Child actors are not uncommon in films. However, very few of them ever continue that career path and usually just drop into obscurity. Now, the ones that continue acting eventually get that one role that defines their career. In fact, this happens with regular actors as well. Even though they had acted in many films before their breakout role, suddenly we start noticing them in everything. When we go back and watch some of their earlier works, we notice that they were certainly much younger then. Minor parts and small roles suddenly make us ask ourselves, “ Isn’t that ‘so-and-so’?” And yet, when we watch some of these actors grow up on screen, we look back and realize how young they were when they started. And while many of them weren’t necessarily child actors, they certainly looked a lot younger than they were. This week’s two films include actors that make us say, “Wow, they were young!”
The Quick and the Dead
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours
With an all-star ensemble cast, including Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, and Sharon Stone, the one actor that really stands out in The Quick and the Dead is Leonardo DiCaprio. At the time this movie was filmed, he was 21, and only two years away from his role in Titanic. Of course, this was two years after his Oscar nominated performance in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?, And yet, this was still years ahead of the long string of films that has earned DiCaprio numerous accolades across the acting community. Still, due to the part in The Quick and the Dead requiring a very young man, DiCaprio looks especially young, even for his age. Since then, he has continued to prove himself and has garnered many roles that round out his career so that he’s no longer known just for Titanic.
Children don’t just need approval from their parents, they crave it. Even if a child’s parents are morally reprehensible, they still want to be acknowledged by them. Fee “The Kid” Herod (Leonardo DiCaprio) is just such a child. He lives alone, but suspects his father is the infamous outlaw, John Herod (Gene Hackman) who has taken over the small town of Redemption. When a gunslinging tournament is announced, Fee enters because he knows his father will enter as well, because John created the tournament in the first place. As the fights progress, Fee eventually steps out and challenges John directly in the hopes that he will acknowledge that Fee is his son. Of course, by now the tournament has become a series of fights to the death, so either Fee loses a father, or John kills his son.
Léon: The Professional
Length: 110 minutes / 1.83 hours
Much like Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, Natalie Portman was only 13 when she appeared in Léon: The Professional. Similarly, this was Portman’s first role on the big screen and has since launched her into the career she has today. Another parallel with Taxi Driver is that since both films are rated R, one questions having actors so young acting in these kinds of films. This question also came up in 2010’s Kick-Ass with actress Chloë Grace Moretz. After all, these kids aren’t even old enough to attend the movies they are acting in (without adult supervision), so one wonders how appropriate it is for them to act in them. Nevertheless, Léon: The Professional started Portman’s career, which led her to an Oscar nomination ten years later, followed by a win six years after that (for Black Swan).
Infatuation is often a vice of the young. With no experience in relationships to baseline their feelings, they dive headlong toward someone they admire. This is perhaps why the “schoolgirl crush” is often seen as the first signs of a maturing child. Unfortunately, as is the case with Mathilda (Natalie Portman), she becomes stricken with a professional assassin by the name of Léon (Jean Reno). The reason for this is because he rescued her from a bunch of hit-men who had just recently killed her entire family. As she falls for Léon, she vows revenge on those who killed her family and uses her new connection to learn how to be an assassin. Feeling responsible for taking in this child, Léon obliges her, but knows that her romantic advances are based in the imagination of a young girl who doesn’t know any better.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 young actors still acting today