Being a child star in Hollywood is a seriously mixed bag. On one hand, you achieve the kinds of things most kids dream of: being rich and famous!
On the other hand, it’s an open secret that Hollywood often changes people. And when it comes to child stars, this leads to lasting effects that dominate the rest of their lives.
Don’t believe it? Here are confessions about the price of fame directly from the mouths of your favorite child stars.
In many ways, Macaulay Culkin is the official poster child for child stars. He gave unforgettable performances in the first two Home Alone movies. He’s had other roles since then, but nothing quite as prominent. And along the way, he has dabbled in drugs, pleading guilty to two misdemeanor counts of possession back in 2005.
Culkin opened up about this in an Esquire interview in February 2020. “I played with some fire, I guess is the best way to put it,” he said. “At the same time, I’ve never been to rehab or anything like that. I’ve never had to clean out that way. There were certain times when I had to catch myself, once or twice… But I never went so far down that road where I needed outside help.”
While Culkin was able to pull out of such a spiral, not all child stars were so lucky.
Childhood fame was particularly difficult for Daniel Radcliffe. He went from being an unknown actor to being the face of Harry Potter, one of the most famous characters ever created.
In order to help cope with his newfound fame, the actor took up drinking at a young age. And he discussed this openly in a surprising episode of The Off Camera Show.
“In my case, the quickest way of forgetting about the fact that you were being watched was to get very drunk,” Radcliffe said. “Then as you get very drunk, you become aware that, ‘Oh, people are watching more now because now I’m getting very drunk, so I should probably drink more to ignore that more.’ There is no blueprint for starting young and working stuff out.”
Fortunately, Radcliffe was able to kick the drinking habit, but it wasn’t easy. He said that it took “a few years and it took a couple of attempts” before he could exorcise this particular demon.
But he had a much easier time than our next celeb!
Amanda Bynes achieved intense fame, but it may have been too much, too fast. At only 10, she landed a role on Nickelodeon’s All That, which led to a popular spinoff called The Amanda Show. She successfully transitioned to teen roles on The WB’s What I Like About You as well as movies like What A Girl Wants and Easy A.
So, what happened to her career? In short, she took a prolonged break due to drug use. As she told Paper magazine, “My advice to anyone who is struggling with substance abuse would be to be really careful because drugs can really take a hold of your life.”
She continued: “Everybody is different, obviously, but for me, the mixture of marijuana and whatever other drugs and sometimes drinking really messed up my brain. It really made me a completely different person. I actually am a nice person. I would never feel, say or do any of the things that I did and said to the people I hurt on Twitter.”
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Compared to many child stars, Miley Cyrus has been able to successfully redefine her career and put her wild past behind her. She rose to fame on Disney’s Hannah Montana as a 12-year-old. But as she grew up and started a successful singing career, she ditched the Disney image in favor of being a young provocateur with very sexy outfits and performances.
In a 2017 interview with TODAY, she opened up about her experience as a child star. “There’s so much I don’t remember about being a child entertainer because it was so much to keep in my brain,” she said. “It’s like anything when you are in it. I didn’t realize how much pressure I was under and how that shaped me until, like, this year.”
Cyrus also thinks those who criticized her sexy persona and antics like twerking at the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards should get their priorities straight about what’s really wrong with the entertainment industry.
“People were so shocked by some of the things that I did. It should be more shocking that when I was 11 or 12, I was put in full hair and makeup, a wig, and told what to wear by a group of mostly older men.”
Our next celeb knows all about the tension and pressure that comes from fame at an early age.
Kirsten Dunst had a robust career as a child actor. In fact, it can be easy to forget that she first made a splash at age 11 in Interview With a Vampire and a year later in Jumanji before successfully transitioning to adult stardom in Spider-Man. But Dunst will be the first to tell you that all of this fame at a young age comes with a price.
In 2008, when she was 26, Dunst checked herself into the drug addiction treatment facility Cirque Lodge, though she clarified she sought treatment for depression, not drug addiction, in an interview with E! News.
“I was struggling, and I had the opportunity to go somewhere and take care of myself. I was fortunate to have the resources to do it. My friends and family thought it was a good idea, too. But I didn’t know where to go. My doctor recommended Cirque Lodge.”
Fortunately, Dunst seems to feel much better now.
Natalie Portman is the rare actor who has achieved success in arthouse films like Black Swan as well as major franchises including Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But she still feels uncomfortable at the way she was sexualized in her earlier roles, playing “Lolita” type characters in films like Léon: The Professional (1994) when she was just 11 years old.
Portman opened up about this in a December 2020 interview with Dax Shepherd on his Armchair Expert podcast.
“Being sexualized as a child took away from my own sexuality because it made me afraid. When I was in my teens I was like, ‘I don’t wanna have any love scenes or make-out scenes.’ I would start choosing parts that were less sexy because it made me worried about the way I was perceived and how safe I felt.”
Portman continued, “It made me feel like the way I could be safe was to be like, ‘I’m conservative,’ and ‘I’m serious and you should respect me,’ and ‘I’m smart,’ and ‘Don’t look at me that way.’ But at that age, you do have your own sexuality, and you do have your own desire. You do want to explore things, and you do want to be open.”
Our next celeb, though, is basically done with onscreen exploration.
Every child star gets a start at a young age, but Mara Wilson achieved worldwide fame younger than many. She was cast in Mrs. Doubtfire when she was only six. By the time she was nine, she was headlining films like Matilda.
But unlike other stars on this list, Wilson decided to leave acting for good when she grew up, becoming a writer and journalist. And she wrote about the trauma of growing up as a child star for The Guardian in 2016 and what she has to say to her online critics.
“The next time someone hiding behind a username decides to tell me what would make me prettier, I’m going to propose the following: I will meet them in person and ask them to listen. I will tell them about going through puberty in the public eye after my mother died of cancer. I will tell them how it feels to find a website advertising nude photos of yourself as a 12‑year‑old. I will tell them I’ve looked at ‘cute’ from both sides now, and in both cases it just made me miserable.”
For Wilson, the resolution to her story is bittersweet. She points out that she now mostly does voice acting “where no one can see me.” But thanks to the advice of her mom, who told her to prove herself through “actions and skills” instead of her looks, “I am happier than ever.”
Many child stars have a turn at being a “wild child.” But few do so quite as publicly, or quite as infamously, as Lindsay Lohan. She was awesome in movies ranging from The Parent Trap to Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. Soon, though, she was known more for partying than acting.
Lohan had her share of run-ins with the police, went to rehab, and dipped out of the spotlight for many years. And she elaborated on her story in an interview with Variety in 2019.
“The first time I was in a tabloid, I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I feel like Britney Spears!’ because she was in a tabloid and I felt cool. Little did I know what would happen from there.”
Lohan continued: “I know that I’m a damn good actress, and it’s been my passion since I was a child, and I know that when I care about something I put 100 percent and more into it. And I know that in my past I was young and irresponsible — but that’s what growing up is. You learn from your mistakes.”
Now that she has learned from the past, we can’t wait to see what Lohan does next.