Young actors in Hollywood and beyond

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A mere 27 years since the release of Stand By Me, and I’ve finally gotten around to seeing it. Although in fairness, I’ve only been alive for 19 of those years.

This came about because I was listening to an old Nerdist podcast the other day, with host Chris Hardwick interviewing geek favourite Wil Wheaton, and he talked in detail about the making of the film.

About two-thirds of the way through, just after the famous leech scene, I realised how engrossed I was in the film. Like with all good drama films, I was taking it seriously and going through the trials and tribulations of the characters.

It then hit me – these guys are kids. The youngest (Jerry O’Connell) was 11, with the oldest (River Phoenix) 15. When I was those ages, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. Meanwhile, Wil Wheaton, Jerry O’Connell, River Phoenix and Corey Feldman are acting like they’ve been doing it for 50 years.
The young stars confidently led the film for probably 90% of the time, ranging all kinds of emotions that many adult stars could only wish to have.

In fact, the rest of the screen time was mostly taken up by a brilliant Kiefer Sutherland (20 years old at the time).

My point is this: there is no way a film today could star four 12-year-old kids and actually be any good.

In the 80s, kids could act.
Not only that, but all four in Stand By Me continued their acting careers forth very successfully (with the obvious exception of Phoenix, who tragically died at the age of 23, but still had a good career until then). Here is what I consider to be their most notable roles since Stand By Me:
Wheaton played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation for seven years, and now is a legend amongst geeks.

O’Connell was in the impressive Sliders for five years, and played Frank Cushman in Jerry Maguire (he has since made some questionable film choices, including Scary Movie 5).

Feldman starred in various movies, including Gremlins and The Goonies. He is also the singer in a rock band, Truth Movement

Phoenix starred in Explorers, as well as playing young Indy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

So they’ve all done stuff, is the second point I’m trying to make.

I’m now going to compare this to a highly successful franchise spanning ten years of movies – Harry Potter.

Now, I love the Harry Potter films. I’ve seen them all countless times, and often find myself quoting them.

But until around film five, the Order of The Phoenix, it was pretty clear that none of the main three cast could actually act.

Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson were all-but plucked out of obscurity at the age of 11 to play the heroes in the most commercially successful film series of all time.

This was a bold move by the producers, but in fairness, there aren’t exactly many established child stars by that age. It just turned out they picked the three children in Britain who couldn’t act.

Watching them back, it’s a little cringeworthy. I’ll give them the first one because of the scenario and the pressure surrounding them (however Hermione is just so pretentious at times and I have a serious love/hate relationship with that).

But the following three contained some seriously awful acting, and the bolstered roles of young supporting stars like Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom) didn’t help their cause.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, because Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) matured very quickly as an actor, as did Devon Murray (Seamus Finnigan).

However, it was really the supporting cast of adults that made the films as good as they were. Stars like Maggie Smith, Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane, Helena Bonham Carter and David Bradley, to name a few, were absolutely brilliant in every film they were in.

At times in the first four films, it just didn’t feel like the danger was real because the acting wasn’t very good. I didn’t expect Harry to lose to Tom Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets, nor did I expect him to lose to Voldemort in the graveyard.

I suppose the seventh film should be the one compared with Stand By Me, since it required the three stars to lead the film without much help from adults.

Even at this point, whilst the acting was a lot better, it still didn’t feel like they had the confidence to be the film, to be the people who were going to be on screen nearly all the time.

Of course it’s hard for young stars who are just breaking into the business to steal the spotlight away from established stars, but they should have been able to. They were the faces of the franchise for ten years, but yet it always just felt like an ensemble piece.

In fairness to Radcliffe and Watson, they have both matured into decent actors, with the former starring in Broadway plays and continuing to make films. Watson, meanwhile, whom I consider better at acting, starred in the brilliant Perks of Being a Wallflower last year and is in the forthcoming Bling Ring.
Grint is on the brink of disappearing into nothing though. Having done very little since the final Potter film, he may end up starring in indie flicks and TV movies. But I have no idea what he’s got lined up, so we’ll see.

I do hope he has more, because he was by far the best actor of the three.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that young actors are becoming a thing of the past. Aside from people like Chloe Grace Moretz being outstanding in Kick-Ass at the age of 11, it’s practically impossible to find a young actor who can do what they claim they are able to do.

It could be argued that this is a good thing since not all young actors deal with it well (it’s common knowledge that Daniel Radcliffe drank heavily for nearly two years, and River Phoenix died of a drug overdose), but I’m not going to go into that.

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