Earlier tonight I saw the first twenty minutes of a Spanish subtitled movie called Valentin. It’s an endearing story about a precocious eight year old boy named – you guessed it -- Valentin. Growing up in 1960s Buenos Aires with a caustic, widowed grandmother has given the boy an unusually mature outlook on life, which he uses to understand and help those around him. One such effort involves asking his uncle for girl advice; not because Valentin needs new pick up lines – his "crush" is made up -- but because he thinks such “manly” discussions help his uncle feel useful.
Was Rodrigo simply mimicking how he imagined an adult would act in each situation and the resulting display of maturity coupled with his naturally childlike mannerisms created the impression of precociousness? Or did he actually “become” an eight year old boy who also happens to act like an adult? Linda Blair has demonstrated how this may be possible.
If I were forced to answer my own questions, I’d say that two major reasons prevent child actors from enjoying a successful career as an adult.
The first reason deals with development. A child’s acting ability can be likened to certain kinds of athleticism. Some youthful runners have blazing speed relative to other members of their age group but peak before they reach adulthood. They may still grow up to be fast adults but some of their previously slower rivals will pass them by. Child actors may similarly outgrow their talent.
The second setback for child actors is marketing. Shirley Temple is now an old, haggard looking ex-diplomat but if I were to mention “Shirley Temple” to you, chances are you’d think of an adorable, tap-dancing little girl, or, if you were an alcoholic, a really, really slow way to get drunk. My point is that once an actor’s persona gets burned into the public eye, it’s very difficult to change that image. I think Vanessa Hudgens is going to learn this the hard way.
Still, I imagine that if child actors worked at their craft as hard as four-fifths of all waiters in Los Angeles do, then they’d have a legitimate shot at maintaining a successful acting career. The odds would still be against them, but the odds are against anyone who wants to act for a living. An acting career is like an eighty year old man trying to get it on with a prostitute; sure you might get lucky once or twice, but good luck trying to keep it up for a while.
What do you think?