The Little Girl From Hope Floats Is Unrecognizable Today

Sandra Bullock has always known how to tug at our heartstrings but pair her with a dashing Harry Connick Jr. and a cheeky Gena Rowlands, and you have the romantic, feel-good 1998 flick, "Hope Floats." If you need a refresher, Bullock played Birdee Calvert, a betrayed wife who is forced to start over with her daughter Bernice in the Forest Whitaker-directed film. With her adorably large glasses and smart aleck lines, the young daughter in "Hope Floats" was Bullock's character's saving grace at times, and the actor who played her is now all grown up.

Mae Whitman was born June 9, 1988, and was just 9 years old when she starred as Bernice Calvert in the movie. Now in her 30s, the former child star is completely unrecognizable, having transformed into an actor you've probably seen in several beloved films and television shows. Whitman had a unique upbringing and, although much of her childhood was spent in front of the camera, she managed to skip the controversy many young stars deal with, transitioning right into a successful career as an adult. So, what has the little girl from "Hope Floats" been up to in her nearly three decades on screen?

Mae Whitman got her start in commercials

Before she played Sandra Bullock's daughter in "Hope Floats," and long before she made her film debut in 1994 alongside Meg Ryan in "When a Man Loves a Woman," Mae Whitman was acting in commercials. When she was just 3 years old, her mom, voice actor Pat Musick, had been auditioning for a commercial with her daughter waiting in a separate area. As Whitman told Bobbie Wygant in a 1998 interview, "I ran in crying and I got the part and she didn't ... I don't know how I got the part, I didn't even know the part existed, and I still got it, and I wanted to do it."

Whitman had been bitten by the acting bug, and from then on, she had a passion for it. Although she was young, she was thankfully paired with acting coach Andrew Magarian, who made the entire process easy to understand. Speaking with Backstage in 2012, Whitman explained, "I started [working with him] before I could read, so I had to learn how to memorize lines and other things in a whole different way." She added, "He was really helpful in explaining acting to a kid ... He definitely really helped me in the beginning, and he still does."

She grew close with Sandra Bullock while filming Hope Floats

There might be more than a two-decade age gap between Sandra Bullock and Mae Whitman, but that didn't stop the two from becoming good friends while filming "Hope Floats" together. Since their characters in the movie were so believable as a mother-daughter duo, it's clear that their time together off-screen probably helped.

In 2018, Whitman appeared on Entertainment Weekly's "Couch Surfing" segment and recounted what her time on set with her on-screen mom was like. "Sandra Bullock and I, like, became so tight and she would take me everywhere ... My parents would be like, 'Sorry if she's annoying you,' and she'd be like, 'No! She's my friend.'" Whitman also added that the two would sometimes eat lunch in the movie star's trailer and go out to dinner. Bullock also apparently loved to tell the young actor stories all the time.

Mae Whitman's parents kept her life balanced

Some child stars come away from their careers filled with resentment towards their parents and guardians for not protecting or supporting them enough while they were becoming famous. However, the opposite can be said for Mae Whitman, who insists that it was because of her parents that she survived childhood stardom. In 2021, she appeared on "The Drew Barrymore Show" and bonded with the host over their shared experiences as kid actors. "My family was very devoted to trying to keep me a child and make sure that I didn't feel pressured into doing anything, and they were very cautious about it the whole time," Whitman explained.

Whitman once again credited her parents for keeping her on a good path from a young age during an interview with Salon in April 2023. She spoke about how careful the parents of child stars need to be about the environments they place their kids in. "[I had] genuinely good parents ... The priority was always truly my happiness as a child." Whitman later joked that if it weren't for her mom and dad's support throughout her career, she would be "licking drugs off a ... sidewalk if I didn't have that."

Mae Whitman played Ann Veal on Arrested Development

If you don't remember Ann Veal, George Michael's girlfriend on "Arrested Development," don't feel bad; you weren't meant to. In Season 1, the character was played by Alessandra Torresani but she was recast the following season as a joke, as Ann (often referred to as "Her?") was meant to be completely forgettable and underwhelming. Mae Whitman snagged the part and ended up reprising her role on the show over the course of nine years for a total of 18 episodes.

