It’s hard out there for former child actors. Often, a lot have ended up tabloid fodder or have tragically died at a young age. Others have found a career on the reality show circuit -remember VH-!’s “The Surreal Life” and “Celebrity Fit Club”? And the recent edition of The Food Network’s “Worst Cooks in America, Celebrity Edition” featured former child stars from the 1980s.
But transitioning to adult roles has been getting easier as witnessed in the 2022 Emmy nominations. Numerous nominees began their careers as child or teen actors including Jason Bateman (“Ozark”); Nicholas Braun (“Succession”); Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”); Elle Fanning (“The Great”); Melanie Lynskey (“Yellow Jackets”); Will Poulter (“Dopesick”); Seth Rogen (“Pam & Tommy”); Juno Temple (“Ted Lasso”); Christopher Walken (“Severance”); Tyler James Williams (“Abbott Elementary”); Reese Witherspoon (“The Morning Show”); and Zendaya (“Euphoria”).
A lot of these actors started taking control of their careers at a young age. Several executive produce or produce their series. Others create, write and direct. One of the most successful former child stars is Bateman. The 53-year-old actor/director/producer has been nominated for a dozen Emmys and won for directing for his Netflix drama series “Ozark.” This year he’s nominated for acting in the final season of the drama as well as for directing.
SEE 2022 Emmy nominations: Complete list of contenders for 74th Primetime Emmys
Jason and his older sister Justine, now 56, both starred in family comedies in the 1980s. Justine Bateman played Mallory Keaton from 1982-89 on NBC’s hit “Family Ties,” while Jason appeared from 1981-82 as James Cooper Ingalls on Michael Landon’s sentimental NBC series “Little House on the Prairie” and excelled in playing smart alecks in the 1982-84 NBC sitcom “Silver Spoons” and the short-lived 1984-85 NBC comedy series “It’s Your Move.” And he segued from teenager to adult on the 1986-1991 NBC’s comedy “Valerie,” which became “Valerie’s Family” when star Valerie Harper left and eventually was titled “The Hogan Family.”
When I interviewed him in 1990 for the Los Angeles Times, the then-21-year-old Bateman had clear-eyed vision of his career. And his future included not being known as a former teen dream, so he separated himself from the pack by turning down all interviews with teen mags. “Two, three and four years ago, those magazines were pounding at my door,” he explained. “I constantly ran away from them. Still, they used existing art and took quotes and excerpts from other interviews, so there was some exposure in them. Being a teenager and on a situation comedy kind of puts you in that bracket, but I don’t feel like I am Kirk Cameron or a Scott Baio. After this series makes its initially run, hopefully the transition to adult actor will be easy. I expect it to.”
He realized the transition would be even smoother if he branched out. When he was all of 19, the producers of the series let him direct an episode making him the youngest person ever admitted to the Directors Guild of America. He also directed another episode of “The Hogan Family” the 1989-90 season. And at 21, he vowed not to go Hollywood. “It’s so much more important to me than running around with the paparazzi on Saturday and Sunday. Acting is my job, which I love and respect, but it’s not my lifestyle.”
You are probably scratching your head to learn that Walken, who won the Oscar for his Oscar-winning performance as a Vietnam vet with severe PTSD in 1978’s “The Deer Hunter,” was ever a child actor. But he and his two brothers appeared frequently on live TV in New York in the 1950s. And yep, they had a stage mother, so the Walken boys learned to dance and act. They even modeled.
Known then as Ronnie Walken, he was all of 10 when he realized the actor’s life was for him while appearing as an extra on “The Colgate Comedy Hour” with hosts Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.” In 1953, he starred in the NBC summer replacement — you can see the opening credits on YouTube — “Wonderful John Acton.” And he often filled in for his brother Glenn on the CBS daytime soap, “The Guiding Light.” Walken also attended the Professional Children’s School and made his Broadway debut in 1959 in the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning “J.B.,” directed by Elia Kazan. And get this! After graduating from school, he spent a short time as a lion tamer for the Tarryl Jacobs Circus!
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