Eye on the Oscars: Phase I Wrap

Typically, awards-season attention is directed at lead actors and actresses who have at least attained voting age. But 2012 should be remembered for remarkable performances from thesps of fewer years.

Among them are young-couple-in-love Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward of “Moonrise Kingdom,” brave disaster victim Tom Holland of “The Impossible,” fierce Hushpuppy of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” Quvenzhane Wallis, teen Maude Apatow of “This Is 40″ and charming urchins Daniel Huttlestone and Isabelle Allen of “Les Miserables.” Whether or not these names end up piling their shelves with awards is almost irrelevant: Their achievements are, simply, on the screen.

Elle Fanning of “Ginger & Rosa” is just 14, but she has numerous films under her belt, and she picks her own projects. She’s got more experience than almost any actor her age, but doesn’t seem showy or mannered, says producer Christopher Sheppard.

“Her ability to refine her performance on multiple layers is artful,” he says. “With the flicker of an eye you can get a whole emotional story — it’s very nuanced.”

Getting that kind of realistic emotion can be a challenge with kids. Trilogy Talent Agency owner Susie Mains explains that casting directors want kids who are prodigies “with a little adult in them” who also have a vulnerability “that makes them lovable and compelling.”

Wallis (now 9) has both, says Mains, a fact “Beasts” co-writer Lucy Alibar noted on the set: “She has this steadfastness and resoluteness about her, and this huge heart — a very warm, loving presence. She’s a warrior of love.”

In some cases, entire movies can hinge on an actor’s performance, which turned out to be true for both Holland (now 16) in “Impossible” and Pierce Gagnon (now 7) of “Looper.”

“On the one hand, (Gagnon is) very cute; on the other, you can see him be very intense,” says “Looper” producer Ram Bergman. “It was a gamble on casting him, because if that kid doesn’t work, the film doesn’t work.”

Says “Impossible” producer Belen Atienza about Holland: “He saved our life in the film, because so much was pivoting around him. It’s rare to see a kid that is not ashamed of showing emotions in front of so many people, and how easily he could go there.”

Gilman and Hayward (now 13 and 14 respectively) turned in quirky but naturalistic performances within the “Moonrise Kingdom” world.”Moonrise” producer Jeremy Dawson says they specifically didn’t want kids who were obvious names or “commercially chipper.”

“Kara has a lot of poise,” Dawson says, “and Jared is a real character — very smart.”

All the actors are building their careers: Wallis recently completed “Twelve Years a Slave” with Steve McQueen helming, Hayward just wrapped indie “Sisterhood of the Night,” Holland finished “How I Live Now” opposite 18-year-old Saoirse Ronan and Gilman is filming “Elsa & Fred” with Christopher Plummer and Shirley MacLaine.

As for Fanning — she can afford to take a break. She has “Maleficent” with Angelina Jolie for 2014, but her reps say she has nothing set for 2013.

But projects or no, some budding actors may also be budding filmmakers: Atienza says Holland shot his own short film on the set, while Dawson reports that Gilman is a “film buff” who was really interested in the craft.

“Everyone knows never to work with kids or animals,” says Bergman. “But sometimes you get a kid who understands direction, can change on cue and just gets it. Not even adults can do that all time. Sometimes you get lucky.”

Eye on the Oscars: Phase I Wrap
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