Former ‘Growing Pains’ child star has small-but-important ‘Avengers’ role

You may remember her as the cute, curly-haired carrot top named Chrissy who joined the Seaver family in the later seasons of "Growing Pains" in the early nineties.

But Ashley Johnson, now 28 years old, may be tired of the connection. Her recent big-screen feats -- taking on a role in the Oscar-nominated "The Help," and appearing in this weekend's action blockbuster "Marvel's The Avengers"-- are lifting her into a new echelon.

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Written and directed by Joss Whedon, "Avengers" isn't Johnson's first encounter with the television-turned-film helmer. Whedon cast her in two episodes of his short-lived Fox show "Dollhouse" in 2009 and has cast her in his upcoming modern take of Shakespeare's "Much Ado About Nothing," set for release later this year.

The writer-directer, known to repeat-cast actors -- including "Much Ado" co-star Nathan Fillion, Eliza Dushku, and "Avengers" stars Jeremy Renner and Chris Hemsworth -- is certainly ushering Johnson into the clubhouse.

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Without spoiling too much of the film, Johnson plays a New York City waitress in "The Avengers," in a small-but-pivotal role. She can be seen at the beginning of the trailer (see below) peering out a window with an expression of awe. She is the character audiences follow as Loki (Tom Hiddleston) brings on an alien invasion during the movie's climactic battle scene. And her fate hinges on whether Captain American (Chris Evans) can save her.

(Back when the film was in production, Johnson tweeted a picture of herself in her waitress costume with comic book creator Stan Lee, who has a cameo in "Avengers"):

Just me and my main squeeze @TheRealStanLee.

— Ashley Johnson (@TheVulcanSalute) September 5, 2011

In Whedon's upcoming "Much Ado," Johnson takes on a meatier role as Margaret (who, by the way, will portray a pseudo-public sex scene if her character sticks to the original Shakespeare script). It is said to have been shot entirely at Whedon's own home, in black-and-white, and on only a fraction of, say, an "Avengers"-type budget.

Born in Camarillo, California, Johnson comes from a performing family -- her grandmother is concert pianist Evelyn Taft and her sister Haylie was on '80s kids song-and-dance show "Kids Incorporated."

Following her stint on "Growing Pains," Johnson has worked steadily in television and film, even voicing a character on the animated series "King of the Hill" and doing voice overs for video game characters. Johnson herself is a classically trained musician and attended the International School of Music, and in her spare time helps run a photography company.

See 'Marvel's The Avengers' Trailer: