Jackie Earle Haley: 'Bad News' to Oscar Gold


It's not your typical child star who grows up to earn an Oscar nomination for a role as a sex offender, and Jackie Earle Haley is just as surprised as everyone else.

"I'm elated, I'm excited, I'm thrilled and I'm scared to death," the 45-year-old actor said.

In the 30 years since "The Bad News Bears" made him a star, Haley went from teen heartthrob to total obscurity, worked menial jobs and struggled with substance abuse. He had made peace with his decision to give up show business before landing the role in "Little Children" that earned him the Oscar nod.

"Two and a half years ago, just the idea of trying to figure out how to get back into acting again seemed impossible," Haley said. "Like climbing Mount Everest."

And yet, Haley is now an Oscar-nominated actor with a comeback story that is one of the year's most unlikely.

A Teen Idol's Growing Pains

You might not recognize the name Jackie Earle Haley, but you may remember his face. In 1976, at only 14 years old, Haley shot to stardom as rebel Kelly Leak opposite Tatum O'Neal in "The Bad News Bears."

Haley became so popular, he was chased by girls in shopping malls, but life as a teen heartthrob had its ups and downs.

"You just kind of feel like everybody knows you, but you don't know everybody," Haley said.

Haley went on to other films, including roles in the coming-of-age film "Breaking Away" and the Tom Cruise movie "Losin' It." But his career began to founder and he began taking roles in low-budget movies like "Dollman" and "Maniac Cop 3."

"I started to take kind of B-roles in B-movies, and then C-roles in C-movies," Haley said. "Pretty soon, I was unable to make a living acting."

Identity Crisis

When acting wouldn't pay the bills anymore, Haley said he took jobs as a limousine driver, a security guard and a delivery man -- at one point delivering a pizza to Richard Halsey, the editor of "Losin' It."

"I shook his hand, we talked for about three minutes, uh, I gave him the pizzas," Haley recalled, "[and] he gave me a good $4 tip. … So that was pretty cool."

Even humiliating incidents like that one, Haley said, were character building. But at the time, he struggled with a crisis of identity.

"There's a side that pulls and says … 'This is who you are; you're recognizable, but you need to work for a living,'" Haley remembered thinking. "There's this other side pulling on you saying … 'You shouldn't be driving limousines and delivering pizza; you should be focusing on your acting career.'"

Haley found himself in a downward spiral.

"It took me a long time to realize that my self-identity, my self-esteem, and a lot of that, was somehow kind of anchored and tied to that celebrity," he said. "When the celebrity started to drift, my identity was kind of drifting away with it."

It was a dark time. Jackie admits he sometimes drank too much. At one point, he found himself three months behind on the rent. He was so used to opportunity seeking him out, he was paralyzed when it didn't.

A Fresh Start

Haley was 30 years old when it finally dawned on him that something had to change. After years of struggling with the decision, he finally decided to give up Hollywood for good.

He had always wanted to be a director, so he set out to start over in San Antonio, where he began a successful career producing and directing television commercials for national ad campaigns. His son, Chris, worked with him at the company.

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