Gaga for kids

Hollywood is look­ing younger than usual as child stars mul­ti­ply on the red car­pet.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MOVIES - by AMy KAuF­MAN

IWANT to go home,” Thomas Robin­son said as he climbed into his mother’s arms, wrapped his tiny body around her torso and nuz­zled his head against her neck.

The eight-year-old, who stars with Jen­nifer Anis­ton and Ja­son Bate­man in The Switch, was ex­pe­ri­enc­ing his first big movie pre­miere. It was near­ing 10pm at Hollywood’s nou­veau W Ho­tel on a Mon­day, where a party was be­ing held to cel­e­brate the film’s re­lease. Well­groomed in­dus­try types abounded, sip­ping mar­ti­nis, del­i­cately eat­ing shrimp skew­ers, tak­ing smoke breaks on a dimly lighted pa­tio.

Thomas, mean­while, smiled meekly and picked at a plate of pigs-in-a-blan­ket as scores of adults came by to tell him how cute he was. He even re­ceived a high-five from costar Pa­trick Wil­son. But when the cam­era flashes got too re­lent­less, he re­coiled. His mum, Rachel, quickly gath­ered their things and headed for the exit.

Only hours be­fore, Thomas’ per­for­mance as Se­bas­tian, the bright son of Anis­ton’s char­ac­ter, had coaxed a cho­rus of “awws” from a full the­atre, the lat­est in a se­ries of strik­ingly nat­u­ral­is­tic and evoca­tive child ac­tors an­chor­ing movies this sum­mer.

In July, there was Ra­mona And Beezus, based upon author Bev­erly Cleary’s book se­ries, star­ring 11-year-old girl Joey King. That was fol­lowed by Rob Reiner’s Flipped, a 1960s tale of young love cen­tered on 14-yearold Made­line Car­roll and 15-year-old Cal­lan McAuliffe. Now there is the vam­pire re­make Let Me In, with 13-year-old Chloe Moretz and 14-year-old Kodi Smit-McPhee.

In The Switch, Thomas has a kin­ship with a char­ac­ter played by Bate­man, who him­self was a child ac­tor on tele­vi­sion.

Grow­ing up in Hollywood has never been easy, as is ev­i­denced by the com­pli­cated lega­cies of stars such as Judy Gar­land and Robert Blake. But in an era when kids sub­mit their own au­di­tions to cast­ing di­rec­tors via YouTube and re­al­ity tele­vi­sion can in­stantly pro­pel a pre­co­cious young­ster from ob­scu­rity to fame, the pool has never been quite this com­pet­i­tive.

And, ac­cord­ing to many in the in­dus­try, the wealth of op­por­tu­nity on the big screen had led many as­pir­ing young ac­tors to “over­pre­pare” – re­hears­ing re­lent­lessly with coaches or stage par­ents to hone their act­ing skills.

Try­ing to act pro­fes­sional when you’re just a kid can be a lot to bal­ance, said Bate­man.

“I wasn’t as young as (Thomas) is, but I can re­mem­ber be­ing around all these adults and try­ing to sort of ac­cel­er­ate my abil­ity to be pro­fes­sional or de­liver the goods,” he said.

“Kids at that age are re­ally just think­ing about ex­e­cut­ing their home­work prop­erly or putting the soc­cer ball in the net. They have a dif­fer­ent set of pres­sures.”

Rachel Robin­son, Thomas’ mum, said her son fol­lowed his older brother, 10-year-old Bryce, into movies af­ter Bryce was cast in Mar­ley & Me and Valen­tine’s Day.

“We’re kind of just rolling with it,” she said of her sons’ suc­cess. “And if they ever don’t want to put the work in and don’t want to do it – they own the process. It’s their hobby. If they’d rather be run­ning around out­side, fine.”

