“I don’t think I could compare myself to Macaulay Culkin, because we’re pretty much two different kinds of actors. He’s done a lot of comedy… and I’ve done a lot of different stuff, like sad movies, like the movie about the kid with AIDS.” Although he shies away from being likened to Macaulay Culkin, Brian Bonsall shares quite a few similarities with the former child actor turned musician especially since his journey in Hollywood has taken a similar path. Getting his start at five years old when he was cast as the adorable Andy Keaton on Family Ties, Bonsall went on to star in Do You Know the Muffin Man?, Father Hood, Blank Check, Father and Scout, and Star Trek: The Next Generation before he retired from acting in 1995. Intent on pursuing a career in music, Bonsall spent part of the new millennium making headlines for his many arrests and drug charges. Now on tour with the rock band, The Ataris, the 35-year-old Bonsall seems to have his life together and has happily put his past behind him… of course, that isn’t stopping us from taking a look at his career over the last three decades!
A California native, Brian Eric Bonsall was born on December 3, 1981 in Torrance, California where, at five years old, he launched his acting career when he joined Michael J. Fox, Meredith Baxter, Michael Gross, and Justine Bateman on Family Ties. Cast as the young Andy Keaton, Bonsall’s talent and charm were undeniable as he spent the next three seasons on the series and earned three Young Artist Awards for his performance—all before his 10th birthday! Along the way, Bonsall added to his fame with appearances in television series like Day By Day, Booker and On the Television in addition to television films like Go Toward the Light and Do You Know the Muffin Man?, the latter of which earned him a Young Artist Award nomination.
Bonsall wrapped up Family Ties in 1989 and spent the next few years working on a handful of made-for-television films like Mother Goose Rock ‘n’ Rhyme and Angel of Death before he was cast in his second major role as Alexander Rozhenko, the son of Klingon security officer Mr. Worf, in Star Trek: The Next Generation from 1992 to 1994. “From what I remember, I tried out with a lot of other kids, because I do have a strong memory of the casting office being very crowded,” Bonsall recalled of his audition. “I had definitely seen the show a fair amount and the stage ended up being around the corner form the Family Ties stage… I think at the time, all we knew was that it was recurring. I was very busy around that time with other roles, too, so I was always running around to different jobs.”
Thrilled to land another recurring role and work with the talented Michael Dorn, Bonsall appeared in seven episodes of the sci-fi classic and learned the importance of getting into and staying in character. “As you can imagine, the makeup could get a bit irritating at times, but they were always there to help me figure out how to scratch an itch or repair a wardrobe malfunction,” he said of the makeup team and his costars. “It was an awesome experience. It definitely helped me stay in character, as much as a kid that age could. I felt like a warrior. The $4,000 wig of real hair was probably the biggest pain in the butt, though, because it was so much money and I enjoyed running around like a madman at times.”
Amid his stint on Star Trek, Bonsall appeared in a string of films including Mikey, Father Hood, Blank Check and Father and Scout before announcing his retirement from acting in 1995 at 14 years old. By then, he was ready to leave Hollywood and moved to Boulder, Colorado where he lived with his mother and stepfather while attending Boulder High School. During high school, he pursued his interests in music and formed his first rock band—Late Bloomers—in 1998. Two years later, he graduated from high school and took the stage with a string of punk bands around Boulder before making his way back to Los Angeles where he played guitar in This Life of Mine.
Often stereotyped as the charming youngster from Family Ties despite being an adult with plenty of other interests and talents, Bonsall did his best to break free of that stereotype in the new millennium and built his reputation as a bad boy rocker with a string of arrests. His first arrest came in 2007 when he was charged with assaulting his girlfriend and sentenced to two years of probation. Then, on the heels of finishing his probation, he was arrested for third-degree assault and failure to appear in court. Within months, he was back in handcuffs for possession of marijuana and spent another two years on probation but, as far as we can tell, has since gotten his life together after pursuing his music career full time with bands like Lowjob, Bootjack & Bonz, and The Ataris.
“Unfortunately, as far as the media goes, I’ve never had the opportunity to tell my story,” Bonsall said recently. “I should probably write a book about it like everyone else… My drunken run-ins with the law are about 10 years behind me, so I’m pretty happy about that. I’m not proud of my past mistakes but you live and you learn, I guess… hopefully.”
Now on tour with the rock band, The Ataris, the 35-year-old Bonsall says he’s still recognized from Family Ties and Star Trek but that no amount of publicity can lure him back into acting. Instead, he’s happy with where his music has taken him, especially now that he’s making headlines for his music rather than his arrests. “I’ve learned a lot about myself, that’s for sure. I’m deeply in love with my girlfriend, who is a huge, positive support for me. I dig my job and I’m excited to release some new music and head out on tour again. So, I’d say I’m doing pretty well.”