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What Happened To Ilan Mitchell-Smith From Weird Science?

Ilan Mitchell-Smith was a young ballet dancer who lucked into acting, landing his first role as the younger version of Timothy Hutton's title character "Daniel" in the 1983 Sidney Lumet film. Acting lessons followed (alongside Grace Jones), and two years later he co-starred with another actor from his high school who would become a mentor, Anthony Michael Hall (who earned twice as much as him), strapping bras to their heads, creating super sexy Lisa (Kelly LeBrock) from a floppy-disc'd computer, steering clear of his jerk of an older brother Chet (Bill Paxton) and living large as Wyatt Donnelly in one of the more wild John Hughes films that ever was; thereafter, Mitchell-Smith became known as "the other one from 'Weird Science.'"

While he had a great time in his early Hollywood career — gracing pages of endless teen mags, watching rough cuts of "The Breakfast Club" with kindred-spirited nerd Hughes, being escorted to his premiere by Yasmine Bleeth, flirting with Lea Thompson, taking mushrooms with Robert Downey, Jr., and even attacking Universal Studios Tour trams with Eric Stoltz in full Marty McFly regalia (before Michael J. Fox replaced him) — he came to a fork in the road and decided to leave the shine of the spotlight for the shine of armor.

Ilan [pronounced 'Ee-lahn'] Mitchell-Smith is definitely that other guy from "Weird Science," but also much more than that: The self-professed nerd is a professor, a scholar, a writer, a gamer, and a family man. He may have run from the film industry, but he surely hasn't run away from his past. He appreciates '80s nostalgia and understands his place in it, and even takes time to meet with fans who just want to ask him (for the zillionth time) what it was like to shower and to kiss Kelly LeBrock ("the bitter truth of it is that was not really an erotic experience for anybody involved.")

Let's put aside the "sex, drugs, rock-n-roll ... chips, dips, chains, whips" and see whatever happened to Ilan Mitchell-Smith from "Weird Science."

The Show Must Go On

Mitchell-Smith "was always a little bit stressed" about landing his next role, but found "Weird Science" to be "a resume builder that I could be proud of." In an interview with Rediscover the '80s, he revealed he got callbacks on "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," lost out to Zach Galligan and Patrick Dempsey for numerous parts, and on bad advice from his agent, turned down a small part in "Say Anything."

What he did do after "Science" was an episode of "The Equalizer," "Journey to the Center of The Earth," and work with Melvin and Mario Van Peebles on "Identity Crisis" (Melvin at first didn't like him, but came around, thought he did an "excellent job" and was "loads of fun" as a person). "Of all of the work that I did," Mitchell-Smith said in 2017, "working on The 'Chocolate War' was by far my favorite experience." The 1988 underrated cult-classic Keith Gordon film is based on the 1974 Robert Cormier novel, about the peer pressures at a Catholic school by a secret society; it earned praise for Mitchell-Smith, who plays the non-conforming protagonist Jerry Renault, with the L.A. Times singling out his "beautifully detailed performance."

He earned a steady paycheck playing Clark Kent's buddy Andy McAlister on the TV series "Superboy," which gave him financial stability, should he change his mind on further pursuing a career as an actor.

Final Act

Things came to a head when Mitchell-Smith guest-starred on the early USA Network series "Silk Stalkings" playing a rapist, an experience he does not remember fondly.

'[The show] was hideous," he told the Austin Chronicle in 2002. "And so when I found myself guest-starring on that as the rapist (and the most likable guy on the show), it made me think, 'This is where I'm probably going to be.' I never had any real celebrity, but my career will be just getting by like this."

In 2015, he added that at the time, he "had already gotten used to the idea of never being a millionaire," and realized that there weren't going to be many roles for "a skinny geeky kid with a high voice." In 2014 he said in a YouTube interview, "there's a difference between being a working actor in Hollywood, who is an adult man, and being a kid who got lucky. I was happy and lucky to be a kid who happened into acting. I got more jobs than most people do. And I was really happy to do that." 