North Hollywood res­i­dent Thomas, mean­while, is grap­pling with how to han­dle his first movie role. Too shy to talk to a re­porter di­rectly, Thomas had his mother re­lay ques­tions. Asked how he felt about the film’s re­lease, he replied: “Sort of freaked out.”

Kodi Smit-McPhee, one of the stars of Let Me In, said his fa­ther, Andy McPhee, also an ac­tor, of­ten ac­com­pa­nied him on the set, eas­ing the pres­sure of film­mak­ing.

“My dad, he is al­ways kind of my courage,” said Kodi, who’s from Aus­tralia. “He taught me ev­ery­thing I know, and the way we do it is to try to make it real – a whole life for the char­ac­ter, all the lit­tle things. He’ll be there if I need help with a dra­matic scene.”

Made­line, the ac­tress from Flipped, said her mother serves a more strict role in her life – mak­ing sure she puts away the money she’s mak­ing.

“I have an al­lowance, but I can’t re­ally spend my own money un­til I’m 18,” she said. “I’m like, ‘ Oh, Mum, can I get this?’ But I can’t spend my money. It stinks.”

On the set of Flipped, Made­line said, di­rec­tor Rob Reiner worked hard to kid-proof the en­vi­ron­ment, even im­ple­ment­ing a “swear jar” for any­one who used un­sa­vory lan­guage in front of the young cast.

“If you swore, you had to put 20 bucks into the jar,” said Made­line, who lives in Simi Val­ley, Cal­i­for­nia. “When I’m 14, I’ve no­ticed adults are start­ing to curse around me and stuff, like they don’t care any­more, be­cause they think I’m older. Me and my fam­ily, we’re Chris­tian, so when (adults) are talk­ing about cer­tain things, I just sit qui­etly.”

Di­rect­ing kids

Reiner praised Made­line’s ma­tu­rity on set. “It was none of that fake kind of cutesy act­ing that some­times you see with young kids,” he said. “A lot of times you have to do a lot of tricks to get things out of a young ac­tor – spoon-feed­ing them line read­ings, telling them the way you want them to say some­thing. But not with these kids.”

In con­trast, Reiner re­mem­bers the chal­lenges of di­rect­ing kids with “very lit­tle to no ex­pe­ri­ence” in Stand By Me, the 1986 comin­gof-age clas­sic about young boys bond­ing over a sum­mer week­end.

In one dra­matic scene in which the best friends are about to be run over by a train, Reiner said, he tried dili­gently to get the cast “revved up”.

“I had to work my­self up into a lather and pre­tend I was mad at them,” he said with a laugh. “I said, ‘ The men push­ing the dolly are tired, and the rea­son I have to keep do­ing this is be­cause of you!’ And they started cry­ing, and I said, ‘Roll the cam­era!’”

In­ter­est­ingly, be­ing “over-re­hearsed” can kill the spon­tane­ity of a per­for­mance, said Nina Ja­cob­son, who pro­duced March’s Diary Of A Wimpy Kid, star­ring 12-year-old Zachary Gor­don.

“A lot of times, they have just re­hearsed so much, and they’re try­ing so hard that it’s heart­break­ing,” said Ja­cob­son, a for­mer Dis­ney stu­dio ex­ec­u­tive. “They’re putting so much ef­fort and their heart and souls into it. But when there’s that re­hearsed qual­ity, it doesn’t feel like a hu­man be­ing that you might know.”

Chris­tian Kaplan, who cast Joey King as Ra­mona Quimby, said she won the part be­cause she acted like an ac­tual kid dur­ing the au­di­tions.

“Oh, she was a dark horse, honey,” said Kaplan, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of cast­ing for 20th Cen­tury Fox. “But at one point, she ended up kick­ing her boots off and sort of tripped and kept on skip­ping around. She didn’t judge her­self. And that’s not to say we’re look­ing for some rene­gade child who is de­stroy­ing your en­tire of­fice. But you don’t want them to con­stantly be try­ing to please, please, please.”

