Being a child star is not easy, however, and as Jonathan matured, he learned just how hard it can be to balance early fame with adolescence. Now, he’s finally ready to open up about just how difficult it was to grow up Hollywood.
It Almost Didn’t Happen
Lipnicki had to fight for the role of Ray Boyd in the Cameron Crowe film, which starred Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger. Though he went in to read for the role early in the casting process, it seemed he didn’t book it. Lipnicki was disappointed, but hadn’t achieved any national recognition up until that point, having only starred in several commercials. His agent knew what he was capable of and wasn’t ready to give up on the film so easily though.
Lipnicki is open about how he was originally turned down for the role in Jerry Maguire. The production had originally cast another boy to play the role of Ray, but quickly realized he wasn’t a good fit. His agent called the producers again to say, “Don’t see anyone else we represent, just see this one kid.” Because of the clout his agent had, the casting director agreed, and Lipnicki was offered the role on the spot, immediately flying him to Arizona to meet Tom Cruise.
A Performance To Remember
Lipnicki’s performance as the precocious child in Jerry Maguire has been called “one of the most memorable performances by a child actor in the last two decades.” Lipnicki says the magic of his on screen chemistry with his film parents was due in part to the realness of their off-screen relationship. He said, “I genuinely loved them. Loved Renee, loved Tom. And they were so warm to me, so welcoming…I don’t think we had to do much to establish it; it organically happened.”
Lipnicki was able to follow up Jerry Maguire with several other child roles, including both of the live action Stuart Little movies, where he played the main character, George Little. As he was growing up, the roles kept coming for Lipnicki, who seemed poised for a seriously successful acting career. He had no idea how much hitting his adolescence would change the opinions of casting directors. For the time being, it was enough for Jonathan to be a cute kid.
From Jerry To George
Lipnicki had yet another chance to prove what a talented kid he was when he booked the leading role in Stuart Little and Stuart Little 2. His on-screen parents were more Hollywood heavyweights, Geena Davis played his mom and Hugh Laurie his dad. The real challenge with Stuart Little, however, was not acting opposite such well regarded actors, but rather managing to act opposite a CGI Stuart, whose stand in was something like a tennis ball. Lipnicki prevailed once more.
A Downward Spiral
As Jonathan grew from an well adored child star who was in such demand that he could hardly keep up with all of his offers to a pre-teen with hardly any offers at all. As he moved from middle school into high school, Lipnicki decided to take a break from acting, only returning to the big screen after a seven year break. Even with his time away, however, Lipnicki struggled to readjust to a more mundane life.
Acting Is For Him
Jonathan says he always knew acting was his calling. Even as he aged, he knew he wanted to transform from a child star to a serious adult actor, but he found casting agents couldn’t let go of the image they had of him at six years old. Lipnicki told Bustle in 2017,”It’s been a really hard transition. It’s hard to shake people’s ideas of who I was in the past, but if you really love something… anything worth doing is going to be difficult.”
Try as he might, Lipnicki seemed to sense that pushing his career during his teenaged years wasn’t going to be of much use. Though he booked some small TV and voiceover roles here and there, he had to figure out how to be a regular teen in public school. His on-screen legacy followed him into the halls of his high school, haunting him at every turn. It was tough to shake the ridicule of kids who knew his face but didn’t really know him.
Making His Comeback
The intervening years were kind to Jonathan, who was ready to return to the screen as he neared his 21st birthday, no longer a struggling teen, but a bonafide young adult. His first film role since 2004 was a serious adult film called For The Love of Money, which details the true story of an Israeli immigrant coming to America. Jonathan played the character in his youth, growing up amidst a crime ridden, 1970s Tel Aviv. It seemed like things were finally looking up.
