The Untold Truth Of Mae Whitman

Mae Whitman isn't a traditional leading lady, but she's a Hollywood icon nonetheless. Whitman grew up acting and has been in the industry for decades. While she's typically cast as the best friend or the quirky side character, don't underestimate Whitman — she's prodigiously talented and has the acting resume to prove it.

You've probably seen Whitman act in something over the years, perhaps on a television show like State of Grace or In Treatment, or in one of the many films she's starred in such as Hope Floats or Love's Abiding Joy. Even if you've somehow missed seeing one of the many projects Whitman has acted in, you've likely heard her voice as she's done voice acting work on shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Wherever you recognize Whitman from, there's quite a lot you probably don't know about her. Here's a closer look at the prolific actress.

Mae Whitman was just 4 when she landed her first role

Mae Whitman has been acting for most of her life, landing her first role in the 1994 film When a Man Loves a Woman playing the daughter of Meg Ryan's character. Whitman snagged the part in an adorable way, pigging out during the screen test where breakfast had been set up. "I ended up eating like three plates of food during the thing, and they were like, that was hilarious, she's hired," Whitman told PeopleTV's Couch Surfing (via Entertainment Weekly).

Funnily enough, Whitman never actually set out to become an actress; she only became interested in acting after attending an audition with her mother, who's also an actress. Whitman "was 2 and a half or 3," she told Glamour, when someone at the audition tried to cast her in a commercial. Her mother was adamant about keeping Whitman out of show business, but the young thespian insisted she wanted to start acting. "I'm sure the fact that my mom didn't want me to was one of the reasons why I wanted to do it," Whitman added.

Mae Whitman's parents helped her avoid "a horrible struggle" as a child actor

Mae Whitman has acted steadily since her first film, and she now has over 150 film and television credits under her belt. Some of her notable credits include Independence Day, JAG, Arrested Development, Parenthood, and Good Girls.

Unlike many child stars, who struggle with the pressures of fame at a young age and often end up going down a destructive path, Whitman has stayed grounded. She credits her parents with keeping her life stable, even though her childhood wasn't exactly normal. "I can see how it could be such a horrible struggle," she admitted to HuffPost. "It's tricky." 

One way Whitman's parents helped her navigate her career was by being selective about what she worked on. "They really were so careful all along the way to choose projects that were with good people and honest people," Whitman continued. Whitman's parents also never pressured her to prioritize her career; instead they made sure she only acted if she wanted to. As she told People, they were careful to not make her acting career "bigger than what was going to make me feel good and where my heart was."

Mae Whitman felt "like an outsider" growing up

In spite of the fact that she grew up as a movie star — or perhaps because of it — Mae Whitman never really felt like she fit in anywhere as a kid. As she explained to Los Angeles Magazine, growing up, she felt "like an outsider or a little different," not unlike her character in the 2015 film The DUFF who is the "designated ugly fat friend" of her social circle.

In an interview with BuzzFeed, Whitman revealed that her adolescence was particularly unpleasant as she "was bullied in high school" and was "made fun of all the time." As she explained, "I've always been an outcast."

As an adult, though, Whitman has more sympathy for the people who bullied her growing up. Trying to fit in can be difficult, after all, and she recognizes that many people become cruel in an effort to "make someone feel smaller so you can feel bigger."

This is why Mae Whitman loves to read

To be as good of an actor as Mae Whitman requires a good imagination, and Whitman has this in spades. Part of her acting ability stems from coming from a creative family and from growing up on film and television sets, but she also gets some inspiration from books. Whitman is a voracious reader, and opened up to Collider about the kinds of books she likes to consume. Whitman loves poetry, citing E.E. Cummings and Walt Whitman as two of her favorite poets, but also loves science fiction author Ray Bradbury.

Like many readers, Whitman loves the escape that reading a good book brings. "You get to go places in your own mind, and it's not visual," she explained. Whitman also loves that books rely on the reader to dream up what scenes and characters look like. "It's as big as you want it to be, and that's something that I always find really freeing," she added.