King said she didn’t re­ally feel any pres­sure to per­form for Ra­mona And Beezus, al­though she and her mother “cried tears of hap­pi­ness” when she got the role.

“I knew what to do on set be­cause I had ex­pe­ri­ence from TV, but I wasn’t ner­vous,” she said. “I was just so ex­cited to be play­ing Ra­mona, and to play the lead, it was a big re­spon­si­bil­ity. My friends were just so ex­cited for me. My friends were kind of jeal­ous that I got to hang out with (co-star Se­lena Gomez), but I was like, ‘ Guys, she’s just a reg­u­lar per­son like us.’ I never re­ally feel star-struck. We’re all in the same busi­ness.”

While King may be en­joy­ing the process now, it re­mains to be seen how the ex­pe­ri­ence will af­fect her ca­reer. Many child ac­tors, like Jonathan Lip­nicki of Jerry Maguire and The Sixth Sense star Ha­ley Joel Os­ment, have strug­gled to find their place in Hollywood af­ter out­grow­ing their cute looks.

Anna Ch­lum­sky, per­haps best known for her role in 1991’s My Girl op­po­site Ma­caulay Culkin, said she had trou­ble find­ing work and was con­stantly re­jected as she de­vel­oped into a curvy teenager.

“I have re­alised that there re­ally is a sense of be­fore My Girl and af­ter My Girl in my life, and I can only try to pre­tend that there’s not for so long. Ev­ery­thing changed,” said Ch­lum­sky, 29, who strug­gled to find work as an adult and whose most no­table re­cent credit was a role in 2009’s In The Loop.

“I was ca­reer-con­scious at 10; it be­came un­avoid­able,” she said. “... I be­came very aware of what job I wanted next, and then when the jobs stopped com­ing, the re­jec­tion of it was a lot for a kid to han­dle.”

Sarah Pol­ley, who rose to star­dom as a child act­ing in Terry Gil­liam’s The Ad­ven­tures Of Baron Mun­chausen and the Dis­ney tele­vi­sion show Avon­lea, be­lieves the film in­dus­try needs to reeval­u­ate kids’ place in Hollywood.

“Kids work­ing is a very com­plex is­sue that we’re not mulling over enough in this in­dus­try. We’ve de­cided as a so­ci­ety that we don’t think kids should work, pe­riod,” she said in an in­ter­view ear­lier this year. “But for some rea­son, we make this ex­cep­tion in an in­dus­try where there’s enor­mous pres­sure, long hours and a lot of peo­ple who aren’t nec­es­sar­ily equipped to be around kids all day. I think it’s a bit of a strange thing.”

Pol­ley, now 31, has gone on to have a suc­cess­ful ca­reer as both an ac­tress and a di­rec­tor – her 2009 film Away From Her, which she wrote and di­rected, earned two Os­car nom­i­na­tions. But she ad­mits things might have gone dif­fer­ently.

“There were kids who were a lot more tal­ented than I was who didn’t have that lucky break. I don’t know if I would have been pissed off and de­pressed and de­struc­tive if things didn’t hap­pen for me,” she said. “I feel like there’s not a great track record for what hap­pens to kids who have been work­ing. And it’s un­der­stand­able, right? If you have the moment of great­est suc­cess when you’re 12 or 13, what does that do to the rest of your life?”

As for Robin­son, he has yet to de­cide if act­ing is for him. When asked at The Switch pre­miere if he saw a fu­ture on the big screen, he timidly shook his head no.

“I think he wants to be a chef,” his mother in­ter­jected, which made the boy grin. “This sum­mer he took a cook­ing class. It was a big hit.” – Los An­ge­les Times/McClatchy-Tribune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices n Th­eSwitch is play­ing in Malaysian cine­mas while LetMeIn opens on Nov 11.

Child ac­tor: Eight-year-old Thomas Robin­son stars with Ja­son Bate­man in Th­eSwitch.

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