The history of child stars in Hollywood has been pretty dismal. For so many young actors and actress, being exposed to the glitz and glamour of fame has taken them down very dark paths. The widely held belief is that no child star ever finds a way back to stardom after they grow out of their cuteness.
Unfortunately, early fame has led many former child stars to alcohol and drug addiction, a path that is never easy to recover from. However, for the few child stars that can overcome such problems, their next hurdle is successfully transitioning from child star to adult star. To achieve this goal, many actors and actresses have taken extreme roles to shed their childhood fame.
Although audiences may be used to their clean-cut and well-behaved characters, many stars shed their “innocence” for raunchier and more explicit roles. Though many stars have failed to reclaim stardom as an adult, there have been a few very successful former child stars that are on the path to becoming Hollywood legends. Sometimes, you just have to take the big risk for continues fame.
From strippers and drug-addicted rock stars to the violent offenders and murders, here are 17 Child Stars Who Took Extreme Roles To Change Their Image.
17 Hillary Duff - War, Inc.
Teen idol Hilary Duff made a name for herself playing the lead role in the Disney sitcom Lizzie McGuire. Not only did she showcase her acting skills but her singing talents as well. Her sweet, good girl persona was showcased in movies such as Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel, A Cinderella Story and Raise Your Voice.
By 2007, Duff was ready to be recognized as more than just a teen idol. After posing in Maxim to portray a more provocative side, she accepted the role of Yonica Babyyeah in the political comedy War, Inc. Although she still played the role of a pop star, her image was vamped up, contrasting her previous squeaky clean image.
Even with the steamier role (in a movie that tanked), Duff has still maintained the same sweet persona in her TV and movie roles.
16 Vanessa Hudgens - Sucker Punch
Beginning at the age of eight., Vanessa Hudgens was deeply immersed into the world of musical theater. Starring in local productions of The King and I, The Wizard of Oz and Cinderella, she learned the skills necessary to land her big debut in High School Musical.
Beginning her career with the Disney Channel in 2005, Hudgens started in several sequels for the High School Musical franchise as well as other sitcoms on the channel. After starring as a “girl-next-door” type in several shows, Hudgens was ready to move out of this limited persona.
After taking a break from music to focus on acting, she landed a role in the Zach Snyder fantasy film Sucker Punch. Casting aside her good girl casting, Hudgens committed to long hours of workouts and fighting training for her new kick-ass role. As drastic as her new role may have been, it simply did not leave a lasting impression with critics.
15 Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Manic
Though best known for his role in the sitcom Third Rock from the Sun, Joseph Gordon-Levitt began actions at a fairly young age. Starting with a theater group at the age of four, he began acting in commercials for various products including Cocoa Puffs and Pop-Tarts. His early onscreen work included a starring role in the 1994 family movie Angels in the Outfield. He actually had almost 20 TV roles prior to the premiere of Third Rock from the Sun, which is impressive for such a young actor.
After the conclusion of the show, Gordon-Levitt worked to move past his longest role. After the success of 10 Things I Hate About You, he struggled to leave behind his “nice guy” image and accepted the role in the 2001 drama Manic. The darker role and violent role of Lyle Jenson highlighted Gordon-Levitt’s acting abilities beyond “good guy” teenager roles and helped launch his adult acting career.
14 Anne Hathaway - Havoc
Anne Hathaway broke into acting early on in high school plays and local theater, including Gigi and Jane Eyre. Audiences fell in love with the actress when she starred in the lead role of the Disney comedy The Princess Diaries. Her sweet demeanor and innocent image continued in as Ella in Ella Enchanted and her return as Mia in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement.
Hathaway's years of playing innocent roles shifted in maturity when she starred in the film Havoc in 2005. Her role as Allison Lang included nude scenes that audiences were simply not used to. However, Hathaway has since denied that this role was a means to break into mature acting stating: “I went through so much in my own life that [this role] had nothing to do with me trying to escape an image or being typecast. It just really had to do with me doing stuff that I believed in at that moment.”
Whether intentional or not, Havoc was the turning point in her career and began a more mature journey that led to an Oscar win.
13 Lindsey Lohan - I Know Who Killed Me
Starring in her first Disney movie in 1998, a remake of The Parent Trap, Disney darling Lindsey Lohan continued a close relationship with the company for several years. Her Disney films included a Freaky Friday remake with Jamie Lee Curtis and the lead in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. After hitting her peak of success with Mean Girls, she tried taking on more serious films to expand her range.
When Lohan's personal life began spiraling out of control, she had issues committing to roles or even being able to promote them. In 2007, Lohan took on the risqué role of high school student turned stripper in I Know Who Killed Me. However, Lohan was inconsistent with filming due to surgery, stints in rehab or not showing up to set. Personal issues aside, the film did not to boost her career and premiered to a one-digit rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
12 Selena Gomez - Spring Breakers
Another Disney alum that rebelled against her clean-cut image was Selena Gomez. Before taking on the lead role on Wizards of Waverly Place, she starred in Barney and Friends until she was regarded as “too old” for the show. Playing Alex Russo on Wizards brought Gomez national attention and helped her also launch her singing career. Along with other appearances on Disney shows like Hannah Montana, The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, Gomez had found a home on the wholesome family channel.
