotted by a talent scout shopping at IKEA. Osment’s mother decided to share her contact details, and before long, her son was being offered a Pizza Hut commercial, which in turn convinced Haley’s father, Eugene (himself a theater actor,) to put his own career on hold and tutor his son full-time. It paid off, as young Haley was prepared when he went to the biggest audition of his life.
Osment answered a casting call for M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense (1999) and, after impressing with his ability to cry on cue, he was offered the part of Cole Sear. The film was a box office smash, and Osment received an Oscar nomination for his convincing work. His chillingly delivered line, "I see dead people," instantly becoming one of the most iconic moments in horror movie history.
He went on to star in Steven Spielberg’s opinion-splitting sci-fi A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) and then fell off the radar in the years that followed, taking on a lot of voice work in TV and video games. Unbeknownst to many, Osment has actually been appearing more and more frequently in film and recent years, looking completely unrecognizable. He popped up in Entourage in 2015, appeared in Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers in 2016, and guest-starred as wealthy tech mogul Keenan Feldspar in Season 4 of the HBO comedy Silicon Valley (2014-).
Former teen icon Molly Ringwald rose to prominence with consecutive appearances in Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink–all considered essential ’80s cinema. Ringwald was a prominent member of the Brat Pack, a group of young actors that dominated Hollywood at the time, primarily under the tutelage of director John Hughes. Their influence faded as the 1990s rolled on, and all the pack members struggled to maintain their careers to varying degrees as they matured.
By the time Ringwald landed her next notable role in 2008, she was old enough to be portraying the mother of the kind of characters she was previously known for. She played Shailene Woodley’s mom in the teen drama The Secret Life of the American Teenager until 2013, when she released her debut jazz record, Except Sometimes, dubbed a "vanity project" by Slant magazine. She also dabbled in writing, releasing a young adult novel named When It Happens to You that fared a little better with critics.
Ringwald never left her acting career behind, however. She has three feature films scheduled for release in 2018 and stars in The CW’s Riverdale (2017-), a series based on characters from the Archie Comics. "I loved Archie growing up," she told Entertainment Tonight. "I was always really interested, you know, ‘Am I more Betty or am I more Veronica? What am I gonna be like when I grow up?’ but it turns out I’m Archie’s mom."
Anthony Michael Hall
Another Brat Pack alum you’ve probably seen on screen without knowing it: Anthony Michael Hall starred alongside Molly Ringwald in both Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, but he quickly found himself typecast as the high school geek because of his Brat Pack roles. He opted to reject parts in Hughes’ next two projects (Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) in favor of action thriller Out of Bounds (1986), hoping to shake his nerdy image and change the direction of his career.
Hall gravitated toward television as years passed and offers became less frequent, but he still has some high-profile feature films on his resume. Hall played Gotham Tonight host Mike Engel in Christopher Nolan’s superhero classic The Dark Knight (2008), and he also landed minor roles in the Oscar-nominated Foxcatcher (2014) and in Ben Affleck crime drama Live by Night (2016).
Hall made headlines for the wrong reasons at the start of 2017, when he was charged with felony battery after allegedly assaulting a neighbor. Despite potential jail time looming over him, Hall kept working. He has appeared in three feature films in 2017, including Netflix’s Brad Pitt vehicle, War Machine. "I think it’s honestly the best movie I’ve ever been in and I have no question about it," Hall told Uproxx. Critics didn’t agree—War Machine only managed to score a 53 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
If someone asked you to guess what the adorable little girl from Ron Howard’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) wanted to be when she grew up, rock star probably wouldn’t be your first answer. Taylor Momsen didn’t exactly steal the show with her vocals on "Where Are You Christmas" in the Jim Carrey-led adaptation of the Dr. Seuss classic, but that didn’t stop her from pursuing a music career.
"Once I got to an age where I was old enough to make my own decisions, I quit everything and did what I actually wanted to do, which was start a band," she told Cosmopolitan. It was during Momsen’s time on Gossip Girl (she appeared in 88 episodes as Jenny Humphrey between 2007 and 2012) that The Pretty Reckless band was formed. In those early days, the lead vocalist went out of her way to show people that she wasn’t Cindy Lou Who anymore. "I wore Xs on my nipples and corset dresses with stripper heels," she said.
The Pretty Reckless released its first album, Light Me Up, in 2010, and attracted notable success with its lead single, "Make Me Wanna Die," which topped the rock and metal charts. The band’s second album, Going to Hell, dropped in 2014 to positive reviews, making Billboard‘s top ten hard rock albums of the year. It’s next album, 2016’s Who You Selling For, performed even better, peaking at an impressive No. 13 on the mainstream Billboard 200 chart.
Toronto-born actress Megan Follows made her debut in the late ’70s and went on to appear in a number of shows into the early ’80s, including a stint on cult Canadian kids series The Littlest Hobo. In 1985, she won the part of 13-year-old Anne Shirley in the mini-series adaptation of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, a role that would come to define her career after she reprised it twice, once in 1987 and again in 2000.
"Anne will always have a very dear place in my heart," Follows told Fairfax (via Stuff). "I feel incredibly fortunate to have played her and I am always touched by how much my portrayal of this strong, iconic, young female character has meant to people."
