Then + Now: ’90s Teen Heartthrobs
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Their posters decorated your walls, their names filled your notebooks and their faces invaded your dreams. From Leonardo DiCaprio to JTT and everyone in between, we’re looking back at our favorite ’90s heartthrobs then and now. See where your ultimate childhood crushes are today.
Then: Leonardo DiCaprio may have had his first recurring gigs on the TV shows ‘Parenthood’ and ‘Growing Pains,’ but he credits his first big break as being cast in the Robert DeNiro flick ‘This Boy’s Life’ in 1993. That same year, DiCaprio scored a memorable portrayal as Johnny Depp’s disabled brother Arnie in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,’ a role that garnered him significant accolades, including an Academy Award nomination. But ultimately, it was DiCaprio’s role as Jack Dawson in the 1997 blockbuster ‘Titanic’ that kickstarted Leo-mania.
Now: DiCaprio has gone on to become an A-list star and one of the greatest actors of our generation. In addition to his critically-acclaimed turns in ‘Inception,’ ‘J. Edgar,’ and ‘Django Unchained,’ he has worked with Academy Award-winning director Martin Scorsese on a number of films, including ‘Gangs of New York,’ ‘The Aviator,’ ‘The Departed’ and, most recently, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street,’ for which the actor has won a Golden Globe and is nominated for an Oscar. And just in case you thought that the Leo lovin’ has died down since the ’90s, just ask any of the supermodels DiCaprio has dated over the past decade — it hasn’t.
Jonathan Taylor Thomas
Then: JTT was introduced to the world as Randy Taylor, Tim Allen’s middle son on ‘Home Improvement.’ He continued to hone his heartthrob status by voicing Young Simba in the Disney blockbuster ‘The Lion King’ and starring in several ’90s movie classics, including ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas,’ ‘Tom & Huck’ and alongside Devon Sawa in ‘Wild America.’
Now: In between attending Harvard and eventually graduating from Columbia University in 2010, Thomas acted in several independent films and made occasional guest appearances on shows like ‘Smallville’ and ‘8 Simple Rules.’ In 2013, he made a return to TV after an eight-year hiatus to guest star on his ‘Home Improvement’ TV dad Tim Allen’s newest sitcom, ‘Last Man Standing.’
Then: In the mid-’90s, Devon Sawa and his blonde mushroom cut wooed Christina Ricci and girls everywhere in both ‘Casper’ and ‘Now and Then.’ Soon after, he starred in ‘Wild America’ with fellow ’90s heartthrob JTT before graduating to horror films like ‘Idle Hands’ and ‘Final Destination.’ In 2000, Sawa played the titular character in Eminem’s haunting music video for his song ‘Stan.’
Now: After taking a turn into independent films, Sawa once again found mainstream success in 2010 when he scored the part of Owen Elliot on the CW’s ‘Nikita,’ a role he played until the series ended in 2013. (Psst, ‘Nikita’ fans: Sawa and ‘Nikita’ co-star Shane West still constantly tweet each other, and it’s adorable.) In January 2014, Sawa became a first-time dad when his wife Dawni gave birth to a baby boy they named Hudson.
Then: Rider Strong entered our homes (and our hearts) every week as Shawn Hunter on ‘Boy Meets World.’ Was it his perfectly parted mop-top, his bad boy attitude (complete with leather jacket) or his bromance with Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) that made him so irresistible? We don’t know, but whatever it was, it had us scrambling to theaters soon after ‘BMW’ ended to catch Strong star in the 2002 horror flick ‘Cabin Fever.’
