It is an open secret that Hollywood is equally as guilty of nepotism as any other business in the world. Some blockbuster stars had their path to fame paved in the womb – it’s a well known fact that Nicolas Cage is director Francis Ford Copolla’s nephew (despite the sneaky last name change) and that brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez are the sons of Emmy Award winning actor Martin Sheen. F
or those second generation actors and actresses that have caught the acting bug, it’s a no wonder that many would pull the strings offered to them to get a leg up in the business. Some stars resent the association, such as Kate Hudson, who tried to distance herself professionally from her famous mother, Goldie Hawn, and stepfather, Kurt Russell. Some are thrust into the spotlight before they have a chance to decide for themselves, such as Drew Barrymore – the current famous generation of the century-spanning Barrymore celebrity clan. This list compiles 15 actors that have not only been helped out by their famous mothers, but have surpassed them in either name recognition, resume or both.
Here are 15 Second-Generation Actors Who Surpassed Their Famous Mothers.
15. Ben Stiller
Genetically, Ben Stiller is best known for being the son of comic actor Jerry Stiller (famous on the small screen for stints in Seinfeld – the legendary inventor of Festivus – and in King of Queens), but he’s also the offspring of Anne Meara, the elder Stiller’s sidekick in their 1960s and ’70s comedy duo Stiller and Meara. The pair tried to launch their own sitcom, The Stiller and Meara Show, which was unsuccessful – as were Meara’s attempts at landing another permanent gig.
Meara guest starred on a few episodes of King of Queens, but fell largely into obscurity with the rise of her son’s prominent film career. However, she can be stopped either in a cameo appearance or a small role in a number of her son Ben’s movies (for example, a protester in Zoolander and Debbie in Night at the Museum).
Later in life, Meara and her husband launched the web-series Stiller & Meara, produced by their son’s company Red Hour Digital, where the couple responded to current events. Unfortunately, Meara passed in 2015.
14. Daniel Day-Lewis
Daniel Day-Lewis has risen to fame as one of the most versatile and lauded method actors of our era. The actor is also known for his kooky, expensive passion projects – he went to Italy and trained shoe-making under renowned cobbler Stefano Bemer in the late ’90s, before being persuaded to return to the US by Martin Scorsese to film Gangs of New York.
It’s no wonder Day-Lewis can stomach the time and expense of these activities when his history is taken into account; he comes from a successful artistic family. His father was a poet, and his mother, Jill Balcon, was a very well known English actress in her day. She starred in movies such as 1948’s Good Time Girl, and 1950’s Lost People, and was prominent in radio acting, where her voice was praised as “a rich, expressive, finely modulated instrument.”
However, it’s easy to state that Day-Lewis has neatly outmatched the legacy his mother began for the Day-Lewis acting tribe.
13. Robert Downey Jr.
Like her son after her, Elsie Downey’s career was hampered by addiction – however, unlike her son, whose return to fame has taken him to astronomical heights, Elsie’s career stagnated. She did not work as an actress past the 1970s, until her death in 2014.
Major projects that she was featured in include the television series Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman Greaser’s Palace, Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight, and Babo 73. She and her son were close, and Downey Jr. posted a moving tribute to her after her death, saying: “She was my role model as an actor, and as a woman who got sober and stayed that way.” He also implored fans that “[if] anyone out there has a mother, and she’s not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway.”
12. Ansel Elgort
The breakout star of The Fault in Our Stars has quite an impressive familial resume. Ansel Elgort’s mother, Grethe Barrett Holby, has a distinguished resume in the theater and the opera, where she has worked over many decades as a singer, dancer, choreographer, producer, and director.
Holby performed in the world premiere of the behemoth five hour stage production Einstein on the Beach, co-created by musician Phillip Glass and director Robert Wilson. She was the founder of American Opera Projects and Ardea Arts, and began Family Opera Initiative, which aims to develop works for family and younger audiences. However, because of much of her work isn’t on the silver screen, her son has quickly surpassed her in terms of name recognition.
In the past four years, Elgort has been featured in eight major motion pictures. The young star is set to appear in The Billionaire Boys Club and The Goldfinch, which are to be released in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
11. Christian Slater
Once a heart-throb adored by teenage girls (and guys) everywhere, Christian Slater has slid off the radar somewhat in recent decades. However, he is still hard at work as an actor – he’s recently in appeared in films such as Hot Tub Time Machine 2, The Wife, and The Public, the Emilio Estevez helmed drama set for release in 2018. He’s also currently well known for his work on the television series, Mr Robot.
