Actors who stepped out the shadows of famous parents (2021)

Ah, escaping the legacy of one’s parents. What must that be like? I guess we all have it, to some degree. But if you want to get into acting and you have famous parents, it must be strange.

Do you try and make it on your own? Do you use their name to open doors and get you meetings? Let’s say you do start to carve out a career, at what point do audiences — and indeed critics — judge you purely for your talent, and not for the (likely) helping hand into the industry that your parents gave you? You’ll have to decide.

For this list, with the odd exception, I’ve decided to include people whose parents are mainly known for acting. Whether or not, with what they’ve accomplished so far, they’ve escaped their parents’ legacy remains to be seen.

Let’s see who we’ve got…


Maya Hawke

Maya’s performance in season 3 of Stranger Things put her on the map, and she had a small but important part in Netflix horror, Fear Street: Part One 1994, as well as a tiny part in Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019). She’s also the co-lead in a comedy-drama directed by Gia Coppolla called Mainstream (2021).

Parents: Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman

Wyatt Russell

I love how his dad played Wyatt Earp in Tombstone (1993) and was such a fan that he named his son after him. With Wyatt, he’s probably best known for playing antagonist John Walker in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021). He also had parts in 22 Jump Street (2014), Everybody Wants Some!! (2016), and Overlord (2018). He’s currently filming a miniseries called Under The Banner Of Heaven, which stars Andrew Garfield and Daisy Edgar-Jones.

Parents: Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn

Margaret Qualley

I first saw Qualley in TV show The Leftovers (2014-2017). I next remember her as the lead in sci-fi movie IO (2019) with Anthony Mackie — and she had a significant part in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019), opposite Brad Pitt. She’s currently in Netflix 10-part series Maid (2021), a story about a single mother.

Parent: Andie McDowell

Patrick Schwarzenegger

Having Arnie for a dad must be weird. In terms of acting so far, Patrick has had roles in Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015), a horror called Daniel Isn’t Real (2019), and most recently MOXiE! (2021), which got fairly good reviews.

Parent: Arnold Schwarzenegger

Zoe Kravitz

Zoe never really had to step far out the shadows, at least in terms of acting; as her dad was always more of a musician than an actor. With Zoe, she was superb in Big Little Lies (2017-2019) opposite Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon — and I’m sure she’ll be equally magnetic as Catwoman in The Batman (2022). Watch the trailer.

Parent: Lenny Kravitz

Michael Gandolfini

His dad told him not to act, and instead direct — as that way he’d have more power. It sounds like a James Gandolfini thing to say. Michael, however, ignored him, and took a part in The Deuce (2018-2019), and then as the lead playing Tony Soprano in The Many Saints of Newark (2021), opposite John Bernthal and Vera Farmiga.

Parent: James Gandolfini

Billie Lourd

You can see Lourd in American Horror Story (2017—) and she had a recurring part in the Star Wars sequel trilogy (2015-2019). She was also Gigi in Booksmart (2019), a role that got expanded when the director and screenwriter realised what she brought to the part.

Parent: Carrie Fisher

Dakota Johnson

Dakota probably came to most people’s attention with the Fifty Shades (2015-2018) series of movies. Since then she’s actively taken far more interesting parts, in movies like A Bigger Splash (2015), Bad Times At The El Royale (2018), and The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019). You can next see her in The Lost Daughter (2021), written and directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Parents: Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith

Emma Roberts

Maybe she shouldn’t make the list as Julia is her aunt, but I’m including it. Emma made her debut in Blow (2001) and has racked up quite a few credits on her filmography since then. I liked her in We’re The Millers (2013), she was in multiple seasons of American Horror Story (2013—) and the lead in Scream Queens (2015-2016).

Aunt: Julia Roberts

John David Washington

I first saw John in HBO comedy Ballers (2015-2019), but his big break was playing the lead in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman (2018). From there he was in Chris Nolan’s Tenet (2020), as well as indie drama Malcolm & Marie (2021) alongside Zendaya.

Parent: Denzel Washington

O’Shea Jackson Jr.

O’Shea’s dad, Ice Cube, was, at least for a long time, known as a rapper. But he’s consistently acted since the ’90s, so his son makes this list. And with Jr., his most notable role was playing his dad in Straight Outta Compton (2015). He’s since been in comedy Ingrid Goes West (2017) with Aubrey Plaza, and has Cocaine Bear (2022) coming up, a thriller directed by Elizabeth Banks.

Parent: Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Sr.)

Scott Eastwood

I probably first saw Scott Eastwood in the ‘soldiers trapped behind enemy lines’ type military movie, The Outpost (2020). At one point he goes full on Clint, which almost threw me out the movie — although I kind of liked it. He’s also been in Snowden (2016), The Fate Of The Furious (2017) and Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018), and will next be seen in Guy Ritchie’s heist thriller, Wrath Of Man (2021).

Parent: Clint Eastwood

By Mikey P

Freelance editor, writer and podcast creator by day. Spoken word poet and screenwriter by night.

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