How Jonathan Taylor Thomas Changed Through The Years

If you were a kid or teen in the '90s, you probably recall seeing former "Home Improvement" star Jonathan Taylor Thomas' picture plastered all over the covers of every teen magazine on the planet, with his bestowed moniker JTT. Thomas became a bankable young star during this time, appearing in such flicks as "Tom and Huck," "Man of the House," and "Wild America" — and voicing young Simba in Disney's "The Lion King" (via IMDb).


Once "Home Improvement" ended, the introverted actor went off to college and largely left the acting world behind, apart from appearing in a few films and television shows. In more recent years, the ultra-private, Ivy League-educated star has chosen to focus on work behind the camera and keep his personal life out of the public eye. The former child actor and teen heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas has certainly transformed since his days in the spotlight.

Jonathan Taylor Thomas started acting at a young age

Jonathan Taylor Thomas was born Jonathan Taylor Weiss on September 8, 1981, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. In 1986, his parents, Claudine Gonsalves (who also managed her son's career for a time) and Stephen Weiss, a one-time industrial sales manager, moved him and his older brother, Joel, to Sacramento, California. The brothers' parents later divorced, after which Jonathan and Joel were largely raised by their mother (per The Advocate).


The young Jonathan got interested in performing early, as his mother told People, saying, "He pointed at the television screen and said, 'That's how you get on TV.'" In the early '90s, he began doing print modeling, landing TV commercials, and appearing on his first-ever TV series, "The Bradys."

The actor used his real name, Jonathan Weiss, when he met Deborah Barylski, a casting director auditioning kids for a made-for-TV movie called "Guess Who's Coming for Christmas." While he did not get that part, the casting director would keep him in mind for something much more significant.

He got his big break in 1991 playing Randy on ABC's Home Improvement

In 1991, ABC was casting three school-age boys to play Tim Allen's sons on a then-new comedy called "Home Improvement." According to Premiere Magazine (via JTT Archive), casting director Deborah Barylski, who'd met Jonathan Taylor Thomas when he auditioned for the made-for-TV movie "Guess Who's Coming for Christmas," thought of the then-9-year-old actor for the part, which he later nailed, of course. Richard Frank, then head of Disney television, even said, "That kid's gonna be a star."


Thomas did become a star, although not right away. The sitcom's initial success was due to Allen's comedic talent. By the start of the show's third season, per the magazine, the boys, played by Zachery Ty Bryan and Taran Noah Smith as well as Thomas, called out sick and reportedly requested a salary increase from $8,000 to $25,000 per episode and more on-set comforts. When Disney wouldn't budge, the boys returned to the set the next day. While the magazine referred to the incident as a "PR debacle," the show's executive producer at the time, Carmen Finestra, noticed Thomas getting extra attention that season, saying, "That's when I started to hear, 'Boy, that middle kid, I like him.'"

Despite the reported incident, Thomas has fond memories of his time on the show. "The best part was being there, laughing with Tim Allen," as he told People in 2000 (via JTT Archive).


Jonathan Taylor Thomas had a hot career as a teen

Jonathan Taylor Thomas' role as Randy on TV's "Home Improvement" brought his career to new heights. By the start of the show's fourth season, he had finished a gig as the voice of young Simba in Disney's "The Lion King," leading to other film roles in such family-friendly fare as "Man of the House," "Tom & Huck," and "Wild America."


It didn't take long for him to become a teen heartthrob, with the Los Angeles Times noting that Thomas would receive five huge boxes of fan mail every week. By this time, he was featured in essentially every teen magazine imaginable. However, he didn't let the fame go to his head, telling the LA Times he was careful of whom he associated with. "You have to make sure they're not just friends with you because of who you are," he said — a wise statement for a 13-year-old.

In a 2013 interview with People, the actor reflected on those early days of his career. "I never took the fame too seriously," he said. "It was a great period in my life, but it doesn't define me. 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."


The young actor had directing aspirations

While Jonathan Taylor Thomas was largely touted as Hollywood's golden boy throughout the mid-'90s, he had professional aspirations outside of acting. "Show business is something that I'm pretty familiar with, but I think I want to write, direct and basically do it all," he told the Los Angeles Times in a 1994 interview.


The January 1996 issue of Premiere Magazine (via JTT Archive) described him as the "next Macauley Culkin." Nevertheless, he set his sights on becoming more of a Ron Howard-type. Thomas elaborated, explaining that gaining experience as a young actor on a TV show served as an excellent launchpad for a future in directing. "Being able to see this firsthand is the best experience you can have, unless you're the son of Steven Spielberg," he said. "I'm only thirteen: I can learn a lot between now and when I'm actually old enough to be in the DGA [Directors Guild of America]."

Jonathan Taylor Thomas was wise beyond his years

In the '90s, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was often thought of as wise beyond his years. Premiere Magazine's Christopher Connelly even likened him to a 40-year-old man inside a teenage boy's body. His favorite pastime was fishing, and he often made insightful comments in interviews uncommon for an actor his age. 


