(“The Bad Seed”)
By the time 10-year-old McCormack lensed her part as pint-sized serial killer Rhoda Penmark in 1956’s “The Bad Seed,” she was already something of an old hand at setting Henry Jones on fire, having essayed the role on Broadway since 1954. She earned an Oscar nomination for her trouble, and enjoyed a long career, sans tap shoes, afterward.
Lyon was only 14 when she was cast as “nymphet” Dolores Haze in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita.” Though the film toned down the novel’s pedophilia themes significantly, its iconic poster depicting Lyon with a lollypop was certainly lurid, and she followed the role with yet another eyebrow-raiser in “Night of the Iguana.”
While casting 1973’s “The Exorcist,” director William Friedkin was concerned that preteen applicant Blair might be too young to handle the intense grotesqueries inflicted on her Satanically possessed character. Friedkin asked her if she knew what masturbating was, and when she replied in the affirmative, he asked her if she had ever done it. “Yeah, don’t you?” was the 12-year-old’s reply. She got the part.
Thirteen-year-old Foster had already been appearing in films for 10 years when she was cast as Iris, the underage prostitute violently rescued by Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver,” and her experience paid off handsomely. More than holding her own in scenes opposite Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, Foster garnered an Oscar nom for the role, which helped spring her into a rich and varied adult career.
The 1970s was truly a banner decade for cinematic depictions of child prostitutes, yet none stirred as much outrage as Louis Malle’s 1978 film “Pretty Baby,” which featured the 12-year-old Shields in the nude. The actress found her Lolita image tough to shake, and she was featured in an equally controversial Calvin Klein ad at the comparably senescent age of 14.
(“Leon: The Professional”)
It was a testament to the precocious acting talent of then-13-year-old Portman that her role in “Leon: The Professional” didn’t seem nearly as creepy as perhaps it should have. A vengeance-minded orphan taken in by Jean Reno’s hitman, Portman’s character attempts to seduce him in between learning the finer points of contract killing. Things could have been worse, though: at least he convinces her to quit smoking.
(“Interview With the Vampire”)
Countless young actors have been asked to play characters wise beyond their years, but at age 11, Dunst tackled the task more literally than most in “Interview With the Vampire.” As a young girl transformed into a vampire at age 12, Dunst had to convey all the traits of a murderous, lascivious 40-year-old from beneath her cherubic exterior, crafting a character of truly unnerving creepiness.
Chloe Sevigny & Rosario Dawson
Larry Clark’s unrated 1995 shocker “Kids,” which depicted a ragtag group of teens who lazily pass the day drugging, screwing and mass-AIDS-contracting, now feels like a product of its era, as the mock-indignant director captures the “real” behavior going on behind parents’ backs. Even so, then-19-year-old Sevigny and then-16-year-old Dawson’s star turns have lost none of their provocative power.
An alarmingly large number of teenage actresses have portrayed victims of sexual abuse over the years, but prior to her breakout role in “Juno,” Ellen Page managed to turn those tables with her part in 2005’s “Hard Candy,” in which the 15-year-old viciously torments a would-be predator after he’s lured her into his house.
(“The Poker House”)
Lawrence showcased a wealth of verve and maturity in her star-making turn in 2010’s “Winter’s Bone,” yet she’d already tested those abilities with an even tougher part in Lori Petty’s 2008 semi-autobiographical directorial debut, “The Poker House,” in which the 18-year-old portrayed a teenager struggling to escape life in the brothel where she’s being raised.