Danielle Brisebois has never been afraid of taking risks.
One of the biggest she ever took was to walk away from acting when she was 18 to concentrate on her music career.
Though there have been struggles and disappointments along the way, Brisebois has become an accomplished, award-winning composer. She's co-written such songs as Natasha Bedingfield's hits "Unwritten" and "Pocketful of Sunshine" and is an Oscar nominee this year for the romantic ballad "Lost Stars" from the musical comedy-drama "Begin Again."
Now 45, Brisebois had been one of the biggest child stars on TV. She had a memorable role as the orphan Molly in the original 1977 Broadway production of "Annie" and joined the cast of the landmark CBS sitcom "All in the Family" in 1978 as Stephanie Mills, the niece of Archie and Edith Bunker. Brisebois earned a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in the 1979-83 spinoff "Archie Bunker's Place." (In 2005, Brisebois was ranked No. 50 in VH1's "100 Greatest Kid Stars.")
"I found out that after doing the TV show, I wanted do music and more than anything to write music," the energetic Brisebois said in Los Angeles. "I had already done the acting thing, and when you are 16 and 17 years old you are all cocky. I felt I am going to go for it and start from scratch."
She soon met her longtime collaborator, singer-songwriter-producer Gregg Alexander, with whom she wrote "Lost Stars." In the film the song is first sung by the film's star, Keira Knightley, and then sung twice more by pop star Adam Levine, who plays Knightley's boyfriend. (He will perform the song at the Oscars.)
"We became soul mates rather quickly," Alexander noted by phone. "The thing that's so amazing about Danielle is she has accomplished many different things. She was a big TV star, was just getting out of TV and going to launch into a film career. But she had this passion for music and singing and songwriting. One of the things I adore about Danielle is that she makes great leaps of faith."
Brisebois' first solo album for Epic Records, "Arrive All Over You" — which Alexander co-wrote and produced — was released in 1994. "It did really well in England, Germany and Europe, but in America we had a bit of a struggle because it was coming out at the same time as Pearl Jam," said Brisebois. "I was on the same label."
"We stuck [together] through the lean years," said Alexander. "There was a period when both of us got dropped by our record labels because we didn't sound like everything else that was out there at the time."
Brisebois joined Alexander's group, the New Radicals, and co-wrote the song "Someday We'll Know" on the group's 1998 album, "Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too."
Carney "called me out of the blue," recalled Alexander. "He got my name from a few mutual friends. One of the first phone calls I made was to Danielle."
"It was a very fluid process, doing the music for this film," said Brisebois, who also co-wrote two of its other songs, "A Step You Can't Take Back" and "Coming Up Roses."
Brisebois recalled that she and Alexander knew that "Lost Stars" was something special, and Carney agreed. "When we finished the demo and sent it to John, we got this email back saying tears were hitting his computer."
Since writing the songs for the film, Brisebois, who has been married to British songwriter-producer Nick Lashley since 2008, gave birth to twin girls — Lola and Charlotte — now 13 months old.
She said she would have no qualms if her daughters wanted to get into acting. Unlike a lot of former child actors who are bitter about their years in front of the spotlight, Brisebois was in her element.
"I got to do really fun stuff," she said. "I was in the room when Martin Charnin, Charles Strouse and Tom Meehan were writing a song for 'Annie,' [sitting] under the piano with Sandy the dog. We were all in Carroll O'Connor's house all the time."
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native credits her mother and grandmother for keeping her on an even keel from the time she started working in commercials at age 3.
"I had a lot of love and great teachers encouraging me," she said. "There are kid actors who have a hard time, but there are people who aren't in show business who have the same hard time. It has nothing to do with show business. I think it has to do with how you handle stress. I have had stress, and I haven't had a prefect life, but I think being in 'Annie' gave me this optimistic, grateful attitude."