The Self-Professed Nerd Became A Nerdy Professor

While he never graduated high school (although he's "proud to be one of the alumni of [the fictional John Hughesian] Shermer High School"), Mitchell-Smith got to a point in his life, he told ABC in 2017, to "look at what the future looks like with me as an actor, or what the future looks like if I pursue this very nerdy thing that I'm into, and I've always been into — which is medieval history and stories. And I was lucky to have that choice, but when I looked it was clear what I wanted to do ... I think I'm just super nerdy — armor is really shiny — and that's what I study all the time now."

He tossed aside the scripts and hit the books, got his GED, received his BA and MA in Medieval Studies with an emphasis in History, and topped it off with a PhD in English Literature. He is currently an Associate Professor of Medieval Literature and Culture at California State University Long Beach. Mitchell-Smith is "proud of being at CSULB," and described his job as, "most of the time teaching stories in the English language before the renaissance," from the 8th century to the 16th century, covering works such as "Beowulf" and Chaucer. He likes to talk "about roles that men fill and roles that women fill and how they're presented as being either sanctioned or not sanctioned, or encouraged or not encouraged."

He is also the co-director of the University's Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and is a sponsor of the Medieval and Renaissance Student Association. He has been instrumental in setting up topical panels and lectures on campus, such as "Confronting White Supremacy and Decolonizing the Middle Ages," as well as ones that really interest him — like monsters.

The Write Stuff

On top of teaching, Ilan Mitchell-Smith finds time to put his well educated thoughts on paper, and as is the case in this modern age, on the internet too, for all to read and absorb. His doctoral dissertation at Texas A&M, "Between Mars and Venus: Balance and Excess in the Chivalry of the Late-Medieval English Romance," was a taste of more to come, examining issues of race and gender, past and present. He also penned such like-minded/long-titled pieces as "Racial Determinism and the Interlocking Economies of Power and Violence in Dungeons and Dragons," and "The United Princesses of America: Ethnic Diversity and Cultural Purity in Disney's Medieval Past."

He may have left the film industry behind as a profession, but this fantasy/comic book geek is still a huge fan. For Forces of Geek, he wrote a well-impassioned article titled "Argument for Less Action in Your Nerdy Action Movie," finding today's movies "sometimes a little exhausting" with its "overuse of CGI technology," where proper and subtle character development has been lost in the process over the years. While he appreciates the acceptance of "nerd culture into the mainstream," he does not love that these types of films "are being reduced to increasingly simple equations of explosive noise, humor, and only those character choices that we've seen a hundred times before ... in the books and comics and games from which these movies come we have demanded, and gotten, more. I think we can demand more from our films."

He Got Game

Mitchell-Smith's adoration for the olden times can be traced to his childhood love of gaming. He told the Austin Chronicle in 2002 that one of his first memories was "looking at a little knight that I have and thinking, 'This is the neatest thing I own in the world.'" While he was plenty busy in his adolescence as a dancer and then actor, "during any free time that I had I really just wanted to have some friends with whom I could play D&D [Dungeons & Dragons] and talk about comics," he told  Rediscover the 80s. "It was a lot harder to be a nerd than it is today."

"I play a lot of different games. It's been a hobby for a long time," he told YouTuber Taffeta Darling. "I love reading rules, and trying new rule books ... and I've always liked being a role player." As a "huge" tabletop gamer, he spends much of his current free time being a "part of the board gaming renaissance that has been happening in nerdy communities for the last 20 years or so." A proud member of the Historical Miniatures Gaming Society, who also paints wargaming miniatures (in good company he says, with enthusiasts like Ansel Elgort, Vin Diesel, Peter Cushing and Peter Jackson), he also hosts games at the Strategicon Convention, helps others in creating their own games, and enjoyed attending tapings of Wil Wheaton's online show "TableTop."

He loves gaming so much that at the 53rd International Congress on Medieval Studies, Mitchell-Smith even arranged a roundtable discussion called "Theorizing the Problematic Medievalisms of Dungeons & Dragons and Popular Fantasy Narratives" "in the format of a Dungeons and Dragons game."

He Both Embraces and Hides From His Past

Having achieved a certain amount of cinematic fame in the '80s, Ilan Mitchell-Smith doesn't exactly advertise it. Instead, he prefers to allow others — students, faculty, complete strangers — to figure out on their own why he looks so familiar. He told Rediscover the '80s, "In a lot of ways I have moved on and it doesn't come up that much." The fan mail has thinned out over the years, but he still gets some — "I'm in the last stage, which is men in prison in America."

