Haley Joel Osment
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Credit: Warner Bros.

3 genre child stars whose careers zagged on us in the best ways

Contributed by
Sep 25, 2019

The entertainment journalism landscape is filled with discourse regarding child actors. Most of it judgey, condescending, and painting this vast and disparate group of humans with a broad brush. The fact is actors who start out as children are just like the rest of us, as likely to fall anywhere on the spectrum of human OK-ness — it's simply the salacious and sad stories that get attention, while the "boring" stories are treated as zoo animals. "The kid from Hook? A lawyer?! Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa [continues until fading into the horizon with a slight  "bangarang"]?" But, still, some then-and-now stories make our little nerd hearts flutter with joy.

Obviously the genre world is filled with actors whose career took a real zag-on-'em turn. Danny Strong, aka Jonathan from Buffy, is an Emmy-winning writer. Sarah Polley's childhood was filled with classic roles from The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen to Ramona Quimby (age 8) to *sigh* Sara Stanley of Avonlea, and now she's an Oscar-nominated writer and director who co-wrote the upcoming Greta Gerwig-helmed Little Women. Jurnee Smollett-Bell was once Michelle Tanner's BFF, and now she's motherfrakking Black Canary.

But while it's gloriously welcome when our faves remain in the industry, some child actors take their continued time in the spotlight in a wholly unanticipated direction. And for that, we are grateful.

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Haley Joel Osment

When we first met Haley Joel Osment, he was a tiny whispering otherworldly boy with the most heartbreaking face in the world (used for evil by directors who wanted to hurt us with tears and emotions — DAMN YOU, SPIELBERG!) but today adult Osment uses his face to elicit very different feelings. Specifically, the feeling of bizarro-and SFF-tinged laughter, whether in in latter-day Kevin Smith films Tusk and Yoga Hosers, or appearing on TV in Future Man, The Boys, and — my personal favorite — as Slow Joey on Comedy Bang! Bang!, or the utterly delightful and strange The Spoils of Babylon and The Spoils Before Dying. Osment to many may always be the boy who saw dead people, but to the few and proud among us, he is now the man who was in that SModcast walrus movie and that's way better, honestly.

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Mara Wilson

We bookish girls needed Matilda and Mara Wilson and dammit she was there for us. Like a true friend, she just kept being there into our bookish adulthoods. Some know her as a writer, some as a master of Twitter, but the most passionate among us know her simply as the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives in Your Home, the role she plays to honey-voiced perfection on Welcome to Night Vale. She's also taken her — I cannot stress this enough — outstanding voice acting talents to BoJack Horseman and Big Hero 6, but in terms of sheer zag, I can't think of a bigger one than going from child actress to a ghostly squatter who skitters across the ceilings of Night Vale.

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Macaulay Culkin

When you're the most famous child in the world, it could potentially make you a bit... odd. Macaulay Culkin has taken that, run with it, and made it his whole adult deal. In 2013, the artist formerly known as The Pagemaster and his friends formed a band called Pizza Underground and just performed pizza-themed Velvet Underground parody songs. Mack played kazoo. Obviously. In a 2018 poll on his Bunny Ears comedy website, he pledged to change his middle name to "Macaulay Culkin" after fans selected it among such other possibilities as "Shark Week," "Kieran," "TheMcRibIsBack," and "Publicity Stunt." And we would never forgive ourselves if we didn't include the ongoing "feud" betwixt Culkin and our other '90s fave, Casper himself, Devon Sawa.

Fame is weird. Everyone else might as well be, too. Stay weird, Richie Rich, stay weird.

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