I have never been a fan of child actors. To clarify, this aversion rarely had to do with the talent of the young craftsman, but an anxiety that the development of the children was somehow compromised by the demands of an industry that required they deliver “on cue.” That anxiety found voice in a well-placed line from the 1991 film Scorchers, wherein celebrated actor Denholm Elliott playing the town drunk Howler, explains to bar owner James Earl Jones (Bear) why he left a lucrative acting career in British theater.
“In the theater… you know why they call it a part? They don’t call it a job, because you reach down inside yourself and pull out a part of you. I was an actor, I wasn’t a robot or a jukebox. Put your money down, buy a ticket, put a quarter into the machine and watch the actor tear his heart out. I didn’t read lines, I put my blood into those words. I cut up my childhood and cooked it. I will not sell that for the price of a ticket.”
From where would a child or young adult pull to create believable dramatic scenes?
Well, in the last few years, an amazing number of young actors have dominated dramatic television series and film, giving me pause. Recently, I came across one of the most pleasant stand-outs in British telly -- Kara-Leah Fernandes. The 9-year-old took on the role of Bailey Baker in the soap EastEnders, like a classically-trained thespian thrice her age. As the daughter of character Mitch Baker, a well-meaning, but struggling drifter, Kara-Leah won the hearts of viewers caring for a terminally-ill mother and in the process, sacrificing much of her childhood.
Fans of the show took to social media immediately, labeling her “a natural,” and her acting ability “phenomenal… I actually get goosebumps watching her act.”
According to Metro UK, Kara-Leah’s character represents a very important storyline of the plight of young caregivers, “who are responsible entirely for running the house, doing all of the house work, the washing, changing her mum’s nappies, and sorting her medication. The responsibilities on her young shoulders are huge, and she represents one of the estimated 800,000 young caregivers aged between five and 17 in the UK.”
Kara-Leah captured my attention from her very first January 2019 appearance and has kept me locked into her performances. She is the child you want to protect, the kid whose kind acts and selflessness bring tears to your eyes, and one you want to shower with hugs and treats. Still, Kara-Leah is a child.
To my concerns about Kara-Leah and other young
actors being overwhelmed by their performances, retired acting coach Celeste Pennant told Acumen, it’s all a matter of technique.
“Historically, children have been placed in scenes – especially in the U.S. – as props. They have few, if any lines, and are rarely called upon to deliver emotion beyond, happy, sad, or being tired. With brilliant young talents like Kara-Leah, you will find coaches and directors who get her to express emotions she may have never experienced personally,” Pennant said. “That is a testament to her skills, convincing audiences that she is a child carer, changing the Depends and administering medications to her ill mother. That’s a gift that few hold.”
Perhaps Acumen’s next trip to London will afford us an opportunity to chat with this lovely young talent and find the source of that star quality.