High school is hard. While there always seems to be a “cool” or “popular” crowd in every school, many teenagers awkwardly struggle to figure out where - or if - they fit in. Some are even picked on. Unfortunately, even for celebrities in high school, things can be rough.
Some of these future A-list actors were already famous while in school, while some went on to become beloved stars later in life. Some of them were seen as troublemakers, while others were the target of bullies. And, like many of the kids who didn't go on to find fame, many future stars rebelled - against tradition, authority, and/or their parents. While it may seem like they're living the good life now, many famous actors struggled before they made it big. If anything, these stories prove that these years don't define the rest of your life.
Below, some film and television stars talk about what they were like as teens. Can you relate to any of their stories?
- Photo: Lucas / 20th Century Fox14,106 VOTES
Winona Ryder was just 14 when she made her film debut in Lucas (1986). She began taking acting classes at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater at age 12, but also attended regular school. During her first week at Petaluma's Kenilworth Junior High School in California, she found herself the target of bullies.
In a 2000 interview for Harper's Bazaar, Ryder recalled that incident, and what happened when she ran into one of her tormentors years later:
I was wearing an old Salvation Army shop boy’s suit. I had a hall pass, so I went to the [girls’] bathroom. I heard people saying, “Hey, f*ggot.” They slammed my head into a locker. I fell to the ground and they started to kick the sh*t out of me. I had to have stitches. The school kicked me out, not the bullies.
Years later, I went to a coffee shop in Petaluma, and I ran into one of the girls who’d kicked me, and she said, “Winona, Winona, can I have your autograph?” and I said, “Do you remember me? I went to Kenilworth. Remember how, in seventh grade, you beat up that kid?” and she said, “Kind of,” and I said, “That was me. Go f*ck yourself!”
In a 1994 interview with Life magazine, Ryder claimed that being put on home study for a while was “great,” because it led to her beginning classes at ACT and later getting an agent. The bullies, she claimed, “gave me my career.”
- Photo: Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round / Columbia Pictures
Harrison Ford didn't become interested in acting until he was a college student. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago and attending Maine East High School, he struggled to find his thing:
I was a kid who never found a niche. I wasn't an athlete, I wasn't a student leader, I wasn't anything. I was a late bloomer, I think.
Amazing as it might seem, considering Ford is known for his action hero roles, when he was younger he got picked on by the bullies at his school. He recalled in a 2016 interview for GQ an incident when he was about 12 years old:
I was the new kid, and I was kind of short and geeky, I guess. I don't know—I must have pissed somebody off, and we fought, and he f*cking pushed me off the side of the hill... [This became a daily ritual.] I'd come up the hill, and then they pushed me down the hill, and I'd come up the hill, and if there was enough time they'd push me down the hill again.
Ford denied being all that upset about this treatment. Maybe because he found a silver lining to it:
I suppose it did upset…well, yes and no. What I noticed is that the girls were beginning to have a certain amount of sympathy for me. That's what I noticed.
- Photo: Fifteen / Nickelodeon
Ryan Reynolds has been a professional actor since he was 13 years old; his first role was in the Canadian teen soap opera Hillside (known as Fifteen in the US).
Although the adult Reynolds is an established leading man who was dubbed People Magazine's “Sexiest Man Alive,” it wasn't always that way. During a 2017 appearance on Conan, the actor claimed that he had absolutely no game when it came to impressing his female classmates at school:
I remember, it took me a while to learn that you could actually talk to girls. I remember during elementary school, I used to “accidentally fall” on [girls] during volleyball practice. And just a few years later, that's illegal. That's straight up inappropriate.
Not knowing how to talk to girls was only one of the young Reynolds' problems. During a 2012 appearance on BBC Two's Top Gear, he talked about following in his brothers' footsteps of getting into trouble with school administrators:
I was a bit of a pariah at school. I have three older brothers, all of whom were kicked out of this very same school, so from the moment I got there, I was a marked man. I was kicked out for something I think you'd appreciate. I was kicked out for stealing a car. But wait - I didn't actually steal a vehicle! …
A teacher that we had, who was just 100% awful, he had this little car. It was one of those little Volkswagens. So my friends and I just played an April Fool's prank on him - we picked it up, we lifted it up and carried it down the block. There was about eight of us… In Canada, if you move it more than 10 feet, it's a felony. I didn't know that. One city block was 100% grand theft!
When John Stamos was a teenager, he had a “to do" list of things he wanted to accomplish in his life. One of the items was to act on a sitcom. Of course, that wish came true, as the actor is probably now best known for his stint as Uncle Jesse on the ABC hit sitcom Full House from 1987 to 1995.
But before his acting career took off, Stamos attended John F. Kennedy HS in La Palma, CA. In 2014, the actor talked to Orange Coast Magazine about growing up in Southern California:
I lived just eight minutes from Knott’s Berry Farm and 20 minutes from Disneyland. I spent my childhood going to those parks, especially Disneyland… I know everybody says this, but in high school I really was the dorky kid. I was into magic and theme parks. I was very innocent. When a lot of kids my age were going out drinking on Friday and Saturday nights, I was at Disneyland, going on the rides and listening to the bands.
In another interview during his Uncle Jesse days, Stamos claimed he was pretty “dopey-looking” back in the day, adding, "I was lame in high school… I wasn't an athlete or popular or anything like that. I was a band geek.”
- Photo: October Sky / Universal Pictures
Jake Gyllenhaal's father is a film director, his mother is a screenwriter, and his older sister Maggie is an actor. So it isn't a surprise that he was just 10 years old when he made his film debut, portraying Billy Crystal's son in City Slickers (1991).
But being a child actor didn't make his high school years easier. In an 2016 interview with Magic Radio to promote his film Demolition, the actor claimed that he was pretty troubled but also "kind of a nerd" as a teenager:
I've always had really bad eyesight so I always had really thick glasses, which inevitably always made people kind of treat me a certain way, you know?… I just remember really, really not obviously being sure of who I was and trying to copy a lot of different people to define myself… Kids are brutal, you know… I was constantly made fun of that I was a performer. I played sports, but the fact that I loved to sing, or that I loved to act was constantly made fun of.
The actor added that he found it interesting that since he's grown up he's run into some of the people who had teased him as a kid and that those people understood how ridiculous their behavior had been and now supported his career.
Jennifer Garner had been a professional actor for about five years when she got her breakout role, portraying CIA operative Sydney Bristow in the ABC drama series Alias (2001-2006).
But she didn't always want to be an actor; when she went to college, her original major was chemistry. And when Garner was attending John Adams Junior HS in Charleston, WV, her focus was on music, not acting. As she explained during a 2016 appearance on Late Night with Seth Myers, she was a band geek:
[Pointing at herself holding her sax in a photo of the marching band] This is Sally right here. Sally the sexy saxophone… This is parade formation. Clearly I'm breaking parade formation to wave to my mom or something… You had to stand at attention, and you had to walk…you know when you walk in a parade, you have to really smoothly go heel, toe, because you don't want to jostle your instrument…
You go to band camp, you stand in the sun and you practice marching at the same, you know everyone has to have the same steady level of gait. It's not easy, Seth!