The kids are all right: Child actors are enjoying a golden age in Hollywood

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Young stars such as Tom Holland from The Impossible and Bafta-winner Harley Bird are leading the Britpack.

There has never been a better time to be a child actor. The Best Actor prize at last month's Tribeca Film Festival went to Sitthiphon Disamoe for his turn in The Rocket, in which he plays a 10-year-old Laotian boy who enters a rocket-making competition in an effort to help his displaced destitute family.

At this year's Oscars, Quvenzhané Wallis, nine, became the youngest female to receive a nomination in an acting category, for her mesmerising turn in Beasts of the Southern Wild. At one stage there was talk that the young British actor Tom Holland, 16, who caught the eye in the tsunami drama The Impossible, might also get a nomination. Awards bodies are increasingly nominating young actors, making a mockery of the old adage about not working with children.

It could be that young performers are simply getting better or that directors are increasingly adept at getting good performances out of children. Take Tye Sheridan, the star of Mud, a fable about two 14-year old boys (debutant Jacob Lofland is the other) who discover a mysterious man (Matthew McConaughey) hiding out and building a boat on a secluded island off New Orleans. Critics have repeatedly singled out the performances of the youngsters in Jeff Nichols' new film.

In The New York Times, A O Scott wrote that the two boys "have been guided into exceptionally subtle feats of acting". While Variety's Peter Debruge said: "Sheridan makes an especially strong impression."

In his first three films, Sheridan has worked for Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life was his debut), Nichols and David Gordon Green (the upcoming Joe alongside Nicolas Cage). It's a run that seasoned actors would be proud of. Indeed, the competition for parts among children is just as congested as it is for adults. Sheridan, now 16, says, "I went to an open audition when I was aged 10 or 11, and I think that Terrence Malick saw 10,000 boys for the three parts. I think that I got cast out of luck!"

In fact, Sheridan was cast on the recommendation of the producer Sarah Green, who was also behind The Tree of Life. Now, over milk shakes with his pals, Sheridan can impress with anecdotes such as: "I'm a big James Dean fan. Actually, Nic Cage turned me on to James Dean when I was working on Joe with him. He came up to me and said: 'You remind me of this guy, you need to check out his movies!'"

The UK's youngest rising star is Tom Holland. He was 12 when he made his West End debut in Billy Elliot. Two year later, he was shooting The Impossible and it was he, not superstar Ewan McGregor, who was getting the rave notices and being sent to the longlist Oscar dinner. "I met two of my movie heroes," Holland enthuses. "I met Tom Hanks and I met Steven Spielberg. Oh and Quentin Tarantino. Those three made the evening for me. Just being considered was an honour for me. To be compared to these A-list actors – it's really nice to be seen on this level, it's a privilege to be there."

He will next be seen in How I Live Now. Kevin Macdonald's adaptation of Meg Rosoff's apocalyptic novel will also star Saoirse Ronan, who was only 13 when she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her turn in Atonement. Having just turned 19, she was the veteran on set. Also in the cast is Harley Bird, who in 2011 became the youngest Bafta winner ever, when, aged nine, she picked up an award for her performance as the voice of the cartoon character Peppa Pig.

"I've never had any acting classes or anything like that," Bird told me in her first interview on set. "Since I was younger, I've always been a drama queen. I've read parts of the book and it's really good."

Finding new young stars has taken on an added urgency since the last wave of child actors graduated at the end of the Harry Potter franchise (and to a certain extent, Twilight, which featured teenage talents). Now Britain's twentysomething talents are heading for Hollywood. The French director Alexandre Aja has cast Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella and the slightly older Joe Anderson in his forthcoming horror film Horns.

Aja says: "All Brits. But it's a completely American story, it's set outside Seattle. I think that there is a reason for that. The US has turned into a Twilight factory while the UK is still providing actors who are deeper in what they express. Even if Rob Pattinson is English, the Taylor Lautner style is what LA and New York is creating. In fact, it is not the Twilight factory, it is the Disney factory. The Disney Channel is creating an American actor that looks a certain way. Mostly it's young girls."

The lack of an American who might follow in the footsteps of Jodie Foster could explain why there is so much emphasis on young Americans in dramatic roles. That said, childhood success is no harbinger of a long and fruitful career. The template for failure was established early, as Shirley Temple, generally acknowledged as the first juvenile star, initially announced her retirement at the age of 22. She never matched her childhood success as an adult and in 1988, aged 60 published her autobiography, titled Child Star.

'Mud' is released tomorrow; 'How I Live Now' is due out in October

Three Oscar contenders who went on to success

Anna Paquin

She won for 'The Piano' (Best Supporting Actress Oscar) aged 11.

Jodie Foster

Nominated for 'Taxi Driver' (Best Supporting Actress Oscar) aged 14.

Saoirse Ronan

Nominated for 'Atonement' (Best Supporting Actress Oscar) aged 13.

... And three who didn't

Justin Henry

Nominated for his turn in 'Kramer vs Kramer' (Best Supporting Actor Oscar) in 1979 aged eight.

Linda Blair

Nominated for 'The Exorcist' (Best Supporting Actress Oscar) aged 15.

Quinn Cummings

Nominated for 'The Goodbye Girl' (Best Supporting Actress Oscar) aged 10.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits