ABC Comedy Child-Actor Roundtable
Everyone who tweets about this article says how cute it is. And Lord, those GIFs of all of them jumping around are amazingly cute. In fact, before we go any further, let’s look at this group of 7 kids on ABC, notice something remarkable about the picture, and appreciate it…
…and hope that in the future, a shot like this doesn’t even cause us to pause.
Having said that, this article stressed me out. Despite looking like they’re having fun, these kids, all 12 and under, are working professionals. It’s great work, of course—the set of a show is a ridiculously fun place to be and there really is free-flowing candy—but it’s still a job. In fact, that’s the first question: ‘what was your first job?’
They all chorus off their first jobs (Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, who is 8, is the only one has only had one, on Modern Family, the slacker), and have cute stories about them. But then Ian Chen, from Fresh Off The Boat, goes:
“My first job was for an electronics consumer company. I’m not allowed to tell any details so I’ll just go on to my next commercial.”
Why isn’t he allowed? Because of a non-disclosure agreement or something? That could happen, I guess, if there was some conflict or whatnot, but…the kid is NINE. Why is he talking like he’s worried about a lawsuit?
This is what’s disconcerting about this whole article. Yes, show business is a business and kids are supposed to be professional, no matter how young. Show up on time, know your lines, don’t screw around with the props. But those standards of professionalism also apply to the Upper Kennebecasis Northern High School Players. What we’re dealing with here is on another level, and it’s stressful.
For example, the kids tell stories of being rushed through the White House—literally, one says to another, “Remember when we were running with the First Lady?” and being stopped for pictures, but feeling like assholes (my word, not theirs) when they can’t take them because they’re in a rush. The kids feel pulled in many directions, and fans act hurt and injured at the kids—not the adult publicists or managers who are dragging them away because they’re in a rush.
And to where? Somewhere that adults need them to be. Everything they say is tinged with adult inferences. “Even three seasons is great! And the next season after that, you have syndication rolling.” Syndication, of course, means outsides sales/ reruns of the series, which means more money for everyone involved…but I’m so weirded out at the implication of kids getting excited about that.
It’s time for the hypocrite caveat, which is that I work in TV, and I work on shows with teenagers on them a lot of the time. But even teenagers, volatile though they are, aren’t eight and nine year olds. And this is a new world, where everyone’s activities are recorded all the time, times a million if you’re famous. Adults would have a difficult time being asked to divide their time between devoted fans and the First Lady—why are we putting this on kids?
They don’t sound bratty or entitled. On the contrary, they understand everything, including business decisions like ‘banking’ school hours and endless wardrobe fittings. That understanding that gives me pause, though. “They don’t want [the live studio audience] to lose energy”, they say, explaining why sitcoms sometimes pre-tape certain scenes. “[A connection with] one person can lead to 50 people!” It’s the showbiz version of office jargon.
Still, all of this could be pretty normal. Something true of successful child actors is that they tend to be bright and articulate. It’s a requirement of the job and reinforced by talking to adults all day.
But the quote that made my blood run cold came from Marsai Martin, age 11, who stars on Black-ish. Regarding the incredible episode Hope, she says “We didn’t want to lose anybody. We don’t want to offend people. We were trying to do that in season one, but we were too scared to tackle that.”
You know how Lainey hates the phrase “my cast”? This is the inverse of that. It’s the inverse of Kathleen’s amazing Willow Smith article yesterday. Why is an 11-year-old worried about offending anybody? About losing fans? What would happen if they did lose fans? If the show started losing money? If the network was unhappy?
I worry. I worry that kids who are this anxious about offending fans, offending people who want selfies, offending ‘electronics consumer companies’, are being primed to become lifelong people-pleasers. That’s dangerous for any kid, and twice as alarming in Hollywood.
It’s worth noting that of the seven, only Marsai Martin wants to act (or sing, dance, or be ‘a legend’) when she grows up. Maybe it will all be fine. Maybe they will take their singular experiences off to amazing universities and build rich lives.
But when I read the article, I see a bunch of kids looking over their shoulders constantly to make sure they’re not upsetting anyone. Treating that as another aspect of the job. Which tends to override the ‘cute’.
Click here to read the article.