Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Child StarsPublished on March 2, 2018. Updated January 21, 2021
For some stars, their rise of fame was the result of being discovered by Hollywood agents. Yet for others, becoming an actor required patience, determination, and a little extra time. For these actors, their careers started at an early age. We tend to forget that some actors have been in the entertainment industry for a long time. Here at Fame10, we were curious to know which celebrities started their careers as kids, and more than a few surprised us! Check out these 20 stars who you didn’t know were child actors.
20. Amanda Seyfried
Amanda Seyfried launched her career at the age of 15 with a role on As the World Turns. After that role she appeared on another soap, All My Children, before she landed her breakout role as the ditzy blonde Karen in Mean Girls. She’s now an in-demand actress. She’s had roles in the Oscar-nominated movie Les Misérables, the Seth MacFarlane comedies A Million Ways to Die in the West and Ted 2, and the American-Italian drama Fathers and Daughters.
19. Jessica Alba
Jessica Alba’s career as an actress began when she was just a teenager. Her first role was in the 1994 comedy Camp Nowhere and then the television series The Secret World of Alex Mack and Flipper. After, she graduated to even bigger roles in bigger shows and then movies. Now she’s less of an actress and more of a businesswoman. In 2012, she founded The Honest Company, which sells household products. The company is doing quite well – in 2014, it was valued at $1 billion!
18. Diane Lane
With almost 40 years of acting experience, Diane Lane is a veteran in Hollywood. Diane began acting at the early age of six when she performed at the LaMaMa Experiential Theater Club in New York. When she was 12, she had the opportunity to work with Meryl Streep and Irene Worth in Joseph Papp’s production of The Cherry Orchard. At 13, she made her debut in the 1979 feature film A Little Romance. Her co-star Laurence Olivier was so impressed with her acting skills that he declared her “the new Grace Kelly.” But unlike many former child stars who had trouble living up to their early success, Diane has kept a level head throughout her career. She’s been busy as a working actress, starring in films like Unfaithful, Under the Tuscan Sun, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
17. Regina King
Way before she was Detective Lydia Adams on Southland, Regina King was a budding child star. At the age of 14, Regina landed a role in the sitcom 227, where she played the intelligent and boy-crazy Brenda Jenkins. She starred on the show for all five seasons. As a young adult, Regina worked with director John Singleton for the films Boyz n the Hood, Poetic Justice, and Higher Learning. More recently, Regina has been busy working on TV series like The Big Bang Theory, American Crime, and The Leftovers.
16. Helen Hunt
Helen Hunt began her career as a child actress in the 1970s by doing one-episode roles and made-for-TV movies. At the age of 12, Hunt was a regular cast member on The Swiss Family Robinson. She played Helga Wagner, a young girl who was stranded on an island and taken care of by the Robinson family. The show was one of her first major roles, though it was cancelled after one season. By the 1990s, Helen was a popular TV star, playing Jamie Stemple Buchman in NBC’s sitcom Mad About You. More recently, Helen worked on the 2014’s Ride, a film she acted in, wrote, and produced.
15. Christian Bale
Years before he was Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, Christian Bale was a little-known child actor. In 1986, he starred in his first film, Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna. The following year was a big one for him because he landed a major role in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, based on the novel by J.G. Ballard. He was only 11 years old. His early success led him to develop a love/hate relationship with acting, as he felt the pressure to financially support his family. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Bale stated, “It was money, you know? ‘Christ, my family can do with that!’ So sure, all right, I did it; there was no reason not to do it. And everybody kept asking me to do it, and then it became sort of a thing of, ‘Oh, I could actually really provide with this,’ and there’s a pride in being able to do that – but there’s also a prison, you know, at such a young age.”
14. Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett Johansson’s breakout role was in The Horse Whisperer when she was only 13, but her first leading role was in the movie Manny & Lo alongside her brother Hunter, which earned her positive reviews. Now, she’s one of the most successful actresses of her generation. She plays Black Widow in the Marvel movies, appeared in the Coen brothers’ comedy Hail, Caesar! and the film adaptation of the Ghost in the Shell franchise.
13. Katherine Heigl
Katherine Heigl appeared in her first feature film, That Night, at the age of 11 and took her first lead role at age 14 in 1994’s My Father the Hero. Her big break came when she starred in the teen science fiction show Roswell, but her role as Izzie Stevens in Grey’s Anatomy turned her into a star. Following her success on Grey’s, she starred in a number of movies including 27 Dresses, Killers, and Life as We Know It, and as of 2018, she joined the cast of the legal drama series Suits.
12. Alyson Hannigan
Alyson Hannigan is now best known for her roles as Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lily on How I Met Your Mother, but long before these roles, she was just another child star in Hollywood! She made her film debut in My Stepmother is an Alien in 1998 and then in 1989 joined the cast of the short-lived TV series Free Spirit. She also appeared in the television Switched at Birth.
11. Seth Green
Seth Green’s career began back in 1984 when he appeared in Billions for Boris and The Hotel New Hampshire. Throughout the ‘80s he continued to work on-screen and had roles in Can’t Buy Me Love alongside Patrick Dempsey and Radio Days where he played Woody Allen. He also appeared in My Stepmother is an Alien with Alyson Hannigan, who would play his on-screen love interest on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Now he is best known for his work on Robot Chicken. He is a co-creator, co-producer, writer, director, and most frequent voice on the Emmy-winning series.
