There are a lot of celebrities who we know to be former child actors, either because we saw them grow up right before our eyes – like Miley Cyrus, Hilary Duff, or the Olsen twins – or because they ceased to find fame and fortune once puberty hit and the roles dried up – like Macaulay Culkin or Mara Wilson.
Then, of course, there are the actors who shock us for the sheer fact that they were in the business before we ever knew them, paying their dues in bit parts in TV shows and commercials before becoming household names. More often than not, they never got quite so famous before they became of legal age, and so the trappings of childhood fame didn’t affect them because, frankly, there wasn’t much fame to speak of! Other times, celebs who were child actors were just old enough that we didn’t think of them as children before they began to attempt more mature roles. These 15, however, shocked us that they were working in the biz before the age of 10 – some of them even babes-in-arms when they got in front of a camera! And, fortunately for them, all have managed to find far more success as grown-ups that have eclipsed their childhood beginnings.
15 Mila Kunis: Acting Since Age 9
We already know that actress Mila Kunis lied about her age when she nabbed the role of Jackie on That ‘70s Show, telling producers that she was 18 when, in actuality, she was only 14, but the Ukranian-born beauty has actually been acting for a lot longer!
While her most notable role was that of the young Gia in the HBO movie Gia (where Angelina Jolie played her adult counterpart) when she was just 13,
Kunis got involved in show business a lot earlier, taking acting classes at nine before quickly being discovered by an agent and cast in everything from Days of Our Lives and Baywatch to Lisa Frank commercials! Considering the fact that she’s since been nominated for an Academy Award and has had a long-running gig as the voice of Meg Griffin on TV’s Family Guy, this is a surprising case of a childhood actor who made good!
14 Elijah Wood: Acting Since Age 8
He definitely still has the baby face that started him on the road to fame, but Elijah Wood – arguably best known for his role as Frodo Baggins in the Lord of the Rings trilogy – has been around for decades.
Like a lot of his adult counterparts, Wood started small on his way to success, beginning his career as “Video Game Kid #1” in Back to the Future Part II at the age of eight. Unlike a lot of his peers, though, Wood didn’t have to pad his resumé with commercial gigs or bit parts in TV shows, and instead appeared in four more films before his 10th birthday! While he had the ingredients to become a child star disaster, Wood kept his nose clean – and his boyish good looks!
13 Leonardo DiCaprio: Acting Since Age 5
Leonardo DiCaprio really captured international attention thanks to his heartthrob status throughout the 1990s, something he’s definitely used to his advantage since, as he’s dated a bevy of beauties decades his junior,
but while we feel like we’ve known the Oscar winner forever, he actually got his first taste of the celebrity life at the tender age of five!
Similarly to a lot of celebs who began their careers on kids’ TV shows like The Mickey Mouse Club or Kids Incorporated, DiCaprio began with his all-time favourite show, Romper Room, a program that incorporated games and sing-alongs moderated by a female host. According to DiCaprio himself, his excitement at being on the show was a detriment to him, as his hyperactive nature led to him getting the boot after only one episode! (We’d say it turned out all right for him in the end, though!)
12 Joaquin Phoenix: Acting Since Age 8
Coming from a family that sought to get all of their kids into the spotlight, Joaquin Phoenix took on the name “Leaf Phoenix” when he first began his acting career, which started at the age of eight! Alongside his late older brother River, Phoenix first started in an episode of the short-lived TV show Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. More small, one-off roles in other TV shows followed, like Murder, She Wrote, which is pictured here (alongside sister Rain).
While Phoenix’s brother didn’t fare so well with his child actor legacy, overdosing at the age of 23 after suffering from addiction for years, Joaquin, while largely considered an eccentric among the Hollywood set, has since gone on the win an Oscar and been nominated for the gold three times in total!
