Young actresses focused on careers

Avoiding the paparazzi, thesps keep work first

The tabloids and the public can’t get enough of the rise and fall of young actresses. One too many latenight parties caught on camera, a couple of stints in rehab and a once-promising career can be over.

On camera at a very young age, two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster grew up in the showbiz shadow yet managed to sidestep the too-much-too-soon trap, gaining tremendous respect and artistic freedom in a tough business.

“We tend to focus on the bad examples,” says Foster, currently starring in the Warner Bros. drama “The Brave One.”

The immediacy and intensity of fame among young actresses today, she says, can mean big bucks but only for the briefest of windows.

“It’s basically, ‘Let’s work you as much as we can and let’s get you for all you’re worth ’cause you’ll be done in 10 minutes,’ ” Foster explains.

But this year’s crop of potential Oscar nominees includes a handful of actresses who are young, talented and quietly building solid careers outside the glare of the paparazzi.

Ellen Page, a 20-year-old appearing in indie comedy “Juno,” has been acting since the age of 10 when she was plucked out of a lineup at her elementary school in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

She has stayed sane with her star rising thanks to a normal life in Halifax (where she still lives) and parents who are involved in her life.

“I think they established a really good balance,” she says. “When I was younger and in a TV show and shooting movies of the week, I was still just a kid in Halifax. I played soccer competitively and always went to school. Basically it was, ‘If you want to do this, just make sure you keep your marks up.’ ”

A healthy offscreen development, within a sound and positive family structure, is one way to circumvent the awkwardness of the transition from childhood star to adult actor.

Natalie Portman started acting in her early teens and, as she grew up, she and her parents made choices selectively, not necessarily taking the biggest paycheck or most provocative role.

“I mean, she did ‘Star Wars,’ but who couldn’t do the ‘Star Wars’ thing?” Foster asks. “But she’s picky. She did movies that were about her being an actress, not about her as a 14- or 15-year-old.”

Jena Malone and Kristen Stewart, who co-star in “Into the Wild,” have both worked with Foster (Malone in “Contact” and Stewart in “Panic Room”).

On the set of “Panic Room,” Foster recognized a bit of herself in the adolescent Stewart.

“You don’t look at her and think she’s a bursting emotional vessel,” says Foster. “She actually is somebody who kind of fell into the acting thing in a strange way, but it doesn’t define her as a person.”

Similarly, Malone doesn’t want to fit into anyone’s idea of what a young actress should be. “I am still learning who I am as a woman and as an actor,” says Malone. “It’s nice to allow yourself growing room and to wean yourself from comparisons.”

Kelly Macdonald, a Scottish actress whose career ignited at 19 when she starred opposite Ewan McGregor in the cult hit “Trainspotting” 11 years ago, lives in London and finds being outside the Hollywood maelstrom refreshing. Disappearing into character, she says, is a refuge for introverts, which is what she considers herself.

“The moment I saw that someone could do that, I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” she says. Macdonald — currently co-starring in the Coen brothers’ “No Country for Old Men” — has kept busy since her “Trainspotting” role and didn’t get caught up in the party scene while growing up in the U.K. She remains optimistic that staying on the straight and narrow track will lead to a long career.

“It’s not like there is a retirement age,” she says.

Early fame can be intoxicating, but, as Foster reiterates, no one — even the most talented and serious young actress — should be in a rush to become famous.

“What’s really important is what you’re doing between the ages of 17 and 22 and who you’re around,” Foster says. “They’re the friends you’re going to have for the rest of your life, and those experiences will change you. It’s the time in your life when you make these enormous, risky, crazy, foolish leaps to try things you wouldn’t normally do, and I feel lucky that I was in a place where I was around really interesting people and where I was exposed to interesting things.”

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