Child Stars

By Margherita Pellegrino

It has become something of a cliché to just think (in a slightly judgemental way if you wish) that all child actors end up bad. They grow up and either don’t make it, not managing to get past their kiddie cuteness and prove their acting skills in the ‘real world’ (usually because they didn’t have any acting skills in the first place) or they start going wild and get papped doing drugs and getting naked at random hours in random places (add ‘forgetting road rules and the dangers of drunk driving’, if you are Lindsay Lohan).

Admittedly…this is true. In the majority of the cases anyway. It’s quite difficult to think of a child actor who was really successful in their early years, and managed not only to survive the transition to adult actor, but to do it in a ‘normal way’ - i.e. staying away from jail, drugs, alcohol, mental issues, and multiple marriages/divorces (I think Macauley Culkin managed to tick all the boxes on this list, but then again he’s always been an over-achiever!)

Direct Your First FeatureThis has become the rule in regards to child stars, so much so that the challenge is now on identifying the ones who have made the transition (fairly) unharmed, against all odds. The ‘usual suspects’ are typically Natalie Portman, Elijah Wood, Leonardo Di Caprio, Scarlett Johansson, amongst others. In my opinion, though, this is not completely correct, because can they really be defined as former child actors?

If you think about it, yes, they did land roles and roam movie sets at a young age, but they didn’t have the limelight and attention of the public and press on them all the time. In other words, they were ‘acting children’ rather than child stars, and their roles were more of a ‘try out’ and ‘cv experience’ than a real career (their actual career took off many years after).

The case of real ‘child stars’ is different. The first names that usually come to mind are probably those of Macauley Culkin, Drew Barrymore, Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears – but the list doesn’t end here.

So what happens to these (previously) cute kids that turns them into ‘lost souls’? What makes it so difficult for them to grow up in a ‘normal’ way and what makes it so easy to embrace the wild side and jump on the train to doom? Here’s what (usually) happens to them…

Troubles of adolescence – ok, so everyone goes through adolescence, and everyone does so in their own way, but we do know that, as clichéd as it sounds, adolescence is a turbulent time in any person’s life. You don’t know who you are, but you have to be somebody, everything is changing and you must adjust to it. Can you imagine how it is to realise this, when you have everything, and everything is at your disposal, there for you to take to make you feel better about yourself? This includes drugs, alcohol, fast cars, boob jobs, nose jobs, and the like. Teenagers are impulsive, temperamental and stubborn as it is; (ex) child stars don’t just want: they have the means to go and get it.

Drew BArrymore Pressures and temptations of Hollywood - Feelings of inadequacy, unhappiness and dissatisfaction are common of human nature; we all lack confidence from time to time. Hollywood makes this a hundred times worse: you have to adhere to certain standards, look in a certain way and respond to certain requisites. Child actors find themselves in the vicious circle of having to be a certain person, or instantly lose their status - and roles and paychecks along with it - because of the brutally competitive nature of the industry. So, the temptation of doing what people around you do  - i.e. having plastic surgery, buying a 10-bedroom house by the beach in Malibu, doing drugs and taking vodka as your new favourite drink – is very strong, especially if you have the money to do all these things but lack the maturity to tell right from wrong.

Think of Christina Ricci and Drew Barrymore, who both have gone through that road.

Macauley Culkin Inexistent or wacko parents – in the midst of such exceptional and hardly grounding circumstances, a lot of the times child actors can’t even count on the help of wise parents to guide them. Chances are that the parents are just as equally overwhelmed as their child is, and/or can’t believe their luck/want to make as much money off their kid as possible/want to be seen and experience fame themselves.

Think Macauley Culkin, whose parents fought over who was going to pocket their kid’s insane earnings after Home Alone, or Lindsay Lohan, whose mum and dad both enjoy a slice of celebrity and happily show off their faces every time their daughter gets into trouble (which is a lot of times).  

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About The Author
MArgheritaMargherita Pellegrino moved to the UK from Italy five years ago, studied Sociology and is now about to finish a Masters Degree in United States Studies.

She is obsessed with cinema and the United States (especially New York) and loves to write (and talk) incessantly about both.

She would like to work as a reviewer/film critic, or maybe in casting because she has a sixth sense about people.

Margherita is presently intening at Raindance.




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Child Stars