The actor spoke on Entertainment Weekly's "Couch Surfing" in 2018 about what it was like to play such an unremarkable character. "It keeps you humble ... They were originally going to keep replacing the actress that played Ann ... And then they stuck with me, which I feel like is a real insult. They were like 'No, you're making the whole not memorable thing work.'" Whitman quipped.

Although she's joked about staying on the show, when speaking with The A.V. Club in March 2023, she explained how much she loved working on "Arrested Development." She said, "I love being that kind of fun character and exploring weird people ... [Series creator] Mitch Hurwitz has a brain that works so fast at creating incredible stuff. Plus, the cast was one of the funniest of all time." She added, "That show is one of my proudest moments."

She got to work with her friend in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

In 2010, Mae Whitman got to channel her inner villain when she played Roxy Richter, Ramona Flower's fourth evil ex in "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World." She bleached her hair for the role and underwent rigorous training, which was far from simple as she told The A.V. Club in March 2023. "That movie was hard to shoot, but it's another proud moment. I had to do three months of boot camp for ribbon dancing and fight training every weekend," Whitman said.

On the bright side, she also got to work closely with one of her friends, Michael Cera, while filming over the course of nine months. The pair got to collaborate again having already worked on "Arrested Development" together, but this time, they had to fight one another in the name of their shared love interest.

"We're really good friends. He's so generous and funny; he's not like many other comedians, needing validation constantly. He's just who he is and likes making people laugh," Whitman explained. "It was reassuring to have each other. We could lie down and stare at the walls on our days off," she added. And, now that the comic book that became a movie has turned into an animated show as of 2023, titled "Scott Pilgrim Takes Off," Whitman and Cera will get the chance to work together again.

She followed in her mom's footsteps

Mae Whitman may have made a name for herself acting in front of the camera for movies and television shows over the last several years, but you may not know that she's also the voice behind some seriously iconic cartoon characters. And it's no wonder she's become involved in voice acting, considering that her mom Pat Musick is a veteran of the industry: She's done voices for several "Scooby-Doo" cartoon movies, the '80s series "The Smurfs," "Rugrats," and many others.

Just like her mother, Whitman has brought several cartoon characters to life with her iconic vocals over the years, including Little Suzy in "Johnny Bravo," several characters in the 2012 "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" series, Katara in "Avatar: The Last Airbender," and even Tinker Bell in a handful of shows, movies, and video game adaptations. In 2012, Whitman spoke with Entertainment Weekly about her love of voice acting. "It's a huge part of my life. My mom was a voice-over actress, who has done millions of projects," she explained. "I was sort of born into the world of voice-acting and knew everybody who was in this universe. I just love it so much."

She relates to her high school characters

Mae Whitman has played a high schooler several times in her acting career, and she's often taken on the roles of quirky, misunderstood characters rather than the super popular cheerleader types. It seems that this has been a choice Whitman has made because of her own experiences as a teenager and she's related to some of her characters on a deeper level.

In a 2012 interview with Teen Vogue following her portrayal of Mary Elizabeth in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," the actor spoke about the similarities she saw between herself and her on-screen character. "I've always related to not being popular in high school and not being the 'super hot girl.'" The actor shared. "It was important to me to bring more dimensions to Mary Elizabeth ... She's a real person who has a life and a heart and reasons for doing what she does," she added.

Whitman had similar feelings about playing the role of Bianca in "The DUFF," aka the "designated ugly fat friend." Whitman spoke on "Build" in 2017 about feeling a kinship with her character, saying, "'The DUFF' for me was, like, a super personal experience ... I was totally bullied in high school, a lot, and like, made fun of. ... I was weird." Although her high school experience was unfortunate, her characters in these films convey a positive message to teens about loving themselves the way they are.

