When Jonathan Lipnicki joined his Birthright group in July, he started his 10-day trip the same way everyone else does: with an icebreaker. Everyone prepared two truths and a lie, and the rest of the participants had to guess which was the lie.
“You should totally tell people that since you have the same name, that you’re the Jonathan Lipnicki that played the cute kid in Jerry Maguire!” one of the participants joked to him. Lipnicki just smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
Lipnicki, now 26 and without the trademark round glasses that made him famous as Renee Zellweger’s son in the 1996 blockbuster, gets recognized every once and a while, often at airports. But in Israel, it wasn’t until participants started tagging him in their Instagram photos that the others realized he was the same Jonathan Lipnicki who uttered the famous line “Did you know the human brain weighs eight pounds?”
“People still ask me to say that line when they meet me, but my voice changed, so it doesn’t sound the same,” said Lipnicki.
The actor, who sports a big tattoo of a Jewish star on his torso, said he wanted to come on Birthright after his sister came and recommended it. “I came on Birthright because feel like I gain more experiences by doing normal things,” said Lipnicki.
“Being Jewish is a big part of my life,” he added. “My grandfather passed away when I was 15, and he was an Auschwitz survivor.”
Lipnicki was Birthright’s symbolic 600,000th participant since the program started in 1999. He got a free hat to mark the milestone.
Lipnicki said his favorite part of the 10-day trip was visiting the Dead Sea and the Western Wall. “We were at the Western Wall on Shabbat, and all of us were just overcome with emotion going there,” said Lipnicki. “It meant a lot to see all those people praying on Shabbat. Something about it just struck a chord. It was really amazing. I’ve never felt energy like that.”
Lipnicki is best known for playing Ray Boyd in Jerry Maguire. He had a string of other movies after that, including “Stuart Little” and “The Little Vampire.” After starring in “Stuart Little 2” in 2002, Lipnicki took a step back from pursuing acting full-time. He went to public school in Toluca Lake, Los Angeles.
“I played water polo in high school and went to prom, I did the normal things,” said Lipnicki. “I was still auditioning, but when you go through an awkward phase in your life, you don’t really know who you are. The most important thing about being an actor is to bring yourself to the table. I was so self-conscious of the person I was, I wasn’t bringing myself to my characters. I wasn’t the best actor for a while.”
Lipnicki said growing up and acting classes helped bring him back to the craft.
His teenage “awkward stage” included a basketball-themed Bar Mitzvah. “I was really into basketball, and I really wanted an area where people could play basketball and dance at the same time,” he said.
“It was really cool, we had these cutouts of NBA players on the dance floor. My grandfather was still around and I was really glad he got to be there.”
Lipnicki said he has drifted a little away from Judaism since graduating from high school but that he hopes to reconnect. “I’m still friends with the guys from my Hebrew school carpool,” he said. He said he was surprised how quickly the Birthright group began to feel like his “mishpacha,” or family.
Lipnicki hopes to return to Israel, either for a visit or to film a movie. He played an Israeli in the movie “For the Love of Money,” (2012) based on the true story of Israeli immigrant real estate developer Izek Shomof. To Lipnicki’s dismay, the filming took place in downtown LA, which was altered to look like Tel Aviv.
Lipnicki couldn’t extend his trip to Israel because he will start shooting another movie upon returning to America, a psychological thriller called “Sudden Break.”
In the past few years, Lipnicki has acted in more than a dozen movies and TV shows, though most were video-on-demand and did not go to theaters. He has also dabbled in producing and writing and hopes to expand his work behind the camera.
And he hopes the rest of the public will start treating him as a regular actor, rather than a cute kid.
“I don’t live in the past, and I can’t wait till the day when everyone else is done living in the past when it comes to me and my career,” said Lipnicki. “As much as I’m grateful for it, I’m not going to lie — it gets a little frustrating sometimes. I’ve done more movies as an adult than I have as a kid.”
“Not every film you’re going to do is going to strike a chord with a mass audience,” he added. “I got very lucky that I had a few in a row as a kid that did do that, but I can’t wait to show people who I really am now because I’m better than I’ve ever been, and I have a lot more to offer now.”