She remained a TV actress after her time in Green Gables came to an end and has appeared in a number of well known shows over the years, including Law and Order, The X-Files and CSI.
The redheaded actress has actually been hiding in plain sight on television screens in recent years, portraying a character who is the polar opposite of the virtuous Anne in The CW’s Reign. The scheming Queen Catherine de Medici was a thorn in the side of lead character Mary, Queen of Scots from 2013 until 2017, when the fourth and final season of the show aired. Follows actually directed a few episodes of Reign, and plans to pursue more directing work in the future.
For those who grew up in the 1990s watching Home Alone every Christmas without fail, Buzz (Devin Ratray) represented every entitled older sibling who ever took a verbal dump on their little brother or sister and got away with it. Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) and his older brother only share a handful of scenes in this festive cult classic, but Ratray comes across as a real jerk in the time he’s given, making himself the most memorable minor character in the movie.
"I had done films since I was six and I just auditioned for Home Alone just like any other," Ratray told Complex on the movie’s 25th anniversary in 2015. "I knew that it was a John Hughes film and I was [a] fan of his, but I had no idea that it would be different from any other movie audition I had been going on." Of course, Home Alone wasn’t just any other movie. Despite middling reviews, it raked in huge sums at the box office and spawned the 1992 sequel, Lost in New York, in which Buzz was back to his awful best.
Ratray continued to play minor roles over the next two decades, but in 2013 he managed to re-establish himself in Hollywood with a notable part in the Ryan Reynolds/Jeff Bridges-led action comedy R.I.P.D, critically acclaimed indie thriller Blue Ruin, and best picture nominee Nebraska. At the time of this writing, he’s playing Tin Foil Kevin in Amazon Prime’s Certified Fresh superhero satire The Tick (2017-)
New Zealander Anna Paquin was 9 years old when she decided to audition for the role of Flora McGrath in a small feature film called The Piano (1993). Though she had no acting experience, Paquin won the part and gave a performance that made her the second-youngest Oscar winner in history when she took home the statue for best supporting actress at the 66th Academy Awards.
"When we got back to New Zealand, there were people with cameras who followed me to and from school," she later told New York magazine, recalling her overnight success at such a young age. Shedding the skin of a child star is difficult enough without having a Oscar win to your name, but Paquin has managed to take it all in her stride.
At age 18, she landed the part of Rogue in the X-Men franchise; she’s played the mutant four times to date. But it was her TV debut that truly established her as a grown-up in the eyes of viewers. Paquin starred as Sookie Stackhouse in True Blood from 2008 until 2014, when HBO decided to call time on what they called "a defining show" for the network. It was also a defining show for Paquin, who won a Golden Globe for her work on the raunchy vampire drama.
She’s continued to work in TV since and will appear in Netflix’s highly-anticipated upcoming mini-series Alias Grace in 2017.
Ralph Macchio starred alongside Lane in Francis Ford Coppola’s coming-of-age drama The Outsiders in 1983, and it was a pretty full-on experience for a 12-year-old kid who was used to working on cushy ’70s TV productions such as Eight is Enough and CBS Afternoon Playhouse. The movie was based on S. E. Hinton’s classic novel of the same name, and to prepare for the role of Johnny Cade, Coppola suggested Macchio familiarize himself with method acting. "I slept outside one night under newspapers just like Johnny did, and it was not fun," Macchio told Parade.
The following year, Macchio landed what would become his defining role even to this day, the part of Daniel LaRusso in The Karate Kid (1984). "This movie has become the fans’ film," he told WGN9 when asked why he still embraces the fandom spawned by the martial arts classic. "To sort of turn down or turn and say ‘I don’t want to talk about that, that was yesterday, let’s talk about today and tomorrow’, I think it’s just insulting to the people who love and grew up with those stories."
The New Yorker starred alongside Joe Pesci in 1992’s My Cousin Vinny, though that would be the last critically acclaimed project he was involved with for a number of years. He carried on working, however, popping up in Entourage in 2005 and later in the 2012 movie biopic Hitchcock. At the time of this writing, he’s playing a cop in HBO’s shocking period drama The Deuce (2017-).
Making your breakout in a film as wildly popular as Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) comes with certain pressures, and when you’re only 11-years-old, those pressures can be crippling. Henry Thomas’ audition for the part of Elliott is now as legendary as the film itself, winning the job on the spot with his tearful defence of his alien houseguest. He managed to reproduce that magic on film, but the glare of the media spotlight that followed was too much for Thomas.
"Of course there have been times I regretted being the kid in E.T.," Thomas said (via The Mirror.) "My world went completely crazy. I was that stupid kind of famous, where you can’t go anywhere." He added, "I was a shy kid, and being approached by adults all the time just freaked me out. I was like a circus freak. But the only time I had to deal with it was when I left the house. So I stopped leaving the house. I became an 11-year-old hermit."
Once the buzz died down a little, Thomas snuck back into acting with little fanfare. He’s popped up in a few notable roles, including an appearance in Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002). In 2017, he gave a chilling performance as a manipulative child abuser in the Netflix adaptation of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game. He also starred in the critically acclaimed FX series Better Things (2017) and played the young version of Hugh Crain in Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House.