However, after Wizards of Waverly Place ended after four seasons, Gomez took her talents outside of the Disney bubble and landed her first adult role in the controversial movie Spring Breakers. Starring alongside fellow Disney alum Vanessa Hudgens, the two were portrayed as young spring breakers involved in sex, drugs, alcohol, and robbery.
Though she has a smaller role in the film compared to the other stars, Gomez was still able to premiere as a more mature actress.
11 Justin Timberlake - Alpha Dog
Although Justin Timberlake became incredibly popular as a member of the famous boy band NSYNC in the late 1990s, his musical beginnings were rooted at the Disney Channel. As a member of The Mickey Mouse Club, he was a member of the same Mouseketeers group that produced Ryan Gosling, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and future bandmate JC Chasez. He even returned to Disney to star in the 1999 film Model Behavior.
Moving on from NSYNC and beginning his solo career, Timberlake turned his focus to acting after the infamous Super Bowl XXXVIII incident. Ready to demonstrate his “grown-up” acting abilities, he appeared in the 2006 crime drama Alpha Dog. Timberlake went from his clean-cut good guy image to that of a heavily tattooed and gritty thug.
10 Christina Ricci - The Ice Storm
Christina Ricci spent the better part of the 1990s growing up on the big screen. After beginning her acting career at eight years old, she debuted in film in Mermaids with Winona Ryder and Cher. In 1991, she began her first role as the morbid Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family remake and its sequel Addams Family Values. Her roles are a teen star continued in Casper and Now and Then.
By 1997, Ricci began taking on the roles that would expand her range as an actress. Her next role was as a troubled teen in Ang Lee’s dramatic film The Ice Storm. Her character engaged in sexual activities and underage drinking, a far cry from her previous family-friendly roles. This movie served as the start of her adult characters and led to other mature movies including The Opposite of Sex and Buffalo '66.
9 Drew Barrymore - Poison Ivy
Drew Barrymore became notorious for her unruly behavior as a child star. Having started her acting career at the age of 11 months, she found new fame in the 1980 sci-fi classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Her constant partying, drinking, and drug use was well-documented in the tabloid, beginning around nine years old. By her early teens, she had seen the inside of a rehab clinic multiple times and attempted suicide.
Although Barrymore's real-life behavior was more adult than it should have been, she had yet to break out of her child actor stigma onscreen. After a couple of unnoticed films in 1989, she stepped into the role of the seductress Ivy in the 1992 thriller Poison Ivy. As the villain of a movie described as “a teenage Fatal Attraction," her character managed to seduce her friend’s father and killer her mother.
Though the film was overall panned, it helped to launch Barrymore’s adult career, paving the way for more mature roles.
8 Macaulay Culkin - Party Monster
Since the age of four, Macaulay Culkin had been cast in stage productions, movie, and TV roles. His earlier work included the tv movie The Midnight Hour and the comedy film Uncle Buck with the late John Candy. However, he reached international fame when he took on the role of the rambunctious yet clever Kevin McCallister in the 1990 film Home Alone. Culkin continued his “cute kid” roles in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, My Girl, and Richie Rich.
Culkin's first attempt to break his typecasting was his role as the villain in the 1993 psychological thriller The Good Son. However, critics did not agree with his casting since he was so well known as a comedic actor. After taking a break from acting for nine years, he returned to the big screen in the 2003 drama Party Monster.
Culkin quickly shed his childhood image by taking on the role of Michael Alig, a party promoter with a penchant for drugs and murder. Although the film did not perform well, critics did take notice of Culkin’s steps into more adult acting. This role helped to reignite his film career as a credible adult actor in TV and film.
7 Dakota Fanning - The Runaways
It seems not long ago that audiences were introduced to the sweet face of Dakota Fanning. After her first commercial at the age of five, Fanning began a TV career starring in various shows including ER, The Practice, CSI: Crime Scene Investigators and Ally McBeal.
Her big screen debuted occurred alongside actor Sean Penn in the 2001 movie I Am Sam. Her outstanding performance earned her a Screen Actors Guild nomination and she was (at the time) the youngest person to receive a nomination at the age of seven. She continued acting in age-appropriate roles in The Cat and the Hat, Sweet Home Alabama, and a startlingly serious role in Hounddog.
However, the 2010 drama The Runaways gave Fanning the opportunity to show off her adult acting chops. Starring alongside fellow Twilight Saga franchise actress Kristin Stewart, her portrayal of Cherie Currie included drug overdosing and abuse as an upcoming rock star.
Fanning was praised for her portrayal and the mpvie excellent transition into the world of successful former child stars.
