The child stars of Christmas films: then and now

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  • Starring in one of the famous Christmas films is pretty much making the big time if you're an actor, especially a child actor.

    As we’ve seen with many Christmas film child stars like Thomas Brodie-Sangster (adorable Sam in Love Actually) and Taylor Momsen (Cindy Lou in The Grinch), these films can really launch careers and set young actors up for huge successes in the future.

    Some of the best Christmas films on Disney+ that we’re watching now, for example, have child actors that will probably grow up to become some of the major stars in Hollywood.

    So where are the child actors of Christmas films gone by? As we settle in for another Christmas film night this weekend, with Christmas sacks now by the fireplace and festive food in the fridge ready to go, where are the child stars of previous years now?

    From Karolyn Grimes from 1947’s It’s a Wonderful Life to 2003’s Love Actually, this is where the most famous child stars are today…

    Olivia Olson – Love Actually

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    Olivia Olson, aka Joanna, won our hearts back in 2003 with her glorious rendition of ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ and in 2020, she’s still winning fans all over the world. Since 2018, she’s voiced the character of Marceline the Vampire Queen in Cartoon Network series, Adventure Time. From 2008 right through to 2015, she also voiced the character of Vanessa Doofenshmirtz in the cartoon musical comedy series, Phineas and Ferb.

    Olivia shares updates on her career, life and importantly her adorable dogs, Jasper, Ziggie & Luma at @oliviaroseolson on Instagram.

    Thomas Brodie-Sangster – Love Actually

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    Thomas hit the big time when he played Sam in Love Actually, well over almost 20 years over now! He won a Golden Satellite Award and a Young Artist Award at the time and since then, he’s been nominated for six more after roles in blockbusters including Nanny McPhee and Maze Runner.

    After a break of a few years from acting, he has most recently appeared in hit Netflix show, The Queen’s Gambit, as chess player Benny Watts. Speaking to NME about the role and his return to acting just as coronavirus pandemic hit, he said, “I took two years off just to chill out and focus on other things,”

    “I went on to Queen’s Gambit and I felt a bit rusty, but I also left feeling like ‘I can’t wait for the next job!’ And then this all happened… Kind of annoying!”

    Zach Galligan – Gremlins

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    Most famous for his role in Gremlins (1984) and Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990), both alternative Christmas films, Zach has also appeared in a whole host of other films including Nothing Lasts Forever and the horror film, Waxwork. In fact after his role of Billy Peltzer, Zach went onto star in almost 40 other films before finishing up in 2019. But after the coronavirus pandemic, who know what Zach could be up to in 2021?

    Daniel Tay – Elf

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    Daniel Tay had a rocketing rise to fame after playing Buddy’s younger brother, Michael, in the iconic Christmas film Elf alongside Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel. Most recently though, he’s joined his child-star contemporaries in voice acting and he was the voice of Pedro De La Hoya in Bully, a video game by Rockstar Games. He also voiced the character of Bill Blue in an expansion pack for Grand Theft Auto in 2009, which is listed as his last own work.

    But we’re not too sure what Daniel is up to in 2020! Who knows…maybe there could be a Christmas film comeback for Daniel in the next few years.

    Lulu Popplewell – Love Actually

     

    Lulu played Daisy, the iconic First Lobster in the nativity play and Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman’s characters’ daughter in Love Actually. She was just 12 when she picked up the role and as far as well know, went onto one other acting role only – the role of Lyra Belacqua in BBC Radio 4’s His Dark Materials trilogy in 2003. Now nearly 30 years old, Lulu Poppelwell is a comedian and writer. Most recently, she was a finalist in the Leicester Square New Comedian Of the Year Award and in the Chortle Student Comedy Award 2018.

    A couple of years go, Lulu opened up to Digital Spy about her iconic role as the First Lobster (sorry! Daisy), ‘Every Christmas, people still bring Love Actually up to me and I get a bit awkward because I was such a small part in it. It’s become a joke. I clearly peaked age 11 and there aren’t many crustacean-based acting roles going these days – it’s a niche skill,’ she said. ‘I’m looking to get back into acting – specifically comedy acting – but acting is tougher to break into than stand-up in a way.’

    Macaulay Culkin – Home Alone

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    With his angelic features and raucous rise to frame, Macaulay Culkin has got to be one of the most recognisable child stars in history. He famously played Kevin McCallister in the Home Alone films, who gets left at home over the holidays when his family leave him accidentally to go on holiday. After this debut, he went on to be featured in many television and film projects, including Will & Grace and Saturday Night Live.

