Move over Mad Men – now is the time for Small Stars

Major roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show in television’s biggest dramas

They’re no Jon Hamm or Sean Bean. In fact, in television hits such as Mad Men or Game of Thrones, they are, literally, the smallest stars. But it’s the children who are stealing the show, proving that size isn’t everything.

The award for Mad Men’s biggest personality has to go to Hamm’s on-screen daughter, Sally, played by Kiernan Shipka. Shipka has aged along with the show: she was six when first cast. “To play someone from the age of six, while also being six, and then growing into a teenager, is the wildest thing. To grow up with Sally, and be able to evolve as a character like that, is something you don’t get to do very often,” Shipka, 14, told Vanity Fair.

In Nashville, otherwise known as Dynasty with country music, Friday Night Lights actress Connie Britton and Heroes’s Hayden Panettiere may get the biggest billing, but viewers are really only waiting for a glimpse of the show’s youngest stars: the sister singers Lennon and Maisy Stella, who play Maddie and Daphne Conrad.

Nashville’s Maisy and Lennon Stella Nashville’s Maisy and Lennon Stella Lennon – who was named after John Lennon – has to deal with some of the programme’s biggest plotlines. But it’s the pair’s on-screen electricity and their exceptional singing voices that keep audiences hooked. The fans’ online comments bears testimony to their disappointment that the duo from Ontario, Canada, who are 14 and 10, are not performing in the Nashville concert tour, which starts this week in America.

Williams as Arya in the first season of Game of Thrones Williams as Arya in the first season of Game of Thrones Something similar has happened in Game of Thrones, HBO’s biggest series since The Sopranos. From the first series, which starred Bean as Lord Eddard “Ned” Stark, it was the youngest member of the Stark clan, Arya, played by the then 12-year-old Maisie Williams, who wooed viewers. Even now, in series four, Bristol-born Williams still steals the show. Sansa Stark, Arya’s elder sister, played by Sophie Turner, born in Northampton, is similarly captivating. The Stark sisters have some of the strongest plot-lines, but their appeal goes beyond the action.

So what’s the secret? Casting director Lucy Bevan says the trick is to cast children to be themselves. “It’s a real challenge casting children, and you have to see lots of kids to find the right one. You need to find a child who is as close to the role as it’s written as possible to bring it to life truthfully and authentically.”

Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka at a recent press event Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka at a recent press event Jo Hawes, who has cast children in more than 70 stage productions, thinks shows are coming up with stronger parts for children. “People are recognising that children can deliver so there are some pretty difficult parts, which children are carrying off with aplomb.”

But it all hangs on the quality of the young stars themselves. Mark Puddle, who runs Westend Stage, a Europe-wide theatre school for children, says: “The main thing is that young people have got better. There are more avenues to train, plus people have learnt more about how to direct children.

“It also helps that entertainment is seen as a serious career now, compared with 20 years ago. There is more confidence in the arts.”

Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
Arts and Entertainment
Crowd control: institutions like New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art are packed

Art
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices