When you see a child actor, you can't help but wonder if they'll still be acting as an adult. Maybe their career will flourish, and they'll continue to star in big movies, like Drew Barrymore. Or maybe they'll quit show business and take a 'real job' as a writer, teacher or veterinarian. It's difficult for child stars because image is important in Hollywood and your body transforms when you enter adulthood.
If you grew up in the 90's, you probably remember the blockbuster family drama Free Willy. In the film, a rebellious 12-year-old foster boy named Jessie is forced to work at a marine park as part of his probation. While he's there, he befriends a surly orca named Willy - as you do - and the two become best friends. Then Jesse learns that the greedy park owners want to kill Willy in order to collect the million dollar insurance policy. So, he concocts a plan to release Willy back into the ocean. This leads to that iconic scene on the cover, in which the massive orca jumps over the seawall, and Jesse, on a path to freedom.
Out of 4,000 boys who auditioned, Jason James Richter was selected to play the role of Jesse. Free Willy came out in 1993, and Jason returned to the franchise to act in two sequels. After taking a brief hiatus to explore a music career in 1998, he returned to acting. Jason might not be a household name today, but he's racked up quite a few television credits, including Bones, Rugrats, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior. According to his IMDB page, he has seven projects scheduled for release in the year 2018 alone. (Unfortunately, none of them is a Free Willy sequel.)
A couple years ago, OK Magazine interviewed Jason, and he said he enjoyed playing a variety of roles. "I just finished a film called High and Outside," said the actor. "I got to play a crazy biker in the film which was pretty different. Before that, I played a doctor in a film called Inhumane and I’m slated to do a Western." Pretty impressive; I'm glad he never got pigeonholed as a guy who befriends killer whales. And get this - he's worth an absolute fortune. According to Metro, Jason has a net worth of half a million dollars.
Well, you never know where child stars are going to end up, but Jason's career is apparently going strong. Actually, I think it would be perfect to be an under-the-radar actor. You get to star in movies, and you can still walk around in public without being swarmed by fans. Hopefully one day he'll return to his roots in the Free Willy franchise. How about this for a sequel - his character is locked in prison, as a twist, the killer whale has to free him. It will be a huge hit.
In a related story, the actor who played Bruce Bogtrotter in 'Matilda' looks like a totally different person now...