    His recent claim to fame was a Tweet that has become the most ‘liked’ Tweet in history with over three million hits, after giving a MAJOR reality check to fans of the Home Alone series.

    But Macaulay is set for bigger and brighter things in 2021 though as in February this year, American Horror Story co-creator Ryan Murphy announced that the former child star would be joining the cast of the award-winning Netflix series for the upcoming 10th season.

    Mara Wilson – Miracle on 34th Street

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    Mara Wilson is most famous for her role as Roald Dahl’s Matilda, along with playing the role of Natalie Hillard in the 1993 film, Mrs Doubtfire with Robin Williams. But Mara also appeared as Susan Walker in Miracle on 34th Street, which in 2009 was preserved in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in the US as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”.

    Since then Mara has appeared in LOADS of films, television shows and theatre productions, with the most recent being the role of Mrs. Mayberry in animated show, Helluva Boss. She also has a pretty active Twitter account with over half a million followers and writes children’s books for Penguin.

    Karolyn Grimes – It’s a Wonderful Life

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    It’s a Wonderful Life is possibly one of the most famous Christmas films in existence and Karolyn Grimes played little ZuZu Bailey in the film when she was just six years old. Since then, she’s gone on to appear in plenty of other films but her latest work is listed as 1957.

    READ MORE: Christmas movies on Netflix: What Christmas films are on Netflix UK this year?

    So while Karolyn Grimes hasn’t been tearing up Hollywood, what has she been doing? It turns out that It’s a Wonderful Life still plays a prominent role in Karolyn’s life as she spends her time now advocating for the importance of the film around Christmas time, and often tours the big-screen showings of film at theatres around the world, signing autographs and sharing behind-the-scenes tidbits. She also produced a cookbook and a limited line of Zuzu dolls.

    Taylor Momsen – The Grinch

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    Our favourite resident of Whoville, Cindy Lou, was played by Taylor Momsen when she was only seven years old. After the film hit the big time, she also appeared in Spy Kids 2, Hansel & Gretel and even auditioned for the lead part in Disney’s Hannah Montana, but the role was ultimately given to Miley Cyrus.

    And who could forget Gossip Girl? Taylor Momsen played little Jenny Humphrey in the series for five years between 2007 and 2012. She then went onto front a rock band – The Pretty Reckless – and along with being a model signed to IMG, this is what Taylor is up to nowadays.

    Eric Lloyd – The Santa Clause

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    Eric Lloyd appeared in his first film, Sunny’s Deliverance, in 1993 before going onto star in The Santa Clause film trilogy as Charlie Calvin and as Little John in the NBC television series, Jesse. His filmography also includes famous films like Batman & Robin, Dunston Checks In, The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars, and The Brave Little Toaster to the Rescue.

    He finished up his acting career in around 2011 though and in 2015, got behind the camera and into production as Eric opened up Lloyd Productions Studios in 2015 with his college roommate.

    Ian Petrella – A Christmas Story

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    Ian’s career may have started out in showbiz, playing the role of Randy Parker in A Christmas Story in 1983 but Ian now works a normal job in Ohio, as part of an animation and puppetry team. Ian did rekindle his love for Christmas cinema in 2010 when he served as a tour guide at the A Christmas Story house in Cleveland. It is the original house used for filming.

    Miffy Englefield – The Holiday

    Credit: Columbia Pictures

    For any fans of The Holiday (one of our top Christmas films) starring Jude Law, Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, Miffy has certainly had an impact. Playing the adorable daughter of Jude Law’s character, she helped make the film one of the most popular Christmas films to date. Born in 1999, Miffy is now 21 years old and The Holiday is her only major film role to date.

    Miffy is now in band and lives in West Sussex, describing herself as a ‘Music making pint sized punk parent in training’. She also has an adorable little baby girl, Frankie, who was born earlier in the year.

    Jake Lloyd – Jingle All The Way

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    Jake Lloyd might have got his big break as a child actor in Jingle All The Way but he’s most famous for playing the role of young Anakin Skywalker in the 1999 film Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, before going onto play Mark Armstrong in Apollo 11. After all these famous appearances in some of Hollywood’s most famous films, Jake continues to make appearances at sci-fi and comic-book festivals.

    In March 2015, Jake’s mother revealed he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and in 2016, after a brush will the law, Jake was transferred from Colleton County Detention Center to a psychiatric facility due to his diagnosis.

    Earlier this year, Jake’s family released a statement to say that he had moved closer to his closer after being officially diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.