There’s no recipe for success in Tinseltown, but a thick skin and a bit of luck seems to be a winning ticket — and sometimes it’s just in your DNA. Generations of actors have descended from Hollywood royalty for years — from Angelina Jolie and Melanie Griffith, to Kate Hudson and Kiefer Sutherland. Billie Lourd is carrying the torch handed down from mom Carrie Fisher and grandmother Debbie Reynolds, while Emma Roberts is transcending the family moniker, too. Lately, there’s a whole new generation of celebrity offspring who are carving out a name for themselves on television, due in part to the increasingly vast landscape provided by seemingly infinite networks, cablers and OTT platforms.
Although sharing a last name with a famous parent may beget instant recognition, stepping out from under their long shadow can sometimes be an even harder feat than cracking the Hollywood code as a newcomer.
Following the conclusion of “Lost” eight years ago, Carlton Cuse has landed five series orders, three pilot pickups and a lucrative four-year overall deal with ABC, making him one of the busiest producers in the game. Yet when his son, Nick, wanted to cut his teeth in the biz, he applied to “all sorts of writers’ rooms and all sorts of jobs,” knowing in his mind he’d take whatever he could get. It wasn’t until he hesitantly reached out to his father’s fellow “Lost” producer Damon Lindelof for a recommendation on a Fox serial killer drama that he got any traction.
Ultimately, Cuse didn’t land that gig, but the call led to a job working for Lindelof when HBO picked up “The Leftovers” a few months later. Eventually the partnership translated into a WGA nomination for a second-season episode Cuse co-wrote with his boss.
“My dad wouldn’t have ever thought it was fair for me to work with him, which I totally think was the right move,” Cuse says. “But I think a lot of his friends didn’t want to hire me either, because who wants to be the one to fire one of their colleague’s friends if he’s a complete idiot? I wanted to stay away from that. I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself, knowing people probably assumed I was spoiled or that I had woken up on third base. Although true, that just made me want to prove myself more, and it helped me work hard.”
Avoiding the family name was something Tom Hanks’ son Chet wanted when he launched a music career, which is why he went by the name Chet Haze for years. Now though, with roles on “Shameless” and “Empire” under his belt, he’s back to using the family surname.
“Haze was to give me some separation so that the attention would just be on me and my music. But, everyone knew who I was anyway, so it didn’t really make a difference,” he says.
Hanks notes that his breakout role on “Shameless” was the result of an old-fashioned audition he was happy to get. “It was very base level, but the role didn’t even really matter to me; I just wanted the opportunity to be working,” he says.
“I Definitely have gotten a lot of advice from my dad. He’s a great teacher.”
Such separation hasn’t necessarily been instrumental for all the next-generation stars, though. Sosie Bacon has an impressive resume including titles “13 Reasons Why,” “Here and Now” and the televised version of “Scream.” But she also shared screen time with her mother, Kyra Sedgwick, on four episodes of “The Closer,” and starred alongside her father, Kevin Bacon, in Lifetime’s “Story of a Girl,” which her mom directed.
“I think it’s hard [for Sosie],” Sedgwick said at the 2017 Summer Television Critics Assn. press tour. “Going into it, I felt afraid she would feel criticized by me, because as a director you are looking critically at your actors.”
That sort of parental-director relationship resonated with Jane Campion and her daughter Alice Englert on “Top of the Lake: China Girl.” The collaboration showcased what Englert could do working next to such talent as Elisabeth Moss and Nicole Kidman.
“Mom said she wrote the role not based on me, but knowing what as an actor I was capable of. She knew what she could ask me to do and how deeply we could go in creating a teenaged character that cannot be left out,” Englert says. “We started eyeing each other in a new way. What she does always made sense to me. It was like, I think I can do this, I’m capable of doing this job … if people gave me jobs.”
The younger Hanks also embraced the opportunity to work with his father in the upcoming World War II pic “Greyhound,” which Tom wrote, produces and stars in.
“It’s always been a Catch-22 because you kind of need to prove yourself even more so as your own kind of man, but I definitely have gotten a lot of advice from my dad. He’s a great teacher so it kind of evens out,” he says.
When you grow up in a creative household, learning to express yourself in front of or behind the camera may be inevitable. But one thing these emerging talents seem to have in common is that this was always in their blood, and that may have been the key to success all along.
“One piece of advice dad gave me earlier on was to be a lawyer or go into finance because those are real jobs with real security,” Cuse says. “It was such good advice because if he was telling me that and I still went into entertainment I would be doing it because I couldn’t do anything else. You have to do it because you can’t do anything else; it’s too difficult otherwise. That’s what’s going to get you through the hard times. Everyone has them. I witnessed that when things were difficult for my dad and he was very upset about the challenges he was facing. I also saw it with friends of mine and their parents and family friends; it’s a facet of this career, there’s more highs and lows and disappointments … and hopefully really exciting successes, too, but it’s definitely a roller coaster.”
And having famous parents can offer a dose of much-needed perspective.
“I came at it knowing what the work looks like,” Englert adds. “I didn’t grow up wanting to be in movies because I saw people in movies or promoting movies. I grew up seeing people making them and that’s what got me. I always felt like I was on a pirate ship or something; it’s such a strange industry to grow up in.”