Age seems to be a big issue in life. We want to look younger, live longer, try many different and desperate ways to pursue youth – even when we hit our twenties we worry that we aren’t as interesting as the 16-year-olds around us.
In acting, age is of vital importance; you have to be as young as possible to land the great roles that willll kick-start your career. Or so it seems. The question is: do you really have to start out as a child in order to get a great career as an actor?
Professional child actors seem to be all over stage and screen like bees in a hive. Success is sweet, and young people are far more determined and adult about the business that you would imagine – the four ‘Matildas’ winning their Olivier awards is a great example. It seems to be standard to start off very young – even toddlers can do drama courses, schools and auditions – and with all these children growing up in the business with experience and showbiz in their bones, is there any space left for those of us who don’t find our calling before the end of our teens?
Looking at Hollywood, it seems to be impossible to get anywhere unless you’ve starred in ten films by the time you are 16 and had your debut as a five-year-old on the Disney Channel. Although the UK is a different market, age seems to be an issue here as well. Whenever I go to an audition, a workshop or a rehearsal, it is dominated by actors who started out insanely early in their lives and who therefore have way more experience than me. Some have been in front of the camera since before they could even walk, and with little business bugs like these, who will ever be able to compete against them? When I tell people my age and experience they frown and mumble “yeah, you’re quite old”. I have to say I’m only 21, and didn’t think my acting life had half-ended until I was told I was now too old for all the teenage roles and that I’d probably find myself competing against child actors with much more experience who’d worked their way to the top from age 11.
So is it too late? Is it really vital to start a professional career in your childhood? Or can you succeed even though you never worked for Disney Channel or CBeebies?
Luckily there are some great examples out there – Alan Rickman didn’t start drama school until he was 26, Judi Dench had her debut in her twenties, and Annette Bening was in her thirties when her career started to take off. Some people say you need life experience and time to figure out your passion, and that these ‘wasted’ years will be very beneficial should you achieve a career in the arts. Many great character actors are people who didn’t take their first steps on a stage – so maybe there is hope ahead for all of us latecomers. Fingers crossed.