See the Cast of ‘Clarissa Explains It All’ Then and Now
Way back in 1991, Nickelodeon introduced young audiences to ‘Clarissa Explains It All,’ starring Melissa Joan Hart as a quirky teen girl who lives with her family, the Darlings, and often addresses the audience directly while dealing with typical problems like school, boys, pimples and her annoying little brother Ferguson. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since we last hung out with Clarissa and her BFF Sam, so join us as we revisit the cast of ‘Clarissa Explains It All’ (including some very special guest stars) before they were famous and see what they’re up to these days.
Melissa Joan Hart, Clarissa Darling
Then: Melissa Joan Hart’s first major role came as Clarissa, the lead character of ‘Clarissa Explains It All’ — she was witty and clever with an incredibly unique fashion sense. Clarissa was popular but cool in a weird way, believed in UFOs, loved rock music, and her best friend was her next-door neighbor, Sam.
Now: Hart went on to star in the teen series ‘Sabrina, the Teenage Witch’ from 1996 to 2003. She also appeared in the films ‘Drive Me Crazy,’ ‘Can’t Hardly Wait’ and ‘Not Another Teen Movie,’ as well as three ‘Sabrina’ TV movies. In 2009, she competed on ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ and since 2010 she’s starred on the sitcom ‘Melissa and Joey’ with fellow former teen star Joey Lawrence of ‘Blossom’ fame.
Jason Zimbler, Ferguson Darling
Then: Jason Zimbler played Ferguson W. Darling, aka Ferg-face, Clarissa’s pesky younger brother and a young Republican who always has a get rich quick scheme up his sleeve. The pair constantly antagonize one another, though occasionally team up when the goal is mutually beneficial.
Now: Zimbler guest starred on other Nickelodeon programs as himself but moved on from television to focus on theatre, directing and assisting with productions in New York. In 2007, he was chosen to take part in the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts’ Director’s Lab, and he was a teacher and program head at a creative arts camp for several years. Later in 2007, he co-founded The Re-Theatre Instrument theatre company in Portland, Oregon. Since 2011, he’s been a software designer for HBO.
Sean O’Neal, Sam Anders
Then: Sean O’Neal made his acting debut as Sam, Clarissa’s optimistic best friend who loves surfing and skateboarding, and always enters through her bedroom window using a ladder.
Now: O’Neal also appeared in the 1993 film ‘Cop and a Half,’ and according to his own website, after ‘Clarissa’ ended he was approached to be the lead of a new boy band in Orlando in the vein of the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync. It’s not clear what O’Neal is up to now — many pages on his site are under construction and seem outdated and untended to. He did appear in a 2009 short called ‘The Cost’ and in two episodes of a 2013 series titled ‘Development Hell.’ According to his IMDb page, O’Neal also has a small role in an upcoming (very) indie movie called ‘Penumbra’ — no relation to the Spanish film of the same name.
Elizabeth Hess, Janet Ferguson-Darling
Then: Elizabeth Hess played Janet Ferguson-Darling, Clarissa’s quirky mother whom she often seeks for advice. Janet is a teacher, works at a children’s museum, and is very liberal. Hess’ only previous credit was an episode of the TV series ‘Night Heat.’
Now: Hess went on to appear in a few short films, as well as a couple of episodes of ‘Law and Order,’ and in the films ‘Soldier’s Heart’ and ‘Handsome Harry,’ the latter of which co-starred Steve Buscemi. Hess has also spent time performing in regional theatre, including a supporting role in a Tony award-winning production of ‘M. Butterfly.’ She currently teaches acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and at Fordham University at Lincoln Center.
Joe O’Connor, Marshall Darling
Then: Joe O’Connor played Marshall Darling, Clarissa’s former hippie father, an architect who designs weirdly shaped buildings.
Now: O’Connor reunited with Hart for an episode of ‘Sabrina, the Teenage Witch,’ and has appeared in the films ‘The Ice Storm,’ ‘The Chaos Factor,’ and more recently, ‘The Green Hornet.’ He has steadily found work on television, appearing on dozens of television shows over the years, including ‘Friends,’ ‘The West Wing,’ ‘ER,’ and ‘Malcolm in the Middle.’ But he’s perhaps best known on TV for his role as Trudy’s father, Tom Vogel, on ‘Mad Men’ (pictured above right). In recent years, he also appeared on ‘Castle’ and had a recurring role on ‘The Young and the Restless.’
Nicole Leach, Olivia DuPris
Then: Then known as Nicole Leach, the young actress played Olivia DuPris, one of Clarissa’s close friends from school who shows up a lot in season 4. Leach was also known for playing Jessica Ramsey on ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’ TV series and had guest starred on a handful of ‘Cosby Show’ episodes.
Now: Although she went on to appear in episodes of ‘NYPD Blue,’ various versions of ‘Law and Order,’ and played Dave Chappelle’s ex-girlfriend in an episode of ‘Chappelle’s Show,’ Leach’s focus is no longer acting as much as it is music. She now goes by the name Nicolle Rochelle, and from 2006 to 2010, she played the part of the new Josephine Baker in ‘A la recherche de josephine’ in the Paris musical. She sings and performs often with several bands and projects, according to her official website.
Michelle Trachtenberg, Elsie Soaperstein
Then: Michelle Trachtenberg played Elsie Soaperstein in the 1993 “Babysitting” episode, in which Clarissa has to babysit the daughter of her neighbors, who are often spoken of but never seen. Trachtenberg went on to star on another Nickelodeon show, ‘The Adventures of Pete and Pete,’ a year later.
Now: After appearing in the films ‘Harriet the Spy’ and ‘Inspector Gadget,’ Trachtenberg joined the cast of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ for the last few seasons. When the show ended in 2003, she went on to appear in the films ‘EuroTrip,’ ‘Mysterious Skin,’ ‘Black Christmas,’ and ’17 Again.’ She had recurring roles on ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘Weeds,’ and starred in the short-lived NBC medical series ‘Mercy.’ More recently, she played Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife in the television miniseries ‘Killing Kennedy,’ and appeared in the film ‘Take Me Home Tonight.’ Up next, she’ll reunite with fellow former ‘Buffy’ star Eliza Dushku for the thriller ‘The Scribbler.’
James Van Der Beek, Paulie Slicksinger
Then: A young James Van Der Beek made his acting debut in the episode “Alter-Ego” as Paulie, a rock drummer Clarissa has a crush on, so she uses her punk rock alter-ego Jade (who has a Long Island accent) to charm him — but she can’t keep up the ruse for long.
Now: Van Der Beek went on to appear in the cult classic teen film ‘Angus’ before landing the prime role of Dawson Leery on The WB series ‘Dawson’s Creek,’ which ran from 1998 to 2003. He also starred in the films ‘Varsity Blues’ and ‘Texas Rangers,’ further cementing his teen icon status. But as ‘Dawson’s Creek’ came to an end, Van Der Beek wanted to move away from his heartthrob appearance and starred in ‘The Rules of Attraction,’ based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name. While he seemingly didn’t do a whole lot there for a few years, he guest starred on ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and ‘One Tree Hill,’ and had parts in minor films. In 2012 he made a comeback in the sadly short-lived sitcom ‘Don’t Trust the B—- in Apt. 23,’ and last year he had a supporting role in Jason Reitman’s ‘Labor Day.’ He now stars on the new CBS sitcom ‘Friends with Better Lives.’