Former Child Stars Who Made It In Hollywood As Adults

Anyone who reads the tabloids is familiar with the curse of the child star. If they're not zipping around Hollywood getting DUIs or fostering a tragic drug addiction, they're struggling to be cast as mature adults. It's not easy. From Nickelodeon stars like Amanda Bynes and Drake Bell who suffered from mental illness and bankruptcy, respectively, to the tragic overdose of Rivers Phoenix, being a child actor seems like the toughest job a person can get. Despite the tired trope, a handful of celebs have come out the other side of fame hauling shiny new Academy Awards on their backs.

While Drew Barrymore fell into the tragic stereotype of a troubled child star, she managed to claw her way out of addiction and launch her own production company. Winona Ryder, who came up in the same era, shook off the agist notions of Hollywood casting directors and reinvented herself as a Netflix mama. Others like Mila Kunis simply pretended they were never child stars to begin with.

These stars managed to find Hollywood success after childhood fame, but it didn't mean it was without hard work.

Jodie Foster

Jodie Foster's career rivals that of most in Hollywood. Over the last three decades, the star has raked in two Oscars, three Golden Globes, and more nominations than most A-listers can ever hope to achieve. After winning an Oscar for her role in Silence of the Lambs, Foster truly became known as much more than a child star, but she's actually one of the youngest people to ever receive an Oscar nomination.

Foster landed her first on-screen gig when she was just 3 years old. By the time she scored her breakout role as a teenage prostitute in Martin Scorsese's 1976 epic Taxi Driver, she had made more movies than anyone else on set (which included Hollywood heavyweights like Robert De Niro). At the time, she was only 12 years old.

In an interview with The Graham Norton Show (via The Independent), Foster admitted that her Oscar-nominated performance made people very uncomfortable and Scorsese struggled to direct her. "Scorsese would say something like 'unzip his fly' and just start laughing and not know what to do so he would hand it over to Robert De Niro and then Robert would tell me what to do," she said.

Taxi Driver poignantly foreshadowed the star's future success and 12 years later, she won her first Academy Award for her performance in The Accused. She's since hopped behind the scenes to direct episodes of Black Mirror and Orange Is the New Black, as well as to produce numerous films and documentaries.

Neil Patrick Harris

Neil Patrick Harris became legen — wait for it — dary after his multi-faceted portrayal of Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. Stinson played a wholly unlikable womanizer on the surface, but, throughout nine seasons, NPH peeled back his perfectly tailored suit and transformed himself into a sympathetic father-to-be. The role landed him four Primetime Emmy nominations and two Golden Globe nominations — six more than show's lead ... but did anyone actually like Ted?

By now, it shouldn't be surprising that NPH has the world of TV on lock. He got his big break many primetime slots ago starring as a teenage doctor in the '90s family drama Doogie Howser. Despite his various successes (including three Emmys, a Tony Award, and the self-aware cameo that made Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle worth watching), the actor has never forgotten his roots even if we have. He even threw a nod to the beloved character in an Old Spice commercial.

"I was approached about it, and was worried (once again) about disrespecting Doogie," he told The Washington Post. "I never want to seem like I regret that chapter, so I'm very conscious of trying to protect it."

From doctor coats to duck ties, NPH can do it all.

Drew Barrymore

For a while in the '90s, it looked like Drew Barrymore would crash and burn like the many child stars that came before her. As the daughter of an alcoholic actor and party girl manager, her life started spiraling out of control after she landed her breakthrough role in Steven Spielberg's E.T. According to The Guardian, Barrymore developed a drinking problem when she was 11, became addicted to drugs at age 12, and was hospitalized after slashing her wrists before she even made it to high school. That's when her mother sent her away to a bootcamp-like institution for the mentally ill. She emancipated from her parents a year and a half later, but she found herself completely unemployable and scrubbing toilets for cash by the time she turned 16.

She told The Guardian, "I was so scared of not knowing where I was going. I really had a fear that I was going to die at 25," adding, "I always had a sense that there should be goodness. I never went all the way into darkness."

Barrymore managed to fight her way out of addiction and earn her way back into Hollywood's good graces. Today, Barrymore has an army of Blockbuster hits under her belt including The Wedding Singer and Scream. She regularly works behind the scenes with her production company Flower Films, and her series Santa Clarita Diet aired its second season on Netflix in 2018.