Now: While getting his Bachelor’s degree in English at Columbia University, Strong voiced the character Brick Flagg on ‘Kim Possible,’ alongside his ‘Boy Meets World’ co-star Will Friedle. Today, when he’s not tweeting and retweeting hilarious comments about his self-proclaimed “porn star” name, Strong is a writer and filmmaker, directing and writing several shorts with his brother Shiloh that have been successful in countless film festivals. Strong, who also has an MFA in Fiction & Literature, also hosts his own book discussion podcast called Literary Disco (listen here). In 2013, Strong tied the knot with longtime girlfriend, actress Alexandra Barreto, whom he met while filming the TV series ‘Pepper Dennis.’ And hey, ‘Boy Meets World’ fans: you may not have seen the last of Shawn Hunter, as he may make a guest appearance or several on the upcoming ‘BMW’ spin-off, ‘Girl Meets World.’
Then: Whoa! Joey Lawrence, the oldest of the Lawrence brothers, may have voiced Oliver in the 1988 Disney flick ‘Oliver and Company’ and had a significant role in the TV series ‘Gimme a Break!,’ but he truly found his place amongst ’90s teen heartthrobs as Joey Russo on ‘Blossom,’ a role he played for the show’s entire run. During this time, Lawrence also launched his music career, putting out his self-titled debut album in 1993. Additionally, he and his younger bros, Matt and Andy, all played fictional brothers on the short-lived series ‘Brotherly Love,’ which ran from 1995-1996. Fun fact: all of Lawrence’s biggest roles to date feature him as a character named Joe or Joey. Coincidence?
Now: In the mid-2000s, Lawrence had several recurring roles on TV shows, including the NBC family drama ‘American Dreams.’ In 2006, he placed third on ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ and, a year later, starred as Billy Flynn in the dance-heavy Broadway musical ‘Chicago.’ His acting career was given new life after starring opposite Melissa Joan Hart in the 2009 ABC Family movie ‘My Fake Fiance.’ The movie did so well on the network, and the two actors had such chemistry together, that both Hart and Lawrence were given their own television sitcom, ‘Melissa and Joey,’ on which Lawrence has starred since 2010.
Then: For the better part of a decade, Mark-Paul Gosselaar was Zack Morris, playing the hilarious Bayside slacker on ‘Good Morning, Miss Bliss’ (the show that inspired ‘Saved by the Bell’), ‘Saved by the Bell’ and ‘Saved by the Bell: The College Years.’ During this time, Gosselaar also played a very un-Zack-like role as a date rapist in the Lifetime movie ‘She Cried No.’
Now: Gosselaar continued his success on the small screen, playing Detective John Clark on ‘NYPD Blue’ from 2001-2005 and later starring as lawyer Jerry Kellerman on ‘Raising the Bar.’ Today, Gosselaar stars as titular character Peter Bash on ‘Franklin & Bash’ alongside fellow former ’90s actor Breckin Meyer.
Then: While Jared Leto rose to fame in the ’90s as Jordan Catalano on ‘My So-Called Life,’ he soon broke out of the “teen idol” mold, garnering much critical acclaim for his career on the big screen in films such as ‘The Thin Red Line,’ ‘Fight Club,’ ‘American Psycho’ and ‘Requiem for a Dream.’
Now: As Leto continued to score serious roles in movies, he also took time to focus on his music career with his band Thirty Seconds to Mars. In 2005, the band’s second album ‘A Beautiful Lie’ was certified platinum, launching a successful career for the alternative rock group. In 2014, Leto took on his first acting job in six years, playing the transgendered, HIV+ Rayon in ‘Dallas Buyers Club,’ garnering him his first-ever Academy Award nomination.
Then: Mark Wahlberg was known to millions as Marky Mark, the punk rapper and frontman of his group the Funky Bunch. With his chiseled chest, Calvin Klein undies and modeling career, Wahlberg gained legions of adoring female fans. Unfortunately, his tough-guy attitude was not just an act and Wahlberg served 45 days in a Massachusetts state prison for attempted murder and has a long rap sheet of assault charges.
