Why Hollywood Won't Cast Larisa Oleynik Anymore

It's hard for '90s kids to forget Nickelodeon's The Secret World of Alex Mack. Though the show only ran from 1994 to 1998, its star Larisa Oleynik — who played an average kid that acquires magical powers after an accident — gave us a lifelong love of grunge-era knitted hats and flannel.

Oleynik was a '90s queen. Not only did she appear in a series that shaped many of our formative years, but the actress had prominent roles in some of the era's greatest hits, including 10 Things I Hate About You and The Baby-Sitters Club. Was there a tween in the '90s who didn't read those books? According to E! News, the former child star even shared her first kiss with '90s heartthrob Rider Strong during a brief-but-memorable story arc on Boy Meets World.

But in more recent years, Oleynik has been out of the spotlight. It almost seems like Hollywood refused to cast the star before she landed a role on the kid-centric Netflix series, The Healing Powers of Dude, in 2020, but her lack of celebrity may have actually been a personal choice. Here's why you haven't seen Larisa Oleynik around.

Larisa Oleynik seems content with guest-starring roles

It took years for Larisa Oleynik to snag a main part in television or movies in years. According to Entertainment Weekly, this former Nickelodeon star instead guest-starred on Psych, Without a Trace, and the wildly successful Mad Men, where she played Ken Cosgrove's fiancée. She told AMC.com, "I'm such a nerd for the show, and obviously I've done a lot of TV guest work, but this is the first time I've gone into a show just being such a huge fan and having seen every single episode — with commentary — probably three times."

In 2011, she snagged a recurring role on Hawaii Five-O as Jessica Kaye, appeared on Pretty Little Liars the following year, and in 2016, landed in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit opposite stars Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T. Those were all pretty good gigs, but ultimately didn't lead to any dazzling opportunities.

Perhaps Oleynik was content with guest-starring roles and didn't want to dive back into Hollywood full-time, or maybe she was trying but just hadn't been able to connect the dots. She told AMC.com, "When people recognize me from Mad Men specifically, it's just the coolest feeling ... I don't really know if I'm being seen differently, but I know that, just in terms of confidence, it has helped immensely ... After a long round of trying to establish myself as an adult actor ... it was huge sigh of relief."

She may be leery of fame after some scary moments

Fame hasn't always been easy for Larisa Oleynik. She's not quite living in a world where she needs constant security like Taylor Swift, but the former child star is still a '90s icon, and that sort of fandom can get fierce. According to TMZ, the Secret Life of Alex Mack lead saw the scary side of celebrity in 2012 when she started being stalked and harassed by a crazed fan.

According to the report, Oleynik's stalker, Josh Hathaway, changed his name to Josh Oleynik in 2010 after becoming obsessed with the star, but the harassment didn't start until two years later. Court documents obtained by the media outlet stated that Hathaway began repeatedly calling Oleynik's mother and "leaving gifts for her at her mom's apartment." This reportedly included leaving a voicemail where he admitted he had changed his name and wanted to propose to the actress. Hathaway also allegedly "wrote books and love letters" with disturbing passages like, "You are very beloved by me everyday. You are very precious to me ... keep me on your wheel of love."

Oleynik was, of course, concerned and admitted via legal docs she was worried he might be "unstable and could snap at any moment." A judge ultimately granted the actress and her mother a three-year restraining order that expired in January 2016. That kind of ordeal could certainly drive an actress underground.

This former child star is hiding in the indie movie scene

If you haven't seen Larisa Oleynik lately, it may be because she's hiding out in the world of indie films. Though 2019's tech-themed Auggie was a success, racking up an 80 percent from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, her other flicks haven't really had the same sort of critical acclaim. That's not to say they were bad, they were just largely ignored by the press. Films like OJ: The Musical and BFFs received audience ratings of more than 80 percent on the site, but had no critical consensus whatsoever.

Part of Oleynik's disappearance from the spotlight has to do with the fact that she's picked up some roles in the world of horror and sci-fi. These genres are unfortunately largely shunned by mainstream critics and consistently plagued by straight-to-VOD releases. This includes Jessabelle, which received extremely poor critical ratings; Atlas Shrugged: Part II, which was so heavily scorned by critics that producers eventually crowdsourced the financing for subsequent movies; and Animal Among Us, which Oleynik cites as her first true horror.

But even Oleynik is leery when it comes to watching straight-up horror flicks. Though she starred in 2017's Animal Among Us, the actress told Morbidly Beautiful, "I pretty much steer clear [of horror movies]. I'm into Vampire and Werewolf stuff, things that are more mythology based ... But no, as far as horror movies go, I watched Scream and that's as close as I've gotten."

