You know that moment: You spot an actor that you’re sure you’ve seen before, but you just can’t tell where you know him from. Waiting until the credits roll so you can Google the actor’s name is torture. You can’t even focus on what you’re watching anymore! Many times, when we get this uncanny feeling, it turns out that the player who stumps us is a former child actor, all grown up. So, to help remedy your confusion — and our own — we’ve put together a handy guide to TV and film stars you loved when they were kids but don’t recognize now that they’re adults.
The first time we saw 24-year-old Jurnee Smollett show up as Jess, a new character on the fourth season of Friday Night Lights, we knew she looked familiar. Turns out, over 15 years earlier, she played the recurring character of Michelle Tanner’s friend Denise on Full House. She never left show business in the years between the projects — Smollett starred in Eve’s Bayou in 1997 and then went on to score a role on Cosby. In 2007, she won an NAACP Image Award for Best Actress for her role in The Great Debaters.
Brendan Sexton III
In 1995, Brendan Sexton III made his film debut with two memorably creepy, cult-classic roles: Empire Records‘s juvenile delinquent thief-turned-employee “Warren Beatty” and Welcome to the Dollhouse‘s Brandon McCarthy (aka the kid who kinda, sorta wants to rape Dawn Wiener). He’s had a fairly robust career since then, earning parts in everything from Pecker to Boys Don’t Cry to Black Hawk Down. Over the years, Sexton has developed a reputation for playing oddballs — so while we didn’t recognize him the first time he showed up as the Norman Bates-like Belko on AMC’s The Killing, we caught on within a few episodes.
Keshia Knight Pulliam
Does it make you feel old to learn that little Rudy from The Cosby Show is now 32? From 1984 through 1992, Keshia Knight Pulliam grew up on the show. But then she took a few years off from acting to finish school, earning a degree in Sociology from Spelman College in 2001. Aside from a brief guest spot on her old TV dad’s new show, Cosby, Pulliam was absent from the big and small screens. When she returned, she didn’t look much like her Cosby Show character anymore. Now, Pulliam is part of Tyler Perry’s loose troupe, co-starring in 2009’s Madea Goes to Jail and TBS’s Tyler Perry’s House of Payne.
Zachery Ty Bryan
Poor Zachery Ty Bryan never really stood a chance (and that mullet couldn’t have helped); Jonathan Taylor Thomas, known as “JTT” to fans, was Home Improvement‘s breakout dreamboat. Although he’s continued his career since the show ended in 1999, much of his work has been in the form of TV guest appearances. Veronica Mars fans may have spotted him as “09er” Caz on a few episodes in the show’s first season. Now 29 years old, Bryan was most recently bearded and practically unrecognizable as Thor in the 2009 TV movie Hammer of the Gods.
If you were a kid in the early to mid-’90s, chances are you either idolized Anna Chlumsky or had a crush on her. She won our hearts as tomboy outcast Vada Sultenfuss in 1991’s My Girl and its 1994 sequel. Chlumsky continued to appear in movies and guest star on TV shows until the late ’90s, when she left Hollywood to attend the University of Chicago. After enduring a few entry-level publishing jobs, she returned to acting, beginning with an appearance on 30 Rock in 2007. Although she’s had many roles since then, Chlumsky was at her best in 2009’s In the Loop, where she traded rapid-fire repartee as a precocious White House aide. Next year, she’ll be treading familiar territory as Julia Louis Dreyfus’s chief of staff on HBO’s Veep, created by the team behind In the Loop.
It’s one of the greatest lingering mysteries from Boy Meets World: What happened to Minkus? Cory’s geeky sixth-grade nemesis disappeared after the show’s first season, returning only to make a tongue-in-cheek cameo several seasons later, when the gang graduates from college. Five years after that appearance — and a decade after his moment in the TGIF sun — Lee Norris joined One Tree Hill‘s ensemble cast. Unlike his stint as Minkus, Norris’s supporting role as Marvin “Mouth” McFadden has lasted through all eight seasons of the show.
Eagle-eyed fans of Entourage and, before that, Still Standing, may have wondered where they saw Jami Gertz before. Considering how stiff and preppy she looked in her best-known ’80s role, you could be forgiven for not realizing that she’s the same actress who played prim, type-A Muffy B. Tepperman on the weird, short-lived Square Pegs. (The show, about high-school outcasts, is now remembered for launching the career of Sarah Jessica Parker.) Gertz kept up a steady career in the two decades between Square Pegs and Still Standing (anyone remember her as Blair in the terrible 1987 adaptation of Less Than Zero?), but the two roles remain her most famous gigs.
Children of the ’80s knew him as Doogie Howser’s best friend, Vinnie Delpino. Their younger siblings were probably more likely to recognize him as Racetrack Higgins from 1992’s Newsies. And while Max Casella had a decent amount of work after Doogie Howser wrapped in ’93, his big comeback was as Benny Fazio, beginning in the third season of The Sopranos and running through the end of the show. Obviously, he now has another role as an Italian gangster, Boardwalk Empire‘s Leo D’Alessio — a scary type from Philly. Yup, that’s why that guy looks so familiar!