Endometriosis caused complications in Mae Whitman's career

After several years of suffering from debilitating pain, Mae Whitman was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2019. Per the Mayo Clinic, the condition is an "often painful disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus."

Whitman recalled feeling the pain she'd later come to know was due to endometriosis as young as 7. For years, her family thought she suffered from lactose intolerance, but her condition never improved. "When I turned about 15 or 16, I started to actually throw up from the pain," she revealed in an interview with Glamour. No treatments worked, and Whitman even had to turn down acting opportunities because of her endometriosis. 

Getting diagnosed at 30 gave Whitman answers and a treatment plan, but the condition can't be cured. The actress said that she's doing better since having surgery to treat her condition, but "symptoms... [still] pop up out of nowhere." The pain Whitman experiences is no longer as intense, but she deals with other symptoms including "insane bloating, nausea, extreme fatigue, [and] super-nervous panic attacks."

Mae Whitman is BFFs with her on-screen mom, Lauren Graham

Mae Whitman bonded with the cast of Parenthood, especially with Lauren Graham, who played her on-screen mom on the show. Whitman revealed to Glamour that Graham has had a huge impact on her life, saying, "She's more than a best friend: She's my role model, she's a mother, she's a sister."

Whitman recalled to Paper that her friendship with Graham "was pretty immediate." Not long after the two met, Whitman told Graham that she "could never afford a nice [cooking] pan." When Graham then presented Whitman with "the most beautiful LaCruze pan" for Christmas that year, Whitman knew she had found a confidante for life. It wasn't the cost of the gift that won her over, but rather "how she had listened... and been so considerate."

The two are so close that Whitman trusts her with her dating life. "I've had her write break-up texts for me for God's sake!" she told the Los Angeles Times.

Mae Whitman is surprisingly frugal

Mae Whitman has been acting steadily since she was 4 years old, and she's earned quite a bit of money over her decades-long career. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Whitman has an estimated $1 million in the bank, but she's been very careful about what she does with her money. While some stars might splurge on big houses or designer clothes, Whitman has been very frugal with her hard-earned cash.

In 2018, the actress revealed to CNBC that she'd finally decided to spend a chunk of her money on what she considered to be an extravagant purchase: a king-sized bed. As far as big purchases go, a comfy bed seems to be pretty practical, but Whitman still "cried about it for three hours," saying that it was "so much money to spend in one place."

Whitman also explained that she hardly ever makes large purchases, and has a rule for what it's okay to spend a lot of money on. "The only thing I will really spend money on is if it improves quality of life or convenience," she revealed.

Mae Whitman is "very protective" of child actors

Having grown up as a child star herself, Mae Whitman is very aware of how vulnerable kids in the acting industry can be. This was made even more evident in the wake of the #MeToo Movement, in which many people came forward about the abuse they experienced in the industry. 

Whitman told Paper that the stories about harassment that came out made her "want to burst into tears," particularly when the stories involved children. "I feel extremely protective," said Whitman of child actors, adding that she goes out of her way to ensure their well-being on set and to "make sure they're feeling respected and heard."

Whitman said that even when kids are protected on set, the acting industry is still "a tricky environment for a kid" and she wants them to feel safe. "You're toying with kids' emotions," she continued. "So you want to make sure you're going through it in a considerate and present way."

Mae Whitman has done a surprising amount of voice acting

Mae Whitman has a recognizable face, but she's also quite a successful voice actress. In fact, she's starred in some projects that many of her fans likely don't know about, landing her first voice role just two years into her acting career in a 1996 episode of Duckman: Private Dick/Family Man. Since then she's lent her voice to dozens of projects, including Fillmore!, Johnny Bravo, American Dragon: Jake Long, DC Super Hero Girls, and Family Guy. Whitman has also voiced Tinker Bell in several projects, including several video games and videos.

It was her mother, voice actress Pat Musick, who served as Whitman's inspiration for voice acting. "I grew up around that," she told People. "It's such a fun environment and always feels like home."

Whitman added that she enjoys voice acting because there's no pressure to get all dolled up. She also loves that it allows her to engage with a younger audience, as most of her voice projects are aimed at children "And it's really nice to connect with kids, especially when the message is great," she said.

