In his first leading role in ‘October Sky’ in 1999, he played Homer Hickam, a coal miner’s son who becomes a NASA engineer through his sheer perseverance and hard work. The film was a big hit and his role was hailed as his ‘breakout performance’.
He appeared in his second major film ‘Donnie Darko’ in 2001. He portrayed a troubled teenager who after narrowly escaping death had recurring visions of a gigantic rabbit named Frank who tells him that the world is coming to an end. The movie became a cult hit.