10. Shannen Doherty
Shannen Doherty was only 11 years old when she landed her first role, a guest part on the Emmy-nominated television show, Father Murphy. A year later, in 1982, she landed a recurring in the show Little House on the Prairie as Jenny Wilder, and throughout the ‘80s, she appeared in a number of shows including Our House as a series regular and then in episodes of Magnum, P.I. and Airwolf. Although she was clearly well established in the entertainment industry in the ‘80s, Doherty is still best known for her roles in Beverly Hills, 90210 and Charmed.
9. Laurence Fishburne
Laurence Fishburne began acting when he as 12 years old. He had a role in the soap opera One Life to Live and then landed his first film role in Cornbread, Earl and Me in 1975 at the age of 13. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, he continued to act and began landing meatier parts in movies like The Color Purple, Boyz n the Hood, What’s Love, and The Matrix. Now that he’s an Oscar-nominated actor, people often forget that he was once just a child star trying to make it in the entertainment business!
8. Mischa Barton
Mischa Barton’s first on-screen role was on the soap opera All My Children back in 1995 and two years later she made her film debut in Lawn Dogs. Her career took off from there. She appeared in Notting Hill and The Sixth Sense; however, most people will forever think of her as Marissa Cooper.
7. Hayden Panettiere
Hayden Panettiere got her start as a child actress on the soap opera One Life to Live, a role she held from 1994 to 1997. She then had a role on the soap Guiding Light and began lending her voice to Disney films like A Bug’s Life and Dinosaur. While she continued to work through her childhood and into her teen years, it was her role in Heroes as a cheerleader that gained her mainstream recognition, but she’d been acting long before she landed that role.
6. Elisabeth Moss
Although Elisabeth Moss has been acting in Hollywood for a long time, she’s modest about her beginnings. At eight years of age, Elisabeth landed her first-ever acting role on the television movie Bar Girls. She later appeared in the series Picket Fences as Cynthia Parks, and did voice-over work for cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series and Animaniacs. Despite being a busy actress at such a young age, Elisabeth never saw herself as a big time star. “I don’t feel I was ever a ‘famous’ child actor,” she said. “I was just a working actor who happened to be a kid. I was never really in a hit show until I was a teenager with The West Wing, playing ‘First Daughter Zoey Bartlet’. In a way, that was my saving grace – not being a star on a hit show. It kept me working and kept me grounded.”
5. Ryan Gosling
When we hear about “The Mickey Mouse Club,” we tend to think about the stars that got their big break like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Justin Timberlake. But there was another blonde-haired star who was part of the crew: Ryan Gosling! The actor began his career on the show, and later appeared in children’s shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps. In 2015, Gosling reunited with his co-star Justin Timberlake for a Mickey Mouse reunion. Timberlake reminisced about his early friendship with Gosling and told Ellen DeGeneres, “His mother had to keep her job in Canada the second year that we were on the television show and my mom was his guardian for like six months. So we actually lived together when we were that age. So we were probably a little closer than the rest of the kids that were on the show just because we had to share a bathroom.”
4. Cynthia Nixon
Cynthia Nixon started her career as an actress at the early age of 12. Her first major role was in the coming-of-age film Little Darlings,
where she played Sunshine Walker. Nixon said she was excited for the role because the film’s lead, Tatum O’Neal, was her idol. When asked by the New York Times why she wanted to start acting so early, Nixon replied, “When I was growing up in New York, it was a golden age for child actors: Ally Sheedy and Justin Henry, Jodie Foster and Tatum O’Neal. Quinn Cummings from ‘The Goodbye Girl’ and Ricky Schroder from ‘The Champ.’ So it seemed possible, not some glassed-off world. My mother had been an actress and knew people in the business.”
3. Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal grew up in the film industry so it’s not surprising that he started his acting career so young. The son of a director and a screenwriter, Jake made his first appearance on screen in the 1991 comedy City Slickers. Only 11 at the time, he played Billy Crystal’s son Daniel Robbins. His parents were cautious about starting his career too early, and often turned down roles. For example, Jake’s parents didn’t allow him to act in 1992’s The Mighty Ducks because they felt the filming schedule required him to be away from home for too long. Today, Jake has an established acting career. Some of his most recent roles were in Nightcrawler, Southpaw, and Nocturnal Animals.
2. Mila Kunis
Before she was the annoyingly funny Jackie on That ’70s Show, Mila Kunis was a busy working child actor. Mila enrolled in acting classes at 9 as part of extracurricular activity, and was quickly discovered by an agent. Soon after she appeared in commercials for Lisa Frank and Barbie. She also landed a role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives in 1994. At 14, Mila auditioned for That ’70s Show, despite the requirement that she be at least 18 years of age. By 2001, she made the transition into film. Some of her most recent roles were in Bad Moms along with Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Christina Applegate, as well as the sequel A Bad Moms Christmas.
1. Jerry O’Connell
Jerry O’Connell had an active acting career as a child. He started out doing commercials for companies like Duncan Hines and Frosted Flakes. In 1987, he got his big break starring in Stephen King’s Stand By Me and worked with the other notable child actors Corey Feldman, River Phoenix, and Wil Wheaton. At 14 years of age, Jerry landed a lead role in the sci-fi TV series My Secret Identity, a show about a young teen who acquires secret powers. Recently, he guest-starred on the shows Billions and Mistresses, and played the character Ralph in Disney and Pixar’s Finding Dory.