Denise From Full House Doesn't Look Like This Anymore

Denise from Full House might have only technically been a minor character, but Jurnee Smollett's antics in the role of Michelle's ever-adorable partner in crime are memorable for all the right reasons.

While unveiling that her character Denise was actually Little Richard's niece may have been a career highlight for many former child stars, Smollett has soared to even greater heights as an actor since her heady Full House days. In fact, chances are you've probably been wowed by an adult Jurnee Smollett in another hit show without even realizing you were watching a grown-up Denise demonstrate her considerable talent. 

So, let's take a whirlwind tour through this often under-appreciated actor's impressive resume.

Denise from Full House had a full house of her own growing up

When you look into her family background, It makes total sense that Jurnee Smollett was such a natural as Denise from Full House, despite only being the tender age of 6 when she first appeared on the show. She is the fourth of six children who all happen to have been involved in the performing arts at some point in their lives, a dynamic that reflects the chaotic smattering of kids that made Full House such a classic family-friendly romp.

Just like the Full House posse, Smollett and her family were incredibly close throughout their childhoods and beyond. Her brother controversial Empire star Jussie Smollett explained to The New York Times that the family affectionately refers to themselves as "Smoll Nation" because — in Jurnee Smollett's own words — they have their very "own culture."

Even in adulthood, brother Jussie remembers his sister's special talent shining through from a very early age, as he told The New York Times that "at a year old, she was like a mix of Diana Ross and Elizabeth Taylor." He added, "She was boss from the beginning."

Jurnee Smollett had star power before playing Denise from Full House

Jurnee Smollett wasn't the only Smollett to bathe in the sitcom spotlight as a child star. In fact, all of her brothers and sisters had their very own short-lived show in 1994. Entitled On Our Own, the ABC sitcom cast the real-life siblings as brothers and sisters who had lost their parents and were being raised by their big brother — played by Ralph Louis Harris of Dreamgirls fame.

As the law of averages might lead you to expect, Smollett wasn't the only one in her family to make the big time as an adult. Her older brother Jussie played Jamal Lyon — the openly gay son in the Lyon family dynasty — on Fox's hit hip hop soap opera Empire until he was written out of the show

While not all of the Smollett kids have chosen to pursue a life in showbiz — Jojo works at a non profit, Jocqui's part of a tech firm, and Jake is a chef — they are still incredibly close and help each other with their careers whenever they can. For example, Jurnee and Jussie Smollett run a production company alongside sister Jazz, and through her, Jussie learned of the casting call for Empire

The siblings later banded together to support brother Jake on the Food Network six-part series Smollett Eats. Jurnee Smollett told the New York Post that the show is "really like a sneak-peek into what we like to do as a family."

After playing Denise from Full House, Jurnee Smollett scooped up awards at the tender age of 10

Jurnee Smollett was undeniably impressive as Denise from Full House, but, by the age of 10, the child star was wowing the industry with her turn as the titular Eve Batiste in Kasi Lemmons' award-winning movie Eve's Bayou

Sinking her teeth into her role as Samuel L. Jackson's daughter, Smollett clearly made a huge impression on her fellow cast members. Her on-screen aunt Debbi Morgan explained to The New York Times that "with a part like Eve, it had to be an exceptional child," adding, "It was something innate that Jurnee did up there on that screen. You can't teach that.”

While the adults around her were impressed with her performance, it was all just a day's work to the precocious and intelligent Smollett at the time. The 10-year-old told The New York Times, ”My agent called and told my mommy about this movie that she thought was really good for me. She said Eve was me. So my mommy and me and my sister read the script and we talked about Eve and how I should portray her and what Eve was about.”

As with many things in her life, Eve's Bayou was a family affair for Smollett and her real-life younger brother Jake (pictured above), who starred as her on-screen sibling Poe in the hard-hitting 1997 movie.

Jurnee Smollett became a '90s sitcom stalwart

Jurnee Smollett wasn't just a member of the Full House family — she also appeared on The Cosby Show. While she was thrilled to be part of the show at a time after people had gotten to know her as Denise from Full House, her experiences have been overshadowed by the allegations against series star Bill Cosby. Jurnee explained to BuzzFeed"I just look at the situation and everyone that's involved and everyone that's affected — there are so many people affected — and it's just sad to me.... I don't remember a lot, but as an adult, I just look at the situation and it's heartbreaking for everyone. I'm just so sad about it. I feel so sad for everyone involved."