Gaining A New Foothold
Lipnicki’s adult career, however, didn’t quite take off the way he had hoped. During recent interviews, he stresses that he has been consistently working, just not in as much of a traditional Hollywood capacity. In a recent interview, Lipnicki talks about how the industry has changed, that it’s become much more of an either or in Hollywood. There’s either big budget Hollywood or indie films, nothing in between. Still, he’s happy with his adult career, though the road has been long and hard.
It Wasn’t By Choice
Looking back on his teenage years from the safety of adulthood, Lipnicki shared that his high school hiatus wasn’t exactly by choice. He told The Hollywood Reporter recently, “I was still auditioning here and there. I was kind of in an awkward phase, and I wasn’t as confident in myself, and the best thing as an actor you can bring to a role is yourself. When you aren’t confident in who that person is, you’re not going to be the best actor.”
Jonathan continued to say that he took some time off to learn more, ultimately reinventing himself when he returned to the screen. He said, “I started going to acting classes right when I started doing high school. I’ve been in acting class since. Doing that and doing some theater has given me some confidence. It’s humbling, because there is always so much to learn. I think that was the key for me.” Try as he might though, he’s still too often remembered as a five year old.
Can’t Shake The Legacy
More recently, Lipnicki has opened up in interviews about just how much he’s struggled to brush off his childhood roles. Though it was a constant source of frustration in his younger years, he’s been learning to embrace his past through humor, even appearing in a web short that pokes fun of his constant recognition for his childhood roles. He shared with Bustle, “For me, it was embracing [the past], not trying to fight it.”
Living With Grace
Still, despite the numerous challenges his early stardom wrought, Lipnicki is grateful for the opportunities it’s provided him. “I was definitely very fortunate for the stuff I did as a kid,” Lipnicki told The A.V. Club. “[A]nd I can’t hate on that because, you know what? It gave me a start in something that I want to do for the rest of my life.” The opportunity also gave him a priceless resource for his transition to an adult actor.
Taking Tom’s Advice
Lipnicki credits Tom Cruise’s mentorship for helping him to manage the difficulties of becoming an adolescent actor in Hollywood. In 2012, shortly after his return to the big screen, Lipnicki says he and Cruise, with whom he’s stayed in touch with intermittently, sat down for a heart to heart. Lipnicki shared, “He said to always keep yourself busy, because then you’ll always be motivated to be creative. The more you produce, the more you create, the happier you’re going to be anyway.”
They Were Always Close
Jonathan developed a close relationship with Cruise even as the five year old child star running around the big time movie set. “Top Gun was my favorite movie at the time,” he told Vulture. “I would always say on set, ‘I have the need for speed!’ And I told [Tom] how much I loved it.” Cruise took the pint sized actor under his wing, even signing a Mission Impossible poster for him as a keepsake, something Jonathan used to boost his confidence over the years.
You Used To Be Cute
In 2014, Lipnicki was ready to break out from under the shadow of his past life. Though he had adult roles under his belt, his revamped career was still chugging along slowly. It suddenly dawned on him to turn his past pain into a joke, which eventually became the web short “You Used To Be Cute” where an adult Lipnicki appears in front of casting agents who can’t help but associate him with Jerry Maguire. However, there was a darker side to the story.
Lipnicki got candid about his “You Used To Be Cute” video, sharing that the web short was inspired by a real audition Jonathan had experienced. “I was auditioning for a pilot and this producer with a cigar and sunglasses on told me how I used to be cute and I wasn’t very good looking anymore for like 15 minutes.” As the words came out of the producer’s mouth, he felt his heart sink and his face burn with shame.
Learning To Laugh
Jonathan was devastated in the aftermath of that audition. He recalled, “[I]t was heartbreaking. I was just starting to get back in the swing of things, auditioning and everything, and it killed me. Then I started telling my friends and everyone was laughing…” At first it hurt Jonathan even more deeply that everyone was laughing at him, but it helped him come to a new realization, the story was kind of funny. Lipnicki had finally turned a corner.
