Why Hollywood is Reluctant to Cast Teens and Tweens

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Why Hollywood is Reluctant to Cast Teens and Tweens

By Kelly Crisp

April 25, 2012


Photo by Adam Rose/Fox
Naya Rivera and Lea Michele on "Glee"
While most tweens and teens struggle through puberty, “Hollywood teens” appear practically perfect in every way. Perfect skin, perfect smiles, and perfect bodies are the norm on popular teen series such as “Glee,” “Pretty Little Liars,” and “Big Time Rush” whose twenty-something-year-old actors play high school teenagers. Lea Michele and Naya Rivera, stars on “Glee,” are both 25 years old. “Pretty Little Liars” star Troian Bellisario is 26 years old.

The common casting term “18 to play younger” is all too unfamiliar to kids between 12 and 17 who have decided to pursue a professional career. “I think a lot of producers and directors are always going to like kids who are a little bit older who can play a little bit younger,” explains Todd Etelson, executive director of Actors Technique NY Kids & Teens. “You can get around a lot of the child labor laws at 18 so they prefer ‘18 to play younger’ and that’s unfortunate for mid-teens.”

Etelson, who works with hundreds of child actors and advises an equal number of parents each year, explains, “As a whole, during those ‘funny’ years, directors and producers may be a little leery of actors.” Productions may be reluctant to cast teens and tweens going through puberty because of the changes in voice, height and looks that occur during that time. “You’re not entirely convinced that at the end of the project they are going to be the same person,” he adds.

Mary Lou Belli, Emmy Award-winning producer, director and author of “Acting for Young Actors: The Ultimate Teen Guide,” has directed a considerable number of child actors during her professional career and is a mother of two teen actors. Belli, who recently directed child actors on “Reed Between the Lines,” “Wizards of Waverly Place,” and “The Hughleys,” believes that teens “are the hardest working actors in our industry,” because they balance the demands of being a professional actor on set with school work as well as studying the craft of acting.

Belli and Etelson understand that teens face casting challenges but agree that productions work hard to cast the best actor for the role with some kids booking their first job as teens. Still, they find that parents and teens often have misconceptions about the industry. “Parents believe that if their child is talented and cute, things should be easier for them, but it’s not,” Etelson says. “Pretty, cute, and talented is just like everybody else out there…What’s different about your child?”

“They all think it is about being the star,” adds Belli. “They don’t realize that they don’t get a job until they have an audition, and they don’t get an audition until they have an agent. And they don’t get an agent until they have knocked down the doors or they have presented themselves in a competent fashion that says I’m a serious actor that wants to work and has something that is marketable at this moment.” 

Although teen actors can be equally talented, a resume becomes important in gaining access to representation and work. “[Productions] want to know that someone can get the job done and they are a proven commodity,” Etelson says. “So they’re going to look at somebody with major credits or certain credits on their résumé. But if you want to become an actor, become an actor. Don’t look at statistics. I don’t think anybody should get in the way of your dreams.”

When considering acting classes and workshops, Belli cautions teens and parents to seek out people “who know what they are doing because there are a lot of charlatans.” 

Tracy Page, parent of actor Emma Page, is a headshot photographer and often finds herself counseling teens and their parents about the “dead zone” years. “It is the toughest time to break through in this industry,” she says. “It would be easier if the day after their 18th birthday they found their passion for acting.”


Why Hollywood is Reluctant to Cast Teens and Tweens

By Kelly Crisp

April 25, 2012


Naya Rivera and Lea Michele on "Glee"
PHOTO CREDIT
Adam Rose/Fox
While most tweens and teens struggle through puberty, “Hollywood teens” appear practically perfect in every way. Perfect skin, perfect smiles, and perfect bodies are the norm on popular teen series such as “Glee,” “Pretty Little Liars,” and “Big Time Rush” whose twenty-something-year-old actors play high school teenagers. Lea Michele and Naya Rivera, stars on “Glee,” are both 25 years old. “Pretty Little Liars” star Troian Bellisario is 26 years old.

The common casting term “18 to play younger” is all too unfamiliar to kids between 12 and 17 who have decided to pursue a professional career. “I think a lot of producers and directors are always going to like kids who are a little bit older who can play a little bit younger,” explains Todd Etelson, executive director of Actors Technique NY Kids & Teens. “You can get around a lot of the child labor laws at 18 so they prefer ‘18 to play younger’ and that’s unfortunate for mid-teens.”

Etelson, who works with hundreds of child actors and advises an equal number of parents each year, explains, “As a whole, during those ‘funny’ years, directors and producers may be a little leery of actors.” Productions may be reluctant to cast teens and tweens going through puberty because of the changes in voice, height and looks that occur during that time. “You’re not entirely convinced that at the end of the project they are going to be the same person,” he adds.

Mary Lou Belli, Emmy Award-winning producer, director and author of “Acting for Young Actors: The Ultimate Teen Guide,” has directed a considerable number of child actors during her professional career and is a mother of two teen actors. Belli, who recently directed child actors on “Reed Between the Lines,” “Wizards of Waverly Place,” and “The Hughleys,” believes that teens “are the hardest working actors in our industry,” because they balance the demands of being a professional actor on set with school work as well as studying the craft of acting.

Belli and Etelson understand that teens face casting challenges but agree that productions work hard to cast the best actor for the role with some kids booking their first job as teens. Still, they find that parents and teens often have misconceptions about the industry. “Parents believe that if their child is talented and cute, things should be easier for them, but it’s not,” Etelson says. “Pretty, cute, and talented is just like everybody else out there…What’s different about your child?”

“They all think it is about being the star,” adds Belli. “They don’t realize that they don’t get a job until they have an audition, and they don’t get an audition until they have an agent. And they don’t get an agent until they have knocked down the doors or they have presented themselves in a competent fashion that says I’m a serious actor that wants to work and has something that is marketable at this moment.” 

Although teen actors can be equally talented, a resume becomes important in gaining access to representation and work. “[Productions] want to know that someone can get the job done and they are a proven commodity,” Etelson says. “So they’re going to look at somebody with major credits or certain credits on their résumé. But if you want to become an actor, become an actor. Don’t look at statistics. I don’t think anybody should get in the way of your dreams.”

When considering acting classes and workshops, Belli cautions teens and parents to seek out people “who know what they are doing because there are a lot of charlatans.” 

Tracy Page, parent of actor Emma Page, is a headshot photographer and often finds herself counseling teens and their parents about the “dead zone” years. “It is the toughest time to break through in this industry,” she says. “It would be easier if the day after their 18th birthday they found their passion for acting.”
 
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