It's no surprise then that the actor was focused on going to college. Despite his Hollywood success, he was aware that "entertainment is a fickle business," as he told People back in 2000 (via JTT Archive). According to the publication, he visited many prestigious colleges and universities, including Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and Northwestern, where he was interested in studying theater and possibly history. In fact, Thomas first visited colleges when he was only 12 while traveling to promote "The Lion King" with his mother, Claudine Gonsalves. "For both my sons, a minimum of a college education was important," she told People.

For a young actor, Thomas was keenly aware of the pitfalls of fame — something he intentionally tried to avoid. "You can't be trapped in this bubble called the acting industry," he told Premiere Magazine (via JTT Archive). "The industry is neurotic and weird, and so when I go home and I play basketball with my friends. I'm not Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I'm just Jonathan."


Drama allegedly ensued when he did not return for the Home Improvement series finale

In 1998, Jonathan Taylor Thomas surprised "Home Improvement" fans when he left the series to enroll full-time at a private Los Angeles high school and prepare for college. Still, his fans assumed he would return for the series finale, so they were shocked when he did not. The most upset, however, was reportedly his onscreen dad, played by Tim Allen. An April 1999 report in Star Magazine (via JTT Archive) alleged Allen was angry, with a show insider claiming, "Tim's eyes welled up after the taping of the last show was over and he told everyone how much he was going to miss them." The source added, "But it was also clear he was furious that Jonathan decided not to show up for the show — or the farewell party."


Reportedly, Thomas' TV mom, played by Patricia Richardson, reached out to him after the taping. "This is not the way I wanted this to end," she allegedly told a friend. "I was hoping the wounds between Jonathan and Tim would heal enough so that all 'my sons' could be together one last time." The article alleged that Thomas likely skipped the final episode to avoid Allen, who reportedly did not hide his irritation toward Thomas when he returned for the Christmas episode. The two would, however, go on to patch things up (via Outsider).

After Home Improvement, Jonathan Taylor Thomas took on some serious film roles

While Jonathan Taylor Thomas focused on his studies after leaving "Home Improvement," he didn't completely leave Hollywood behind — he just became strategic about his roles (via Us Weekly). In 2000, Thomas starred in the Showtime movie "Common Ground," in which he played a small-town teen bullied for his sexual orientation. Elaborating on his character, Tobias, with The Advocate (via JTT Archive), he said, "He's very driven, very smart, and he just wants to be accepted ... he doesn't want to let other people's hatred and insecurities prevent him from being the best he can be" — coming from someone way ahead of the times.


Thomas' role in the film "Speedway Junky" further helped him escape his comfort zone. "I think what he's trying to do is show that he's capable of a lot more things than people think he is," director Nickolas Perry told The Advocate. Thomas explained, "I didn't do these pieces to change my image. I did them for me. I had an attachment to these characters."

A now-iconic adult-oriented role — the lead in 1999's smash teen comedy "American Pie" — almost went to Thomas before going to Jason Biggs. Biggs told Us Weekly, "Theoretically, he could have done it but at the time, I think it didn't fit with his more family-oriented brand."

The Ivy League grad managed to escape the spotlight

Jonathan Taylor Thomas chose to attend Harvard University before graduating in 2010 from Columbia University (via Page Six). He also enjoyed a stint abroad at St. Andrew's University in Scotland. In a rare 2013 interview with People, he explained why he gave up Hollywood for the Ivy League. "I'd been going nonstop since I was 8 years old. I wanted to go to school, to travel and have a bit of a break," he said. "To sit in a big library amongst books and students, that was pretty cool. It was a novel experience for me."


A March 2007 issue of Columbia's student newspaper, Bwog, shared that the actor was taking history classes under his real name, Jonathan Taylor Weiss, but that he had declined their requests for an interview. That isn't surprising, considering the actor was looking to take a break from fame.

In the early 2000s, the actor dabbled in TV work

While "Home Improvement" was Jonathan Taylor Thomas' only longtime starring role on TV, he did not completely say goodbye to the small screen after going to college. He appeared in an episode of "Ally McBeal" in 2000 and lent his voice to six episodes of "The Wild Thornberrys" in 2000 and 2001. Per IMDb, Thomas did additional voice work in the years that followed. He worked on the Christmas movies "The Tangerine Bear: Home in Time for Christmas!" and "Timothy Tweedle the First Christmas Elf," as well as a 2003 episode of "The Simpsons." The 2003 video short "The Lion King Read-Along" also featured some of Thomas' voice lines, recycled from the original "Lion King."


In 2002, he began a recurring role on "Smallville"; in 2004, he played Jeremy on several episodes of "8 Simple Rules"; and in 2005, he appeared on an episode of "Veronica Mars" — his last on-screen appearance for quite some time.