A Real Life Drama
Not everything was all rainbows and sunshine for Lipnicki as his career began to pick back up. In 2011, reports surfaced that he’d had an overzealous ex-girlfriend who was still distressed about the end of their relationship. She allegedly turned up at Lipnicki’s house and was let in by one of his roommates, when she proceeded to corner Lipnicki in his room. It was a harrowing experience for the young adult, who had to extract himself delicately, before ensuring it wouldn’t be repeated with a restraining order.
Beginning To Look Back
Nowadays, Lipnicki is ready to look back on his past career and the road to adulthood. He realized for all that he struggled as a teenager, there were also a lot of positive opportunities that had led him up to that point. After opening up publicly about just how bad his teenage years were, his phone has been ringing more often as he becomes a popular interview subject, recalling some of his best and worst moments.
Lipnicki has shared that there was one role he booked not so much for himself, but for his sister: Dawson’s Creek, on which he had a three episode arc in 2000. Lipnicki revealed in 2017 that his sister had loved Joshua Jackson and begged Lipnicki to book the role for her. 10 year old Lipnicki was not so nice that he was going to keep his sister’s crush a secret. He helped his sister get what she wanted, when Jackson gave Lipnicki’s sister a hug on Valentine’s Day though.
Finding Ways To Cope
Lipnicki often credits basketball for helping him through some of his toughest adolescent moments, which never would have happened if it hadn’t been for his role in Like Mike. Lipnicki began to play the sport as he and the cast practiced a little bit everyday. It was a notable film for him because it was the first time the bulk of the cast was the same age as him. The inspiring moment would stay with him during his dark days.
Inspired At An Early Age
If Jonathan hadn’t been such an enterprising young kid, he may never have had the opportunity to appear in Like Mike. The 10 year old star had an inkling that one of his favorite books, When Zachary Beaver Came To Town, would make a great film, so he went about trying to create the role for himself. Unfortunately, Lipnicki couldn’t acquire the rights himself, so he called the person that had. In the process of booking the film, he was also offered Like Mike.
Cuba Loves Him Too
Following Lipnicki’s big social media revelation earlier this year, Access Hollywood invited him back to their set in order to catch up with the grown up star. Lipnicki once again relived his most famous scenes from Jerry Maguire, though with humor in his heart rather than darkness, but the show had another surprise in store from former costar, Cuba Gooding Jr. Broadcast from an iPad, Gooding Jr. told the young star, “I love you dude. Keep doing what you’re doing.” Lipnicki was nearly in tears.
Opening Up About Bullying
Earlier this year, Lipnicki finally decided to open up to the world about being horribly bullied throughout high school and middle school in hopes that his story might help other teens experiencing the same. Posting on his Instagram page, he wrote, “As a kid/teen I was made fun of relentlessly by some people who are now even my friends on FB,” he wrote in the moving post. “I was told I was a has-been and would never book a job again.”
How Much Words Hurt
Lipnicki continued, “I was made to feel like garbage every day of middle school to the point where I had a panic attack every night before school, because I wondered how I would get through the day. It was humiliating.” His initial post was so well received, he quickly followed up with another, adding “I’m here to help others by sharing my experience,” the actor wrote. “I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor and kids will hopefully see that they can be too.”
The Depths Of His Darkness
Jonathan was rewarded for his honesty with a number of exclusive interviews. It was the first time he had ever discussed just how bad his mental health was during that time, but once the floodgates were opened, it was a relief to share how he’d managed to get through. Lipnicki went on to note that he too had suffered with extreme anxiety and depression during high school. It was acting, basketball, and seeking treatment that saved him.
Looking To The Future
Lipnicki’s revelations have helped him to move away from his tortured past and look towards the future. Though at one point he didn’t even want to be Jonathan Lipnicki, he’s managed to move past his teenage bullying, successfully integrating a normal life with that of a working actor. While Lipnicki may not be an A-lister—he’s anonymous enough to participate on a Birthright trip nearly undetected–he is working steadily, and is living proof that it does get better.