Launched to worldwide fame before the age of ten, Tina Majorino was something of a big-screen fixture in the mid-1990s. But after playing Enola in the post-apocalyptic blockbuster Waterworld, the youngster decided it was high time to take a break from the world of Hollywood. And it turns out she had good reason, too.
Indeed, as the costliest film ever made at the time, Waterworld saw Majorino subject to more scrutiny than ever before. And when the Kevin Costner vehicle failed to meet expectations, she struggled to deal with the fallout. By the time the actor reached her teens, in fact, she was suffering from total burnout.
Thankfully, unlike so many stars who become famous at such a young age, Majorino’s story didn’t end in tragedy. After taking a hiatus from the acting industry, she then bounced back in the mid-00’s with style. Here’s a look at her journey, as well as the movie that defined the actor’s early career.
Born in the Californian city of Westlake in 1985, Tina Majorino began her acting career at the age of just seven in Camp Wilder. The youngster appeared alongside Jerry O’Connell in the ABC show as Sophie Wilder. But the family sitcom failed to connect with audiences and was taken off air after just a single season.
Majorino soon put that disappointment behind her when she landed her first film role in 1994. The child star played nine-year-old Jess, the daughter of Meg Ryan’s alcoholic school counselor, in emotive drama When a Man Loves a Woman. And the movie kickstarted a purple patch for the fledgling actor.
Indeed, in that same year, Majorino shared the screen with none other than Oscar winner Whoopi Goldberg in Corrina, Corrina. The youngster played Molly, the daughter of Ray Liotta’s grieving widower, in the 1950s-set drama. And her character’s touching relationship with Goldberg’s nanny gave the tale much of its heart.
Shortly after, Majorino landed her first leading lady role in heartwarming family movie Andre. The actor starred as Toni, a seven-year-old who forms a close bond with the titular seal. The 1994 film was adapted from true-life tale A Seal Called Andre by Lew Dietz and Harry Goodridge.
However, it was Majorino’s next role that promised to take her career to another level. Indeed, in 1995 she was cast alongside Kevin Costner in Waterworld, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick which made headlines for its gigantic budget. Costing approximately $175 million, the blockbuster was, back then, the most expensive in Hollywood history.
And Waterworld’s futuristic oceanic setting is one of the reasons it cost so much to make, as the movie is set somewhere around the year 2500. Directed by Kevin Reynolds, the movie showed how Earth had been devastated by the melting of the polar ice caps. As a result, sea levels rose above 25,000 feet, covering the majority of the planet in water.
Filmed at the peak of Costner’s commercial powers, he starred as The Mariner, an antihero drifter who sails around the world trading dirt in his trimaran ship. Yes, in this futuristic world of water, dirt has become the number one commodity. However, the most pivotal character was played by Majorino.
Indeed, Majorino played Enola, a young girl who has become a target for a villainous pirate gang, led by Dennis Hopper’s The Deacon. Why? Because the character’s back is tattooed with a map of the mythological place known as Dryland. And after her guardian, Helen, rescues The Mariner from the gang’s clutches, the pair work together to protect Enola at all costs.
By the time the movie arrived in cinemas in 1995, Waterworld had already developed a troublesome reputation. The movie had, in fact, far exceeded its initial $100 million budget by approximately $75 million. And its lengthy production was dramatically interrupted by the forces of nature when a hurricane ripped through its expensive set.
And to make matters worse, Costner nearly lost his life during the filming of one particularly hair-raising scene. Indeed, the A-lister got into serious trouble while attached to his ship’s mast when he suddenly became trapped in heavy rain. Thankfully, the star was freed in the nick of time. He was, however, also reportedly responsible for causing many of the film’s problems himself.
Indeed, the Oscar winner interfered so much behind the scenes that director Kevin Reynolds felt he had no option but to quit. Costner also rejected Mark Isham’s original score for being “too bleak” and hired another composer instead. Joss Whedon, who was brought on to help rewrite the script at the last minute, later described his stint on the film as “seven weeks of hell.”
Inevitably, the critics were more than ready to stick the knife in. Indeed, Waterworld was regularly compared to notorious costly flops Heaven’s Gate and Ishtar at the time of its release. But although the movie failed to set the box office on fire, it was far from the commercial disaster many expected.
Sure, Waterworld’s worldwide tally of $264 million may pale in comparison to the likes of Titanic, which took more than a billion dollars just two years later. But it was far from a box office bomb. And thanks to its sales on home video and the money that came in via TV rights, the movie eventually turned a profit.
Perhaps the fairest review of the movie comes from critical aggregator Rotten Tomatoes’ brief summary. It reads, “Although it suffered from toxic buzz at the time of its release, Waterworld is ultimately an ambitious misfire: an extravagant sci-fi flick with some decent moments and a lot of silly ones.”
The negative publicity surrounding the movie sadly had an impact on many of its stars’ careers. Indeed, Costner took a few years to recover from the double whammy of Waterworld and the even more maligned The Postman. And after a promising start to her career, Majorino found herself stuck in the world of TV movies.
In fact, it would be nearly a decade before Majorino graced the big screen again. Following Waterworld’s release, she appeared in TV movies Before Women Had Wings and True Women, as well as festive special, Merry Christmas, George Bailey. And 1997’s Santa Fe, a thriller about a dangerous cult, went straight to video.
Majorino did enjoy a brief return to center stage when she took the lead in 1999 TV movie Alice in Wonderland. The teen played the titular character in NBC’s adaptation of the classic Lewis Carroll tale. And she once again shared the screen with Corrina, Corrina co-star Whoopi Goldberg in the four-time Emmy-winning production.
