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Fame and (Mis)Fortune

Are All Child Stars Doomed?


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

School’s out, wizards! After a decade of playing Hogwarts students, the cast of the Harry Potter movies has finally graduated. Part I of the final film installment hit screens last week, and Part II is set for a July release.

Stars Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint are said to have shed tears on the last day of filming. But Tom Felton, who’s played Potter’s pale nemesis Draco Malfoy all these years, is relieved to finally step off of the set where he quite literally grew up.

Movie stardom has drawbacks, Felton told Britain’s Daily Mail: Schoolmates teased him. He was contractually bound to avoid the sun for 10 years. And heaps of money—combined with teenage naïveté—got him into trouble with the tax man.

Starshine Roshell

“One thing that people [say] to me is that the wealth and the fame must have made up for missing out on my childhood,” said Felton, who dismisses the idea as ridiculous. “You will never get those years back, and you can’t put a price on them.”

Indeed, young stardom is a precarious state of being. Some actors, like Natalie Portman and Neil Patrick Harris, spin early fame into brilliant careers; others, like Lindsay Lohan and Corey Haim, spin out of control before they’re even old enough to legally see their own R-rated flicks.

You’ve got to wonder what will become of Felton and his Potter castmates now. Will they succeed as entertainers with longevity—or succumb to the all-too-common Curse of the Child Star? And what is it about show biz, anyway, that lures so many talented kids into squad cars, courtrooms, and rehab centers?

One explanation? It’s lonely at the top.

“It’s hard to find real friends when you’re in the business,” said Chloë Grace Moretz, the 13-year-old star of Kick-Ass and Let Me In, during a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly. “Either people want to be famous or they’re jealous of you.”

She’s been followed by stalkers, shoved into the street by paparazzi, and had her personal Facebook and Twitter accounts hacked. Okay. I can see how that might make you nutty.

Stars are notoriously surrounded by sycophants and yes-men with false loyalties, but Moretz said her mother keeps her grounded. “Everyone is always getting you drinks or whatever on set,” the teen said. “And my mom is always like, ‘No, if she wants a drink, she’ll get it herself.’”

Smart move on mom’s part—because parenting seems to be the greatest predictor of child stars’ success.

“What’s the difference between a Ron Howard and a Jodie Foster who survived fame and thrived, and the Lindsay Lohans who started circling the drain once they hit their mid to late teens?” asked Maggie Jessup, author of the new book Fame 101, which examines the opportunities and pitfalls of celebrity. When a family’s balance of power shifts—because the parents rely on the child’s income or live vicariously through the fame—that little superstar is doomed.

“Whether you’re a celebrity or not, if you let the kid have the control in the family, you’re gonna have a rotten kid,” said Jessup. “If that rotten kid has unlimited money and a camera following them everywhere, it snowballs. They rebel because they don’t know how to handle all that, and then everybody gets disgusted with them, and it’s like they’re trying to claw their way out of this hole with all the wrong tools.”

According to Tom “Malfoy” Felton—whom I predict is going to do just fine—the best tool a young actor can carry through Hollywood is an industrial-grade flattery filter. “If you have enough smoke going up your backside,” he said, “eventually you will start to breathe it.”

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Starshine Roshell is the author of Wife on the Edge (WifeOnTheEdge.com).

Jagwar Ma

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