Mae Whitman enjoyed portraying a mother in Good Girls

After years of roles playing a protagonist's daughter, a misunderstood outcast teen, and the rebellious, combative youth, Mae Whitman finally got to portray a more adult figure in the series "Good Girls." Playing Annie Marks in the show alongside Christina Hendricks and Retta allowed Whitman to portray a mother for the first time. And, although her earlier roles led to a healthy net worth and she'd already proven her ability as a young actress, 2018 was the perfect time for her to shift gears.

In an interview with Variety, Whitman explained what it was like finding herself in such a new role on screen. "I've been sitting in so many cars looking up at the mom — my TV mom or my movie mom — who's been driving, and it's amazing now that I'm driving the car. I look over at my kid in the passenger seat and it just feels really full circle, and it feels really cool." She added, "It makes me remember how thankful I am that I still get to be doing the job I do."

Although "Good Girls" was well received, it was unfortunately canceled after four seasons. However, we're sure to see Whitman appear as a mother figure again in future projects.

She was diagnosed with endometriosis

Although she's been in the public eye for the better part of three decades, Mae Whitman hasn't spoken out very often about her personal issues. However, in March 2021, the actor revealed that, after suffering for years, she had finally been diagnosed with endometriosis, a painful condition that causes uterine tissue to grow outside of the uterus. The most common symptoms are often described as extraordinarily painful periods, and Whitman soon learned that her level of pain wasn't normal.

Speaking with People, the actor explained the agony she endured whilst trying to figure out what was happening with her body. "First they would say period pain is normal. And I was like, 'Okay, I'm barfing into the toilet seven times every single time.' And then they would say, 'Well, you should go on birth control because it could be this weird thing called endometriosis, that we don't really know a lot about.'" She explained, "I just would leave these appointments just crying hysterically in my car, because I felt so gaslit."

Finally, after becoming ill, missing out on roles, and still battling with her symptoms, Whitman connected with Lena Dunham, who has been outspoken about her experience with endometriosis. Dunham put her in touch with a doctor who helped Whitman feel understood, and she eventually received laparoscopic excision surgery to treat the condition.

She came out as pansexual in 2021

In 2020, Mae Whitman joined the cast of Disney Channel's animated series "The Owl House" as the recurring character, Amity. Luz Noceda, the show's female lead, shows romantic interest in both male and female characters, including Whitman as Amity. Dana Terrace, the creator of "The Owl House," confirmed that the character was bisexual, making the series the first on Disney Channel to showcase a bisexual protagonist.

In August 2021, Mae Whitman came out to the world as pansexual in a heartfelt Twitter post that demonstrated her pride in working on the show. She wrote, "Just taking a moment to say I am SO proud to be even a small part of a show like The Owl House. Being pansexual myself, I wish I had such incredible characters like Amity and Luz in my life when I was growing up. Queer representation is sososo important."

With such a broad spectrum of sexuality, some people relate to their identity in different ways from others, so Whitman clarified what it means for her to identify as pansexual in a follow-up Twitter post. "For me it means I know I can fall in love with people of all genders. This is the word that fits me best," she wrote.

Mae Whitman has thrown herself into a musical project

Mae Whitman has done it all, from acting to lending her voice to animated projects to executive producing. Branching out into varying genres and mediums seems to be one of Whitman's strengths, and she did it again when she starred alongside Carlos Valdes in Hulu's 2023 musical romcom "Up Here."

She spoke with the New York Post in March 2023 about the biggest insecurity she faced on this project. "I can do anything on camera, I do not care," she shared. "But when it comes to singing, it feels like I'm baring my soul and being completely vulnerable and terrified. So, it's why I wanted to do this job," she explained.

Speaking with Screen Rant just before the show was released, Whitman explained the difficulties she faced with the musical aspect of the show, especially given her lack of experience. "I like, sang a little bit on 'Parenthood' and I did a little sing here and there but ... it's truly one of the last, like, mediums I haven't explored and so, to be able to be presented with this opportunity, I was, like, genuinely terrified," she said. According to the actor, the audition process involved singing in front of a piano amongst talented musicians. Still, despite her nerves, Whitman killed it and landed a role unique from anything else she's done so far.