The actress who played Denise from Full House experienced growing pains in the industry

While Jurnee Smollett enjoyed well-rounded roles when she was a child star after gaining fame as Denise from Full House, she found it increasingly difficult to find roles that did female characters justice as she grew into adulthood. Like many women in the industry, she became frustrated with being typecast as a mere accessory to a male-centric storyline. She told BuzzFeed"It's been about finding roles that weren't set dressing, characters who weren't just the girlfriend. You don't want to be the earpiece for his problems where you have to help push the plot forward and your identity is directly connected to your male counterpart's storyline." She added, "You have no arc of your own and you're really irrelevant."

Jurnee Smollett rubbed shoulders with Hollywood royalty

Alongside her work on the small screen and her role as Denise from Full House, Jurnee Smollett gave impassioned performances in a selection of movies. Through her forays onto the silver screen in films such as The Great Debaters (2007) and Hands of Stone (2016), Smollett has rubbed shoulders with Hollywood royalty such as Robert De Niro, Usher, Forest Whitaker, and Denzel Washington. 

Of course, no career comes without a few minor blips. Smollett had the dubious honor of starring alongside Kim Kardashian in Tyler Perry's controversial Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage CounselorKim Kardashian won a Razzie award for Worst Supporting Actress. Still, the movie was still a popular Tyler Perry movie, so it wasn't all bad news for Smollett! 

The actress who starred as Denise from Full House went underground for a higher profile

Although she undoubtedly had silver screen success, Jurnee Smollett really stamped her name on the industry by returning to her TV roots as an adult, despite the fact that she initially aimed to solely appear in movies. Smollett explained to BuzzFeed that at one point in her career she stopped and said, "No, I'm not doing television," but the star later changed her mind because "they're just writing more complex women in television."

One of these celebrated complex roles is Smollett's turn as Jess Merriweather — a high school girl with an insatiable passion for football — in Friday Night Lights. In typical style, Smollett used her experience of being surrounded by siblings to shape her role, telling GQ that she and her brothers "used to play touch football, where you put the little rag in your pocket." 

The actress previously known for playing Denise from Full House has also appeared in various other celebrated TV shows including True Blood, Parenthood, and WGN's award-winning Underground a riveting drama that follows Georgia-based plantation slaves as they fight for their freedom.

Jurnee Smollett's altruistic efforts

Jurnee Smollett might have dedicated her career to acting, but the actress behind Denise from Full House also still manages to find time to slot a hefty amount of charity work and activism into her schedule. Smollett's passion for standing up for what she believes is right was inherited from her mother, Janet, who was active in the civil rights movement. Her brother Jussie told The New York Times, "My mom was in the movement with Bobby Seale and Huey Newton, and one of her first mentors was Julian Bond."

Although she values her passion for activism, Smollett admits that it can be hard to square her robust morals with the roles that she is offered in the industry. She told The New York Times in that same article, "It makes it hard to just be an actor and to sell your soul, because you have this conscience. I think that's why I say no to projects, that's why Jussie says no to projects, and that's why we fight for the ones that we're told 'no' to."

Jurnee Smollett got married in 2010

Jurnee Smollett married musician Josiah Bell in an intimate ceremony at a Los Angeles botanical garden in October 2010. Speaking out to People magazine about the ceremony, she described her wedding day as "beautiful, moving and personal."

Canadian-born Josiah Bell has a well-established career of his own that began at an incredibly early age, just like that of his wife. By the age of 15, Bell had already penned an astonishing six songs for Grammy-nominated Gospel legend Vickie Winans from his parents' house. Counting celebrities such as Jada Pinkett-Smith as fans, Bell continues to produce his own music.

The actress known as Denise from Full House, who decided to go by Jurnee Smollett-Bell after marrying, credited the success of her relationship to the fact that she and Bell were friends before they realized they had a romantic connection. "We were best friends before we started even dating, so we had this really great foundation. I think one of the challenging things about any lasting relationship is that you have to be so vulnerable," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "I think as human beings we try to hide our flaws and try to present this perfect person, this person we wish we were to our spouse when that causes so many troubles."

The actress known for playing Denise from Full House became a mom

Juggling her successful career with motherhood, Jurnee Smollett is also mom to baby Hunter Zion Bell. The Underground actor announced the little one's arrival on Instagram in November 2016 and has shared a few adorable snaps with her fans since his birth

Speaking out to People magazine, Smollett explained that the way her son is helping her see the world afresh is her favorite thing about motherhood. "He's teaching me so much about myself. He's teaching me so much about love," the proud mother, who gained fame as Denise from Full House, explained. "I see myself in him, and I start to love that about myself even more. It's like I see the world differently now, through his eyes. He makes me reassess, really, what matters."

