13 Child Stars Who Made It

NATALIE PORTMAN
Spotted in a Long Island pizza parlor at age 11 by a modeling rep, Portman landed the role of an assassin’s sad-eyed sidekick in 1994’s The Professional one year later. Unlike most of her Hollywood peers, Portman (who uses a stage name to protect her family from media attention) took a break from acting — to study psychology at Harvard. She says her parents keep her grounded. ”I value my private life and security way more than getting parts by flashing my boobs on some magazine or being a sex symbol in films,” she told EW in 2000.

LEONARDO DICAPRIO
Leonardo DiCaprio was barely 16 when he began popping up on TV, and before he’d even hit 20 there were clear signs of the nuanced work to come. In fact, in 1993, it was impossible not to notice the kid who held his own against a tyrannical Robert DeNiro inThis Boy’s Life as well as channeling a mentally-challenged boy in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Three years later, the post-modern Romeo + Juliet made DiCaprio a budding hearthrob, a job title he virtually redefined following the colossal success ofTitanic in 1997. DiCaprio spent years avoiding celebrity and making dodgy choices. Beginning with Gangs of New York in 2002, however, he found a rewarding niche as Martin Scorsese’s go-to leading man. Nice work if you can get it.

RON HOWARD
Born into an acting family in Oklahoma, Howard was The Andy Griffith Show‘s freckle-faced Opie at 6. By 19, he was the star of Happy Days. But Howard’s interest always lay behind the camera — he shadowed George Lucas on the set of 1973’s American Graffiti and soon thereafter enrolled at USC film school. ”I was disappointed by the scripts I was getting after Graffiti,” he told EW in 1999. ”So I had a decision to make.” Howard chose directing. Twenty movies and four Oscar nominations later, it’s clear he made the right call.

NEIL PATRICK HARRIS
You could argue it began with his Golden Globe-nominated feature film debut in 1988’sClara’s Heart, but we all knew Harris as Doogie Howser, MD, the 16-year-old doctor giving his appendicitis-suffering girlfriend Wanda a pelvic exam. (It’s still traumatizing.) Today, he’s a Broadway vet, an Internet star (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), a three-time Emmy nominee for his work on CBS’s How I Met Your Mother, and the man you call to host the Tonys and Emmys and to open the Oscars. In other words, he’s still an overachiever.

JODIE FOSTER
At 3, Foster was the Coppertone kid. By 6, she was a regular on TV. And by 14, she was nominated for an Oscar for Taxi Driver. Foster left Tinseltown to attend Yale and later returned to acting feeling more centered. By age 29, she’d won Best Actress Oscars for The Accused and The Silence of the Lambs and directed her first film,Little Man Tate. ”Everybody tells you as a child actor that by the time you’re 18, it’ll be over,” she told EW in 2007. ”My mom got me … prepared for that …. My goal [was] to be in this for a really long time.’

RYAN GOSLING
Gosling got his first big break at age 12 on TV’s The Mickey Mouse Club (along with castmates Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, and Keri Russell). ”Those kids were prodigies,” Gosling said to EW in 2007, crediting the Disney show for surrounding him with other young performers he could relate to and instilling discipline. Now he is one of Hollywood’s best young actors and has scored an Oscar nom for 2006’s Half Nelson.

ANNA PAQUIN
As a wide-eyed 11-year-old, Paquin became the second youngest Oscar winner in history, taking home Best Supporting Actress for her role 1993’s The Piano. Working steadily in arthouse films (Hurlyburly), blockbusters (the X-Men trilogy), and TV, she’s now a Golden Globe winner for her performance as telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse on HBO’s True Blood.

RICKY SCHRODER
Child stars never came cuter than Schroder in the 1979 tearjerker The Champ. By 12, he was starring on Silver Spoons, and at 28 (as ”Rick”), he took a high-profile role onNYPD Blue. ”There was never a period in my life when I didn’t work,” the actor toldUSA Today in 1998. ”I’ve always done two movies a year; they may not be blockbusters, but they’ve been good, honorable work.”

DREW BARRYMORE
For a while there, it looked like Barrymore might end up as a child-actor cautionary tale. Heir to a legendary acting dynasty, she was cast in a Puppy Chow commercial at just 11 months old. At 7, the adorable moppet played Gertie in E.T. Her tweens were a soap opera of drugs, alcohol, and virtually no parental supervision — she had her first drink at 9 and was in rehab by 13. She got sober the next year. ”I had to figure everything out for myself,” she told People in 2004. Today Barrymore is among the most bankable — and dependable — actresses in Hollywood. She also directs (Whip It)

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT
The script version of his life would have him checking into a reality TV show with other faded child sitcom stars. Gordon-Levitt, who’d popped up with guest turns on TV series from the time he was 7, really hit it big at the awkward age of 15 on the hit show Third Rock from the Sun. Grounded by his time at Columbia University, Gordon-Levitt has since proved himself not only a fierce actor but a nifty song-and-dance man in the utterly romantic (500) Days of Summer.

JASON BATEMAN
Bateman made his debut at 12 on Little House on the Prairie. His father was a TV director, and both he (Silver SpoonsThe Hogan Family) and his sister, Justine (Family Ties), were household names before they could drive. Bateman admits to some lost years in the ’90s, but his persistence paid off (Arrested DevelopmentJuno). ”I want to be around for a long time,” he told EW in 2007. ”Now that I’ve got another flash of relevancy, I don’t want to screw it up.’

RAVEN-SYMONÉ
Raven was 3 when she showed up in the Huxtables’ living room — and ours. As The Cosby Show‘s precocious Olivia, she was a regular on the sitcom’s last three seasons before enjoying a second act (if you can have a second act at 6!) on Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper. Since then, the now 24-year-old has juggled TV (That’s So Raven) and a music career. ”No matter how old you are, if your name is up there, they’re going to treat you like an adult,” she told EW in 2007. ”You can have fun, but it’s a job.”

CHRISTINA RICCI
After making her big screen debut as Cher’s daughter in Mermaids, Ricci became the adolescent ”it” girl through her roles in The Addams FamilyCasper, and Now and Then. By her late teens, she successfully transitioned into more provocative material, earning a Golden Globe nomination for playing Dede in The Opposite of Sex. Steadily working over the last 20 years, Ricci has continued to choose diverse roles in films including Monster and Black Snake Moan, which has helped her fend off typecasting. Next up, she’ll tackle the period piece Bel Ami, with Robert Pattinson and Uma Thurman.