When you hear the name Jonathan Lipnicki or see a picture of him from his childhood, you may wonder:
What has Jonathan Lipnicki been up to over the last two decades?
Does the child actor still want to regain his former popularity?
Was creating relationships hard when your childhood face is so iconic?
You may even ask yourself:
Is Tom Cruise still in his life?
But it really comes down to:
Will he ever convince you to see him as someone other than the kid from "Jerry Maguire"?
"I'm a different person than when I was six," Lipnicki told The Huffington Post during an interview. "And I feel like you probably are too."
Lipnicki famously had starring roles in movies such as "Jerry Maguire," "Stuart Little" and "Like Mike."
He was only five when his acting career took off with his debut performance alongside Tom Cruise, Renée Zellweger and Cuba Gooding Jr. "If that wasn't my first project, who knows if I would have loved [acting] as much, because it was such great people to be around," Lipnicki told HuffPost.
Although Lipnicki laughed at the notion that Cruise and Zellweger served as defacto parents to him like their onscreen roles while on set, he did say he looked up to these others actors quite a bit. Cruise was the leading actor in the world at the time, which Lipnicki fully appreciated.
"I mean, that's really, really effing weird and really cool. It's surreal to me now, it feels like a different lifetime," Lipnicki told HuffPost. "It feels like I had two different careers."
His fame lead to paparazzi harassment at a young age, excluding the young actor from a typical childhood.
Lipnicki told one story, in particular, from when he was shooting "Stuart Little 2" in New York City. At the time, child actors were required to spend at least three hours at the school trailer, as Lipnicki explained. The cast was dedicating a park bench in Central Park as a thank you for letting them film there and a paparazzi started getting angry with the young Lipnicki as it was apparently school trailer time and the paparazzi wanted more photographs.
"He threatened to ruin my life," Lipnicki said. "So, I mean, as a little kid you're like, 'What? Why does this guy want to ruin my life?'"
Fellow co-star Hugh Laurie -- who would later star in "House" and "Veep" -- stood up for him and "got in the middle of it," Lipnicki explained. "That guy threatened to ruin my life, but my life's not ruined, so I'm pretty good right now. He didn't follow through."
The fame of his child star days did create problems in friendships and romantic relationships, as well, as many people are simply into being friends with the kid from "Jerry Maguire." Lipnicki now has a "lovely girlfriend," but it was hard finding "someone who didn't really care about [his famous past] and was more just really, there for me."
Lipnicki briefly left acting to go to public school, play little league baseball and try out normalcy.
"It was just, I mean, typical high school," said Lipnicki, explaining that he "hung out with my friends and got my license and went to prom. Pretty normal."
That said, high school "was kind of a breeze compared to middle school" for Lipnicki as he temporarily transitioned out of acting. Middle school isn't easy for just about anyone, but Lipnicki had the added problem of being a target for teasing from the start. He wasn't ashamed of his past work as he "loved making movies," but still, the kids weren't "really the nicest."
Growing up in Southern California did help, as there were kids with similar targets due to fame -- Erin Brockovich's daughter and Wayne Gretzky's son went to Lipnicki's school, for example -- so it "wasn't the craziest idea that someone would be in the industry."
In any case, Lipnicki played in little league and on basketball teams -- the latter with Gretzky's son -- and tried out a life that didn't involve a talking mouse or a magic pair of shoes that gave children the basketball prowess of Michael Jordan.
He also more seriously started practicing his life long passion of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, earning a purple belt.
A life goal of Lipnicki's is to get his black belt for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which as he explained, is "a really hard martial art to get your black belt in." The martial art was part of his life growing up, but in recent years, he's pursued the training much more heavily. Pictures of his newly muscular physique have repeatedly gone viral around the Internet over the last few years.
"Martial arts teach you a lot about life, it's a great way to decompress, but also it's humbling," said Lipnicki. "And I think it's been a really positive influence in my life and has kept me really grounded. There's always someone out there who can kick your ass and I think that's a good lesson," he added, quipping, "That more people should learn."
