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Matilda’s All Grown Up And Speaking Out About What Child Stars Really Feel Like

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mrs-doubtfire-mara-wilsonRemember Mara Wilson, that relentlessly adorable little girl from Matilda, Miracle on 34th Street and Mrs. Doubtfire? She’s 25 now, and studying at NYU and working on a writing career. So what made her different from other child stars? Why isn’t Wilson snorting coke off a stripper’s boobs right now? In her piece for Cracked.com, she sheds a little light on her early acting career — from the support (but not pushiness) she received from her parents, to the not-so-child-friendly Hollywood culture.

Wilson writes:

I chose to start acting when I was 5. It was my decision, and my parents tried their hardest to discourage me. When I insisted, they allowed me to act, but were always very protective of me.

I saw many child actors who did not have that, and they were all miserable. Kids whose parents pushed them into acting often grow up to resent them.

And later, she has some more frightening observations about the rite of passage required of child actors as they grow into teens:

To be a teen idol is to be vulnerable. Brooke Shields has said that being a sex object led her to feel like she wasn’t in control of her own body, and is one of the reasons she didn’t have sex until she was 22. Natalie Portman has said similar things.

And sometimes it gets violent: Former child stars Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, and Todd Bridges all went on record saying that they had been sexually assaulted by adult men when they were young, and that there were likely many more child molesters in Hollywood.

I wonder if more “stage parents” fully understood these details, if they would still encourage their kids to become superstars. I want to believe that most parents, even the pushy ones on Toddlers & Tiaras, don’t want their children to grow up and resent them or fall prey to abuse. I imagine sexual abuse doesn’t happen to all of them — and kids who don’t have any fame at all are victims of abuse every day.

But Wilson’s observations make me wonder what parents are supposed to do when their kids are really interested in the entertainment industry. My sister wanted to be a child actress, and despite our living close to big cities for most of our lives, my parents never took her to a single audition. I think she resented them a bit, because they encouraged other dreams and passions. They helped me with my writing ambitions. But now, looking back, I see they were protecting her — not holding her back. I think this is the stance I would take if my daughter was interested in acting. She has her whole life to do it, why waste her childhood chasing casting calls and taking headshots?

(photo: WENN)