Larisa Oleynik is officially a Lifetime actress

Lifetime's made-for-TV movies are often stereotyped as a place for thespians whose careers are on the way out. Sorry to Felicity Huffman, who's spent more of 2019 in jail than she has on the network. Like fellow child star Tia Mowry, who left her famed series behind before the clocks almost self-destructed on Y2K, Larisa Oleynik has had a career long enough to endure a Lifetime holiday movie. May she find solace in whatever support group Ashanti currently frequents.

Wish Upon a Christmas, which premiered in 2015, tells the story of an actuary who heads to her hometown to close down a factory and — shockingly — runs into her high school sweetheart. Don't they always? We haven't seen the film, but we can guess they end up together, Christmas is saved, and so are everyone's jobs. This TV movie received a 0 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but Lifetime Christmas movies are an acquired taste. If you love them, you spend the entire month of December binge-watching while Facebook-stalking that guy who dumped you as soon as he went to college. There's still a chance, right?

Beyond Oleynik's Christmas movie debut, the actress appeared in another Lifetime movie called Stolen from the Womb. This 2014 made-for-TV movie is exactly the type that made the network famous. Just read the IMDb tagline: "A psychotic stalker gives a pregnant woman a labor-inducing drug, then kidnaps her newborn." What more could any LMN fan want?

This Secret World of Alex Mack star wanted a normal life

Larisa Oleynik may have purposely shied away from Hollywood. Though the actress enjoyed some of the trappings of fame, like being the kind of kid who gets free Converse sneakers, it seems like living life as a normal person was always a priority for the star. In a 2017 interview with BuzzFeed, the actress revealed that Nickelodeon pushed for their child actors to lead normal lives, but this became more difficult as The Secret Life of Alex Mack gained popularity. Being recognized made Oleynik self-conscious.

"When I started getting recognized and stuff it was very confusing. I was shuttling back and forth to my real life living in northern California. We'd travel to southern California to film and then go back to northern California to be in school," she later told Morbidly Beautiful. "So I was trying to maintain some sense of normalcy, whatever a normal childhood even means. But it would get confusing sometimes when I'd be hanging out with my friends and someone would recognize me."

After her Nickelodeon series ended in 1998, Oleynik became a full-time high school student, though she still took occasional parts like her role as Bianca in the 1999 classic 10 Things I Hate About You. It seems like her priorities shifted.

Larisa Oleynik walked away at the height of her fame

The Secret World of Alex Mack was never canceled. Larisa Oleynik was at the height of her fame when she chose to walk away after the show's fourth season in 1998. "Something was instilled in me very early on that you keep doing a thing as long as you want to do a thing," she later told BuzzFeed. In other words: she just didn't want to do it anymore, so she wasn't going to do it anymore.

Walking — or turning into a puddle and sliding — away from Alex Mack had huge implications, and Oleynik turned down a massive offer that probably could've changed her life. According to HuffPost, co-creator Thomas Lynch tried to woo the then-teenager and her team (which included her mom and manager) with a fancy Hollywood dinner. It was there that he offered her a fifth season, a feature film, and "a ton of money." She was not swayed and still has no regrets. "It was an incredible thing he was offering me, and I knew that at the time, but I was a little burnt out," Oleynik told the publication.

That wasn't the only reason Oleynik called it quits. The actress didn't like the way the show was evolving to include more adult themes, explaining, "For me, [Mack] was starting to grow up and that last season, she gets a boyfriend ... I just kind of wanted to keep it innocent."

This '90s child star took a break to go to college

Larisa Oleynik took a detour to college after filming 10 Things I Hate About You, which could've been the one role that catapulted her career into a string of blockbuster hits (or at least popular rom-coms that don't air on Lifetime). Nonetheless, this decision was built into the very fiber of her being. E! News reports that her parents, both medical professionals, always put a strong emphasis on education. So, Loeynik ended up applying to college alongside her 17-year-old 10 Things I Hate About You co-stars, per BuzzFeed.

Julia Stiles ended up graduating from Columbia University with a degree in English Literature; Joseph Gordon-Levitt also went to Columbia but ultimately dropped out; and Oleynik settled on Sarah Lawrence, which was ironically referenced in the film. While obtaining her degree, the star all but forgot about acting, and according to BuzzFeed, she only occasionally went to auditions. "I thought I probably wasn't [going back to acting]," she said. "I didn't study theater while I was there. I just wrote a lot of really bad poetry."

At the time, it felt like Oleynik was perpetually being typecast as the girl next door. Though she told E! News that there are "worse things in this world," the publication did claim that Sarah Lawrence helped her get out of that hole. "If you're really determined to take on different things," Oleynik explained, "you can always find a way."

