Lainey winced when she sent me the article. Because she knew. She knew I couldn't not know what I know now.
Apparently, Millie Bobby Brown, of Stranger Things, who's being inundated with film and TV offers, is about to sign with a new agent. Before she does, though, her father is reportedly demanding a $100,000 signing bonus. As in, up front before she actually makes any money.
It's allegedly a payment to her, but you know, she's 12, so...she's not the one asking here. This never happens, by the way. Some agents occasionally cut commissions from the standard 10%, or sometimes – and this is more Entourage-era lore than common occurrence, I guess new clients get a pretty nice welcome gift--but there's no set signing-bonus price. It's pretty horrifyingly bold to ask for.
The worst part about this news is that it's hard to pin down what the worst part actually is. Possibly, it's the fact that the people who worried that the Stranger Things kids were being worked pretty hard may not have been wrong. Or the knowledge that the future of Millie Bobby Brown's acting career is being determined not by who can do the most for her or really sees a future for her, but who can cough up the most money. Or maybe it's because, if you go even one step further down this path, and follow the Daily Mail link, you realize how this is just the tip of the iceberg.
I didn't want to know that the family was out of money. That they all moved to the U.S. to make this happen, and there were "tears, tears, tears", and the older children didn't want to be there in pursuit of her dream, and most heartbreakingly, a quote from MBB saying, "I wasn't getting work..."
That's the phrase. Not "I didn't book that part" or "I really wanted to be (whatever character)." It's about work. Money. It's about supporting her family, at 12 years old, and a not un-present feeling that she now has to pay them back for everything they did to get her here.
Now add that to the pressure to top her performance in Stranger Things, the pressure to stay young and cute -- she better not go through puberty, and she better not have an awkward period if she does -- the pressure to choose the highest-profile, highest-stakes stuff to prove that all the desperate years were worth it...
I feel gross. What's fascinating about the concept of child actors is that I can always feel gross in new and different ways. Today, I’m feeling gross about all the other kids who maybe want to be pursuing acting, but whose parents can’t or don’t drop everything to fly across the country for a screen test, and they don’t become successful actors. As though how good you are at performing is the only thing that determines whether or not you “make it”. As though the people who put everything on the line so their twelve-year-olds can be “bombarded” by offers never see any ill effects as a result. I wish I didn’t have to be cynical this morning, as I watch another kid with too many people invested in her success walk down the only path possible.
Yes, as always with these conversations, there are exceptions. Maybe some of them are even starring on Stranger Things, I don’t know. But don’t blame me for telling the truth about the ones where the unfortunately ugly truth is pretty close to the surface.
Attached - Millie and the other Stranger Things kids at the White House earlier this week.