Previously Known For: Home Improvement, The Lion King and Man of the House
|Currently Known For: Last Man Standing|
“I think at this point, I’d eventually like to work behind the camera. That’s not to say I would never act again, I'm not quite sure to be honest.” A teen heartthrob throughout the 1990s thanks to his role as Tim Allen’s middle son, Randy, on the long-running sitcom Home Improvement, Jonathan Taylor Thomas proved he wasn’t looking to find fame when he shocked his fans and left the series in 1998 to focus on his academics. Attending Harvard University, Columbia University and St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, Thomas graduated in 2010 and has since pursued his passion for working behind the scenes by joining his former on-screen dad on Last Man Standing where he’s learned the tricks of the trade while making a few cameos on the show! So, how did the now 35-year-old Thomas find the nerve to leave Hollywood at the height of his career?
The son of a social worker and an industrial sales manager, Jonathan Taylor Weiss came into this world kicking and screaming on September 8, 1981 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. By the age of six, he had already shown an interest in performing after lending his voice to Spot on The Adventures of Spot television series, which earned him his first official acting credit. Two years later, he starred as Greg Brady’s son, Kevin, on the 1990 spinoff series, The Bradys, before appearing in a handful of episodes on the Fox comedy series, In Living Color. By then, his on-screen charm was well-known, which is exactly why producers found it easy to cast him as Randy Taylor on ABC’s family sitcom, Home Improvement, starring Tim Allen and Patricia Richardson. Thomas’ career as a serious actor was born!
Much to everyone’s surprise, Home Improvement was a huge success and put Thomas and the rest of the cast on the map in Hollywood as he earned a Young Artist Award nomination for Best Young Actor in 1993 and took home a Young Artist Award for Outstanding Youth Ensemble in 1994. Becoming a teen idol and gracing the covers of magazines like Tiger Beat, the young Thomas proved his talents on the silver screen when he voiced Young Simba in Disney’s 1994 blockbuster, The Lion King. Earning nominations at the Saturn Awards and the Young Artist Awards for his performance, Thomas became a Disney staple and starred in Man of the House, Tom and Huck, Wild America and I’ll Be Home for Christmas.
Despite his growing success and reputation as a teen idol, Thomas wasn’t exactly thrilled with the overnight stardom and said as much in 1998 when he opted to leave Home Improvement a year before the series officially ended. “I’d been going nonstop since I was eight years old. I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a break.” Doing exactly that, Thomas enrolled at Harvard University and later transferred to Columbia University where he studied abroad at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland in 2003. “To sit in a big library amongst books and students, that was pretty cool. It was a novel experience for me,” he said.
With his notable absence from television, fans couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to Thomas’ departure as the media turned to his on-screen mom, Patricia Richardson, for insight into working with him on Home Improvement. “I think that it was very fortunate that Jonathan is so smart and well balanced,” she said. “When he left the show, he ended up going back to school and got a really good education and thought a lot about what he wanted to do with his life. When he was on the show at one point, he said to me that he was interested in being a politician… I can’t speak for Jonathan if he was uncomfortable with fame like I was, but we both coincidentally withdrew from the industry right after the show. I was trying to find a way to be just an actor instead of a big celebrity and I wasn't a fan of doing press, red carpets, etc.”
Although Richardson has taken a huge step away from acting to focus on her family, Thomas has slowly worked his way back into the profession and has shown an interest in writing and directing. “I think at this point, I’d eventually like to work behind the camera,” he said in 2013. “That’s not to say I would never act again. I’m not quite sure, to be honest. I still have a passion for TV and film and could see myself working in it.”
Keeping an open mind and even working on a few movie scripts of his own, Thomas was given an opportunity he couldn’t pass up when producers for Tim Allen’s newest series, Last Man Standing, invited him to appear on the show’s second season finale. Coincidentally, Thomas surprised Allen and the rest of the crew by sticking around for the final two seasons of the show to hone his talents as a director.
“He’s been around. He’s been shadowing John Pasquin, our director, because they’ve known each other for years,” Allen said. “Jonathan is interested in directing. He’s always been wonderful as an actor, then he went to college and he found other interests. He really was dedicated to his studies, and then kind of got away from TV. But, he graduated and he came back, and he loves directing, loves working with actors. So, he’s been shadowing… he’s just been on the set all the time. But, he’s so shy. It’s funny to see him so shy, so nervous. He worried whether he still had it, and he didn’t want to do this because he’s had other stuff in mind. But they asked him, and he agreed to it. I was shocked, because as I said, he’s just shy.”
Certainly shy, Thomas admits that he’s never taken his fame too seriously and refuses to let it define him saying, “When I think back on the time, I look at it with a wink. I focus on the good moments I had, not that I was on a lot of magazine covers.” And, while fans aren’t looking for Thomas to grace the cover of People anytime soon, an update from the 36-year-old actor and director would certainly be nice. After all, we haven’t heard from him since wrapping up Last Man Standing in 2015!