Larisa Oleynik returned to the stage

Of course, Larisa Oleynik didn't stay away from acting forever after college, but she did have a full-circle moment when she went back to the stage. According to BuzzFeed, the actress started her career at the age of eight with a San Francisco production of Les Misérables. That's where she met Rider Strong, who went from his role as Gavroche to Boy Meets World. Years before they shared their first kiss on the series, Oleynik decided to follow Strong's lead, picked up the same agent and acting coach, and went with his family to auditions in Los Angeles.

"I remember being 10 years old and thinking, I want to be good at this," Olenik told BuzzFeed. "It wasn't about, I want to be on TV. It was more looking around at the other kids and being like, I'm not good at sports, I'm not really smart. I think I could be good at this, though."

The rest was history, but Oleynik did return to the stage as an adult with Baghdaddy, an off-Broadway musical. She first appeared in the 2015 production at the Actors Temple Theatre and later performed in a 2017 production at St. Luke's Theatre. At the time, she told BuzzFeed the show was a "big, energetic commitment," so it doesn't seem like she could've done much else to further her Hollywood career until the musical ran its course.

The star of Alex Mack is living in the '90s and loving it

At one point in the '90s, Larisa Oleynik's star power was undeniable, if only for the fact that she single-handedly made hats a thing again. At the height of her fame, Nickelodeon was in the heyday of SNICK, and The Secret World of Alex Mack was on its way to becoming a full-fledged classic like All That and The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Coincidentally, Oleynik also made appearances in those shows, as well as The Baby-Sitters Club, Boy Meets World, 10 Things I Hate About You, and 3rd Rock from the Sun.

Since Oleynik had her hand in some of the projects that defined the era, you'd think she'd get stuck in the classic child star trope of being wholly unable to escape her hyper-recognizable character, but that doesn't seem like the case. Oleynik didn't ever really try to escape it. Instead, she embraced it. "That decade resonates with me pretty heavily," Oleynik told E! News. "Everything in my life is like a throwback to the '90s, including all my musical preferences and wardrobe. It's like I've pretty much been living there ever since, so I'm glad it's popular again."

It doesn't seem like Oleynik ever worried about getting with the times, which could have affected the type of roles she was offered. Even today, she still wears some of Alex Mack's wardrobe staples, which she took home after the series wrapped.

She is so not active online

Larisa Oleynik became famous in an era where she could walk off set and be anonymous. Her work didn't follow her home because, at the time, most of her fans hadn't even yet learned how to code HTML on their Neopets pages. There was no Twitter or Instagram, and Perez Hilton had yet to usher on the nastiness that was pretty much patented by tabloids in the early aughts. "I was able to completely remove myself and just go on with my regular kid life," Oleynik told E! News.

Today, that's not the case, and Oleynik hasn't adapted. She didn't spend time nurturing the type of online fanbase that helps actors become A-listers in the age of tech. At the time of this writing, her Instagram is sporadic. She'll go from posting a couple times a day (which buries posts in a feed) to barely posting at all for a month. Her Twitter account isn't verified, and she hasn't tweeted to her less than 10,000 in about five months. It's not even clear if the barely-updated page on Facebook that's listed under her name belongs to her.

Oleynik is self-admittedly still trying to figure out how to live a live that solicits constant public scrutiny. "I'm so glad that none of this stuff existed when I was doing press. I mean, I barely know how to handle it now," she told E! News, adding that young stars are "navigating it beautifully."

Larisa Oleynik has been typecast as a mom

At one point, Larisa Oleynik was consistently typecast as the girl next door. Today, she's had a career long enough to be typecast as the mom. In 2020, the actress made her Netflix series debut as a mom in The Healing Powers of Dude, but she's trying her best not to get stuck in another typecasting hole. "Even if I'm saying I'm in the mom zone right now — but I'm very happy to be there — then I can take it upon myself to go do play or even just being in class where I get to explore other roles," she told E! News.

Unfortunately for Oleynik, Hollywood's notorious problem with ageism might make that difficult. At the time of this writing, Oleynik is nearing age 40, which The Washington Post describes as a "sunset year" for female actresses. According to its survey, women in Tinseltown celebrating their 40th birthday can look forward to losing "access to about three-quarters of the leading film roles for women." 

It's unclear how Oleynik's career will play out in the future, but there is one mom role she probably won't reprise. There have been talks of an Alex Mack reboot, where Mack is a mother whose children may or may not have her powers. However, Oleynik didn't seem excited when she discussed the idea with E! News, so we'll just have to wait and see what happens.