Jonathan Taylor Thomas left TV’s “Home Improvement” to focus on school, but his fans can catch his familiar, family-oriented comedy skills in the Disney movie “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” For a switch, though, the 17-year-old also took an unfamiliar casting as a tough street kid in “Speedway Junkie,” a gritty indie coming next year with Gus Van Sant as executive producer.

MOVIN’ ON: “It’s not easy to walk away from a place you’ve been for almost eight years of your life--and eight impressionable years. This is my junior year of high school, the big year colleges look at, and I’ve got three Advanced Placement classes. I have to be a student and can’t work 65 hours a week as well.”

GROWIN’ UP: “What I’m choosing to do as an actor is in flux. I have to be more selective, and at 17 I want to do more adult material. That’s where the good roles are. ‘Speedway Junkie’ gave me an opportunity to show people I can do other things, and was a real eye-opener for me.”

FORMER CHILD STAR: “I like Ron Howard as a person and like what he’s done--good choices he’s made in his life. I’ve followed what he’s done, and Jodie Foster as well. Would love to work with either of them.”


DREAM ROLE: “A year ago I really wanted to play Holden Caulfield from ‘A Catcher in the Rye.’ But I don’t think J.D. Salinger is likely to give up the rights to that.”

RATED R: “I wouldn’t recommend young kids to see ‘Speedway Junkie.’ It’s definitely an age-appropriate movie, dark and realistic and edgy. If young kids want to see me, go see the Christmas movie.”

VERSATILITY: “I don’t want to say I’ll only do one type of movie. If I can make the good, funny comedies, great, but I want to do drama as well. I like actors who can do both--Tom Hanks, Nicolas Cage, Robin Williams.”

TEEN POWER: “I see a lot of the teenage romantic comedies, the ‘90s teenage angst, trials and tribulations. Like ‘Can’t Hardly Wait.’ The studio people all of a sudden realized that teenagers go see movies. Every Friday night that’s what 13- to 18-year-olds do, at least where I’m from.”

AMBITION: “If I found the time I’d definitely sit down and write my own stuff. It’s just a matter of finding the time to put pen to paper. I’d like to write and direct and produce, ultimately.”