Whatever Happened To Enola Actress Tina Majorino From Waterworld? 

In the 1995 movie "Waterworld," Kevin Costner was the draw in more ways than one. To much of the audience, he was still the glamorous movie star who had managed to pull off a blockbuster "Robin Hood" movie despite his inability to successfully nail an English accent. To others, he seemed like he might be a potential trainwreck on the verge of derailment. "Waterworld" had fallen victim to many behind-the-scenes tales of sinking sets, director fights, and Costner rewriting the script to make himself look better. Ultimately, for one reason or another, enough people were curious about the film that it turned a profit. However difficult he may have been behind the scenes, the star turned out to still have it.

Within the movie, however, the person everyone wants to see is Enola, a nine year-old girl whose back tattoo features an encoded map to the last bit of dry land on a post-climate change world. Nowadays, shows like "The Mandalorian" and "The Last of Us" have made very familiar the trope of a gruff hero safeguarding a young kid through a post-apocalyptic landscape, but Costner's Mariner was far gruffer than either Pedro Pascal character. At one point, he forcibly cuts Enola's hair.

But even the face of Costner's stern character, young actress Tina Majorino seemed unintimidated by the actor and filmmaker. So what happened to Majorino afterwards? Costner pushed his luck with "The Postman," then slowly began a long journey back into our hearts. But Majorino's trip was a bit different...

Sitcom Starts

Before "Waterworld," Tina Majorino's first big acting break came when she was seven years old, with the sitcom "Camp Wilder." Though it's not one of the more remembered entries these days, it was part of ABC's "TGIF" Friday lineup, which included such hits and favorites as "Full House," "Family Matters," and Jim Henson's "Dinosaurs" throughout the '90s. "Camp Wilder," by contrast, only made it to 20 episodes, the last of which never aired in the U.S.

Originally titled "Camp Bicknell" in its unaired pilot, the show underwent casting changes en route to air, which Majorino survived. "Camp Wilder" revolved around Ricky Wilder (Mary Page Keller), young single mother to Sophie (Majorino), who also becomes guardian to her teenage siblings (Jerry O'Connell and Meghann Haldeman) when their mother dies. The comedy centered on Ricky balancing out her duties as both responsible parent and chill older sister, in contrast to the stricter parents in the neighborhood. Cast regulars included Hilary Swank, Jay Mohr, and Jared Leto. At the 14th Youth in Film Awards, held in 1993, Majorino's work scored her a nomination for Outstanding Actress Under 10 in a Television Series, though the award went to Rae'Ven Larrymore Kelly from "I'll Fly Away."

At one point, Majorino's arc as Sophie led to her character declaring she wanted to be a boy, a plot point that would undoubtedly land very differently in 2024 than it did in 1992.

On the waterfront

Majorino's movie debut came in 1994's "When a Man Loves a Woman," in which she plays the abused daughter of Meg Ryan's alcoholic mom. She followed that as the similarly traumatized daughter of widower Ray Liotta in "Corrina, Corrina," in which she initially doesn't speak, but comes out of her shell when nanny Whoopi Goldberg connects with her emotionally. Less serious was her third film, "Andre," in which she played the human lead opposite the title character, a seal (as seen above). That film was directed by George T. Miller, not to be confused with the George Miller who created "Mad Max" and directed the "Babe" sequel. This time, Keith Carradine played her dad.

Then came "Waterworld," which didn't have any friendly seals to be found.

In her final theatrical film as a child actor, "Santa Fe," Majorino played the daughter of Gary Cole and Sheila Kelley, caught between her mom's affinity for New Age cults and her dad's desire to escape his own past in one.

There was one more big project left before she'd take a major acting break, though.

Down the rabbit-hole

In 1999, NBC aired a $21 million-budgeted, all-star adaptation of "Alice in Wonderland," featuring such names as Ben Kingsley, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Lloyd, Miranda Richardson, Gene Wilder, Joanna Lumley, and Donald Sinden. Though the script did the usual mashing up of elements from "Through the Looking Glass" that Hollywood versions tend to do, the visual aesthetic hewed more closely to John Tenniel's classic illustrations than most, with such touches as Martin Short's head getting upsized for the part of the Mad Hatter.

In the lead role of Alice, surrounded by Hollywood and English stage A-listers, was Tina Majorino.

A new wrinkle to the plot had Alice initially terrified to sing in front of an audience; her adventures in Wonderland after she flees the scene help to cure her of her stage fright, and in the end, she goes ahead with the performance. Majorino had been a trained singer since the age of 7, but her go-to roles as children of broken homes hadn't generally called upon that talent. This time, she had songs on the soundtrack. 

