|Is Child Stardom No Longer a Life
By STRAWBERRY SAROYAN
Published: November 27, 2005
SHIA LaBEOUF and his manager,
John Crosby, were sitting outside a coffee shop here
one recent afternoon discussing the most opportune moment
for the 19-year-old actor to win an Academy Award.
"Would I want to win
an Oscar before I'm 40?" asked Mr. LaBeouf, at
the moment perhaps best known for starring on the Disney
Channel series "Even Stevens." "Maybe.
Would I want to win one before I'm 25? No."
"He wants me to,"
he said and gestured toward Mr. Crosby, whose shock
of sky-high gray hair brings to mind a white Don King.
"I don't want you to,
Shia," Mr. Crosby replied. "I think you are."
"I just don't want to
win it before I'm 25," Mr. LaBeouf, who has been
in the business since he was 11, continued, "because
then I have nothing to follow it up with for the next
50 years of my career."
This discussion, albeit in
fun, also said something about the ease with which many
actors who became stars when they were children have
lately found their footing as adults.
Shirley Temple's advance
to adolescence may have once been regarded as a career
death march, but former child actors now routinely populate
the screen and have occasionally emerged as masters
of their craft. Jake Gyllenhaal, who started in the
business at 8, is now starring in "Jarhead"
and has "Brokeback Mountain" coming in December.
Leonardo DiCaprio, whose role on the TV sitcom "Growing
Pains" at 10 gave him his first taste of fame,
is to be back with Martin Scorsese again next year in
"The Departed." And Reese Witherspoon, whose
performance at 14 in "The Man in the Moon"
began her career, plays June Carter Cash in "Walk
the Line" opposite Joaquin Phoenix, who has also
performed onscreen since he was a child.
Others are in the process
of making the leap. Jena Malone, who starred in "Badman
Out of Carolina" at 12, plays a young married woman
in this month's "Pride & Prejudice"; Lindsay
Lohan, the former "Parent Trap" star, takes
another step toward adulthood in the romantic comedy
"Just My Luck," scheduled for March, and Anne
Hathaway, the "Princess Diaries" alumna, is
now filming "The Devil Wears Prada" opposite
Meryl Streep on Manhattan's streets.
"You're not necessarily
going to end up being arrested for petty crime anymore,"
said Dan Schneider, the executive producer of Nickelodeon
shows including "Zoey 101," "Drake and
Josh" and "All That," referring to the
sad fate of several 70's and 80's television stars.
Adam Rich, the kid with the bowl cut from "Eight
Is Enough," was arrested several times for drugs,
shoplifting and breaking and entering, for example;
Dana Plato of "Diff'rent Strokes" was arrested
for holding up a Las Vegas video store.
Paul Petersen, who starred
on "The Donna Reed Show" as a child and heads
A Minor Consideration, an organization formed to support
former child actors, believes that young stars today
still don't have the same opportunities as those who
start their careers as adults. He does, however, say
that the doors of opportunity for child actors are open
for two to four more years than they were in his day.
"The industry itself has come to understand that
these adolescents have legs," he said, referring
to their marketability.
Some credit the Nickelodeon
and Disney Channel cable networks with creating a major
change in career dynamics for the young. Founded in
1979 and 1983, respectively, the networks created shows
for the newly defined "tween" demographic,
the 29 million children 8 to 14 years old who control
about $40 billion on their own annually, and influence
tens of billions of dollars more in family spending,
according to 2005 studies by the market research firm
Child actors were given starring
roles, and were no longer hired for what Mr. Schneider
calls their "turbocute" factor. His show "All
That" was the first to cast Kenan Thompson, now
a regular on "Saturday Night Live." In casting
"The New Mickey Mouse Club" from 1988 to 1994,
Matt Casella gave Ryan Gosling, Keri Russell and Justin
Timberlake their starts. He traveled the country with
a handheld video camera looking for children who were
talented but not precocious. "I wanted kids at
home to feel like, these are kids I could hang out with,"
Mr. Casella recalled. As a result, he said, his hires
often had genuine, age-transcendent talent.
The series on these networks
also often focused on the adolescent years, historically
a treacherous period for young actors. Speaking of "Lizzie
McGuire," the series that made Hilary Duff a star,
the Disney Channel president, Rich Ross, said: "The
revelatory episode for us was when Lizzie McGuire had
to buy her first bra. I watched it and it sort of took
my breath away. Because I knew, this is - hello! - every
single girl in the world is going through this experience."
