Monday, June 21, 2010

Is Anything Really Permanent in Hollywood?...

Actors who start working when they're kids are more likely than others to burn out before they hit middle-age. This is not something I have proven though a scientific study of any kind, but rather it is something I have deduced based upon knowing kids and knowing kid actors and seeing how so many of them rebel in their teenage/early 20s years because they finally realize all they missed out on, being stuck on set all day, every day, through weekends, holidays, and summers. However, actors who start working when they're kids are more likely not to know any other way of life than the opportunities that Hollywood can offer them, so even when they're "over it," as Kelly Killoren Bensimon likes to say, they inevitably find their way back, even if it's slinking back in with their dark glasses on and tail between their legs, walk-of-shame style. Therefore, when Amanda Bynes announced she wanted to retire from acting (via Twitter, no less!), I wasn't entirely taken aback. But for the actor who is finally able to pick and choose her projects for ones that really speak to her, it did come as a bit of a surprise. Why leave the profession altogether? Why not just take a break!? It was good enough for Natalie Portman, after all!

Bynes got her professional start at acting at age ten, on a Nickelodeon show called All That (RIP) that showcased her ability to slip into various types of characters and situations. Since then, she has starred in her own television show, appeared on the big screen in romantic comedies, remakes, and musicals, and even begun a fashion line. Her most recent project, Easy A, a comedy about a girl whose high school reputation gets forever changed after a kid lies that she slept with him just to protect his own reputation, hasn't even come out yet. There is always the chance that she may change her young mind after some time away, but Bynes insists she is done, even though she acknowledges that "twenty-four is a very early age to retire, but I stop doing something when I don't love it anymore." Fair enough.

But what about other child actors who come out of the gates strong when they're tiny and adorable but maybe don't even have a real say in the matter? When big bucks and bright lights are all they know, do they truly burn out and decide to give up the life-- at least temporarily-- or are they forced out, their precociousness worn off and their adult sass just not that appealing?

Everyone from my generation remembers little Raven Symone as the wise-beyond-her-years little girl with the big, bright eyes who could go head-to-head with patriarch Bill Cosby in his show and still steal the scene. But a contract with Disney allowed her to expand into music and starring in her own show, all while she was still appearing as a guest star on other shows and in films like Dr. Doolittle and its subsequent sequels. The twenty-five year-old campaigned for the role of Effie in Dreamgirls but didn't get it (the part went to Jennifer Hudson who ended up with an Oscar for her performance). She didn't let that stop her, though she began to take more and more voiceover work (American Dad, the Tinker Bell films), which is a great way to split off from the scrutiny that so-often comes from being in front of the camera but still be around the creative energy of the industry.

Dylan and Cole Sprouse got their start at the tender ole' age of one as the youngest son on Grace Under Fire. Just like the Olsen Twins before them, they split the role to help production around child labor laws and went on to share roles until they were around twelve years old and "finally" got their own show, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, that was created specifically for them, and in part, based on their lives. Though their credits include working with greats like Adam Sandler on Big Daddy and the sitcom phenom, Friends, as Ross' son Ben, the guys are eighteen now and ready to move on to college. Their futures are still pretty up in the air, but Cole has been quoted as saying "When I think about our careers, I don't really look at it as fame and fortune; I look at it as fun. I'd rather have a good time on set, have fun and mess around." So it's probably safe to say that just like Bynes, if they suddenly get bored or don't like the roles coming their way, they will up and quit, too.

The disenchantment with the work should be expected. After all, when you're young and cute, your only job is to be young and cute and deliver lines correctly and on time. When you're an older actor, if you want to stay in the business you have to work a little harder, and some find they just can't cut it...or they just don't want to cut it. Child stars like Macaulay Culkin,Michael Fishman, and Taran Noah Smith went through public battles to get emancipated, and after seeing their names dragged across tabloid headlines, decided to leave this industry behind. Though the latter are raising families in "the real world," neither could stray too far from their roots. Smith is still living in L.A., owning and operating a restaurant that many "it" stars (just like he was once) probably frequent, and Fishman works in Art Department and Set Design on other film projects.

Culkin's outlook on the industry was soured by his parents' ugly fighting over him and his other actor siblings. Allegations of stolen money were involved. But even he finds he can't quite quit indefinitely. Literally coming up in such a specific, addictive way means it's in his blood. He has recently been found voicing characters in Robot Chicken and appearing on the NBC seriesKings.

So though Bynes' intentions are good, chances are she will find herself back at work in Hollywood within no time. Maybe she really will opt not to act any longer (though she would be one of few who can shake that bug entirely), but she'll probably end up behind-the-scenes, then, as a writer and/or director. What we see growing up is often all we know, and what she has seen, known, lived, and loved, is Hollywood.

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