5 actors we’ll never forgive for growing up

I have a theory about child actors. Sure, it’s easy enough to say that the bright-cheeked, enthusiastic-toothed lovelies of Jr. Hollywood will either go on to have adult success or they won’t, but I’m not sure it’s that simple. We have a strange, almost primitive mistrust of child actors who don’t grow up in the glare of the camera. We resent them in a way we never resent adults who do one great film and then very little else (or, in the case of Nic Cage, everything else). There’s something about a failed child actor that just smells wrong, like a faint odour of rotting carp at an otherwise lovely teatime. But why?

The kids that survive the shift – your Drew Barrymores, your Dakota Fannings, your Saoirse Ronans – do so for one reason, and for one reason alone: they trick you into believing you’re immortal. Stay with me. I have words to make those other words make sense, I promise.

Drew, Dakota, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Jodie Foster – all successful, proper human actors in their own right, succeeding where many have failed. But why? Because they stayed all up in our faces throughout their transformation from child to grownup; they led us – calmly and patiently – through their adolescence. They comforted our fragile, worried little brains with the promise that although they were getting older, we’d barely even notice it until it was far too late. Natalie Portman leapt into our hearts in Leon back in 1994, and then made damn sure she stayed there with Heat, Beautiful Girls, *cough* The Phantom Menace *cough*, Mars Attacks and Cold Mountain before emerging like a proper actual grownup in Closer and Garden State in 2004. She EARNT her status as an adult, dammit.

By comparison, we have, say, any of the cast of Saved By The Bell. That’s who they are, forever. They are not human flesh, capable of ageing and becoming increasingly dodgy glamour-actresses, they are representatives of a simpler, neon-er time. Which is why it goes against our very bones when we see images like this:

We balk at images of long-loved kid stars grown up because they present us, first hand, with the HORRIBLE RAVISHES OF TIME. Our brains say “him out of Home Alone, the scamp!”, but our eyes say “OH GOD HE’S MELTING, HE’S MELTING LIKE MY DREAMS AND THERE’S NOTHING ANY OF US CAN DO ABOUT IT”. Feasting your exhausted gaze upon an entirely unexpected adult is nature’s cruellest mind-jolt; although it shouldn’t press on us the horrors of our own mortality, that’s literally all it does. Look at the victims below, and tell us you don’t feel like vomiting up your own awareness of the transience of existence. Their only crime is not letting you know that time has passed. You remember that.

5. Jake Lloyd

You know him as: Anakin Skywalker

He’s now: Publicly burning his Pod-Racing PJs and weeping about his wasted life

You hate him, don’t you? You hate him, and you don’t even know why.

4. Mara Wilson

You know her as: Every Cute Girl In Every 90s Film

She’s now: Missing, presumed adorable.

It’s Matilda! You love Matilda, right? You LOVE her. If you love her, why can’t you look at her?

3. Frankie Muniz

You know him as: Malcolm In The Middle

He’s now: Engaged to be married, with only one or two rumours about him punching her occasionally.

Did you know he drives cars now? For a living? He’s allowed to do that, because he’s TWENTY SIX YEARS OLD.

2. Hayley Joel Osment

You know him as: The Sixth Sense/A.I kid

He’s now: Hiding gratefully in the voices of your video games. Seriously.

OK fine, you’re right, he’s a monster.

1. Macaulay Culkin

You know him as: KEVIIIIIIIIIIN!

He’s now: Appearing in Adam Green (of Moldy Peaches fame)’s iphone-based masterpieces

The gaping abyss. The futility of man, all wrapped up in an ex-boyfriend of Mila Kunis. Apt? We don’t even know anymore.

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