It’s been a rough stretch for young performers lately: Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Haley Joel Osment. Misbehaving in Hollywood has always been the norm, but between the copious number of arrests and rehab stints, and the merciless flashing strobes of the paparazzi, being a young and sober star is more challenging than ever. And with all Hollywood does to steer kids in the wrong direction, resources in the way of guidance are surprisingly limited.
“A ‘prehab’ (program) would be terrific for young artists,” says acting coach John Kirby. “However, most of the time, because of their desire to fit in and a great desperation for popularity, it becomes difficult to hold onto so many of the original values they were taught.”
“I have a lot of compassion,” says actress Ellen Page, whose edgy projects (“Hard Candy,” “Juno”) disguise someone she describes as “kind of a boring 20-year-old.” Page flees L.A. for her home in Nova Scotia between shoots. “Everyone’s so judgmental down there. No one really goes, ‘Oh, why is this happening?’ They just decide to judge these young girls who have been completely sexualized at the age of 16.”
In such an environment, it seems that checking into swanky rehabilitation centers for 30 days often does more for a star’s celebrity than for their values. To avoid this, some parents opt for school or church groups, or attend seminars.
Nickelodeon has a policy of putting its actors through a program called “Nick 101” at the start of each season. Executive producers and Nick execs bring the casts together and discuss everything from what a “call time” means to how to prep in advance when they get scripts to how they need to conduct themselves in public when fans inevitably approach them.
“For a lot of our kids, getting on one of our shows is their first job,” says Paula Kaplan, executive VP of talent for Nick. “They need to be told that they should never give out their phone number or email address. They need to be told in advance that they’re now a public figure and people are going to come up to them.”
The Screen Actors Guild also advises young actors and their parents through conferences hosted by its Young Performers Committee.
“These are daylong events bringing various aspects of the industry to parents or kids,” says committee member Alan Simon, who owns On Location Education, a national tutoring service that provides studio and on-set teachers: “how to invest; how to work with agents, managers, casting directors; the hard work of training, of balancing family and career.”
To many, the industry isn’t solely to blame for the goal shift. A tough-love boot camp for kids might help, they say, but a tried-and-true form of “pre-hab” already exists.
“It’s called parenting, and on top of that, team members who have a soul and are ethical and are not just looking at these young people as a moneymaker,” says Sam Maydew, a manager at the Collective who works with such young talent as Emile Hirsch and Shareeka Epps.
“Imagine going around the county passing out Ferraris to kids who are 15 and about to get their driver’s licenses,” he observes. “Just because they’re on these shows doesn’t mean they’re superhuman. They’re still going through the same things that other teenagers are going through.”
Tess Hightower, a therapist who often works with troubled Hollywood youth, says one problem is that the industry preys on youthful ambition.
“A lot of times kids get into acting because there is something missing in the early chapters of life,” she says. “They feel abandoned. We call it a ‘narcissistic injury’: I’m going to go be a star and be respected and the show business family will be my new family. But then what happens is that the showbiz family becomes a recapitulation of the wounding. They go into it looking to be a star, and when they get there the sun burns too bright.”