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The lure of the dark side for Hollywoods brightest young things

The Seyfried syndrome is how one LA producer describes the increasing trend for young Hollywood stars who mix making big blockbusters with appearing in low-budget indie films.

He was referring to the 24-year-old actress Amanda Seyfried, who switches between acting in undemanding studio romcoms (Mamma Mia, Dear John) and small, little-seen, edgy independent movies (Chloe, Boogie Woogie).

It's not just Seyfried though. The low-budget indie movie has joined non-stop paparazzi scrutiny and the unruly hairstyle as essential components of young Hollywood stardom.

Up-and-coming stars have long gravitated in the direction of doing small-scale movies. Consider John Hughes's 1980s muse Molly Ringwald following up Pretty In Pink with an appearance as Cordelia in Jean-Luc Godard's ill-fated remake of King Lear.


But the changing nature of the film business has accelerated this trend. The credit crunch resulted in many sources of funding for independent film drying up, leading to a drastic reduction in the number being made.

At the same time, Hollywood studios are more risk-averse than ever, focusing on remakes and sequels.

Now you'll see young heartthrob Zac Efron move from High School Musical to headlining Me And Orson Welles, Richard Linklater's comedy about the 1937 Mercury Theatre production of Julius Caesar. After sitting on the shelf for a few years, Me And Orson Welles died a death at the box office, illustrating the principal peril of the indie leap -- an alienation of the actor's fanbase.

The commendable efforts, for instance, of teen pop stars Hilary Duff and Mandy Moore to send themselves up, in War Inc and American Dreamz respectively, were barely noticed.

Yet, occasionally, the gamble can pay off handsomely. The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq-war Oscar winner, is an example of a low-budget film ($11m) reaping dividends for its three leading actors Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty.

When I caught up with Bigelow during The Hurt Locker's awards season march, she said she thought the new breed of stars possessed a more creative spirit than previous generations. "It's undeniable -- they're the wave of the future. That's my personal belief. They're so inspiring."

According to one independent film producer, speaking on condition of anonymity, landing a teen celebrity suits both parties. "With a teen star attached we can secure the funding to get the movie made and they get a shot at being taken seriously," he says.

Take the stars of the Twilight saga. Away from their vampire and virginity antics that do such a roaring trade in the multiplexes, Robert Pattinson and Kristin Stewart eschew more lucrative offers to act in smaller films.

Greg Mottola, who directed Stewart in last year's quirky coming-of-age comedy Adventureland, thinks by doing so they can escape being casualties of the 21st-century fame freakshow.

"They want to cut their teeth, and it's impressive to me that they're confident enough to do that and not be worried that they'll risk cutting into their fans," he says.

Robert Pattinson, Stewart's Twilight co-star and reported love interest, is also blazing the indie trail.

At a pre-release London premiere last year of Little Ashes, in which he portrayed Salvador Dali, Twilight fans snapped up tickets to the advance screening in such numbers that Little Ashes's director, writer or producers couldn't get in to watch their film.

But even though Pattinson appeared naked in Little Ashes, "Twi-hards" found the notion of a Euro arthouse film depicting the relationship between Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca to be of limited appeal; Little Ashes still never expanded beyond 16 screens.

Veteran director Joel Schumacher, who directed Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys, Julia Roberts in Flatliners, Colin Farrell in Tigerland and seemingly most of the Eighties brat pack in St Elmo's Fire, claims the shifting movie-business landscape suits teen actors.

"The worst thing a young actor can do in Hollywood is to keep doing the same thing," he says.

"They have to experiment with more innovative, darker movies to advance their career. If the film doesn't work, it's not their fault."


One agent I spoke with said that blockbusters are becoming an increasing source of frustration for young actors. He cited the instances of Megan Fox (being fired from Transformers 3 for saying, "Michael Bay wants to be like Hitler on his sets and he is") and Shia LaBeouf (who recently confessed Indiana Jones And The Crystal Skull, in which he played Harrison Ford's son, "dropped the ball" as regards to the legacy of the Indiana Jones films).

"The movie's now so much the star in Hollywood that the trend for [young actors] to go off and do indie movies will proliferate," the agent said.

"The challenge lies in getting their fans to be as interested in paying to see the movies as they are in looking at the on-set pictures online."