Now: Wahlberg, who credits his priest for helping him clean up his act, soon set his sights on acting and got his start in films like ‘Boogie Nights’ and ‘The Perfect Storm.’ Wahlberg has since turned into a prolific actor, with critically acclaimed roles in ‘The Italian Job,’ ‘I Heart Huckabees,’ ‘Four Brothers’ and ‘The Departed,’ which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In addition to his successful acting career, Wahlberg also serves as an executive producer on the popular HBO shows ‘Entourage’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire.’
Then: Joseph Gordon-Levitt first stole our hearts as Roger in ‘Angels in the Outfield,’ and soon rose to prominence on the sitcom ‘3rd Rock From the Sun’ as Tommy Solomon. In 1999, JGL earned heartthrob status when he played lovesick Cameron in ’10 Things I Hate About You.’
Now: In 2000, Gordon-Levitt took a hiatus from acting to attend Columbia University, and, upon his return, decided to take on more serious roles in film. In 2009, JGL got the comeback he desired, starring opposite Zoey Deschanel in ‘(500) Days of Summer,’ a film that helped him transition from successful child star to serious adult actor. Since his comeback, Gordon-Levitt has become a critically-acclaimed, Golden Globe-nominated A-list movie star, starring in movies such as ’50/50,’ ‘Inception’ (opposite fellow ’90s hottie Leonardo DiCaprio) and ‘Lincoln.’ In 2013, the actor made his directorial and screenwriting debut in the film ‘Don Jon,’ in which he also stars. Since 2004, JGL has also run the online production company hitRECord.
Freddie Prinze, Jr.
Then: There is basically no question that at least one poster of Freddie Prinze, Jr. adorned the locker of every ’90s girl. After getting his big break in the classic ’90s teen horror film ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and starring in its sequel, FPJ went on to win our hearts in ‘She’s All That,’ and later, Jessica Biel’s in 2001’s ‘Summer Catch.’ In 2002, he tied the knot with ‘Scooby-Doo’ co-star (and fellow ’90s icon) Sarah Michelle Gellar, whom he met on the set of ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer.’
Now: From 2004-2005, Prinze briefly starred in his own sitcom, ‘Freddie,’ which ran for one season, and picked up several movie roles along the way. A longtime wrestling fan, Prinze began working for the WWE in 2008, becoming a part of the brand’s creative team. After leaving the company for a year, Prinze became a series regular on ’24’ during the show’s eighth season, playing CTU operative Cole Oritz, before ultimately returning to the WWE as a producer and director. Still happily married to Gellar, Prinze has two young children, Charlotte Grace and Rocky James.
Then: The band of three blonde, long-haired brothers from Tulsa, Okla,. hit it big in 1997 with their smash hit ‘MMMBop,’ sending millions of girls into a screaming frenzy and propelling their debut album, ‘Middle of Nowhere,’ to achieve four-times platinum status in the U.S. and sell over 10 million copies worldwide. After releasing the rock-sounding, edgier ‘This Time Around’ in 2000, Hanson left their major label in 2003 due to creative differences with the company (a grueling process they capture in the documentary ‘Strong Enough to Break’). In 2004, after deciding to form their own record label, the band came out with their first independent release, ‘Underneath,’ which peaked at the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Top Independent Albums chart.
Now: Hanson have continued to make music, infusing soul and their distinct harmonies into their classic pop-rock sound. The band, who have a deeply passionate and dedicated fan base, tour worldwide and participate in one-mile barefoot walks with their fans to raise awareness about poverty and health issues in Africa and around the world. In 2013, Isaac, Taylor and Zac released their ninth studio effort, ‘Anthem,’ and celebrated 21 years as a band by creating their own brand of IPA beer, appropriately titled Mmmhops. And sorry to disappoint, ladies: All three brothers are married with children.
Then: Blonde-haired, blue-eyed Nick Carter rose to fame in the mid-to-late ’90s as the youngest member of the Backstreet Boys. When the boy band went on hiatus in the early 2000s, Carter embarked on a solo career, with his 2002 album ‘Now or Never’ being certified gold.