Alice in Wonderland, however, was the last time Majorino appeared on screen in any form for five years. Indeed, left exhausted by seven years of working in Hollywood, the teen opted to take a break from showbiz. She returned instead to normal everyday life, a decision she later described as the smartest thing she’d ever done.
Majorino expanded further on her reasons for taking a time out in a 2006 interview with Pop Gurls. She said, “It’s so important to have a good sense of self, especially in this business. There’s a lot of rejection and there’s a lot of BS that goes on in Hollywood. And you have to have a good head on your shoulders. You have to know yourself well enough to know what you can take and what you can’t.
“I didn’t have that at the time and I knew that,” Majorino continued, “That’s why I wanted to take the time off. I knew that I couldn’t make it in the industry if I didn’t get a bit of real life experience. And I knew I would regret it if I didn’t take the time, because you’re only a kid once, and my main priority is to have a good quality of life.”
Majorino added, “I wanted to get to a point where I was confident enough in myself that even if I didn’t get a job that I really wanted, it didn’t turn around on me to the point where I become depressed… I wanted to make sure that I was in that place, mentally, for myself before I came back.” And in 2004, she appeared to be in that place.
Indeed, 2004 was the year that Majorino returned to our screens in the oddball indie comedy Napoleon Dynamite. Still in her teens, the star played Deborah “Deb” Bradshaw, a shy student and entrepreneur who becomes friends with the eponymous nerd. The film instantly became a cult classic on its release.
That same year, Majorino also returned to the small screen with a guest spot on Without a Trace. The actor followed that with a recurring role on Veronica Mars, where she played the titular character’s computer-expert friend Cindy ‘Mac’ Mackenzie for 34 episodes. She also reprised that role in the 2014 movie based on the show.
Rather impressively, Majorino’s role in Veronica Mars was created specifically for her. Indeed, showrunner Rob Thomas created the part for the actor having previously met her at an interview when she was 11 years old. A young Majorino once quizzed Thomas for a school assignment about his book, Rats Saw God.
Majorino’s comeback continued when she landed a part on Big Love, the HBO drama about a polygamous family in Utah. Majorino played Heather Tuttle, the best friend of young Sarah Henrickson and eventual spouse of her brother Ben. The show also featured Majorino’s Waterworld co-star Jeanne Tripplehorn in its main cast.
During Majorino’s five-year stint on the show, she also portrayed drummer Baer Ghaffari in What We Do Is Secret, a biopic of The Germs’ frontman Darby Crash. There were also guest spots on procedurals Castle and Bones. And in 2010 she was cast as first-year associate Addy Fisher in short-lived legal drama The Deep End.
In 2012, Majorino returned to her Napoleon Dynamite character Deb with a voiceover in its animated spin-off. That same year, she ventured into Louisiana’s vampiric town of Bon Temps, with the role of bloodsucker Molly in the fifth season of True Blood. And she added to her filmography with a part in ensemble dramedy Should’ve Been Romeo.
Majorino also joined the cast of long-running medical drama Grey’s Anatomy for its ninth season in 2012. But her stint proved to be a short one. Indeed, after just 22 episodes her character, Dr. Heather Brooks, was killed off in dramatic fashion. In the season ten opener, the intern suffered a fatal brain bleed after being electrocuted and hitting her head on a generator box.
A year later, Majorino landed the role of Maggie Harris in TNT crime drama Legends. The actress played the most inexperienced member of the FBI’s Division of Covert Operations who soon becomes renowned for her impressive data manipulation skills. But sadly, the character didn’t return for the final second season.
In 2017, Majorino was cast as Florence ‘Flo’ Tipton in the fourth season of action drama Scorpion. Her chemist character was initially met with suspicion by the main gang but was eventually accepted. She appeared in 12 episodes of what would prove to be the show’s final season.
In a 2014 interview with Collider, Majorino expressed how grateful she was for her acting career. She said, “Just the fact that I get to wake up every day and do what I love for a living, in and of itself, is incredible, and I never take it for granted. I always feel so lucky and so blessed that I get to do this for a living.”
Majorino also spoke about the fandom she’d experienced with the likes of Veronica Mars and Napoleon Dynamite. She said, “That’s the most special thing, ever, to me. I could cry over it. It’s such an amazing feeling. Obviously, as a creative person in any realm, nobody makes art just for their own enjoyment. You want to create with other people and you want them to feel something. The fact that I get to experience that is just unbelievable.”
But despite the fact that Majorino is now in her 30s, she admits that she’s still more recognized for her performance in Waterworld than any of her other roles. In a 2015 interview with Newsweek to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary, the actor said, “It’s always funny for me now that I’m an adult. People are like, ‘You look exactly the same.’ Especially when I cut my hair short.”
And despite the drama surrounding Waterworld, Majorino revealed that she has plenty of fond memories of working on the film. She told Newsweek that she particularly enjoyed surfing with the stuntmen, admitting, “I was terrible at it. But they got me real used to being in the ocean.”
However, the movie’s watery setting did cause some problems. Majorino said, “I was stung seven times, to the point where Kevin Costner was calling me ‘Jellyfish.’ It seemed like anytime we were in the water for extended periods of time I was stung… It’s scary being in the middle of the ocean as well, because it’s so unpredictable.”
Majorino also addressed the negative reviews that were published at the time of the film’s release. “I knew about them,” she said. “We laughed, but I noticed it made everyone in charge nervous. For lack of a better term, people were trying to sink our movie before it even was finished.”
And in a 2014 interview with Bello magazine, Majorino couldn’t praise her co-star Kevin Costner enough. She told the publication, “No matter how crazy everything off the set became, he showed up to work every day just wanting to do the best work possible. He loves doing this just for the sake of doing it, and every time [that I’ve collaborated with someone] who has had that mentality, it’s always been a fulfilling experience.”