Yet, for someone hiding in plain sight, he has had no issue celebrating his past, in the right place and the right time. Mitchell-Smith has been present at "Weird Science" screenings, and has made the rounds at various autograph shows and conventions (even Superman-related ones), happy to meet fans, even ones who call him "Ilan MICHAEL-Smith."

In the past decade, he's reunited with Anthony Michael Hall and Kelly LeBrock for some enlightening Q&A panels. At the 2015 Denver Comic Con, Ilan joked he was wearing LeBrock's "underwear right now," and LeBrock said she was "still sweating" from the "all tongue" screen kiss they shared, which "made the hair on the back of my neck stand up." Hall mentioned that he is often asked if Mitchell-Smith's voice really sounds like that.

During the pandemic, Mitchell-Smith strapped a bra onto his head and paid tribute to John Hughes for a special episode of Josh Gad's nostalgia web series, "Reunited Apart."

He Returned to Hollywood, Briefly

1991 marked the year of Ilan Mitchell-Smith's last credit on his acting resume. However, he briefly came out of retirement to lend his voice to a 2015 episode of the cartoon "Axe Cop," which he says he "followed and loved online before it was a show."

When "Goldbergs" creator Adam F. Goldberg sought permission to use a "Weird Science" poster with Mitchell-Smith's likeness on it, Ilan not only gave his blessing, but asked a favor — to bring his family to set and see what it was like, since they all had come along well after his career ended. Mitchell-Smith and Goldberg bonded over nerdy stuff, which had Goldberg telling him "I'm going to get you back into Hollywood." He subsequently cast him as a science teacher named "Mr. Connelly," who also has a "buttwad of an older brother," on the Season 5 premiere in 2017. Mitchell-Smith revealed to ABC that he wore the same exact suit from "Science" on the show (which was one of the few things he kept when filming wrapped), and had fun playing a profession with which he was very familiar. 

"Which was good," he added. "Because I haven't acted in a long time and I think maybe I was never really that good, so it's good for me to be in a comfort zone."

As for his motivations, he added: "I love 80s nostalgia of course, and if it's nerdy and just the right fit ... there's no reason I'd say no."

Weird Science Round 2?

While "Weird Science" did spin off into a television show that lasted 5 seasons in the mid-90s, there has been some talk about a sequel or even a remake (not including Funny or Die's spoof starring Alessandra Ambrosio: "Weird Science 2: Strange Chemistry"). When asked about a sequel in 2015 by Uproxx, Mitchell-Smith liked buddy and brief employer Adam F. Goldberg's "brilliant idea" where Gary and Wyatt's daughters create a Channing Tatum-like man from their old computer, which he said would address the "overwhelming presence of girls and women who have been neglected or pushed aside or outright criticized for being nerds in the past."

As for a remake? Mitchell-Smith said that most "remakes are horrible," but would "hope for its success. I would hope that for everybody who loves 'Weird Science,' this would be for them. That they would enjoy it. That it would add to the experience." 

A Family Man and Friend

According to "On Borrowed Fame: Money, Mysteries, and Corruption in the Entertainment World," when Ilan Mitchell-Smith started courting his eventual wife, Susannah Demaree, he didn't mention he had previously been an actor, even after he discovered she was a fan of "The Chocolate War."

The married couple have two children, who Mitchell-Smith told ABC "have always seemed nonplussed about my acting past. They usually get a little bit excited when their friends' parents are excited to meet me, and then they're like 'oh, this is a real thing.'" While he enjoys a date night with his wife, he also loves staying home and playing games with his children: Pokémon when they were younger, and as they've grown older, fantasy ones that let you create your own story, which his daughter Eloise touchingly wrote about for GeekDad in 2016. While Ilan has eschewed the entertainment world for an academic one, his son Asher is looking to tell stories as well, and is an aspiring screenwriter currently in film school.

Leaving the limelight of Hollywood distanced him with a lot of his old movie friends, but he is "lucky enough to still be in touch" with former "Weird" scientists Judie Aronson, Suzanne Snyder, Vernon Wells and naturally, Anthony Michael Hall. Aronson, who played Hilly, the girl Wyatt gets in the end, said "llan is still one of my favorite peeps onscreen and off!"