Now: After some not-so-proud moments that included a failed relationship with Paris Hilton, several arrests and a stint on the 2006 reality show ‘House of Carters’ (which detailed his troubled family life with his siblings), Carter turned his manic life around thanks to a scary heart condition diagnosis and help from fellow BSB member Kevin Richardson. Carter, who had a decade-long battle with drug and alcohol abuse, credits his sobriety in part to Richardson, who encouraged him to read a self-help book that spoke to the singer. Together with the Backstreet Boys since ending their hiatus in 2003, Carter and the group have released a total of eight albums and have toured constantly (and successfully) — notably, with New Kids on the Block. In 2013, Carter popped the question to girlfriend Lauren Kitt, and the two will soon be starring in a VH1 reality show about their upcoming wedding. The series, called ‘Getting Carter to I Do,’ is set to air in 2014.
Then: Cashing in on the fame of being Nick Carter’s little bro, Aaron Carter headed for his own turn in the spotlight in the late ’90s. His second album, ‘Aaron’s Party (Come Get It),’ sold over 1.5 million copies in 2000 and launched the then 13-year-old into heartthrob status. He later famously dated both Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan, causing a much-publicized feud between the two Disney stars.
Now: In 2006, Carter starred alongside Nick and his other siblings in the E! reality series ‘House of Carters.’ Though his third album had been a success, the singer’s music career was starting to wane. In 2008, he competed on the ninth season of ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and came in fifth place. After dealing with a drug addiction for some time, Carter went to rehab in 2011, and later that year found success starring in an off-Broadway production of ‘The Fantasticks.’ While touring in 2013 for the first time in years, Carter filed for bankruptcy, claiming that he owes the IRS over $1 million in taxes. As of January 2014, Carter was last seen on Twitter, still pining over Hilary Duff and updating fans about recording his next album.
Erik von Detten
Then: The dreamy, southern California-bred Erik von Detten was everything a ’90s girl could want in a guy: smooth, tan skin, perfectly shaggy blonde hair and piercing blue eyes that seemed to stare right into your soul. Oh, yeah, and he was a star, known for his roles as Wally Cleaver in the ’97 ‘Leave it to Beaver’ remake and as skater Andy Brinker in the Disney Channel movie ‘Brink!’ At the time, von Detten also voiced the deranged, toy-mutilator Sid in ‘Toy Story’ and had a starring role on the show ‘So Weird.’
Now: After starring roles in films like ‘National Lampoon’s Barely Legal’ and the sitcom ‘Complete Savages,’ von Detten has acted sporadically, occasionally voicing characters in one-off episodes of TV shows. In 2007, he played an HIV+ drug user in the Lifetime movie ‘Girl, Positive’ and reprised his role as Sid in 2010’s ‘Toy Story 3,’ his last role to date.
Then: Scott Weinger was introduced to the masses as Steve Hale, D.J. Tanner’s adorably sweet boyfriend on ‘Full House.’ And we know you’ve heard that voice before: Weinger also voiced ‘Aladdin’ in the eponymous Disney classic and, later, in almost every reiteration of the film, including ‘Return of Jafar,’ the subsequent animated series and several ‘Kingdom Hearts’ video games.
Now: Weinger graduated from Harvard in 1998 and began working on the other side of the camera, carving out a niche for himself as both a producer and writer. Since the early 2000s, Weinger has served in both of these roles on shows like ‘What I Like About You,’ ‘Privileged’ and ‘90210.’ ‘Full House’ fans, take note: Weinger and his TV GF Candace Cameron Bure will soon reunite as a couple on ‘The Neighbors,’ on which Weinger serves as a writer and producer.
Then: As a former member of ‘The Mickey Mouse Club,’ the multi-talented and curly-haired Justin Timberlake skyrocketed to teen stardom in the late ’90s as the lead singer of ‘N Sync. As he achieved God-like levels of idolatry with the boy band, he also began dating Britney Spears in late 1999, further cementing his place in the pop culture history. When ‘N Sync (and his relationship with Spears) dissolved in 2002, Timberlake began to focus on his solo career, releasing his first solo album, ‘Justified.’