6 Ryan Gosling - The Believer
So many young stars and future singers of the 90s and 2000s got their start on The Disney Channel. If they weren’t starring in one of the many sitcoms, they began their love of singing and dancing on The Mickey Mouse Club.
A young Ryan Gosling began his career as one of the many Mouseketeers in 1993 class. After two years, he moved on from the show to other kid roles including Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Goosebumps, and Breaker High.
By nineteen, Gosling was ready to forgo his typecasting and tackle serious acting. Shockingly, he took on the role of a former Jewish student turned Neo-Nazi in The Believer. Gosling was depicted with a shaved head and surrounded by Nazi paraphernalia. His performance in the film was highly praised, and though the movie was a commercial failure, it still helped launch Gosling’s start into serious acting.
5 Christian Bale - Velvet Goldmine
Christian Bale’s acting career began with humble beginnings in tv commercials in 1982. After early performances onscreen in various TV miniseries, he landed his breakthrough role in Empire of the Sun. Bale was praised for his portrayal, and he even won the first Best Performance by a Juvenile Actor award from the National Board of Review. He continued acting in his youth with parts in Newsies, Little Women, and Swing Kids.
Bale's role in Velvet Goldmine, however, was a far cry from being an innocent teenage love interest or a newspaper boy. Bale depicted a gay man who was part of the '80s glam rock and included a sex scene with Ewan McGregor. Though already known for his powerhouse acting skills, audiences could now see a more mature Bale take on more layered roles as an adult.
4 Daniel Radcliffe - Equus
There isn’t a person alive who would not recognize the face of Daniel Radcliffe. Some may not know his name as an actor but they him as the lead character in the Harry Potter movie franchise. His dream of becoming an actor started as early as five years old. When he was offered the role of Harry Potter back in 2000, no one expected the franchise to make more than two movies. However, eight films later, Radcliffe has found himself forever associated with the character.
In order to move on from his childhood road, he took a huge leap into a role that no Harry Potter fan was prepared for. At the age of 18, Radcliffe took the lead role in Peter Shaffer's play Equus playing a young man obsessed with horses. The atypical role included nude scenes and sexual topics that greatly contrasted that of the sweet and innocent Harry Potter.
Radcliffe debuted to very positive reviews. Although his recognition as Harry Potter may never diminish, it has not stopped him from continuing a successful movie career.
3 Alyssa Milano - Embrace of The Vampire
Alyssa Milano was a child star of the '80s that grew up in television. In 1988, she was cast as Tony Danza’s daughter on the classic sitcom Who’s the Boss. Viewers watched her grow from an adorable young girl to a beautiful teenager. After its conclusion in 1992, Milano focused on growing out of her child star boundaries and auditioned for any role she could.
Her first “adult” role came as Amy Fisher in the CBS made-for-TV movie Casualties of Love: The "Long Island Lolita" Story. However, this type of role was not enough to separate her from her girl-next-door past.
Milano took a huge leap into more erotic movies starting with Embrace of the Vampire. This was the first role that required Milano to appear nude onscreen and involved many sex scenes, including a foursome. She also followed in the footsteps of Drew Barrymore and starred in Poison Ivy II: Lily.
2 Lisa Bonet - Angel Heart
In 1984, Lisa Bonet began her full-time television career as one of the many Huxtable children on the classic sitcom The Cosby Show. Audiences watch the young actress grow up on the show playing the lovable Denise Huxtable.
By 1987, Bonet was moved from The Cosby Show to star in the spinoff A Different World. The purpose of the show was to depict Denise’s college career. However, after almost being fired from the show due to being pregnant, she decided to break into motion picture acting at the age of 19 as Epiphany Proudfoot in Angel Heart.
The 1987 film was surrounded by controversy due to the sexually explicit nature of Bonet’s role and the content of the movie itself with initially garnered an “X” rating. Her role included a sex scene with actor Mickey Rourke; a far cry from her wholesome, good girl portrayal on the family sitcom.
Cosby was reportedly angered by Bonet’s role, and she was eventually removed from A Different World, returning to make guest appearances on The Cosby Show. In the end, Bonet was fired from The Cosby Show in 1991.
1 Elizabeth Berkley - Showgirls
Elizabeth Berkley became a well-known actress while playing straight-A student Jessie Spano on the 80s high school sitcom Saved by the Bell. However, before taking on the role, she played had roles as a teenager in other sitcoms including Gimme a Break!, Silver Spoon, and Day by Day. By 1992, Berkeley had grown tired of her teenager role and opted to leave the show.
With her childhood acting days behind her, she moved on to a more adult role and broke into film. Her role as Nomi in the NC-17 erotic drama Showgirls came as a shock for her Saved by the Bell fans. Berkley’s role included numerous topless and/or nude scenes, sex scenes, and profane language. Unfortunately, the movie was universally panned and achieved a Rotten Tomatoes score of 19%.
While Showgirls did nothing to help Berkley’s career, she was able to recover from the scandalous role and continued her acting career successfully.
Can you think of other child stars who took while roles to break their mold? Sound off in the comments!