It’s a pop culture cliché that all child actors grow up to become the subject of tragic tabloid stories. Sure adulthood was not kind to Gary Coleman or Jodie Sweetin, (although she does earn a point or two for the title of her tell-all, unSweetined), but there are dozens of kid actors who grew up to have fulfilling careers in Hollywood.
Jason Bateman is one of the lucky ones who made the transition to adult roles with ease. At twelve he debuted as James Ingalls on Little House on the Prairie and, dozens of credits later, this weekend stars in Identity Thief opposite comedy it-girl Melissa McCarthy.
The longevity of his career is dwarfed by Jodie Foster, whose forty-seven years on screen have seen her do everything from Disney movies like Freaky Friday to playing an underage prostitute in Taxi Driver to winning Oscars for The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs. “I don’t know why people think child actresses in particular are screwed up,” she says. “I see kids everywhere who are totally bored. I’ve never been bored a day in my life.”
Mickey Rooney’s cameo appearance in The Muppets marked ten decades of acting in movies. He was just a year-and-a-half old when he began performing in his parent’s vaudeville act and made his first film just a few years later playing Mickey McGuire in a series of short films. The audition breakdown requested a young boy with dark hair so Mickey’s mom rubbed burnt cork to his scalp to color his blonde hair.
Long before Elijah Wood donned huge hairy feet and went off in search of the magical ring in Lord of the Rings, he kept busy as a child actor in movies like Internal Affairs and Radio Flyer.
It’s hard to top winning an Oscar at age 11, but Anna Paquin has gone on to distinguish herself in indie hits like The Squid And The Whale and on television in True Blood.
And speaking of Oscars, one of this year’s Best Actor nominees, Joaquin Phoenix, made his debut at age eight, appearing on an episode of Seven Brides For Seven Brothers with his brother River. “There are kids who get on a BMX bike when they’re eight and they go, ‘Whoa, this is incredible’ and grow up to do extreme sports,” he said. “It’s the same for me with acting.”