Winona Ryder

Winona Ryder has been gracing headlines for her work in the Emmy Award-winning Netflix series Stranger Things, but success as an adult didn't come easily for the star. After acting in '90s classics like Edward Scissorhands and Reality Bites and landing two Academy Award nominations and a Golden Globe, Ryder's career came to a screeching halt when she was caught shoplifting $5,500 worth of designer duds from Saks Fifth Avenue. Cue the Free Winona T-shirts that plagued the early 2000s and her breakup from Hollywood, which she claims was mutual.

Ryder began acting when she was 12 years old and landed her breakthrough role in Tim Burton's Beetlejuice when she was just 16. Before her hiatus, she was Hollywood's go-to star for youthful, alternative 20-somethings. She was the arguable queen of silver screen grunge, but she struggled with landing age-appropriate roles when her break was over.

Ryder told The Telegraph that she "went through a period of time where [she] was technically old enough for roles but always associated with younger ones." She noted, "The whole of my thirties was spent that way. Now that I'm in my forties it's getting a little bit easier."

After a biting (and surprisingly meta) cameo in Black Swan, Ryder made a total comeback with Stranger Things. She even landed a beauty campaign with Marc Jacobs — the very brand she stole from in 2001.

Hilary Duff

Kids of the early aughts will always remember Hilary Duff as Disney's Lizzie McGuire. The sitcom star was a middle school style icon with more platform sneakers and butterfly clipped up-dos than all of the Spice Girls combined, but, by the time Lizzie McGuire ended in 2004, Duff really wanted out.

She told Parade, "I was ready to not be Lizzie McGuire anymore. I thought, I've got to be different than this."

Duff already had some movie experience with Cheaper by the Dozen and Agent Cody Banks, so it seemed like a natural move to pursue a career on the silver screen. Unfortunately, A Cinderella Story, which starred everyone's high school crush Chad Michael Murray, failed to help Duff transition into adult roles. Instead, she threw herself into music and released a series of albums (including the iconic theme song for MTV's Laguna Beach that's now stuck in your head).

Since then, Duff has managed to find her way back to Hollywood after becoming a single mother. In 2015, she released her fifth studio album, Breathe In. Breathe Out, and debuted a brand new TV series called Younger, which was created by Sex and the City life-force Darren Star.

Fred Savage

Fred Savage had a different approach to Hollywood success than most of his fellow child stars — he developed a rich life outside of the acting world. What else do you do when you achieve your wildest dreams at age 13?

In the early '90s, Savage was synonymous with Kevin Arnold, the nerdy teenager from ABC's hit family drama The Wonder Years. The role landed him two Emmy nominations, and he became the youngest person ever nominated in the category of Best Actor in a Comedy. When the series ended in 1993, he hightailed it out of Hollywood and headed to Stanford University, where he earned a degree in English. Though Savage landed a couple of minor TV movie roles during his studies, he eventually opted for a career behind the camera.

Today, Savage has more credits as a director and producer than he does as an actor. He's received four Directors Guild Award nominations for his work on acclaimed TV series like Modern Family, 2 Broke Girls, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (via Entertainment Weekly). He occasionally gets back on the acting horse just to prove he can still deliver a heartwarming lesson as poignantly as Kevin Arnold. His Netflix series Friends from College debuted in 2017.

Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling was always adorable, but he may not have always been worthy of a Golden Globe. As it turns out, his career was almost derailed before it began. If you haven't seen the meme-worthy pictures floating around, Gosling landed his first gig with The Mickey Mouse Club in 1993. He was tasked with acting alongside Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, who had yet to realize their future as the King and Queen of early 2000s pop and their penchant for denim-on-denim fashion. Gosling moved to Florida with his mother to film the series, but he was apparently almost cut from the team.

He told The Telegraph. "When I got there, they realized that I wasn't really up to snuff in comparison with what some of the other kids were able to do. I remember one time they put four of us in a dance routine, but I was so off. I was on the end, so they just pushed the shot in closer on the other three guys to frame me out."

But that was the Gosling of the past. After The Mickey Mouse Club, Gosling appeared in '90s kids classics like Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps. He eventually transitioned into adult roles with Remember The Titans and won a Golden Globe for La La Land. His acceptance speech, which proved he was an real-life version of the Feminist Ryan Gosling meme, made the world swoon harder than his character in The Notebook.

