(Warning- mild spoilers for Game of Thrones and Logan)
Dafne Keen as Laura from Logan- Image Credit: 20th Century Fox
What do Game of Thrones and Stranger Things have in common?
Apart from being weirdly addictive (and taking up most of my summer), both of these have starred, to high acclaim, child actors- from the originally 12-year old Maisie Williams as Arya Stark, beating up Joffrey and watching Ned Stark be executed, to the preteen Millie Bobby Brown being badass as Eleven.
And these shows aren’t alone- over the last few years we’ve seen an increase in TV and film narratives which deal with children in pretty adult situations. And although it’s thrilling watching Arya thrive series after series, but characters such as her are put in scenarios which would horrify us in real life, but which fascinate us on TV.
While this does allow a wider range of experiences to be shown on our screens, as well as allowing issues such child violence to be discussed in a safe (fictional) environment, should we start questioning the situations we’re exposing these child actors to?
So, how young is too young? Everywhere you look, there’s (interestingly, mostly female) young actors taking part in films and series past the watershed or past their age rating- from 12 year old Kirsten Dunst having a first kiss with a much older Brad Pitt in ‘Interview with a Vampire’ (aged 18 rating) to the blood-stained 14 year old Chiaki Karyuna in ‘Battle Royale’, the list goes on.
I went to see Logan recently, which depicts the tragic story of young mutant Laura, played by 12-year-old Dafne Keegan, which depicts her not only killing various bad guys but attempting self-harm. This is, tragically, an issue which does affect young people (and is handled with the right amount of care)- however, I couldn’t help but find it a little questionable whether having someone that young act out something so emotionally distressing is ok.
On the other hand, am I being too protective, and underestimating what people of that age can handle? It’s possible that exposing them to this helps them process – or is this exposing people who wouldn’t allow be see their films in a cinema to situations they shouldn’t be, and placing more adult expectations on them?
That debate aside, these young castings, combined with the adult environments they’re placed in have an undeniable impact on the actors involved.
Before changes to child performance regulations back in 2012 there was little clarity over what producers, broadcasters and parents’ specific responsibilities were, and even now stories keep popping up in the news of actresses talking about their times on set at a young age.
Sophie Turner (who was only 12 when she was cast as Game of Throne’s Sansa Stark) recently admitted that “being on Game of Thrones” was her “sex education”, having first found out about oral at a script read-through. And while that’s a bit more interesting than finding out through your mates or the internet like the rest of us, Game of Thrones doesn’t exactly offer the most positive portrayal of sex.
Turner went on to describe the unfair expectations of society on young actresses, unleashed on to the dangers of a judgemental social media world and the impact on her:
“Because it just affects me so much – what I look like, having to make all that effort and then not being good enough.”
The more you look, the more this kind of treatment can be seen- not that long ago Kickass star Chloe Grace Moretz revealed how she was body-shamed at 15 by a male co-worker (aged 20) playing her love interest.
So, while it’s great to see a variety of portrayals, when you move past the novelty of their age we really have to think about what it means when young actors committing violence on screen and being shamed on social media becomes the norm.