In 2011, he reunited with his former Home Improvement co-stars for a photo shoot

Jonathan Taylor Thomas was missed when he didn't return for the "Home Improvement" series' finale in 1999. However, he did reunite with his former cast members 12 years later in a 2011 reunion photo shoot for Entertainment Weekly. Patricia Richardson, who played his former on-screen mom, Jill Taylor, said she even invited former onscreen sons, Thomas, Taran Noah Smith, and Zachery Ty Bryan, to her house afterward, where they all had a great time catching up. "You know where you can pick up and it feels like no time has passed at all?" Richardson mused. "And at the same time you look at them and say, 'How can you possibly be that age because that makes me way old!'"


An Entertainment Weekly follow-up to the photo shoot delved more into their time together. "I have all girls, so they are like my sons," series star Tim Allen said. "It's kind of creepy how much I like them." While Richardson had seen Ty Bryan and Smith at a TV Land reunion in 2009, she hadn't seen Thomas since the '90s. "We hung out for hours and talked. ... These three are my other kids in some strange way and always will be," she said.

Thomas, for his part, explained his time away from the spotlight, saying, "I didn't have any sort of big gripes. I just wanted to experience other things, see what direction life was going to take me." He added, "I still have a passion for TV, so I could see myself working in it."


He made a guest appearance alongside former TV dad Tim Allen on Last Man Standing

While the "Home Improvement" cast surely enjoyed being together once again, fans were in for an even bigger treat when Jonathan Taylor Thomas guest starred on Tim Allen's comedy series "Last Man Standing" in 2013, his first TV role in eight years. In the episode, Thomas plays John Baker, a restaurant owner interested in Allen's TV daughter, Kristin. Allen and Thomas' characters banter back and forth regarding how familiar each other look, much to the delight of the audience. After Thomas' character leaves, Allen says, "That kid was raised right" (via People).


In fact, as Allen revealed to Yahoo, Thomas agreed to his first onscreen guest appearance after spending months on the "Last Man Standing" set shadowing the show's director, John Pasquin, who was also a director on "Home Improvement." "[Thomas has] always been wonderful [as an actor], then he went to college and he found other interests. ... But he graduated and he came back, and loves directing, loves working with actors." He added, "But he's so shy. ... He worried whether he still had it." This was not Thomas' only appearance on the show. He ended up returning for three more episodes through 2015 (per IMDb).

Jonathan Taylor Thomas has worked behind the camera

We know that Jonathan Taylor Thomas had an interest in directing since he was a kid. As it turns out, during his time with "Last Man Standing," Thomas had the opportunity to direct his former TV dad in a few episodes of the show.


Thomas has also tried his hand at writing, with his former "Home Improvement" co-star, Patricia Richardson, sharing in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" session that he had teamed up with his former co-star and TV brother, Zachery Ty Bryan, on a project she described as "a really wonderful pilot that is sort of R rated." She added that the two were "shopping it around town."

In a 2018 episode of "Access Live," Ty Bryan, along with former "Home Improvement" co-star Taran Noah Smith, shared that he and Thomas were indeed working on a project and that they were in talks with actor Macaulay Culkin. "We kind of came up with a concept and presented it to them and looks like we are moving [forward]," Bryan said.


He was elected to the board of SAG-AFTRA in 2017

In 2017, Jonathan Taylor Thomas' former TV mom, Patricia Richardson, shared an update about Thomas on Facebook, saying he was running alongside her on the Membership First Slate for the SAG-AFTRA National Board and Los Angeles Local Board, adding, as any mom (TV or otherwise) would, "Only of course all grown up now!" SAG-AFTRA is a collaboration between the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, serving as the union for the entertainment world, working to advance the rights and wages of its approximately 160,000 members.


Board member Richardson, also the elected first vice president of the Los Angeles Local board, enthusiastically supported Thomas' bid for both the Los Angeles Local board and the National Board. No doubt, in part to his talent and Richardson's support, Thomas was elected to the SAG-AFTRA National and Local Boards in 2017 for a two-year term, serving alongside actors like Martin Sheen.

In 2021, the paparazzi spotted Jonathan Taylor Thomas in LA for the first time in years

While we may have heard little from Jonathan Taylor Thomas — apart from some of his creative projects and board work — we were given something of an update on the actor, when, in 2021, he was photographed in Los Angeles. As Entertainment Tonight revealed, this marked the first time the star was photographed out in public in LA in some eight years.


Before this sighting came a couple of glimpses of the man formerly known as JTT. TMZ spotted him outside the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood, California, after a 2013 Q&A session for "The Lion King." Thomas' name also came up on a Reddit post in 2016, with one user alleging that Thomas was "a regular at a bar" they frequented, saying, "Haven't seen him in awhile but I've talked to him a couple times in passing. He always seemed a bit sad and distant from everyone."