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Child actors: then and now

Time can be a cruel mistress

Child actors: then and now
06 January 2012

Dismissed as a hopeless write-off by your early teens, obligatory substance abuse problems to follow and an ill-advised reality show comeback aged 20, who wouldn’t want to be a child prodigy in Hollywood?

The problem being of course, every kid with stars in their eyes and pushy parents behind them every step of the way, would no doubt murder their pet hamster for a shot at their two years of fame (come on, admit it, Warhol got that 15 minutes malarkey well wrong).

But even though most of us forget them once puberty hits, they still live, growing up, day after day until the point where they are fully-fledged adults and we can run special compare and contrast features such as this.

So, without further ado, child stars: then and, indeed, now.

Peter Ostrum (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

Aged 13 – and looking remarkably like a young Jon Bon Jovi – Peter Ostrum sprang to fame as Charlie Bucket in the first Willy Wonka film. And then? Nothing. Rejecting a three-film contract, Ostrum returned to Cleveland, grew up as a normal teenager, attended college and became a well-adjusted adult and a practicing veterinarian. Although maybe someone needs to have a word about that ‘tache. Movember was two months ago.

Henry Thomas (E.T.)

Aged 10, Henry Thomas must have felt on top of the world. The cute, human face of E.T., his tender acting captivated cinemagoers the world over. Here was a child star destined for great things. Only of course he wasn’t. His career got something of a jump start when he appeared alongside Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins in Legends of the Fall in 1994, but although he remains a jobbing actor (and musician) his star has long since fallen.

Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense)

He saw dead people, tried to initiate a movement where everyone was nice to each other (typical Tinseltown do-gooders) and then mutated into a child-like android. In The Sixth Sense, Pay It Forward and A.I., Haley Joel Osment demonstrated a dynamic range of acting well beyond his years. Unfortunately, when puberty struck, he fell from favour, his only moment of note being when he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in 2006. Time is running out for his glorious second coming.

Jason James Richter (Free Willy)

Is it some kind of perverse, inverse reading of The Picture of Dorian Grey that the cuter the child star, the more ordinary they must look as adults? Nowt wrong with looking ordinary of course, but Free Willy star Jason James Richter must be left feeling short-changed. With no call for getting by with just looking adorable, Richter’s film career plummeted post-Free Willy I, II and III. His last onscreen appearance was in Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior as, wait for it, a young man in glasses. Exactly.

Jeff Cohen (The Goonies)

Hurrah! Another success story. Cohen starred as the endearing and aptly-named Chunk in 1985’s smash hit The Goonies. However, rather than trade on his chunky frame (although, granted, it hasn’t done James Corden any harm), Cohen shed the pounds, hit the books and graduated law school to become a successful entertainment lawyer in Hollywood.

Jonathan Ke Quan (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)

And we’re on a roll. Having shot to fame as the luminous rascal Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Le Quan slowly drifted away from acting, graduated from the University of Southern California and became a martial arts expert. He also worked as a stunt choreographer.

Jonathan Lipnicki (Jerry Maguire)

Hands up who didn’t fall for little Jonathan Lipnicki’s charms in Jerry Maguire? Liars, each and every five of you. Unfortunately, after Jerry Maguire, oh, and of course Stuart Little, Lipnicki found himself usurped as the go-to sweet kid by some younger sweet kid. Last we heard of him he was all beefed up in a series of icky gym shots.

Joseph Mazzello (Jurassic Park)

If one erstwhile child star is making a fist of this adult acting lark it’s Joseph Mazzello. The star of Jurassic Park and Shadowlands was never an overtly sickly sweet kid so didn’t have much to lose in those stakes. And while he did nothing of note from 1997 to 2010, his return was impressive. Supporting roles in both lauded HBO miniseries The Pacific and David Fincher’s acclaimed The Social Network bode well for the future.

Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone)

The textbook child star gone wrong. By 1991 Culkin was one of the most recognisable faces on the planet. By the mid-90s he had all but disappeared and upon his return his grunge-like appearance – all lank, greasy hair, vacant demeanour and caricatured dress sense – spoke volumes. Moreover he still looked 11 years of age. In recent times his most notable spot in the limelight came when he had to deny Michael Jackson molested him. Incredibly, still looks like a teenager.

Mara Wilson (Mrs Doubtfire)

Once the archetypal precocious young girl on film, Mara Wilson starred in three blockbusters in the early-to-mid 90s: Mrs Doubtfire, the remake of Miracle on 34th Street and Matilda. After a flop with Thomas and the Magic Railroad, Wilson left the bright lights of Hollywood behind. She studied drama at New York University, graduating in 2009, but her recent performances are ominously scarce.

(Images: All Star, Rex Features)