Observations: The Jurassic kid in another monster hit

These days, you could walk past him on the street and barely notice, but at one point in the mid-Nineties Joseph Mazzello was one of the most famous children in the world. Before he was 11 he'd acted opposite Meryl Streep, Harrison Ford and Anthony Hopkins, and was handpicked by Steven Spielberg to play dinosaur fanboy Tim in some film called Jurassic Park.

The world at his feet, a future as the next too-much-too-young child star chewed up by fame beckoned – another Ed Furlong or Brad Renfro. Instead, one day, Mazzello simply returned home to a small town in New York state, and stopped taking Hollywood's calls. He was still only 14.

"I didn't give it the focus that I should have. I turned down a lot of things, a TV show and a movie, because I wanted to have a normal life, and have these normal things," he says.

Still, how normal can things be when half the world has watched you being chased around by a Tyrannosaurus Rex?

Now, though, Mazzello is back. After the occasional indie bit part and a spell at film school, 2010 has seen Mazzello make a comeback as spectacular as it is unexpected. As well as a supporting role in Oscar favourite The Social Network, he's one of three leads in the Spielberg-produced HBO series The Pacific, a 10-part mini-series telling the stories of three Marines during America's battle with the Japanese in the Pacific during The Second World War.

The elephant in the room ("dinosaur in the room," he says) is: did Uncle Steven give him a helping hand? "I auditioned for The Pacific five times. It wasn't until the fourth audition I went in front of Spielberg – he didn't know I was auditioning. I knew that there was $200m on the line – and he wasn't going to do me a $200m favour."

'The Pacific' is out on DVD and Blu-ray on Monday 1 November