Now: After the infamous Super Bowl incident with Janet Jackson in 2004, Timberlake released his second solo effort, ‘FutureSex/LoveSounds,’ in 2006 — another critical and commercial success. That same year, Timberlake began collaborating with the Lonely Island on ‘SNL,’ performing such memorable songs as ‘D— in a Box’ and ‘Motherlover’ with Andy Samberg. Around this time, he began to focus on his budding acting career, with starring roles in ‘The Social Network’ and ‘Friends with Benefits.’ After ending a serious relationship with Cameron Diaz, Timberlake dated Jessica Biel for five years before the two married in October 2012. In early 2013, Timberlake came out with his first album in seven years, ‘The 20/20 Experience,’ which was certified two times platinum in the U.S. The incredibly talented Timberlake is not only still making music and performing, but he is also still acting and was most recently seen in the Oscar-nomiated film ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ and ‘Runner Runner.’
Then: The then-teenage prince was not only royalty and the future King of England, but he was also pretty darn cute, with sandy blonde hair and an infectious smile so unlike the stoic royals before him. And in the wake of his mother Princess Diana’s death in 1997, William held himself with poise and grace as he mourned and grieved with the rest of the world.
Now: In 2001, William attended the University of St. Andrews, where he met his future wife, Kate Middleton. After graduating from college, he embarked on his military career, ultimately serving in the Royal Air Force and becoming a search and rescue pilot. He married Kate Middleton in 2010 in a lavish and beautiful ceremony, and the two became the proud parents to baby George in 2013.
James Van Der Beek
Then: James Van Der Beek skyrocketed to heartthrob status in 1998 by playing good guy Dawson Leery on The WB’s ‘Dawson’s Creek.’ A year later, in 1999, Van Der Beek cemented his star power playing hero football player Mox in ‘Varsity Blues.’
Now: After ‘Dawson’s Creek’ ended in 2003, Van Der Beek scored recurring roles on shows such as ‘One Tree Hill’ and ‘Mercy’ before hitting it big in 2012 with ‘Don’t Trust The B— in Apartment 23,’ playing a (hilarious) fictionalized version of himself. After the series ended in 2013, Van Der Beek scored a part in the Kate Winslet/Josh Brolin drama film ‘Labor Day,’ and will star in the 2014 TV series ‘Friends with Better Lives.’ The actor, now 36, married his second wife, Kimberly, in a small ceremony in 2010. The Van Der Beeks have three young children: Olivia, Joshua and Annabel.
Then: Joshua Jackson got his feet wet in the early ’90s by playing Charlie Conway in ‘The Mighty Ducks’ franchise. But, much like James Van Der Beek, Jackson became a ’90s icon thanks to the enormous success of ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ on which he played Pacey Witter. Though Pacey was originally intended to be Dawson’s wise-cracking sidekick, Jackson’s portrayal of the character and his relationship with Joey Potter (Katie Holmes) grew to be such a fan favorite that Pacey ultimately ended up with Joey in the series finale — and Jackson became synonymous with the decade. In between seasons of ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ Jackson also starred in other classic ’90s films, such as ‘Cruel Intentions’ and ‘The Skulls.’
Now: After ‘The Creek,’ Jackson scored leading roles in films such as ‘Americano’ and ‘Aurora Borealis,’ but soon moved to London to star alongside Patrick Stewart in ‘A Life in the Theatre,’ a West End play that was well-received by critics. After moving back stateside, Jackson began dating actress Diane Kruger (whom he is still with today) and added more film credits to his name before ultimately landing the part of Peter Bishop on the J.J. Abrams’ show ‘Fringe,’ a character he played throughout the series’ end in 2013.