Sunday 24 February 2019

Keira is right, the price of fame is far too high for any child to be expected to pay

A-lister Keira Knightley – who started her career as a six-year-old – has made it plain she won’t be pushing her teenage daughter on to the stage
A-lister Keira Knightley – who started her career as a six-year-old – has made it plain she won’t be pushing her teenage daughter on to the stage

Despite international success and a healthy bank balance the beautiful actress Keira Knightley says she wouldn't let her teenage daughter on the stage. "Oh, 100 per cent, I'd absolutely tell her not to. I would 150 million trillion per cent be totally discouraging," she says.

"Teenage years should be done privately. You should be going out and getting unbelievably drunk, getting into ridiculous situations, making mistakes. That's what that time of life is about and we should do that privately."

Knightley is the daughter of Sharman MacDonald, a playwright and Will Knightley, an actor.

She asked her parents for an agent at the age of three because everyone else in her family appeared to have one.

She got an agent at the age of six as she began to do commercials and take on small television roles.

But her parents weren't stereotypically pushy stage parents who were desperate for their daughter to become a child star.

Still Knightley made endless appearances on television shows like The Bill before finally getting her big break in Bend It Like Beckham.

She doesn't regret it, she says in an interview for the July issue of Elle magazine: "I wouldn't do my life any differently, but having lived through it ... There was a very long time when [interviewers] were all: 'Well you're a sh*t actress and you're anorexic and people hate you' which, for a teenager is a very strange thing."

Elizabeth Taylor, and, more particularly, Judy Garland, did much to define the child star stereotypes of multiple marriages, substance abuse and generally chaotic lives lived very publicly.

Michael Jackson epitomised the reluctance of the child stars transition to adulthood as he became the eternal man child who built himself a Neverland of Ferris wheels. Mini stars have often struggled to settle down into adulthood.

But that isn't surprising. They might find it hard to repeat the successes of their youth.

They age. They lose whatever was appealing about their looks.

Or they turn out not to be great actors. Little wonder that so many of them come unstuck.

Just consider the fallen child actor path and the tragic death in 2010 of Corey Haim.

The saddest part of this tale is that it wasn't a surprise for anyone.

He had been on that downward trajectory of depression, struggles with the law, and drug addiction for so long that it inevitably couldn't end well.

You see, because of our cult of celebrity culture, our fallen stars just can't keep their personal struggles post-fame out of the media.

There are lots of stories about the micro-managing that went on with stars like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Zac Efron and Ryan Gosling.

Their images were torn apart and then rebuilt. When our child stars lash out, could it actually be because they were on a tight leash for too long?

Dr Jane O'Connor is an expert in child stars at the University of Wolverhampton's School of Education. She reckons that in contemporary Western culture there is a need to have a child "to symbolise all that is good, beautiful and innocent. They become public property and we project a lot of our desires of what is good on these children."

And we seem to think that it's okay to highlight and mock people who've been to the top as children and then tumbled back down as adults.

For every child actor success story like Keira Knightly or Jodie Foster or Drew Barrymore, there's a Corey Haim or a Neil Patrick Harris or a Michael Jackson.

Every now and then, Lindsay Lohan falls apart, and the global media is there to lap it up. The paparazzi adore failure and nobody does failure better than Lilo.

And the worst thing isn't the struggles with addiction etc that fallen stars so often face but the fact that when a child star melts down we take their fall and turn it into a hilarious and sick punchline.

Lorraine Courtney

Irish Independent

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