Thanks to his roles in 80s classics Overboard, Big and Honey I Shrunk the Kids, child actor Jared Rushton remains a familiar face to film fans. However, like so many other stars of the screen who find fame early, Rushton’s time in the limelight proved limited.
After 14 years in the business and finding parts hard to come by as an adult, Jared Rushton finally quit acting in 2000 for a different passion: music. Since then, Rushton has performed as a guitarist in a number of rock bands, all the while remaining out of the spotlight and only rarely offering clues as to what he’s been up to since retiring from Hollywood.
Jared Michael Rushton was born March 3, 1974 in Provo, Utah. His younger brother Ryan Rushton was also a child actor in the lates 80s, but where Ryan found work primarily in television (including episodes of Punky Brewster, MacGyver and The Wonder Years), Jared quickly earned some plum big screen roles.
After finding his first roles in episodes of Cagney & Lacey and Tales from the Darkside, Rushton made his film debut aged 12 in 1987’s Overboard. Rushton would play Charlie Proffitt, the second eldest child of Kurt Russell’s blue collar single father Dean, who brings Goldie Hawn’s amnesiac heiress Joanna to the family shack under the pretence that she is his children’s mother.
A box office flop on release, Overboard gradually built a reputation on home video and TV and is fondly remembered today – and it proved a great launchpad for the promising young Rushton. He next appeared opposite Lukas Haas in 1988 horror Lady in White, which sadly proved another flop, but Rushton’s following film – 1988’s Big – proved a huge success.
The fantasy comedy drama stars Tom Hanks as Josh, a 13-year-old boy who wakes up in a man’s body. Things were almost quite different, as early in the film’s development Robert De Niro came close to playing the lead role. According to actress Elizabeth Perkins, this earlier incarnation of Big would have been considerably darker, and “a little more of a horror movie.”
It is known that De Niro (famed for his in-depth method approach to acting) spent time with the young Rushton to prepare whilst he was attached to star as Josh; at this point, David Moscow was cast to play Josh’s friend Billy.
It seems possible, then, that Rushton was initially going to play young Josh himself – but when Hanks replaced De Niro as adult Josh, the filmmakers recognised that he looked more like Moscow than Rushton. Moscow would be asked to play young Josh instead, and Rushton was cast as Billy.
Happily, Billy still proved a juicy part for Rushton, who got to share numerous scenes with Hanks himself. Big also gave Rushton the rare distinction of being one of the few people to utter the F-word in a PG-rated movie, in one particularly emotional confrontation towards the end.
(Big also seems to be the root of a common confusion about Rushton: he dyed his hair red for the role of Billy, and because of this Rushton is often mistaken for Danny Cooksey, the red-haired best friend of Edward Furlong’s John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.)
Rushton reverted to his natural blonde hair for his next film role, as Ron Thompson, the younger neighbour boy accidentally miniaturised in 1989’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. This film, like Big, proved a huge hit and a childhood favourite of many.
The role of Ron again enabled Rushton to demonstrate his versatility, as the child with a tough exterior eventually shows a more sensitive side via an unlikely bond with a giant ant (or rather, a normal-sized ant which seems giant to the tiny kids).
Making his first on-camera appearance in years on Disney+ series Prop Culture in 2020, Rushton reflected on the iconic ant with whom his character developed such a strong bond. “I think in a lot of ways, he solidified the idea of [the film being] an adventure for kids who were watching the movie, to suddenly have the creature aiding you.
“I remember kids in the theatre, you know, crying when the ant died. It’s also a testament to the model-makers, their ability to humanise it to the degree that we could identify with it and get emotionally attached to it.”
Unfortunately for Rushton, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids proved to be his last real hit. He took the lead role in 1990 adventure A Cry in the Wild, and later appeared alongside Edward Furlong in 1992 horror sequel Pet Sematary Two, but neither film made much impact.
In the years that followed Rushton took a number of small TV roles, including in episodes of ER and Northern Exposure, but by 2000 – following his appearance in an episode of crime drama Cover Me – Rushton quietly bowed out as an actor.
Though Rushton hasn’t acted in well over two decades, he has continued to perform in a different capacity. As a rock guitarist, Rushton has performed with a number of Los Angeles-based bands, including Withdrawal and Deal by Dusk.
In 2005, he helped to record, master and produce various albums, including Sterile Thoughts from a First World, plus F*** Your Booking Agent and Your Spineless Band, both by Dogs of Ire. His voice and guitar skills featured on Withdrawal’s 2006 album The Perfectionist Blacklist, while in 2008 he worked on the Aperture for Departure album Strangers Die Every Day.
Having left acting behind in the early 2000s, Rushton has since left LA – and California – altogether. Opting for a simpler life, Rushton now lives in Florida, where he is a keen cyclist and model maker.
His 2020 Prop Culture appearance aside, Rushton has kept a very low profile in recent years, giving virtually no interviews. Rushton does not seem to have given any indication of ever intending to return to acting, but even if he never makes another movie, his early films are certain to live on.