Other former child stars
like Scarlett Johansson, Kirsten Dunst (who starred
in her first commercial at 3), Elijah Wood and Anna
Paquin (who won an Oscar at 11) had no ties to the Disney
Channel and Nickelodeon. Speaking about their success
in movies, Marion Dougherty, a casting director who
started in 1950 and put actors from James Dean to Nick
Stahl in some of their first roles, speculated that
their continued viability had something to do with a
change since the late 1960's in what it means to be
Before then, Ms. Dougherty
said, it meant remaining true to type. "If you
played a doctor, you always played a doctor." There
were exceptions like Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney,
but for many young stars, their one specialty was playing
a child. Dustin Hoffman, she believes, changed all that
when he opted to do "The Graduate" and "Midnight
Cowboy" back to back. "Look at the range,"
Ms. Dougherty said. After that, "good actors wanted
to do something different, they didn't want to do the
same sort of thing all the time."
Cindy Osbrink, who created
the Osbrink Agency, said she employed a model that sounds
much like Mr. Hoffman's when looking for projects to
showcase her client, Dakota Fanning, even as a child.
"We'll do a fun one and then we'll do a serious
one, to grow her in both ways," she said of Dakota,
now 11. "So when she gets older, she has that option."
Haley Joel Osment , who
starred in "The Sixth Sense" and "A.I."
as a child, echoed the idea, saying that one reason
he did not do a movie for about two years recently was
that he couldn't find a diversity of roles. Now 17,
he also said he wanted to focus on high school.
"There are not as
many different personality types portrayed by high-school-age
kids in films," he said, adding that his role in
the film "Home of the Giants," to be released
next year, offered up a rare mix of vulnerability and
Some take a dimmer view of
these new opportunities, however, tying the increased
interest in female child stars to the ever-younger age
at which girls are sexualized in popular culture. David
Thomson, author of "The Whole Equation: A History
of Hollywood," said the kind of underage flirtation
that once would have seemed shocking is now almost commonplace,
while adult female stars are under pressure to maintain
the figures of teenagers. The result is an environment
in which the ideal actress is a sort of Stepford woman-child.
He said: "You could ask this question about Hilary
Duff: Was she ever a child? And will she ever be an
adult? Because it seems in a way that she's always been
Another successful young
actress who might fall into this category is Ms. Lohan,
now 19. Her role in "Just My Luck" was originally
intended for an actress between 25 and 30 years old,
the film's director, Donald Petrie, said. But he felt
that Ms. Lohan was ready for the role - and her sexy
image may have helped. "She's out there going to
clubs and hanging with older Hollywood," he explained,
"and she's got her - even her heroes are Ann-Margret.
That's a more mature role model."
Mr. Schneider noted that
it seems Amanda Bynes, a star on Nickelodeon, has not
had the same success as Ms. Lohan and Ms. Duff because
she hasn't sexualized her image in the same way. And
some have raised eyebrows at Ms. Hathaway's decision
to appear topless in the film "Havoc," which
is scheduled for release on DVD later this month.
ANOTHER factor in a seamless
transition to adult stardom for both sexes may be a
new understanding among the young of how celebrity now
works, and the power of a personal brand as a marketing
platform. "People who are younger are very comfortable
with it," said Michael Pagnotta, the publicist
for Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen for 15 years, referring
to the business of branding. Following in their footsteps,
Hilary Duff has her own fashion and home line, Stuff
by Hilary Duff, and both Ms. Duff and Ms. Lohan have
successful careers in pop music. Such arrangements let
actors diversify their investments, as it were, and
increase their potential earning power.
Even for actors who question
the wisdom of expanding into merchandising or other
areas, there is an awareness that acting is sometimes
secondary to personal image. To Mr. LaBeouf, who has
also been in the Disney movies "Holes" and
"The Greatest Game Ever Played," and will
play a teen in the coming film "A Guide to Recognizing
Your Saints," "There's more to it than just
"I think people don't
just go to the movies any more because Clive Owen is
a good actor," he said. "If that was the case,
he'd be the new 007."
Ms. Osbrink said that image
was very important for Ms. Fanning as well. "We're
totally moving into the teenage stage for Dakota,"
she said. "Down to the MTV Movie Awards, dressing
as a teenager. It's all planned."
Tatum O'Neal, who became,
at 10, the youngest person to win an Oscar, for her
performance in 1973's "Paper Moon," marveled
at the ability current young stars have to play the
image game. "I love how she can do that,"
Ms. O'Neal, now 42, said of Ms. Lohan's apparently effortless
evolution from child star to glamorous adult when posing
at events like film premieres. "I was so, at 17,
like, 'Don't take my picture.' It's so hard to be that
cute for that long."
the Original Nw York Times Article