We are massive fans of the 1990s movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda in our house. It’s a delicious revenge movie, but a great deal of charm also comes from the title character, played by Mara Wilson.
From the ages of 5 to 12, Wilson starred in a number of hit films including the Mrs Doubtfire Series, Miracle on 34th st and Matilda.
She dropped out of the industry in her teenage years and is now 25, studying at NYU and working on her writing career. Most importantly, she’s sane.
Wilson has recently written for Cracked.com with her theories on why so many child actors go off the rails. As she says:
Not many child stars make it out of Hollywood alive or sane, and at any given time there are at least three former ones having very public breakdowns.
As someone in a unique position to understand why so many child actors struggle with adult lives, Wilson has a few theories, which we’ve illustrated with the following examples.
Some kids have responsible adults for parents, others have Dina and Michael Lohan or Jaid Barrymore.
When kids don’t even enjoy the acting but feel pressure to earn a paycheck, they’re more likely to be miserable and rebel. Busy child actors spend so much time away from the family home that their parents’ influence is often too little, too late. They’ve got to hope that the agents and representatives working with their children are making the right decisions.
Drew Barrymore’s mother Jaid thought it was good to give her daughter “time and space” at the age of 10. That resulted in Drew going out clubbing and having her first drink at 9, smoking marijuana at 10 and taking up cocaine at 12. Thankfully, she was in rehab at 13 and has gone on to be a successful adult actor and producer. She has also come out and said that she doesn’t want the same life for her own daughter - she wants her to be a kid as long as possible.
Former child actor Paul Petersen once said, "Fame is a dangerous drug and should be kept out of the reach of children."
Being famous has loads of perks – parties, toys, clothing contracts.
Drew Barrymore told People Magazine that, “by the time I was 8½, I felt like I was some abnormal, crazy girl. I could walk up to the door of any nightclub and they'd say, "Hi, you're that little girl. Come in."
All of that goes away when you’re no longer cute and on the big screen anymore. It can be a hard comedown.
Fame is limiting
"If I were to talk to Lindsay Lohan, I'd encourage her to get the hell out of acting and into something soothing. Take up botany or something", writes Wilson.
If child actors have spent their whole life on a movie set, they’re rather unequipped to switch careers. Of course, it helps if their parents prioritised education growing up. Emma Watson and Natalie Portman enjoyed success young but went on to study at prestigious universities. Sure, they’re still acting but it never hurts to have a back-up plan (and we’re not talking about Dr Drew’s Celebrity Rehab).
If they’re going to be recognised constantly, it makes working in a deli a little tiresome. Easier just to continue to be semi-famous, right?
Another limiting aspect of celebrity life is the constant scrutiny. Child celebrities, especially if they are representing a ‘wholesome’ brand like Disney, are unable to experiment in typical teenage ways until their contract expires. When it does, young actresses are often under pressure to channel their image in a sexy way – or at least it’s a sure fire path to more of that attention they’re used to. This can be a dangerous combination, because ...
Hollywood is not a nice place
Sadly, sexual abuse and exploitation of young actors is common. Wilson cites Corey Feldman as one of the young stars who has come on the record as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. In 2010 he told ABC’s Nightline, ‘the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be paedophilia. That's the biggest problem for children in this industry ... It's the big secret.” Feldman’s co-star on a number of classic 80s films, Corey Haim, died of an overdose in March 2010. It was rumoured that both boys had been given drugs in exchange for sex as teenagers.
In a recent case, it was found that a registered sex offender was working as a casting director for family movies including School of Rock.
Wilson found herself on a foot fetishist’s website for child actors. Eight-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis was called a ‘c**t’ on Twitter just last year. Another website had a countdown for the day the Olsen Twins became of legal age.
In the face of all of this pressure, it’s a wonder that anyone grows up sane. The trick, it seems, is to get out for a while. Malcolm in the Middle star Frankie Muniz now races cars in Arizona. To people like Amanda Bynes and Lindsay Lohan, Muniz says:
"Get away for a little bit, get away from the world and the photographers following you around. Find yourself and maybe you'll be happier."'
It’s usually the ones of whom we ask “Where are they now?” who are doing the best of all.
PHOTOS: Child stars where are they now?