The following is an excerpt from "Acting in Young Hollywood" by manager Frederick Levy, Back Stage Books, 2009.
"Hannah Montana." "High School Musical." "iCarly." The youth market is taking Hollywood by storm. As such, there's never been a better time for aspiring kid and teen actors to break into show business. And for those young actors who already have a foot in the door, now is the time to capitalize on the success of this youth revolution and take your career to the next level.
But the youth market includes more than kids and teens. In today's entertainment industry, 30 is the new 20, and as long as you look and play younger than you are, you could be a part of young Hollywood also. And, like kids and teens, you could also be highly in demand.
This Is Our Youth
As our clients at Management 101 grow older, some move on to adult roles while others hold onto their youthful looks and continue to play characters that are much younger than the actors truly are. For the purposes of this book, I have defined the youth market as anyone under 18, or anyone over 18 who plays under 18.
Of course, if you are over 18, you must be realistic about the age range you play. Some actors, like Jason Earles, the 32-year-old man who plays Jackson Stewart, the teenage brother of Miley Stewart on Disney Channel's hit series "Hannah Montana," looks like a real teen. But not every 32-year-old can pull that off.
Sometimes producers choose to cast everyone older, so it doesn't matter if an actor truly looks like a teen as long as every other actor on the show appears to be the same age. Take the original "Beverly Hills, 90210," for instance. Luke Perry was 25 when he took on the role of teenage bad boy Dylan McKay. But because most of the other actors playing teens on that show were also older, producers were able to get away with it.
You're probably thinking, why would producers want to cast older actors to play younger? Wouldn't they want to keep things more realistic? The answer is simple: An adult can work more hours than a child. And the older the child, the more hours he can work….
[S]uffice it to say, the older you are, and the younger you can play, the more opportunities will come your way. This doesn't always bode well for young people who look older than they really are. In fact, teenage girls have a particularly difficult time finding work once they go through puberty. While they may look all grown up, they can't work as many hours as an actual adult. So they're too old to play children and too costly to be hired for the older roles when there's someone who is 18 or older who can easily play the part.
"At some point, know you will catch up and look your age," sympathizes Jamie Malone, a manager and owner of MC Talent. "The best advice is don't try to look older. If you're tall, don't wear heels. If you're busty, invest in a minimizer bra. Don't wear things that accentuate your curves."
It's one thing to look older naturally, but it's a whole other ballgame when you make yourself look older with makeup and clothes. And, not to pick on the girls, but this pertains mostly to them. Dress your age...or younger. If Dad wouldn't want you wearing a particular outfit to school, then you probably shouldn't be wearing it to auditions. Low-cut blouses and hiked-up skirts will only make you look older, and in a business where youth is currency, you're short-changing your career.
Likewise, clean faces are key. Most kids do not wear makeup, and neither should you. If you think you need to apply makeup to make you look younger, then chances are you've moved beyond the youth market.
"Girls need to learn to work with what they've got by not adding any component such as makeup that would make them look even more mature," notes Julie Fulop, a commercial and theatrical agent with AKA. "They need to look at the age of the character they are reading for and incorporate that into their makeup choices."
"Makeup should only enhance your beauty, not cover it up or distract," adds Malone. "Less is more. A little mascara is all you need. Blend in skin flaws with a natural product. Stay away from heavy eyeliner."
If things are slow because of how you look at a certain age, then take this time to work on your craft. "Youth and innocence has to come from within, so if you already look older than you really are, then you need to study and do some coaching on being youthful," says Michelle Lewitt, a casting director with the Casting Company. "Alison Lohman played a 14-year-old when she was close to 22, I believe. Yes, she looked young, but if she didn't have the acting chops to actually pull off a 14-year-old's demeanor, she wouldn't have been cast no matter how young she looked."
They say that variety is the spice of life. That adage has never rung truer than in today's Hollywood, especially when it comes to the youth market. More than ever, networks and studios strive to promote diversity in the projects they make and in their casting choices.
Diversity comes in many different forms. It goes far beyond race and gender to include culture, body type, and sexual orientation. No matter where you fit in the mix, opportunities abound for you on the silver screen.
Many of the major networks have diversity initiatives. Some, like CBS and ABC, have annual showcases where minority actors are given an opportunity to perform scenes in front of the professional casting community. Other companies are developing projects specifically for, or to include roles for, underrepresented groups.
No one is more in the forefront of the diversity movement than the youth networks. Just look at a project like Disney Channel's original movie "The Cheetah Girls One World." The film's stars are Adrienne Bailon, who has Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican roots; African American actress Kiely Williams; and Sabrina Bryan, who is a biracial mix of Mexican and Caucasian. Aspiring actors who look at the TV screen can feel certain, regardless of your background, there is a place for you.
The landscape of the youth market is ever changing. The talent pool is constantly growing older, and fresh, new actors are constantly entering the gate. But the players are continually changing as well.
When I was a kid, PBS was the only children's network around. Child and teen stars dominated the major networks in family shows like "The Facts of Life," "Growing Pains," and "Life Goes On." Nickelodeon and Disney were just getting off the ground.
Today, Nick and Disney are the major games in town with lots of original programming featuring young talent. At the same time, we can count on one hand the number of children who are series regulars on major network shows.
"There are not a lot of [network] shows with big roles for kids anymore," says veteran agent Judy Savage. " 'Two and a Half Men' is just about the only one. Back in the '80s, there were 20 to 30 shows with young people in them. The last five years, there have been very few [network] pilots with kids. But it is changing again, and we're seeing more network pilots with kids this year. Also, kids are starring in films and making a lot more money than before."
One thing is for sure: For the past decade, kids have dominated cable TV. This shift seems logical, as a larger dial can support not only programs aimed at young people but also entire networks geared toward them. "There's been a boom in recent years," says Melissa Berger, a talent agent with CESD. "Big business has recognized how much money is to be made there with kids and tweens, and there are lots more projects out there that are geared toward the young talent."
But manager Bryan Leder of Bryan Leder Talent sums it up best: "As long as there are families on TV and in the movies, there will continue to be jobs in the youth market."
Frederick Levy owns Management 101, a talent firm that guides the careers of actors, authors, screenwriters, and music acts. He also develops and produces film and television and is the author of five other books on the entertainment industry.