Today in Tedium: The life of a child actor is anything but traditional. Between long stays on sets and a formative experience in the public spotlight, it’s no wonder that some former child stars resort to using drugs, going crazy on reality shows, or licking donuts. On the plus side, you still get to go to school—but even there, the experience is anything but traditional. There may be some really good on-set teachers, but sometimes it’s just a drunk guy trying to freeload on a movie set rather than teach kids algebra. Such is the case of Terry Westlund, a dude who pretended to be a teacher on the set of a horror movie recently. (Maybe he was method acting—trying for a part in Bad Santa 2, mayhaps?) So who’s ensuring that the kids are safe on set? Today’s Tedium analyzes the less glamorous parts of the lives of the young and famous. — Ernie @ Tedium
“Hold up. Did you just say ‘a dude who pretended to be a teacher on the set of a horror movie’?”
Yes, yes I did. Terry Westlund has apparently done it with enough movies that he has an IMDB profile that lists this as his actual career.
Problem was, he was actually just a creepy dude on a movie set without a license to actually teach children on movie sets. He gave off a weird vibe on the set both to the child actors, their parents, and the film’s crew.
“He would stand up and try to hug me, saying aloud, ‘Give me a hug.’ Then he would quickly whisper, ‘Give me my money.’ Each time I pulled back and asked him not to hug me,” Adelina Anthony told Deadline Hollywood.
Most of the film productions he worked on were small, and while he apparently didn’t harm any of the children he worked with, he apparently had an eccentric vibe that perhaps doesn’t fit the role of someone who’s supposed to be “on-set guardian and teacher.”
“I don’t think we ever saw his credentials, but he told us he was a certified teacher. We took him for his word. He shouldn’t be working around kids, that’s for sure,” one crew member told the publication.
And he’s far from the other person who has been called out for pulling this scam. Hollywood Mom Blog has reported at least two other cases of dudes pretending to be on-set teachers, which seems like one of the less ethical lines of work people can take part in.
Apparently, film productions don’t like it when the actors aren’t actually a part of the film.
“This industry is so fragile—you can be on a hit show on Monday and it can be cancelled on Friday. I somewhat feel responsible for keeping them grounded, for reminding them that they need more of an identity than just being an actor on a show.”
— Linda Stone, an actual teacher of child stars, discussing her job and some of the challenges that arise in teaching students who have active Twitter profiles and roles on television shows. Stone—who has worked on shows as famous as Family Matters and Hannah Montana—is so good at her job that some actors refer to her as a “second mom.”
Why do kids get into acting, anyway?
This might surprise you, but usually it’s because of their parents.
Back in 2013, totally normal adult woman Mara Wilson began to resurface as the former child actor with a totally normal perspective on her fame.
Wilson, who had chosen to go into acting on her own—despite her parents initially being set against it—started her career with a hit film, playing the youngest daughter in Mrs. Doubtfire. She was a staple in other films of the day, such as Matilda, but by the time she was 20, she had bored of acting as a creative outlet. She wanted to be there at first, but a lot of kids, she said, didn’t.
“The next time a former child star is in the news, look at the age at which he or she started performing,” she explained. “Then imagine making a life-changing decision at that age. Chances are good he or she wasn’t the one who made it.”
When she discussed the situation in a blog post for Cracked.com, she highlighted an interesting theory as to why famous children go off the deep end sometimes.
“It’s called the hedonic treadmill, which sounds like something 1950s sci-fi writers imagined we’d all have in our pod-houses by now, but actually means that even people who have the best of everything quickly become used to it. The thrill of new things and new experiences always wears off,” she explains.
Her parents were good about ensuring that she had a good head on her shoulders, for the most part. Others aren’t so lucky.
The price for a good headshot of a child actor in the Los Angeles area. These headshots are often the first interaction a film or television production has with a potential actor, and these photos are touched up like crazy out of the belief that they’ll help a child actor finally score his or her big break. Peak Acting Studios, however, only recommends such shots for children over the age of 5. “Infants and young children change so quickly that if they needed professional headshots you would probably go bankrupt trying to keep the photos current,” their website explains.
The biggest jerk in all of Hollywood was Macaulay Culkin’s dad
Macaulay Culkin is more likely these days to hang out with members of the Moldy Peaches than his own father.
Kit Culkin didn’t exactly endear himself to his famous son during his most profitable era, admittedly. The elder Culkin, who managed his kids’ careers, became infamous as a tenacious negotiator who micromanaged every detail, going to the mat all in the name of his family income. This particularly surfaced during the production of the 1993 film version of The Nutcracker.
The film’s well-worn story was actually boring compared to the issues behind the scenes. The movie’s producers decided to add narration to the film late in its production, something Kit Culkin wasn’t cool with at all for some weird reason. So he used his son’s clout to try to get his way—if they don’t keep the film the way it is, Macaulay won’t promote it at all.
He didn’t, and the movie flopped—but the producers won a victory because they didn’t give in to the demands of a man who The New York Times called an “enfant terrible” over the flap.
“Who knows where this insane machinery of demands will take us next. They are so used to having everybody on their knees begging them to take $8 million for the boy,” producer Arnon Milchan told the newspaper.
A year after the Nutcracker saga, the younger Culkin quit movies. He had little nice to say about his father, who pushed him to make 15 movies in just seven years.
“I just wanted a little bit of a break,” Macaulay told Time in 2001 about the infamous split from his dad. “I wanted a summer vacation for the first time in, you know, forever.”
To this day, Macaulay doesn’t speak to his father—who’s now in poor health—choosing instead to play in his pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band. Given the choice, wouldn’t you?
“You miss out on a lot of things. I had to miss my prom. You see these kids on Disney and it seems like so much fun. At the same time, it’s an 8-year-old with a J-O-B. It’s a lot of pressure.”
— Tia Mowry, a former child actress who gained fame with her twin sister Tamara on the TV show Sister, Sister in the early ‘90s, reminding the world that being a child actor isn’t just fun and tweets. Mowry, who has worked consistently since, turned out OK, as did her sister. But often, the kids—who are led into careers as child actors by their parents—become famous, screwing up the family dynamic. “Sometimes when these kids start to make more money than their parents, the parents don’t feel like they can control their kids, or that they can’t step in and say no. Or they step in when the damage is done. It should never have to get to this point,” she told USA Today in 2013.
The situation that child actors face continues to be a difficult one, with horror stories still surfacing on the semi-regular. Back in May, Modern Family star Ariel Winter became the latest actress to become legally emancipated, after a long-running saga in which her mother lost custody of Winter after to allegations of abuse.
Winter had a pretty solid case against her mom—her siblings, who were also child actors in their day, had mixed reviews of their childhood. Winter’s sister Shenelle Gray, who took emergency custody of Winter back in 2012, spent time in the foster system, while Winter’s brother Jimmy “Puggsley Addams” Workman was a little more positive about his childhood.
For child actors that often portray normal kids, normalcy isn’t always the rule of the day.