Aaron Schwartz might not be physically recognizable today, but, during the ’90s, tons of us probably remember him as the lovable chubby kid from movies like The Mighty Ducks (Dave Karp) and Heavyweights (Gerry Garner), along with appearances in TV shows like The Adventures of Pete & Pete. Since then, Schwartz has undergone quite the transformation, going from fat to fit over the course of his adolescent and adult years, and using his own experiences to help motivate others who might struggle with some of the issues he did as a kid.
That’s because, while Aaron Schwartz is lean now, there are plenty of hidden scars that stuck with him for a long time from his younger days, with stories of insecurity — especially for someone who was in the public eye — and questioning his own self-image, which he’s been able to combat as he’s gotten older. In fact, while his youth was split between trying to be a normal kid and someone working in young Hollywood, the stories and lessons he’s learned from his past have led him to a new project to help people lose the stigma of child actors.
After seeing one-too-many “Where Are They Now?” articles online, Aaron Schwartz decided that he’d try to give the child actors a voice, with he and his business partner, Chris Canote, creating a production company called BranNew Pictures. The the first project the two are working on? A documentary called Stigma: Raised In Hollywood, which is all about child actors.
Although Schwartz’s upbringing was untraditional, he’s been able to weave through all the bullshit and come out stronger on the other side. And it’s because of self-reflection and awareness from his past that his passion for his new film can tell the uncut truth about what life in young Hollywood is really like.
Shut Up & Hustle: What’s It Like Growing Up As A Young Actor? Do You Think Your Life Was Different Than Normal Kids?
Aaron Schwartz: “So, I did start acting at six, but I feel like a lot of child actors start either on a parents’ whim or because their family is already in the business. I remember being six and telling my mom that I wanted to be in movies. And, from that day until maybe around sixteen, it was my obsession. Not a minute went by that I didn’t think about ‘what’s my next step’ in order to book a movie.
“When I was 7, the first Batman came out with Michael Keaton. I was living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and, one day while walking down the block with my mom, I saw Mr. Keaton sitting on an apple box as a makeup person applied finishing touches before a scene. I looked around and noticed they were actually filming a movie. As PA’s tried to wrangle my mom and I across the street to prep for the next shot, I stopped and told my mom that I wanted to ask Keaton a question.
“Another actor, Anthony LaPaglia, was also on set, they were filming One Good Cop, and, unable to reach Michael Keaton, I bothered him instead, just interrogating him on how I could be in movies like he was. Within minutes, he gave me a checklist on how I could begin to work my way into the business and, over the next couple of months, I followed that checklist to a T — and it worked. I booked a couple small gigs, then the Ducks came within two years.”
Shut Up & Hustle: How Did You Balance Your Career With Trying To Be, You Know, Normal?
Aaron Schwartz: “So yeah, long story short, my childhood was relatively normal, I was just obsessed and strangely more career driven than I am now (laughs). I came from pretty humble beginnings and my mom never had her nose up. So we always stayed grounded.”
Shut Up & Hustle: What About Teasing? Did You Get Any Because Of Your Success?
Aaron Schwartz: “When it came to teasing, to be honest, there wasn’t much of that in regards to my success. I went to a public school up until The Mighty Ducks came out. Then I went to a private school that specialized in professional children, aptly named: Professional Children’s School. There were a lot of famous kids that went there, so there wasn’t much teasing in regards to one’s success — we were all kind of in the same boat.
“But I was, on occasion, teased for my weight. That definitely wasn’t fun, getting teased by famous kids. But after Heavyweights came out, the teasing seemed to subside. That’s one major aspect of being involved with that movie that still gives me pride. It gave the little chubsters a group to belong to. It gave us power in social settings that we never had before.”
Shut Up & Hustle: What Was It Like Transitioning From That “Chubby Kid” To More Adult Roles As You Got Older? Did You Lose Out On Parts?
Aaron Schwartz: “When I was 15, I did start to see roles dwindle. I just finished shooting Pete & Pete with a fellow Mighty Ducks alum, Danny Tamberelli, and, while I was still getting quite a few auditions, they weren’t pouring in like they were before.