Mae Whitman has struggled with typecasting

Mae Whitman has serious acting chops, but has often found herself "typecast as a quirky, misfit girl — the friend you don't really hear the story of," as she told BuzzFeed. While this has given her plenty of roles over the years, it has also prevented her from truly stretching her wings and showing the full range of her talents.

The fact that Whitman is typically seen as the sidekick rather than as the leading lady has led to some pushback from fans, especially after her role was recast in the sequel to Independence Day. Whitman played the president's daughter in the first film as a little girl, but the part went Maika Monroe in the sequel, leading to speculation that Whitman was recast because she isn't as conventionally attractive as Monroe. The Independent noted that stars like Kristen Stewart and Carey Mulligan denounced the casting decision as "sexist," while Anna Kendrick tweeted her outrage, writing that Whitman "is talented as hell."

Whitman didn't comment, but the Independent noted that she did retweet a piece condemning the recasting.

Mae Whitman's character on Arrested Development was almost recast

One of Mae Whitman's most memorable roles is that of Ann on Arrested Development. Ann was conceived as a joke character, a thoroughly average and forgettable person whose name most of the other characters repeatedly forget. The role was originally supposed to be played by a string of actresses and, per CinemaBlend, was portrayed by Alessandra Torresani in the show's first season before Whitman took over the part.

As Whitman told PeopleTV (via CinemaBlend), the casting switch ups were conceived so audiences "were always on [their] toes," but it was eventually decided to have Whitman continue to play the character, which she joked felt "like... a real insult." In reality, though, the casting decision was just a testament to Whitman's impressive acting skills. "They were like, 'No, no, you're making the whole not-memorable thing work, we'll just go with that," she said.

Mae Whitman doesn't have a "type" when it comes to dating

While Mae Whitman has done her best to keep her love life out of the press over the years, she does date and has been in serious relationships. The actress told Glamour that she's "dated a lot," starting from a very "young" age, and that dating has helped her learn a lot about herself. "I've learned so much from every single person that I've dated," she shared.

Whitman isn't one to put a label on her sexuality, revealing that her "type" is "constantly changing." As she explained, "I just like people." Whitman revealed that she's been attracted to both men and women, and doesn't have a preference when it comes to her partner being younger or older than her. "I appreciate everything and everyone," she continued.

Whitman added that she's grateful to have grown up in an inclusive environment where she never feared being judged for her sexuality. Being attracted to someone of the same sex was "never even... presented as something different," in her family.

This is what Mae Whitman would do if she wasn't an actress

While Mae Whitman doesn't have any plans to leave show business behind any time soon, she has thought about what her career would look like if she hadn't followed her dream of becoming an actress. Her answers reveal that she has quite an adventurous spirit. "It would be either working at a zoo helping the animals or as a park ranger," she told Glamour of her hypothetical alternative career, explaining that she enjoys "being outside."

Then again, Whitman is also a people person, and thinks that she'd be good at "giving museum tours," which would also allow her to explore her love of art. She also thinks that she'd make a great personal assistant to Taylor Swift, or a hotel reviewer for Glamour

Whitman is also interested in directing, although her directorial debut was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Variety noted that Whitman was set to direct an episode of Good Girls in 2020 before the pandemic prompted shutdowns.

There's a surprising story behind Mae Whitman's Instagram handle

People who follow Mae Whitman on Instagram will notice two things. First, that she has a huge fan base, with over a million followers. Fans may also wonder what the deal is with her unusual handle, @mistergarf. Is it a nickname? A reference to one of her many roles?

Whitman opened up to The Lily about the inspiration for the handle, and it turns out that it has a personal meaning for the actress: Whitman named her account after a mysterious man she met in Jamaica, saying, "one day he came up and gave me a cactus and told me to wash my hair in the ocean with it," which ended up being "one of the most amazing experiences."

Whitman explained that she felt a connection to Mister Garf, and admired that "he knew how to be open and honest at the right time, but also chill when it's time to be chill."