In the modern era of film and television, the use of young actors and actresses have to be met with strict guild lines. There are legal limitations in place to protect the safety and well being of the child, making sure that production crews are following labor laws and union rules in order to avoid any exploitation in the working environment. If producers don’t follow these guild lines or the child isn’t part of a union they could be hit with heavy fines.
Yet, even with such strict rules in place, one has to wonder about the morality of the use of child actors and actresses in films that depict violence, horror, and sexual content. There are films that have been made over the last few decades that were so controversial that they were banned in several countries for the use of young girls in roles that were more suited for adults. Which begs the question, why not use actresses that look young to play younger parts, in order to avoid controversy and potential bans? With that in mind, here at The Clever, we have decided to take a look at 15 roles where the actresses were clearly too young for the scenes they were performing in.
15. Ryan Simpkins: Gardens of the Night
Gardens of the Night is a 2008 drama film featuring Ryan Simpkins in one of her earliest roles. The film tells a difficult story of a young girl that was kidnapped at the age of eight years old and forced into prostitution.
There are some tremendously acted scenes in there where she and another victim (a young boy) use their imaginations as a way to escape their horrible reality. Although her character’s scenes are taken over by an older actress later in the film’s story, some of the more harrowing scenes in the film are when she’s a child.
Gardens of the Night was very well-received, and Ryan Simpkins’ career has gone from strength to strength since with roles in Pride and Prejudice, The Road and more recently The House with Will Ferrell.
14. Dominique Swain: Lolita
The 1997 version of Lolita starred a 15-year-old Dominque Swain and Jeremy Irons in an adaptation of the controversial novel of the same name. It was a controversial film about a middle-aged professor falling in love with his own step daughter.
The film does a very good job of highlighting the age difference between Jeremy Iron’s and Dominique Swain’s characters through the performances alone. However, it is that very obvious age gap between the actors that can make the film very uncomfortable viewing indeed. Apparently, most of the controversial scenes were performed by a stunt double for Swain, but it’s the heavily implied nature and dialogue in the film that makes it difficult to watch at times.
13. Evan Rachel Wood & Nikki Reed: Thirteen
The Los Angeles based Thirteen is one of the most controversial dramas ever made. The film starred 15-year-old actresses Evan Rachel Wood and Nikki Reed. The film tells a deeply terrifying coming of age story, which is made more so because it was Nikki Reed herself that co-wrote the semi-autobiographical script for the movie.
Thirteen’s heavy themes of drug and alcohol abuse, teenage sexual activity, and scenes of self-harm were bound to draw controversy, but the critically acclaimed low budget film proved to be a huge hit and launched both young actresses into stardom. Evan Rachel Wood is one of the leading stars of the television series Westworld and Nikki Reed was one of the leads in the Twilight Saga.
12. Linda Blair: The Exorcist
The Exorcist is still considered to be one of the most effective horror films of all time. Even though its special effects look a little dated it still holds a level of fear because of the fact that it’s based on a true story. However, the reason the film holds the test of time is because of the superb performances in the film. There were acting greats on the screen like Max Von Sydow, Jason Miller, and Ellen Burstyn, and they were all excellent, but it was a 13-year-old Linda Blair that managed to terrify audiences for generations to come.
The Exorcist was (and still is) considered to be very controversial, not just because of the horror content but because of the scenes featured. The most shocking moment was when Blair’s character violently pleasured herself with a crucifix while berating and cursing at her mother.
11. Katya Berger: Piccole Labbre
Katya Berger was a young actress born in London, to parents that were already heavily involved in the entertainment industry. Her father was a famous Austrian actor called William Berger, and her mother was a Croatian singer/songwriter and actress Hanja Kochansky. Following her father’s footsteps from an early age she was cast in an Italian/Spanish post-World War 2 drama called Piccole Labbra at the age of 12.
The story of the film centered on a war veteran who rediscovers a reason to live again by falling in love with a 12-year-old girl. If that wasn’t controversial enough, she performed many scenes in the nude, and she performed various simulated sex scenes throughout the film as well. Katya went on to do more films with similarly explicit scenes, before leaving her acting career for good at the age of 17.
10. Lara Wendel and Eva Ionesco: Maladolescenza
Eva Ionesco is a French actress and the daughter of a famous Romanian-French photographer Irina Ionesco. She was the youngest model ever to appear in a Playboy pictorial at the age of 11 and later appeared in an issue of Penthouse magazine too as a result of her mother’s photographs. Unfortunately, despite continuing onto a career as a successful actress and director she was clearly traumatized by the suggestive nude images her own mother took, going os far as to sue her in court. Ionesco’s story was the inspiration for Brooke Shields’ character in Pretty Baby.
Ionesco’s co-star Lara Wendel was another young actress that started her career early. Her father was the American football player Walt Barnes and her mother was a German actress called Britta Wendel.
At the ages of 12, Lara starred alongside Eva in a disturbingly exploitative film called Maladolscenza. The film featured both actresses in explicit scenes that would eventually land the film in court where it was (rightly) banned in most countries and its DVD production phased out.
9. Brooke Shields: Pretty Baby
It seems sadly ironic that Brooke Shields’ role in Pretty Baby was inspired by the exploitation of Eva Ionesco by her own mother, especially as she would experience very similar treatment at the hands of her own mother as well. Unlike Eva, she doesn’t hold any ill will towards her mother but in an interview with The Telegraph, she is very aware that she was exploited to some degree in order to get certain roles in films.
