Something about child actors, the really young ones, like babies and toddlers, just creeps me out. Its not the kids themselves that are inherently creepy. Its plopping them down in the middle of very adult situations and forcing them to work with serious grownup actors that messes with my head. That whole suspension of disbelief thing tends to fall apart when I see tots regurgitating scripted lines. And even worse than messing with my entertainment, I begin to wonder what kind of trauma some of these tikes have gone through in order to get the perfect shot.
Yeah, sure, I know all kinds of child welfare folks and safety people are on set, but when a director or a producer really needs a baby or a 3 year old to cry for a scene, yet the child in question is actually feeling pretty good, does the entire crew just stand around burning time and money waiting for the kid to throw a tantrum? Or, as I suspect might be the case sometimes, is a little stealthy poke in the ribs (dont let the child welfare people, see) or a sudden scare used to get those baby tears rolling? The fact that cash, time and a final product are based on the whims of an infants mood unnerves me a bit.
The recent reboot of “Homeland” has featured a little red headed baby in a few scenes, plus the simulated almost drowning of said baby in a bathtub. While I dont begrudge the screenwriters for including a baby in their script, and I do hope a hell of a lot of safety people and cinematographic tricks were employed when shooting that scene, it was strange to watch the whole thing unfold. I assume the desired effect was to upset the audience, yet my upset didn’t come from the baby’s acting chops or a riveting story line (as far as that scene went). My upset came from my disbelief that an infant actor would be used like that.
Industry experts will undoubtedly tell you that no child actor is ever put in harm’s way. But babies arent actors practicing a craft, are they? Theyre fricking babies unable to voice their opposition to the content in the script.
Oddly enough, I found Claire Danes’ car scene and her extended dialogue with the baby even more disturbing than the bathtub bit, simply because Im fairly sure that the baby actor (or actors) wasnt really present in the scene vis-à-vis the give and take actors usually expect from one another. Hard to do when words are only starting to form a part of your infant consciousness Im talking about the baby here, not Danes, who is a fine actress indeed, just in case that wasnt made clear.
The toddler on “Sons of Anarchy” constantly surrounded by actors portraying killers and porn actresses, the baby recently threatened by zombies on “The Walking Dead,” Dakota Fanning back in the day appearing way too sophisticated for someone her age … all of these kids creep me out. I wished they didn’t, but they do.
Sometimes I wonder what these children will say to their parents when theyre old enough to understand what actually happened to them.
Baby All Grown Up: You let a Hollywood actress simulate almost drowning me?
Parent: No, darling, you dont understand. It was all very safe and for your future career.
Baby All Grown Up: Im going to be a neurosurgeon.
Parent: Well, we did make a bundle of cash.
Baby All Grown Up: I hate you.
Perhaps it wont go down like that. Maybe the kids on “Sons of Anarchy” will be stoked that they got to hang out with hot babes (the adult kind) and pretend bikers at such a young age, and the baby from “Homeland” will become the next Jodi Foster. Still, Im pretty sure as scenes with children become more and more extreme, some of these kids are going to have a few issues with their stage parents down the line or at the very least, a whole lot to say about it to their psychologists.
Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.