There have been rumors that Lipnicki may take on an official MMA fight in the ring, but he told HuffPost that he's not quite ready for that yet. "I'm never going to say no," he said, but "it's not [his] focus."
Recently, Lipnicki has been jumping back into his acting career. And Tom Cruise is still giving him advice.
In 2012, Lipnicki had his first movie role in years, playing "Young Yoni" in the crime story, "For the Love of Money." Beginning with that part, he's had at least three credits every year and is making a serious attempt to start part two of his career.
This second wave of his acting career has actually been at least partly advised by his old co-star, Tom Cruise. "I'm not going to lie and try to be like, 'Ahhh, we're best friends,' but you know he's really been there for me," Lipnicki explained to HuffPost. "As far as whenever I needed to reach out, he responded."
The two actors talk over email and phone a few times a year -- mostly about things like cars and, of course, acting, but never about something too personal, such as Scientology -- and Cruise's staying power through work ethic has continued to be an inspiration for the younger actor.
"He's a big guy on manners as far as on set," said Lipnicki, who continued, "I say he's the ultimate professional. I really mean I've never seen that level of professionalism ever. If I can be half the professional that guy is, I'd be really happy."
The actor is very self aware about what he was originally known for, and has even taken roles that joke about his child star days.
"I don't want to harp on my past," said Lipnicki, adding that he enjoys making fun of it, "but I'm not really trying to live in it or anything."
Still, he understands that people enjoy the occasional meta-commentary and self-aware jokes as he rebuilds his new career. Recently for Father's Day -- partnering with Screen Junkies -- Lipnicki released a video explaining what it was like to have the onscreen father "Jerry Maguire," and then hilariously went on a diatribe about how casting directors only see him as the cute role. "That's not even my f--king line, you f--king f--k," yells Lipnicki, joking about those directors asking him to constantly say, "Show me the money!"
Also, within the last year, he's played a version of himself in an Audi commercial, as well as treaded similar ground to the Father's Day video, self-releasing a sketch about what it's like for him to go into casting meetings. (The latter was based on true stories about how casting directors would make fun of how he's no longer cute, and confuse him for Haley Joel Osment or troubled child stars.) "I think the more you can show you can make fun of yourself, the more people will like you, because you can't take yourself too seriously in this," explained Lipnicki. "You're not, we're not curing cancer. We're not doing anything like that."
Lipnicki doesn't have any more self-effacing roles lined up at the moment, and isn't purposefully modeling his second rise off someone like James Van Der Beek, who spent years playing meta-roles -- most famously as a fictionalized version of himself in "Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23" -- to shake the Dawson Leery persona. Instead, Lipnicki believes he'll only truly achieve success if he keeps receiving more acting training and putting in the work.
"Going back to class and doing theater, I think that's really important," Lipnicki said. "I think the problem with a lot of child stars and why they don't make the transition, they think, 'Well, the world owes me something.' But the world doesn't, the world doesn't owe you anything. You need to continue to improve your skills as you grow up."
Now he's just taking all the good roles he can, hoping that next big break comes his way like any other actor trying to make it.
Except for Lipnicki, it's round two.
Lipnicki just wrapped a movie called, "Loserville," which is set in New York and also features Matt McGorry from "Orange Is the New Black" and Darby Stanchfield from "Scandal." He also recently started a new film called "Limelight," a move which Lipnicki explained as him "trying to fire them back to back, just keep working." He continued, "I'm happiest when I'm working."
He recalls a time when he was very precise about what project he'd take on next, but now, as long as something sounds like a good opportunity, he wants to be a part of it. "That's my dream," Lipnicki said. "If I could just go from project to project, that would just be the greatest thing in the world."
His past both opens and closes doors for him, with some casting directors calling him in just to see that kid from "Jerry Maguire." But as long as he gets called in, Lipnicki seems to welcome this sort of peculiar scenario for the extra challenge of proving his worth.
"I really don't believe in the overnight success thing, it's about work. Behind every one overnight success, there's like 10, 15, 20 years of work." The movie that started it all for Lipnicki, will be turning 20 next year, but the young actor is finally ready to yell, "Show me the money!" on his own terms.
Also on HuffPost:
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