“I booked a couple things here and there, and might have kept booking if I didn’t decide to leave the business. I left the industry when I was 16 and moved to Israel for a couple of years. To this day, I’m still not sure why I made that decision, but it wasn’t because the roles stopped coming.
“I remember telling my agent that I was booking out for a month (at the time I only decided on a month long trip), and my agent told me that I had interest for two big roles. But I guess something in me said, ‘stop, go live your life.’ And, honestly, I’m glad I took that break. Sure, I might have hit a higher level of success earlier, but who knows where that would have led me now?
“As for the chubster, I think I kind of just grew out of it. I still had a little extra meat on me until I was probably 17. By that time, my focus had shifted to girls. And that definitely motivated me to pick up the weights.”
Shut Up & Hustle: You Really Turned Your Life Around And Started Getting Fit. Was There A Singular Moment You Decided To Do That?
Aaron Schwartz: “Like I said, it was really just wanting to be liked by girls, as superficial as that sounds. By the time I hit my early 20’s, it shifted into health. I began to notice, especially in my mid-20’s after trying to get back into the business, that my health and weight played a major role in mental health and happiness.”
Shut Up & Hustle: And Now How Do You Feel About Yourself When You Look In The Mirror?
Aaron Schwartz: “Oh, I definitely still have weight issues in my mind; even when I’m in my best shape. That’s one unfortunate aspect of growing up in this business: how you look to others is always on your mind. I would say I have a mild case of body dysmorphia. And I think a lot of that has to do with being fat as a kid and growing up knowing thin is always in.
“So when I look in the mirror — which I do way more than I should (laughs) — I rarely see what I like. And that’s something I’m constantly working on. Not by changing my body, but by trying to reprogram my mind. No matter if you’re 500 pounds or 170 pounds, you should love yourself and be kind to yourself no matter what. The self-hating toxicity a lot us walk around with is so dangerous and unnecessary.
“Now, that’s not saying if our bodies are in an unhealthy state we shouldn’t take actions to correct it, but it does mean that we should do so with kindness and patience for ourselves.”
Shut Up & Hustle: And, Ironically, Your Experience As A Child Actor Inspired A New Documentary You’re Working On, Yeah?
Aaron Schwartz: “Yep. I just started a production company with my good friend and amazing filmmaker Chris Canote called BranNew Pictures. And we’re in mid-Production of our first film, a documentary titled Stigma: Raised In Hollywood.
“The documentary has been mulling around in my head for a few years. It’s basically a journey into why the child star ‘stigma’ exists from a former child star’s perspective.
“Every interview I usually do starts with the question: ‘What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘child actor’?’ Now, think about that for a moment. What is the first thing or emotion or feeling that comes to mind? It’s rarely a good one. Why is that? Is it valid? Is it the child actor’s actions that got us to this place? Is it the media’s portrayal and sensationalizing the whole ‘where are they now’ thing that ultimately has a negative spin because it gets more viewership? Is it the parents? Perhaps the industry? I personally don’t know. But I do know it exists, and I do know that no one has really championed for the other side. Or has given us a voice in all of this.
“So, ultimately, this doc aims to, if not break the stigma, at least understand the root of why it exists, and hopefully share with the world why child stars are so often misunderstood.”
Shut Up & Hustle: That’s So Awesome, Man, Good Stuff. Any Other Projects You’re Working On?
Aaron Schwartz: “Yep, right now I have a lot in the works. I’ve recently booked a couple guest spots on some big shows, one of which I got to do a scene with one of my favorite actors; Alan Arkin. I just recently played a detective along side Narcos actor Jessie Garcia for Brian Metcalf’s thriller Adverse — which stars Mickey Rourke, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Sean Astin, Penelope Anne Miller and Lou Diamond Phillips — so this year’s looking like it’s going to be the busiest year I’ve had in a while.”
To donate to Aaron Schwartz’s new project, Stigma: Raised In Hollywood, visit the Indigogo fundraising page and see the various levels of financial backing available.