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Top 10 Celebs You Forgot Were Child Stars

Top 10 Celebs You Forgot Were Child Stars
VOICE OVER: Phoebe de Jeu WRITTEN BY: Joe Shetina
It's hard to beliebe these celebs were once child stars. Our countdown includes Joaquin Phoenix, Neil Patrick Harris, Mayim Bialik, and more!

#10: Joaquin Phoenix

Long before he was the Joker, Joaquin Phoenix was just as angsty, but a lot less murdery, as the troubled teenager Garry Buckman in “Parenthood.” Under the stage name Leaf Phoenix, most of the actor’s early gigs were TV guest spots alongside his late brother, River, though his feature film debut was actually in 1986’s “Space Camp” at age 11. But just when his star seemed to be rising, the teenager stepped away from the spotlight. He had been out of the game for nearly six years when he restarted his movie career in 1995. This time, at his late brother’s urging, he used his birth name, Joaquin. A hiatus like that would be hard for even the most accomplished actor to overcome, but Joaquin seems to be doing just fine.

#9: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

A lot of actors get their start in commercials, but few find fame as young as Joseph Gordon-Levitt did. The future “50/50” star was booking TV gigs as young as six - even five - years old. He was already a seasoned veteran when he landed a regular spot as extraterrestrial teenager Tommy Solomon on “3rd Rock from the Sun.” But in 2000, JGL put his career on hold to attend school at Columbia University. When he returned to acting, he took roles in smaller projects that broadened his range as a performer. Maybe it’s his dashing good looks and hunky screen persona, but it’s hard to believe this is the same actor who used to star in wholesome movies like "Angels in the Outfield.”

#8: Neil Patrick Harris

The “How I Met Your Mother” star and dependable awards show host is known for his confidence and showmanship. But characters like Barney Stinson are a far cry from where he got his start. Audiences first fell in love with the multi-talented actor - who went to drama camp as a kid - on “Doogie Howser, M.D.,” a TV series about a super-smart doctor who is … wait for it… a teenager. While other child stars struggle to break away from their most popular roles, over the last thirty years, NPH has taken roles that are a complete 180 from his precocious boy genius. He even pokes fun at his first TV job from time to time.

#7: Mayim Bialik

Sorry, Johnny Galecki, but you’re not the only former child star on “The Big Bang Theory” . Unlike her co-stars, though, Mayim Bialik didn’t have to go far to find her character’s genius-level aptitude for science. Before she found renewed fame on the CBS sitcom, Bialik appeared as the younger version of Bette Midler’s character in the hit movie “Beaches” and the precocious Blossom Russo on the series, “Blossom.” Bialik left acting to focus on her studies, eventually earning a PhD in neuroscience. She came back to acting because it gave her more time to parent. As “Big Bang Theory”’s Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler, Bialik has earned four Emmy nominations, and the Emmys are basically the PhD of TV, right?

#6: Jason Bateman

Some child actors find that adult stardom just doesn’t agree with them. This was almost the case for one of TV’s most successful and hardworking actors. Before he starred on “Arrested Development” and “Ozark,” little Jason Bateman got his start in commercials and “Little House on the Prairie” before working steadily in TV as a teen. His best known roles may have been as Ricky Shroeder’s best friend Derek on “Silver Spoons” and David Hogan on "The Hogan Family.” But his first big career disappointment came in 1987, when his movie debut, “Teen Wolf Too,” bombed at the box office. Bateman would appear in several failed TV series throughout the 1990s before finally landing on his feet with the cult hit, “Arrested Development” in 2003.

#5: Natalie Portman

Never the conventional actress, Natalie Portman’s career began when she was 12. In the brutal and violent crime thriller, “Leon: The Professional,” Portman played Mathilda, a young girl adopted by a hitman after her parents are killed. She followed this up with roles in “Mars Attacks” and “Beautiful Girls,” but it wasn’t until her appearance in the “Star Wars” prequels that she really became the international superstar she remains today. With a long and storied career that includes movies like “Black Swan,” “Closer,” and “V for Vendetta,” it’s easy to forget how early the Oscar winner got her start in the movies.

#4: Regina King

It’s not easy growing up in front of a camera. Just ask Oscar and Emmy winner Regina King. Between 1985 and 1990, King played Brenda Jenkins on the classic sitcom “227.” In the role, King navigated the pitfalls of boys, school, and wacky 80s fashion. But it would be a long time before King would become a star in her own right. She later credited her fellow co-stars, including TV legends Marla Gibbs and Jackée Harry, with giving her the wisdom and professionalism she would need in her later projects like “Ray,” “Watchmen,” and “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

#3: Ryan Gosling

No one likes to go back and watch home videos of their most embarrassing moments, and no one knows that better than Ryan Gosling. He might be one of Hollywood’s most in-demand leading men, but the “La La Land” star learned to do a lot with limited screen time on the 90s revival of “The Mickey Mouse Club.” Alongside future superstars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and future *NSYNC frontman Justin Timberlake, Gosling may not have been the song and dance king, but his acting skills only got bigger and better with time. As far as his dance moves go, though… uh, no comment.

#2: Scarlett Johansson

Before she smashed box office records—and the faces of several evil henchmen—in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Scarlett Johansson was just another kid with Hollywood dreams. Making her film debut at 9 years old, she would star alongside actors John Ritter, Sean Connery, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Robert Redford all before the age of 14. While Johansson may have had her fair share of controversy over the years, she still remains one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, and her constant presence in many high-profile blockbusters in the 2010s makes it easy to overlook her early roles.

#1: Christian Bale

Christian Bale is one of the most respected—and intense—actors working in Hollywood. With his extreme methods and physical transformations between characters, it’s hard to imagine him as a child, let alone a child actor who once headlined a Disney musical. While it wasn’t his very first role - since he'd acted in a few projects earlier than this one - Bale was only 13 when he booked what would be his breakthrough part in “Empire of the Sun.” Even as a boy, he took his work very seriously. He even learned his character’s posh accent without a dialect coach. But the limelight was almost too much for the young “Newsies” star. Mocking from schoolmates and pressure from the media almost drove him to leave acting for good. Luckily for us, the Oscar-winner stuck with it, going on to create one iconic performance after another.