Judging from how many adult stars end up in rehab, jail or both after achieving fame as grown-ups, it’s no wonder so many child stars fall victim to addiction, petty crimes and other harmful distractions as they transit from youth into adulthood. While the worst case scenarios inevitably grab the most attention, the big stars who evolved without incident rarely get their due.
As an adult, Bale is best known for his portrayals of Batman and Jesus of Nazareth and heavy duty leading roles in movies like The Machinist and American Psycho, playing the lead character in the 1987 Steven Spielberg film Empire of the Sun was his first taste of stardom. Only 13 when he suddenly went from normal kid to superstar, Bale vowed to quit acting. Thankfully he changed his mind but his brush with idolization made him wary and he proceeded cautiously into the world of Hollywood. His dad was his manager and led him to shun many offers and carefully choose his roles, guidance that surely helped him develop into the respected star he is today.
When Dunst stole most scenes from co-stars Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in the memorable movie Interview With A Vampire, she was one of the most spellbinding child actors of all time. She easily moved into the character of Mary Jane in the Spiderman movie series and successfully played a range of roles in romantic comedies and a few independent films. When she found herself fending off clinical depression, she wisely sought professional help and found ways to keep it in check. With minimal fanfare, Dunst “walked it off” and continued building her resume with acting credits.
Many people first remember Fanning from her role in I Am Sam opposite superstar Sean Penn, although she’d been acting for 2 years in commercials before being nominated at age 7 for a Screen Actors Guild Award for her movie part. Unabashedly taking her talents in stride, Fanning strolled from role to role, giving spectacular performances in a variety of genres from thrillers to voicing animated movie characters. She calmly took a break from starring roles to finish high school and then resumed her acting career without missing a beat. At 20 years old, Fanning already has 54 acting credits on her resume.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt is probably best known for his demanding yet memorable role as Tommy Solomon, an old space alien confined in a teenager’s body, on the quirky sitcom Third Rock From the Sun. When the show ended, Gordon-Levitt seemed to vanish but he was actually following his personal commitment to carefully pick and choose his roles rather than appearing in a string of quickly forgotten albeit profitable teen-oriented movies. His choices have solidified his reputation as a superb actor who chooses challenging roles and meets the requirements of excellence every time. At age 33, Gordon-Levitt can join the ranks of child stars who didn’t fall victim to the pitfalls of early fame.
What better way to launch an acting career than playing a young Woody Allen in the acclaimed film Radio Days? That was the first of many smart decisions Seth Green (or maybe his parents) made early on in his career. Known for roles that accentuate his mischievous grin, lack of respect for authority and smart aleck attitude, Green has had memorable parts in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Family Guy, and his own creation, Robot Chicken, giving command performances in traditional roles as well as voiceovers. Green continues to build his list of acting credits, currently totaling 148. He just turned 40, without any instances in his youth that landed him in jail or a rehab center.
When Ron Howard captured the heart of Americans as sharp-witted, pixie-like Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, he was only 6 years old. At age 19, he became a star again on the hit TV series Happy Days and the classic movie American Graffiti. Despite spending the interim years in Hollywood, Howard maintained the wholesome person, similar to his role as Opie, steering clear of wild parties, over indulgence and scandal. His decision to quit acting to pursue directing when Happy Days was at the top of the TV charts was highly criticized. But Howard rose above his detractors and became one of the movie industry’s most respected directors of major films, earning an Academy Award for his talents.
After playing child heartthrob Winnie to next door neighbor Kevin, played by Fred Savage, on TV’s heart wrenching Wonder Years, McKellar’s acting career dissipated as she grew into her teens, a sad but true fate for many child stars who lose their marketable appeal with age. Instead of delving into the world of raves and keeping questionable company, McKellar pursued a mathematical degree at UCLA, co-authored a paper on a mathematical theorem she developed on her own, and wrote a best seller that encourages young females to pursue careers in math. She recently appeared as a contestant on Dancing with the Stars and has published three more books. Just how we hoped Winnie Cooper would turn out.
As the adorable yet creepy daughter Wednesday on the offbeat TV show The Addams Family, Ricci was amazingly articulate and engaging for her young age. She also starred in the movies Casper and Now and Then but as she lost her kid-appeal, critics predicted her acting career was over. Ricci ignored them and moved on to play multifaceted characters in movies including Ice Storm and The Opposite of Sex. The infrequent lulls in Ricci’s career afforded her lots of opportunities to walk on the wild side and slip into the depths of substance abuse and appearing in grade B movies but she chose to take the high road and that decision has paid off in spades.
Although you may think of Russell as a rugged character actor, his career began when he was only 10 years old when he landed an uncredited part in the Elvis Presley movie It Happened at the World’s Fair in 1963. Walt Disney had personally signed Russell to a 10-year contract 3 years earlier and when that agreement expired, Russell spent the next years playing minor league baseball and taking a few supporting roles in film and television instead of partying with Hollywood stars. His portrayal of Elvis Presley in the ABC TV movie hit Elvis jumpstarted his career in 1979. After appearing in such notable films as Used Cars, Escape from New York, The Thing and Silkwood, he entered into a romantic relationship with Goldie Hawn, whom he’s lived with ever since. Russell’s sound career choices kept him out of serious trouble, with four movies scheduled to open in the next year.