Leonardo DiCaprio

It's hard to remember a time when Leonardo DiCaprio wasn't a star. With his gripping, controversial roles in films like Wolf of Wall Street, Inception, and Shutter Island, it's easy to forget that DiCaprio got his start as a kid.

Long before DiCaprio was cast as Jack in Titanic and froze to death after Rose wouldn't move over and let him on that totally spacious door, he had a hand in such acclaimed works as the short-lived series Parenthood (no, not that Parenthood) and a Bubble Yum commercial. His big break came in 1993 when Robert De Niro picked him out of hundreds of actors for This Boy's Life. He received his first of many Academy Award nominations less than a year later with What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

DiCaprio was always poised for success and never faltered in the transition from child star to adult A-lister — even when his group of hard-partying friends, labeled the P***y Posse, became renowned as Hollywood's most debaucherous 20-somethings.

He told The Telegraph that life "is not about achieving great wealth or success." He explained, "Because they don't bring happiness ultimately. They really don't. What matters is whether or not you've fulfilled the idea of having led an interesting life, whether you've contributed in some way to the world around you."

That's nice and all, but DiCaprio did finally get his Oscar in 2016 for his role in The Revenant.

Emma Watson

Emma Watson almost derailed her own acting career. In a move straight out of Hermione Granger's playbook, the Harry Potter star left Hollywood after graduating from Hogwarts to attend Brown University. At the ripe age of 18, Watson was already feeling exhausted with fame and struggling to find herself outside of it.

"I'd walk down the red carpet and go into the bathroom," she admitted in a 2017 Vanity Fair cover story. "I had on so much makeup and these big, fluffy, full-on dresses. I'd put my hands on the sink and look at myself in the mirror and say, 'Who is this?' I didn't connect with the person who was looking back at me, and that was a very unsettling feeling."

Watson became an international star at just 11 years old. After graduation, she decided that she would only come back to the industry on her own terms. She's since starred as Belle in Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast, but she passed up Emma Stone's Academy Award-winning spot in La La Land. Allegedly, the role was created for her. Beyond that, Watson took a year off in 2016 to focus on feminism as the UN Women's Goodwill ambassador.

"What's the point of achieving great success if you feel like you're losing your freakin' mind?" she said.

Anna Chlumsky

Anna Chlumsky followed a very unconventional path to Hollywood success. Unlike her fellow child stars, she never crashed and burned, nor did she become a wildly in-demand A-lister. She's just sort of worked — on really great things. Chlumsky has credits on Academy Award-winning pictures like In The Loop and the highly acclaimed HBO series Veep, but her specific brand of success doesn't necessarily make her a household name. Part of that has to do with her years-long hiatus from the industry.

Chlumsky rose to fame at age 11 with her emotional performance in 1991's My Girl (that one where Macaulay Culkin has bee allergies and rips out everyone's heart). By the end of the '90s, the starlet decided to quit acting for the world of publishing. She studied international relations in college and became an editor at Harper Collins, but eventually she found her way back to the red carpet.

"It's heaven. My journey back into show business was very similar to what a lot of people go through in their 20s," she told Esquire. "They search for what it is — I don't want to say purpose, it sounds so cliché, but it really is that. You're finding your way, and then you find your way."

Chlumsky made her return in 2005, and she has worked steadily ever since. Her series Veep has swept the Emmys for six consecutive years. Talk about a comeback!

Mila Kunis

With all of her success as an adult, you may not realize that Mila Kunis was a child star — but neither did the people who hired her to be one. When Kunis was 14 years old, she got her big break as Jackie in the long-running sitcom That '70s Show. The only issue was that producers insisted her role be filled by a legal adult ... so Kunis decided to stretch the truth by a couple of years.

"Legally I was 14, but I told them I was a little bit older ... I told them I was gonna be 18, which is not technically a lie, cause at one point ... I was gonna be 18," she told Jay Leno (via Just Jared).

Kunis had no issues becoming a full-fledged film star once her time with That '70s Show came to an end. With roles in 2011's Oscar-winning Black Swan and the 2016 comedy Bad Moms, she's more than proved her range. Her love life has also managed to come full circle, and she ended up marrying her first kiss, Ashton Kutcher. Kunis and Kutcher were an on-screen couple in That '70s Show long before they ever became romantically involved in real life. In an interview with People, the star admitted that she was intimidated by Kutcher because he was a Calvin Klein model. Not too shabby for your first go-around.