"Alice in Wonderland" won four Emmy awards, for costume design, visual effects, makeup, and music composition. Arguably Majorino's biggest and greatest role up to that point, it would also be her last for a while.

Taking five

Success on the screen doesn't always translate to the schoolyard. By the time she was 13, her classmates picked on her and made life difficult, so she stepped away. In an interview with the University of Oregon's "Daily Emerald," she recalls, "When you are that young and you have a good sense of self and have an idea of what you want to be doing at that young, they are not into it and will not have it at their school." She recalls taking time off "to get to know myself so that if I ever did decide to come back, I could be strong enough and grounded enough to know what's really important and what's not." It also helped avoid the classic child actor trap of indulging adolescent whims in an all-too-permissive environment.

When she decided that she did, in fact, love acting, part of that confidence came from looking back at some of the ultra-serious movies she had previously done about broken families that heal. "You have a lot of power...therefore you use that power to do good, and I felt like I didn't want to give up on that, and I really missed the craft. I missed acting. I missed the research – all of that." Her next project, however, would be a big departure from the social-issue stuff.

If you're lost, you can look, and you will find Tina

Few would have guessed that Majorino's comeback role would be as big as it was. With a $400,000 production budget, based on a Brigham Young University student film called 'Peluca," "Napoleon Dynamite" was shot in 23 days and never expected to be a major hit, yet it took the 2004 Sundance Film Festival by storm. 

Picked up by Fox Searchlight, the deadpan comedy about weird, nerdy kids in a small town that time seemingly forgot grossed over $46 million and spawned toys, merchandise, and a prime-time animated series. Catchphrases like "Gosh!" and "Frickin' idiot!" became quotable ad nauseum, and while Napoleon actor Jon Heder may have been the most visible star, Majorino shined as his sort-of love interest Deb. Innocent, nice, and utterly without baggage, Deb is arguably the heart of the movie, sticking with Napoleon even as his ingrained anti-social nerdiness would push anybody else away. The two finally bond at an awkward prom to the strains of Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time."

With only one roll of film left in the budget, Majorino also helped Heder choreograph his climactic solo dance number, a key scene that finally makes his character briefly popular at school. The character of Deb, and her signature puffy sleeves, was based on the film's cowriter, Jerusha Hess. Husband Jared, who directed, based most of the movie on his own life experiences. As strange as they apparently were, those life events struck a chord. Majorino was back.

Life on Mars

A connection made while she was away from acting helped her move into TV, At the age of 13, she emailed "Veronica Mars" creator Rob Thomas, who had put his actual email address in his first couple of books. She had questions for a book report; they ultimately met for lunch a year later and discussed working together someday. Once "Napoleon Dynamite" came out, and Majorino was definitely back in acting, Thomas was good to his word, and wrote her into the show as Cindy "Mac" MacKenzie, a recurring character in the first two seasons, upgraded to series regular by the third. Mac was a computer expert, not unlike the now-tech-savvy Majorino in real life.

Other TV shows she scored recurring or major roles included: "Gray's Anatomy," "True Blood," "Bones," and "Legends." She also made notable music video appearances for Lifehouse ("Blind") and P!nk ("Perfect").

Majorino most recently appeared in Paul Boyd's independent feature "Bury Me," alongside James Duval and Margaret Cho, which follows a drug-dealing gamer who plans to live-stream a self-burial video. On TV, she appeared in an episode of "The Good Doctor," and she reunited with many "Napoleon Dynamite" castmates — Jon Heder, John Gries, Efren Ramirez and Haylie Duff — for the animated NFT web series "Cyko KO."

No Pressure

As a child actress, Tina Majorino had the usual sibling rivalry with her older brother, Kevin. As both became adults, however, they bonded over their common love for music. Together they formed a band called The AM Project, in which she sings and he plays drums and guitar.

During the Covid lockdowns, their collaboration became more than musical, as the two siblings became podcasters. With society at large feeling under stress, the hosts named it "No Pressure." Per their initial announcement in January of 2021, "The two of us wanted to create a space where we can talk openly about whatever is happening in our lives, and yours, without any limits, and without any pressure. Career, food, love, aliens – you name it, we love to talk about it. Life can be A LOT, but we're in it with you. We hope you're as excited as we are to embark on this journey together."

The podcast went on hiatus in 2022, but as of January 19th, 2024, Kevin and Tina announced their imminent return, and the next episode should be online by the time you read this. Tina also guested on the "Cult Liter" podcast to discuss her childhood experiences on the set of "Waterworld." In the meantime, her acting career continues, with projects she "can't discuss" as of this publication.

It's probably a matter of time before somebody suggests a "Waterworld" legacy spinoff, though. Jon Heder also keeps talking about a darker sequel to "Napoleon Dynamite." So we could see even more of Majorino very soon.

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