11 Odette Annabelle: Acting Since Age 5
You likely know Odette Annabelle from her extensive TV credits, which include Brothers & Sisters, House, and Supergirl, but before her marriage to Dave Annabelle (one of the stars of Brothers & Sisters),
Annabelle was going by her birth name, Odette Yustman, and she was only five years old when she made her acting debut!
Credited as “Rosa” in the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film Kindergarten Cop, Annabelle played one of the former Governor of California’s students, complete with adorable braids and Peter Pan collar. It’s rare to be able to get a starting gig with such a major action hero, and even rarer to earn a name for your character, so we’d say that this was an indicator of the success that was to come for the brunette beauty!
10 Keira Knightley: Acting Since Age 8
Her appearance in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace alongside lookalike (and fellow child star) Natalie Portman at the age of 14 is what really caused her to be noticed by Hollywood agents, but Keira Knightley had actually been in the biz for six whole years already by then!
Beginning at the age of eight, Knightley’s first credited acting role was in the British TV series Screen One, as “Angela”. She followed that up with a few more spots in TV shows, mini-series, and TV movies before landing the Star Wars gig, and after that – and the surprise success of the soccer film Bend It Like Beckham when she was 17, Knightley had her pick of roles, which earned her multiple Academy Award nominations and a hit franchise with her part as Elizabeth Swann in Pirates of the Caribbean!
9 Scarlett Johansson: Acting Since Age 8
While she lost out on the role of Judy Shepherd in 1996’s Jumanji – a role which went to fellow child star-turned-adult actor Kirsten Dunst – Scarlett Johansson quickly turned things around by getting her first credited acting job at the age of nine in the film North.
(Although not credited, she had previously appeared at age eight in a skit for Late Night with Conan O’Brien.)
Choosing to study acting like Mila Kunis from an early age, Johansson attended the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan, and while the roles were slow coming at first, really only getting cameos at best, Johansson persevered, eventually earning critical acclaim at 14 for her role alongside Hollywood legend Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer. Shortly after came a combination of indie films and big blockbusters that catapulted the husky-voiced actress to the A-list.
8 Natasha Lyonne: Acting Since Age 7
Yep, that curly hair you see her wearing in a complete mess of frizz is all-natural, folks! Actress Natasha Lyonne, who is probably best known for her current role as the smeared-eyeliner-wearing and former narcotics addict Nicky Nichols on the Netflix hit Orange is the New Black, but Lyonne began her acting career on a far more innocent note.
Her first credited gig was in her role as “Opal” on the 1980s show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but prior to that, she made an uncredited appearance as “Rachel’s Niece” in the 1984 film Heartburn, which starred bigwigs like Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep! Unlike some of her squeaky-clean counterparts on this list, Lyonne did have a bit of trouble with the law later on in life, being arrested in the early 2000s for driving under the influence.
7 Seth Green: Acting Since Age 10
In addition to that funny-looking picture of a gap-toothed Seth Green, we’d like to point out a very young Jodie Foster and the ever-ageless Rob Lowe!
This image is taken from Green’s role in The Hotel New Hampshire, which is one of his first-ever acting jobs back in 1984.
While we don’t necessarily think of Green as having been in the industry for that long, he certainly built a prolific career for himself from an early age, appearing in the TV movie IT and the film My Stepmother is an Alien, alongside future on-screen love interest Alyson Hannigan when both actors were just 14! Perhaps a little tired of being in front of the camera, Green has since primarily opted for voiceover work with fellow former child star Mila Kunis on Family Guy and on the show he created and produced, Robot Chicken!
6 Shannen Doherty: Acting Since Age 10
Shannen Doherty has a reputation for being a diva on pretty much every single project she’s ever worked on, specifically the ones that made her a household name, Beverly Hills 90210 and Charmed, but back when she was just starting out as a 10-year-old girl, Doherty was the picture of innocence – pigtails and all.
While her first credited role was two episodes of the frontier-set TV show Father Murphy (pictured here), Doherty got her big break with an 18-episode run on the beloved 1970s TV show Little House on the Prairie as Jenny Wilder – which is yet another show that had her embracing those cute freckles and frontier style of dress!
