Monday, January 7, 2013

Are child actors really actors?

I listened to a debate on the radio.

Are child actors really actors? Is it fair for adults to have to compete with child actors?

Listen to it here:

I don't know how I feel about it.

Child actors have to be coached, but look at Oscar winner Natalie Portman. Couldn't act her way out of a paper bag. Look at her in those Star Wars movies. She can do a decent job if she has the right director, otherwise, as one critic said, she can look utterly stranded on screen.
As it happens, I was reading about the British boy actor Desmond Tester. Alfred Hitchcock blew him up in the movie Sabotage (1936). He was cute in his way, playing the heroine's little brother who lives with her and her husband.

I was shocked to learn that Tester was 17 when he appeared in Sabotage. He looked about 11. I think it's why they called him a "boy actor" and not a "child actor". I wonder if he had to shave his legs.

There was the British boy actor Jack Wild who looked about 12 when he was 19. There was Ralph Macchio who was initially recruited as an actor only because he looked much younger than he was. He was sixteen when he played a twelve-year-old on TV and in his twenties when he played a fifteen-year-old.

It's one reason former child stars can have such a hard time making the transition to being adult actors---they're usually very short. Look at Jonathan Taylor Thomas or David Faustino.

Lillian Gish was 28 when she starred in Broken Blossoms. She thought she was too old for the role. The character was supposed to be very young, maybe twelve. Gish said in an interview that she told DW Griffith to get a ten-year-old to play the part---they always look older on camera anyway. He told her that a ten-year-old couldn't give him the performance he wanted.

I don't know what any of this tells you. That acting doesn't come naturally to children, otherwise they wouldn't get much older kids to play child roles.

Look at The Little Rascals and tell me those kids weren't acting.

Buddy Hackett, discussing his Oscar vote around the time that Haley Joel Osment was nominated for The Sixth Sense, said that he never voted for child actors because you never know what's going to happen to them. They disappear in a few years. Look at Tatum O'Neal or Justin Henry who was nominated for Kramer vs Kramer. But that's a different issue.

What happens to an actor in a later stage of life has nothing to do with it. Look at Joan Crawford in Trog, or  Bette Davis in Bunny O'Hare, or Ernest Borgnine on Airwolf. Lawrence Olivier starred in a movie produced by the Unification Church.

I always thought that TV series were taking a terrible risk casting young children. Puberty is a cruel mistress. If the show's on the air for more than a few years, you have no idea what they'll end up looking like.

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