However, Slater isn’t the first of his family to make an impression in Hollywood – his mother, Mary Jo, a casting director and producer with over a 100 credits on her resume. Mary Jo Slater started off in theater before successfully transitioning into film and television, where she has been nominated five times for a Primetime Emmy.
However, there’s no debate that her son is the better known Slater – despite her body of work behind the scenes being particularly impressive.
10. Lenny Kravitz
Though Lenny Kravitz is more widely acknowledged for his work as a musician (putting out hit singles like “Let Love Rule”, “It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over”, and “Fly Away”), he has turned to acting in recent years, and made quite an impression. His standout performance was as the colourful designer Cinna in The Hunger Games.
But the acting bug started long before Kravitz got into it – his mother, Roxie Roker, was a successful actress in her own right. Roker starred as Helen Willis in The Jefferson‘ – an important moment in television history, as she was one half of the first interracial couple on television. The show ran for an impressive eleven seasons, and Roker was part of the main cast for the duration.
Sadly, she passed in 1995, but her son has done a lot to continue her legacy; his acting credits continue to roll in, with Kravitz currently having 24 roles to his name.
9. Benedict Cumberbatch
Benedict Cumberbatch has two actor actors parents who opted for different stage names. His mother, Wanda Ventham, is a very well-known actress in the United Kingdom – particularly lauded for her work in UFO, which ran from 1970-1973. She also appeared in The Saint with former Bond star Roger Moore. In recent years, she’s taken her work as an actress to a meta level, by guest-starring in her sons hit series, Sherlock, as – of course – Sherlock’s mother.
Actually, both Ventham and Cumberbatch’s father, Timothy Carlton, starred as Sherlock’s parents. Ventham has also done work in the theatre, recently appearing in Entertaining Angels and Quartet at Theatre-on-the-Bay in Cape Town, South Africa.
Despite Ventham’s independent success, it’s hard to compare her to the mega star her son has become – he has eight upcoming films either slated for release or recently announced!
8. Jake Gyllenhaal
Naomi Foner Gyllenhaal has been a powerhouse in the American film industry since the 1980s. She has produced, written, and/or directed such major motion pictures as Running on Empty, Losing Isaiah, Bee Season, and Very Good Girls, the latter of which was her directorial debut.
Foner is currently working on a screenplay – Moon Flower and the Flying Tigers – about Chinese nurse who attracts a US pilot during World War II. Though Foner is very successful in her work behind the camera, it is clear that her son Jake (and daughter, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal) has overshadowed her with his extensive acting career.
Jake started very young – he’s still fondly remembered for his creepy turn as the titular protagonist in 2001’s Donnie Darko. He has starred in blockbusters such as Nightcrawler, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, and Love & Other Drugs. Next up for him are The Sisters Brothers and Rio, both with expected release dates in 2018.
7. Kiefer Sutherland
Though more notably connected to his famous father, Donald Sutherland, Kiefer also has a famous mom. Shirley Douglas has a long list of acting credits to her name, in film, television, and theatre. Douglas stars primarily in Canadian media, and has been featured on hit Canadian TV series like Degrassi: The Next Generation, the animated children’s program Franklin, Corner Gas, and Wind at My Back – in which she starred as the protagonist’s overbearing mother-in-law.
In 1997, Douglas performed in the Tennessee Williams’ classic play The Glass Menagerie alongside her son, Kiefer, at Canada’s National Arts Centre and Royal Alexandra Theatre. She’s also an activist in the spirit of her father, politician Tommy Douglas, who brought free health care to Canada.
However, despite her successes, it’s Kiefer’s career that stands out – whether it’s for his time as the protagonist in 24, his current role in Designated Survivor, or his myriad of film credits.
6. Alfie Allen
Though Game of Thrones star Alfie Allen’s mother is not an actress, she is a famous television and film producer. Alison Owen’s many credits include Shaun of the Dead, Proof, Saving Mr Banks, and Suffragette. Owens even helmed the low-budget film division during her time at WorkingTitle; her resume is nothing short of impressive.