In the film Pretty Baby, she plays a 12-year-old prostitute and appears nude several times throughout the course of the film. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, her role caused a considerable amount of controversy at the time of its release but still went over very well with several critics.
8. Olivia d’Abo: Bolero
English actress Olivia d’Abo is perhaps best known for her role as Kevin Arnold’s teenage sister in the Wonder Years. She got her first major role at the age of 14 in Conan the Destroyer with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the Conan film, she did wear some outfits that could be considered a bit too revealing for such a young girl but it was her role in Bolero with Bo Derek that raised more than a few eyebrows.
In Bolero, d’Abo played a 14-year-old gypsy girl called Paloma and featured in several scenes where she appeared completely nude. The film itself was terrible in all respects, and aside from being considered one of the worst films in a decade, it was quickly forgotten, and d’Abo continued on with a successful career of her own.
7. Lina Leanderson: Let The Right One In
The original version of Let the Right One In is a Swedish vampire horror film that tells the story of a growing relationship between a 12-year-old boy called Oskar — a victim of bullying – and a vampire girl played by Lina Leanderson. Although the film’s subject matter isn’t quite as violent or as controversial as the novel it is based on, the films underlying elements can still be deemed a bit dark for the young actors.
There are some extremely violent scenes in the film, but it’s the implied story of the relationship between Lina’s character Eli and the adult male character called Hakan. It’s quite clear that Hakan is in love with Eli, and they have or had some sort of intimate relationship until Eli wanted to “play” with someone her own age. This is further implied when Eli and Oskar run away together, thus allowing Oskar to take Hakan’s place.
6. Michelle Johnson: Blame it on Rio
Blame It On Rio was in many ways a retelling of the Lolita story already mentioned on this list, but in modern day with Michael Caine in the leading role as the middle-aged adult male that becomes obsessed with a much younger girl.
The film is a lot more comedic than its source material but still manages to push the boundaries by having a 17-year-old Jennifer Lyons (in her debut) perform in a lot of nude scenes throughout the movie. The film also starred a young Demi Moore, who had just turned 18 herself, and who was asked to perform some provocative topless scenes at the beach.
5. Isabelle Fuhrman: The Orphan
Isabelle Fuhrman’s performance in The Orphan is quite possibly one of the most terrifying portrayals by a young actress since Linda Blair’s brilliant performance in The Exorcist. The film starred Isabelle Fuhrman in the role of Esther, an 11-year-old orphan in the film. Even though the character of Esther was played by a young actress the twist was that she’s actually a 33-year-old serial killer who managed to successfully hide her real age because of a condition called hypopituitarism – which stunts a person’s physical growth.
In addition to the violent horror themes, there were some uncomfortable scenes in the film where Esther tries to seduce her adopted father before murdering him. The film gained further controversy because it represented the process of adoption in a negative light.
4. Kiara Glasco: Copper
Copper was a great show that was canceled too soon. It was based in a post civil war era New York and was considered America’s answer to a British crime drama series called Ripper Street. To reflect the harshness of the time period the series could often hit the viewer with some shocking moments throughout the two season run. However, it was Kiara Glasco’s role of a street wise young orphan and a former child prostitute and child wife to one the characters in the first episode that caused a bit controversy with some critics. Glasco put on a great performance though, taking on two roles for the season opener as Annie Reilly and her twin sister Kate.
3. Mariel Hemingway: Lipstick
Mariel Hemingway’s acting career began with a breakout Golden Globe nominated role in the 1976 film Lipstick. She was cast alongside her on-screen and real life sister, the late Margaux Hemingway in a rape-revenge thriller that was hit with a ton of controversy upon its release. The film depicts a very extreme and graphically violent rape scene involving her older sister during the early chapters of the film.
The film’s biggest criticism was that the film’s exploitation of the violence committed on its female leads had no real justification at all. This was made worse when Mariel’s character also had to endure a rape scene in the later stages of the film, and although it wasn’t as graphic as the first, it made for some uncomfortable viewing considering how young the actress was at the time.
2. Natalie Portman in Léon: The Professional
Although Jean Reno was already a well-established actor in his native country of France, it was Léon: The Professional that helped launch his career in Hollywood. Gary Oldman also gives a commanding performance as the corrupt and psychotic drug enforcement agent Norman Stansfield. However, it was the breakout performance as Matilda from a then 12-year-old Natalie Portman that was both applauded and controversial at the same time.
The reason for the controversy wasn’t just the fact that Léon was training a young a girl to become a professional killer, but it was the implied relationship between the two characters. It wasn’t as noticeable in the cut US version of the film, but in the uncut version there’s a lot of hints that there’s much more to their relationship. It’s far more subtle than some other films on this list but it’s definitely there.
1. Chloe Grace Moretz: Kickass
Chloe Grace Moretz was 13-years-old at the time of the first film adaptation of the comic book series Kickass. The film was a hit with fans but met with a lot of controversy from some critics claiming that the film glorified violence, and its use of profanity – especially from Moretz’s character Hit Girl – went too far.
Perhaps the most divisive criticism came from a Daily Mail critic in his feelings that the Hit Girl character was highly sexualized and “made to look as seductive as possible”. Luckily, the controversy didn’t hurt her career, and Moretz continues to work in film, television and voice work today.
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