Denise from Full House found her voice as Black Canary

When it came to comic book team-up movie Birds of Prey, Jurnee Smollett knew she had to play Black Canary. The character's superpower allows her to, quite literally, take on anyone with the strength of her own voice. As Marie Claire noted in an interview with the actress and activist, Smollett was such a huge fan of the character that she used Black Canary's avatar whenever she played video games. The former child star had given birth shortly before filming began, but threw herself into training multiple times a week. To the magazine, she quipped, "I lived in a constant state of pain!" 

Smollett understood the importance of the character, not just to her but to all the little girls watching, and she committed to playing her truthfully. Describing herself as someone who knows what she's doing half the time but often has no clue, the Full House alum explained, "In the film, we're meeting Black Canary before she actually becomes Black Canary, in the sense that she hasn't really owned her power. She's struggling with the gift she has. She struggles with the fact that she has a gift that she doesn't want to own." Smollett, naturally, relates to that struggle. 

Lovecraft Country allowed Jurnee Smollett to be "disruptive"

Jurnee Smollett is picky about her roles, preferring quality over quantity and only taking on work that truly speaks to her as an artist. With horror-fantasy series Lovecraft Countrywhich is set during the 1950s and is loosely based on the titular writer's many horrifying creations, playing Letitia Lewis was more than a job to her. Smollett admitted she frequently felt left out of genre fare because of her race, seeing the series as a way to reclaim some of that power. She described the series as "disruptive," in an interview with Harper's Bazaar

As for Lovecraft Country's rewriting of history, Smollett sees it as "protest art." However, she was quick to add, "We're just telling the truth," noting, "The systemic racism that this nation has been built upon has yet to be dismantled." The actress doubled down on her comments with Deadlinedescribing the removal of Black voices in art as "a disease." Smollett opined, "As an artist, if you can be one more notch that contributes to painting a fuller picture of who we are, it's food for your soul."

Chopping her hair off was a moment of rebirth for her

Actors are expected to be chameleons on screen, but it's understandable for stars to want to avoid changing their offscreen appearance for a role. However, Jurnee Smollett doesn't mind, and she's happy to shed her outer skin to bring a character to life. As Vogue noted, Lovecraft Country's Leti is someone whose appearance means a lot to her, from the chic bob she sports to the pop of her red pout and matching nails, which the actress described as "her claws." Smollett was eager to embody Leti as sincerely as possible. 

When the director of the pilot episode asked her to chop her own locks, the actress was only too happy to oblige, admitting, "I was looking for an excuse to cut off my hair anyway." Tons of time and effort went into creating the perfect bob for Leti, with mood boards created including icons like Elizabeth Taylor, Eartha Kitt, and Lena Horne. As Smollett explained, "In a time and era when the erasure of Black folks was so prevalent, Leti is going to be seen, she is going to stake her claim." 

Jurnee Smollett is all about family

Family life isn't always easy, and Jurnee Smollett learned that the hard way with her sad divorce from husband Josiah Bell after a decade of marriage. Us Weekly reported the news in 2020, noting the actress was the one who filed. The Hollywood Reporter confirmed the couple "quietly separated" in 2019, with Smollett noting she was happy to spend some quality time with their son during the COVID-19-necessitated lockdown.

Smollett also dealt with the aftermath of brother Jussie being accused of staging an attack on himself. To THR, the woman behind Denise from Full House acknowledged how difficult it was not to be able to publicly defend her brother from something she's convinced he could never have done. "I look at him sometimes and I'm like, 'He's so strong,'" she remarked, sharing that Jussie moved in with her in the wake of the divorce. Smollett acknowledged her brother was staying busy and had the full support of his family. 

Jurnee Smollet said she started a "new chapter in my womanhood"

Women are under incredible pressure to "bounce back" after giving birth, but female celebrities are under even more intense scrutiny, particularly when it comes to working and remaining in the public eye. Jurnee Smollett says to hell with that, telling People in no uncertain terms the love she feels towards her son is greater than any high the actress could possibly get in the gym. "You realize [you've] never [known] a love like this before in your entire life," she gushed. Although the Birds of Prey star acknowledged that becoming a parent is a massive adjustment, particularly physically, she's more focused on "embracing this new chapter in my womanhood, and not trying to be the old self."

Likewise, when people accuse her of trying to get back in shape, Smollett shoots them down, arguing that she doesn't want to be her old self regardless of what her body used to look like. "I'm embracing the new me. There's a real new chapter in my womanhood that I'm walking in," the actress reasoned. If only more Hollywood women followed suit, the rest of us might feel a lot better about ourselves.