Rachael Leigh Cook’s ‘Tom and Huck’ Co-Star Jonathan Taylor Thomas Surprised Her With 1 Comment

Child actors exist in a particularly strange intersection of celebrity and adolescence. They have the pressures of fame that virtually all celebrities face with the added complications of navigating these challenges while they’re trying to find their own sense of identity. Many child stars have buckled under the pressure — some turning to alcohol or drugs as an escape from their problems. 

Rachael Leigh Cook is one of the child stars who managed to successfully navigate her talents into a professional career as an adult, but in one of her earliest roles, she had a surprising interaction with another young co-star. 

Rachael Leigh Cook was a young teen when she started acting

As IMDb reports, Rachael Leigh Cook was a model from the age of 10. She segued from that into commercials, famously appearing in a PSA about the dangers of heroin. It was this work that helped snag her a lead role in her very first film. While most child stars have to work their way up through guest TV roles, Cook made her big screen debut as the founding member of The Baby-Sitters Club in the 1995 film version of the popular book series. 

She followed it up immediately with the role of Becky Thatcher in the 1995 family flick Tom and Huck, a playful retelling of the classic Mark Twain novel. This role had her brushing elbows with two of the biggest child stars of the day. Tom was played by none other than Jonathan Taylor Thomas, who was then at the height of his fame and fresh off his role as the voice of Simba in The Lion King. Huck was played by Brad Renfro, who had shocked critics and audiences alike with his mature portrayal of a troubled teen in 1994’s The Client and earned himself a fast-track to superstardom. 

Rachael Leigh Cook was surprised by Jonathan Taylor Thomas

While on the set for Tom and Huck, Rachael Leigh Cook overheard a comment from Jonathan Taylor Thomas that surprised her. As The New York Times reports, at one point, Thomas remarked “It’s difficult to be a Democrat in my tax bracket.”

This was a rather surprising piece of commentary to hear from a 13-year-old, but Thomas was by that point a bona fide superstar who was making immensely popular shows and films. In fact, the star still has an impressive net worth of around $15 million despite having made a serious step back from appearances. Perhaps this stray comment was evidence of a certain future-focused attitude toward money that followed Thomas into adulthood. 

Meanwhile, Cook had the antics of Brad Renfro to balance it out. While Thomas was acting in ways far beyond his age, Renfro took on the true spirit of reckless Huck Finn and “secured his role by wielding an actual hatchet and chasing the casting director around the audition room.” 

Having these examples around her gave Cook the opportunity to reflect on “a very up-close and super vivid example of different ways that you can exist in Hollywood.”

Rachael Leigh Cook made the most successful leap into an adult career

Actor Rachel Leigh Cook visits Hallmark's "Home & Family" at Universal Studios Hollywood on January 31, 2019 in Universal City, California.
Rachel Leigh Cook | Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

Whether it was a result of her reflection on the behavior of her co-stars, her own drive, or just sheer luck, there’s no denying that Cook has had the most successful adult career of the three Tom and Huck stars. She ultimately put herself as “somewhere straight in the middle” of the two ways of being, and it served her well. 

While Jonathan Taylor Thomas continued to see success, he ultimately chose to step out of the spotlight in order to take time for travel and school. A brief return to the spotlight in Last Man Standing gave some fans a dose of nostalgia but did not ultimately serve as a launching pad for a grown-up career. 

Brad Renfro, meanwhile, appeared in several films following Tom and Huck but did not attain the same level of success he did as a child actor. Renfro died in 2008 at the age of 25 from a drug overdose.

Rachael Leigh Cook went on to see success in films like She’s All That (1999), Josie and the Pussycats (2001), and The Family Tree (2011). In more recent years, she’s been in romantic comedies and made a nod back to her heyday with an appearance in 2021’s He’s All That

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