Jake Gyllenhaal (Homer Hickam)
THEN: Early in his career, Jake Gyllenhaal led October Sky as Homer Hickam. The future star came into the gig after picking up early roles in City Slickers (1991), Josh and S.A.M. (1993), and Homegrown (1998). He brought the real-life story of Homer to the big screen, playing the young man living in Coalwood, West Virginia with dreams of space.
NOW: October Sky was just the beginning for Gyllenhaal. Two years later he would play the title character in 2001’s Donnie Darko, going on to star in Bubble Boy, The Good Girl, Moonlight Mile, and The Day After Tomorrow in the early 2000s. In 2005, he starred with Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain, earning his first Oscar nomination for the role, and following up with Jarhead, Rendition, and Brothers in the late 2000s. Gyllenhaal has continued his successful film career in recent years, adding Love & Other Drugs (2010), Nightcrawler (2014), and Southpaw (2015) to his resume.
Chris Cooper (John Hickam)
THEN: Chris Cooper joined October Sky as John Hickam, the father to Gyllenhaal’s Homer. Appearing in American Beauty the same year, Cooper played the stern mine manager who is skeptical of Homer’s rocket dreams. Before taking on the role, the veteran star appeared in Matewan (1987), Guilty by Suspicion (1991), This Boy’s Life (1993), and Great Expectations (1998), and hit the small screen with appearances in Miami Vice and Law & Order.
NOW: The years following October Sky were busy for Cooper, who returned to the big screen in Me, Myself & Irene and The Patriot in 2000, The Bourne Identity and Adaptation. in 2002, and Seabiscuit in 2003. He would go on to reunite with Gyllenhaal in 2005’s Jarhead, and appear in The Town (2010) and August: Osage County (2013). He recently picked up a starring role as Al Templeton in Hulu’s 11.22.63.
Laura Dern (Miss Riley)
THEN: Laura Dern had an emotional turn in October Sky as Miss Riley. She played the Rocket Boys’ science teacher and their biggest supporter, continuing to cheer them on as she eventually battled cancer in the hospital. Dern already had more than a decade in the industry to her name when she landed the role of Miss Riley. Her pre-Sky credits included Blue Velvet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), and Rambling Rose (1991). Dern had a particularly busy few months in 1993, when she played Dr. Ellie Sattler in Jurassic Park and Sally Gerber in A Perfect World.
NOW: Dern has continued to see critical and commercial success, starring in I Am Sam (2001), We Don’t Live Here Anymore (2004), Lonely Hearts (2006), and Little Fockers (2010). In recent years, she played Amy Jellicoe in HBO’s Enlightened, and played the mother to Shailene Woodley’s Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars and to Reese Witherspoon’s Cheryl in Wild, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for the latter.
Chris Owen (Quentin)
THEN: After racking up small screen roles in Boy Meets World, Picket Fences, 7th Heaven, and Sister, Sister, and making a brief appearance in 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait Chris Owen landed a role in October Sky. He played the nerdy Quentin, a surprising addition to the Rocket Boys’ friend group. A math and science whiz, he helps Homer and his friends develop their rockets and make improvements as they test them out.
NOW: The same year that Sky arrived in theaters, Owen also starred in She’s All That and American Pie. He would go on to return to his character of Chuck Sherman in American Pie 2 (2001) and American Reunion (2012). Owen also returned to the big screen in National Lampoon productions, and starred in The Mist (2007), Love, Gloria (2011), and an episode of The Mentalist.
William Lee Scott (Roy Lee)
THEN: Actor William Lee Scott picked up one of his first film roles as Roy Lee in October Sky. Before playing Homer’s buddy with a dangerous home life, Scott made a name for himself with gigs in Gattaca (1997) and The Opposite of Sex (1998), and a starring turn as Stanley “Bullethead” Kuznocki on The Steve Harvey Show.
NOW: Scott continued his gig on The Steve Harvey Show through 2002, also starring in Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000) and Pearl Harbor (2001). He filled out his resume with roles in The Butterfly Effect (2004), Beautiful Dreamer (2006), and Nine Dead (2010), and TV appearances in CSI: Miami, Criminal Minds, and ER.
Chad Lindberg (O'Dell)
THEN: Chad Lindberg kicked off his career with ’90s cameos in ER, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The X-Files, and big-screen turns in Mercury Rising and City of Angels. He then nabbed the role of O’Dell in October Sky, playing a friend of Homer’s who gets the bug for rocket-making.
NOW: Soon after, Lindberg played Jesse in 2001’s The Fast and the Furious, also appearing in The Rookie (2002), The Last Samurai (2003), Adam and Eve (2005), and Once Fallen (2010). In recent years, he made TV appearances in Weeds, Castle, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Natalie Canerday (Elsie Hickam)
THEN: Natalie Canerday played Elsie Hickam, offering maternal wisdom to Homer as he butts heads with his father. Always threatening to move to Myrtle Beach, Elsie dreads the mine alarms and furtively helps Homer achieve his rocket dreams. Canerday came into the gig after appearing in Biloxi Blues (1988), One False Move (1992), and Sling Blade (1996).
THEN: Canerday continued to act throughout the 2000s, picking up bit roles in Walk the Line (2005), Shotgun Stories (2007), and The Last Ride (2012).
Chris Ellis (Principal Turner)
THEN: One of the many roadblocks in the Rocket Boys’ way, Principal Turner was played by actor Chris Ellis. Initially apprehensive about the students’ project, Turner finally comes around and allows the boys to enter their rockets in a regional science fair. Ellis came into the role after appearing in an another space-facing flick, starring as Deke Slayton in Apollo 13. He also appeared in My Cousin Vinny (1992), Addams Family Values (1993), That Thing You Do! (1996), and Armageddon (1998) and made cameos in Melrose Place, NYPD Blue, and The X-Files .
NOW: After October Sky, Ellis starred in Planet of the Apes (2001), Catch Me If You Can (2002), Transformers (2007), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). He’s also been busy with TV work, picking up gigs in Six Feet Under, Alias, Ghost Whisperer, The Office, Mad Men, and Murder in the First.
Elya Baskin (Ike Bykovsky)
THEN: Elya Baskin joined October Sky as Ike Bykovsky. An ally to Homer, Ike let the boys use his shop tools for their rockets before he was transferred underground. He eventually died in an accident at the mine. Baskin came into the role after making appearances in Moscow on the Hudson (1984), The Name of the Rose (1986), Love Affair (1994), Air Force One (1997), Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) and hitting the small screen in St. Elsewhere, MacGyver, Northern Exposure, Mad About You, and Felicity.
NOW: Baskin continued to fill his extensive filmography with roles in Heartbreakers (2001), Angels & Demons (2009), Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) and a turn as Mr. Ditkovich in the Spider-Man series. The USSR-born star has also focused on TV in recent years, picking up gigs in Criminal Minds, Heroes, Rizzoli & Isles, and Castle.