Child Stars Try to Make It Big...Again

The transition from child star to adult actor isn't easy.

November 08, 2008, 1:13 PM

Nov. 9, 2008 — -- Making the transition from cute kid to adult star can be difficult.

Even for those who steer clear of the perils of drugs and alcohol -- so often the Achilles heel of child stars gone wrong -- early fame is no guarantee of long-term success.

Among many taking on the challenge is Keshia Knight Pulliam, whose latest role, a heroin-addicted prostitute, is far cry from the role that made her famous -- little Rudy Huxtable of "The Cosby Show."

"When I was little it was like 'this is what I do… I go to work, and I go to school and I play with my friends,'" Keshia recalled. "It was normal."

But when the show ended, Keshia was ready for a new normal. She traded in her scripts for books as a college student at Spellman University.

"I really, really enjoyed college," she said. "I had fun, went to the parties, met lots of people, and I'm glad that I did it. I'm glad that I had that experience because it's that ultimate time in life before you really know what bills are, before you're really an adult. I'm definitely happy that I did that and took the time off after 'Cosby.'"

Now, sixteen years after the show's final episode, Keshia's ready to be a household name again.

Her return to acting started out small, with bit parts in music videos, TV shows and movies. But it is her upcoming role in the new Tyler Perry movie "Madea Goes to Jail" that could make her dream a reality.

"This is my first time in a feature film as a leading lady. It's a role like none that i've ever done before," said Keshia. "This isn't Rudy. This is Keisha Knight Pulliam, the actress. I think that it can be a good turning point in terms of people seeing me in a whole other light."

And Keisha's not the only one making a comeback.

Anna Chlumsky found success on the big screen in the movie "My Girl," starring alongside famous child actor Macaulay Culkin.

But Hollywood eventually stopped calling Chlumsky when she transitioned from cute kid to awkward teenager.

"You start to look a little weird. You're not comfortable in your own skin. You look very strange and you do not get roles. You just don't. And it became really hard for me," Anna said.

Acting was never Anna's ultimate career goal, so she took the opportunity to find a new path. She enrolled in her dream school, the University of Chicago, and upon graduation, moved to New York to work for the Zagat's restaurant guide books.

But despite her best efforts to move on, acting always loomed in the back of her mind.

"I was desperate for answers, for someone to tell me what to do with my life," Anna said. "I got on the phone with my then-boyfriend and now-husband crying telling him 'What would you say if i just chucked it all and went back into show business and just gave it the good old college try again?'''

In recent months, Anna has booked guest spots on television staples like "Law & Order" and "30 Rock." She has also been cast in two movies which will be released in theaters next spring.

But she doesn't consider this wave of success to be her big comeback.

"I've been doing this for five years now. And so my official comeback would have been my first play out of training," Anna said. "Four years ago acting in children's theater and getting splinters in my butt because you're on some unfinished stage -- that was paying some dues."

Getting ahead in Hollywood is not easy, but Anna thinks her experience as a child star gives her a mental edge over the competition.

"All of the fame addiction, all of the strange glitzy and very shallow aspects of this business, I don't have to buy into it anymore," she said. "Because I did that. It didn't work and I shed it, I didn't like it. And now I know what I'm in it for."

Another comeback kid, "Jerry Maguire" breakout star Jonathan Lipnicki, said he fears that despite a successful career as a child star, he will forever be remembered by a single line from the movie: "The human head weighs 8 pounds."

"I don't want to be remembered for one thing, one line. I don't want to be a joke. I don't want to do commercials saying my line. I just, i just want to be an actor," he said.

He took time off to be a regular kid, playing on his high school's water polo team and working as a summer camp counselor. But now that he's turned 18, he said he is ready to make acting his full-time job and has even started a production company with his mother to produce his own projects.

"Making a production company has given me the freedom to find material that I think is amazing and that I really just want to get made. I feel like I want to prove to everyone who I am, what type of actor I am," he said. "I feel like it's coming up soon. I feel like the next thing you see me in you're going to say "OK, he's serious."

Jonathan said his biggest hope is to follow in the footsteps of people like Leonardo Dicaprio, Drew Barrymore, and Jason Bateman, successful child stars turned adult actors.

And if Keshia Knight Pulliam has any say, one day her name will be included on that list.

"That's part of the business," she said. "You have peaks and you have valleys and the people who really make it are the ones who sustain through both. I'm just happy that I've had the opportunity to do what I love for over 20 years."

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