Although she’s certainly burned plenty of her acting bridges owing to her unprofessional and demanding behaviour on-set, we certainly don’t think anyone who saw this cutie could’ve imagined who she’d become!
5 Naya Rivera: Acting Since Age 4
Would you have guessed that this leopard-print-wearing cutie was Glee alum, Naya Rivera? We wouldn’t have! Going from little girl adorable to sexy and sultry, Rivera first got bitten by the acting bug when she was just four years old! First appearing in all 15 episodes of the short-lived TV show The Royal Family,
Rivera managed to work her charm and got herself in the door for bigger and better shows, including ‘90s-defining fares like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Family Matters.
Unfortunately, Rivera’s personal life and career haven’t been quite as family-friendly, with an assortment of canceled engagements, domestic violence charges (which have been dismissed as recently as January 2018), and arrests, and rumors of diva behavior while on the set of Glee. Hey, not every child star grows up with a spotless record!
4 Elisabeth Moss: Acting Since Age 8
Her defining roles have clearly been that of Peggy Olsen on Mad Men and now, Offred, in the dystopian thriller TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, and it seems that actress
Elisabeth Moss was always a little drawn towards the dark side, even when she just started acting at the age of eight.
Appearing first in a couple of failed TV projects and a few random TV episodes, Moss got her first starring role at age 10 in the Lifetime Original Movie Midnight’s Child, which involved a nanny trying to sacrifice her charge to the Devil! While she started out in the entertainment industry early in life, Moss says that she never saw herself as a “child actor”, explaining, “I don’t feel I was ever a ‘famous’ child actor. I as just a working actor who happened to be a kid.”
3 Christina Applegate: Acting Since Infancy
While we don’t have an image of a baby Christina Applegate, the actress was actually only three months old when she first began appearing on-screen, as the resident baby in a few episodes of the soap Days of Our Lives. Being the daughter of a record producer and singer-actress, Applegate had acting in her blood – apparently since birth!
Once she turned 10, Applegate began appearing in a few more things before landing the role that really launched her career, as the ditsy and promiscuous Kelly Bundy on the sitcom Married…With Children at the age of 16! The actress kept with TV for a while before transitioning into films in her thirties, and now we have her as the antagonist to Mila Kunis (who is connected to most of the people on this list!) in Bad Moms!
2 Jeff Bridges, Acting Since Infancy
Like Christina Applegate, Jeff Bridges was also a tiny baby when he got his first acting job, albeit an uncredited one as “Infant at Train Station” with his mother Dorothy Dean Bridges in the 1951 film The Company She Keeps (although it does appear on his iMDB page). Taking some time to grow up, Bridges didn’t get back in the saddle until seven years later, when he appeared in the TV series Sea Hunt, playing a different character each time: “Kelly Bailey”, “Davy Crane”, “Jimmy”, and, simply “Boy”.
As the son of beloved actor Lloyd Bridges, Bridges was introduced to the industry early on, along with his big brother and fellow actor Beau Bridges.
Since being that uncredited baby at a train station, Bridges has become one of the most talented and prolific actors in Hollywood, managing action flicks with dramatic, award-winning fare.
1 Christopher Walken, Acting Since Age 10
It’s difficult to imagine Christopher Walken as anyone other than an adult actor with the distinctive voice and bulging eyes, but once upon a time, he was a ten-year-old boy who was just getting his feet wet by making his TV debut on the show The Wonderful John Acton, where he was listed as “Ronnie Walken” – which is another item we discovered: Christopher Walken is his stage name, as the nervous-looking actor was born Ronald Walken!
After paying his dues via a few bit roles here and there throughout his youth, Walken slowly edged his way into Hollywood’s view as one of the go-to supporting actors in the industry, eventually winning an Oscar for exactly that in 1979’s The Deer Hunter, 23 years after he first started his career!
Sources: fame10.com, imdb.com, whatculture.com