Yesterday, Peter Debruge wrote an overview on a fascinating subject: Hollywood Kids: How Do Young Actors Deal With Sexy, Violent Roles?
Working with children is difficult for directors from both a creative and a production standpoint. Their hours are restricted; their activities are highly monitored. But that is in America. Other parts of the world have different child-labor laws:
That’s how Mexican helmer Amat Escalante — who won director honors at Cannes for “Heli” — staged the film’s shocking torture scene, by clearly explaining to the 11-year-old extra and his parents that the young performer would be instructed to paddle an actor whose backside was exposed, then walk off set with his eyes closed (he would then hear screaming as the tortured actor’s genitals were lit on fire via a computer-generated effect).
“We try to make it a fun atmosphere and to relieve the tension with humor, especially in scenes where we’re doing very difficult things,” says Escalante, who was very protective of the young actors, all of whom were non-pros.
“It’s very different in Mexico because children grow up much quicker. Part of the inspiration of making ‘Heli’ was seeing 12- to 14-year-old children in Guanajuato going through some really difficult things for that age,” says Escalante, who cites the fact that a 6-month-old baby cast elsewhere in the film was accompanied on set by her 14-year-old mother. “It was a minor taking care of a minor.”
Escalante says he was criticized at Cannes for filming the torture, but omitting a scene in which a 12-year-old girl is raped off-camera. The decision was easy: “I can’t fake a young girl being raped, and that would traumatize her for life,” he says.
If there is anything I learned from Aaliyah, it’s that “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number.” If you believe that, then casting kids is up to the discretion of the parent, the director, and the child.
However, this is a fine line to walk. Thoughts?
[Image: The Exorcist William Friedkin (1973)]
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