Such a position would currently be helpful for a fledgling young actor – if only even to have someone to better inform him of the lay of the land. But it seems that now not only has her actor son earned a higher name recognition but her singer daughter as well – Lily Allen has received fame through hit singles such as “Smile”, “22”, and “Alfie”. which is, in fact, about her brother – previous to his Game of Thrones fame.
Alfie also has some other projects in the works separate from Game of Thrones, such as John Wick and The Predator.
5. Jeff Bridges
After she passed, Jeff Bridges’ brother said this of his mother – “She was behind the scenes, sort of holding the whole thing together, and she did that with her own particular brand of verve.” Jeff called her the “hub” of the family.
In addition to being an actress, Dorothy Bridges was also a poet, and inspired creativity in her children throughout all genres – Jeff is also an accomplished singer.
Jeff has starred in movies such as Crazy Heart, The Giver, Seabiscuit, and – arguably his most well-known project – as “The Dude” in The Big Lebowski. Jeff has a variety of work currently on the go, including Bad Times at the El Royale, set for release in 2018.
4. Jason Schwartzman
Talia Shire is perhaps a bit better known than some of the others moms on the list; Shire has a long list of television and film credits, and continues to work in both. She was the infamous Adrian in all of the Rocky movies and Connie Corleone in The Godfather. More recent claims to fame include a guest appearance as Teddie in the Netflix comedy Grace and Frankie, and playing Annette Kulina in the drama series Kingdom. She’s also collaborated with her son in a number of projects, such as 2016’s Dreamland (which was also directed and written by her other son, Robert).
Jason Schwartzmann has overreached his mother’s successes in recent years, however, with a stream of successful quirky roles in movies such as Moonrise Kingdom, the Wet Hot American Summer reboots, and Saving Mr Banks. He also made an appearance as the Groom in 2015’s A Very Murray Christmas Special. Schwartzman is currently voicing an animated feature about Christmas – set for release in 2019.
3. Campbell Scott
Campbell Scott was big in the ’90s – jumping into the scene with hit movies such as Dying Young, Big Night, and Singles. However, he garnered only moderate success moving forward, grabbing several supporting roles on big motion pictures – such as the prosecutor in The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
In recent years, Scott has come back into the public eyes, scoring long running gigs on popular television shows such as Royal Pains and House of Cards. Scott has also starred as Richard Parker in The Amazing-Spiderman movies.
His mother Colleen Dewhurst was largely known for her turn in the theatre, and therefore doesn’t garner much name recognition. Her television credits include The Road to Avonlea and Anne of Green Gables, both Canadian television staples. Dewhurst was also awarded four Primetime Emmy awards and two Tony awards for her performances; she was nominated for an additional fifteen on top of that.
2. Beau Bridges
It seems Dorothy wasn’t satisfied with raising one incredibly talented and well known actor son, she had to go for two.
Like the Barrymore clan, the Bridges’ have a bit of a reputation of spurning an acting dynasty. Both Beau’s mother – Dorothy – and his father – Lloyd Bridges – were actors. Dorothy herself fostered a love of drama in all her children, serving as their primary drama teacher and encouraging them all to make believe and explore for an hour a day. Dorothy was highly trained in Chekhov-style theatre, and her children believe that knowledge was passed down via her education. Dorothy’s first acting credit was in 1921 in Finder’s Keepers, and her last was in the 1994 TV movie Sins of the Father.
However, Beau’s prestigious career has certainly surpassed that of his mother’s – Beau has starred in numerous projects, including The Descendants, The Millers, and Stargate: SG1. Beau currently has four films slated for release this year, and is currently involved in the non-linear murder mystery series Mosaic.
1. Chris Pine
Arguably one of the hottest young stars in Hollywood today, Chris Pine is living in no parent’s shadow. However, beefore his own career took off his mother had a substantial acting career of her own. Then she gave it up to pursue a practice in psychotherapy along with her daughter, Katherine. She starred in projects such as Fade to Black, CHiPS, and Masters of the Universe.
In fact, her son Chris is not technically a second generation actor, but a third generation one – Gwynne’s own mother, Anne was a successful actress in her day – one of the original scream queens. Chris continues to live up to – and indeed, exceed – the legacy set out by his mother and grandmother as an actor.
He repised his role James T. Kirk in the newest Star Trek reboot, and has two movies that are meant to be released in 2018, one of them being an adaptation of the novel A Wrinkle in Time.
Did you know any of these actors’ mothers?