Real lives: Getting the kids to act up - on cue

Babies are landing all the best roles in television. But who persuades the little angels to perform? CORA MANN reports

Never work with children or animals, goes the old showbusiness adage - one that Adria Later cheerfully ignores. She is a Hollywood baby wrangler. When you next see an infant performing on cue, it's likely that Adria or someone like her is just off camera, brandishing a rattle or a squeaky toy, coaxing it to do its stuff.

She acts as a kind of mini-director just for the child. "When the director wants a particular action from the baby, he needs someone skilled at getting that action on cue," she says. For a smile, a game of peekaboo just off camera is a winner. "Sometimes I pop up above an actor's shoulder to get the baby to look at the actor and then duck down to avoid the camera," says Adria. "You do need a good sense of camera angles and set." To get a baby to climb to its feet, she will dangle a puppet above its head. When an unhappy scenario is scripted, judicious pin-sticking is absolutely forbidden. "You don't do anything physical," says Adria sternly. "To get an unhappy baby, all you need do is turn your back and walk away. The baby knows it has lost your attention and will whimper. As soon as the scene is shot, you go and pick it up."

Adria makes sure her charges get regular breaks. "And we'd never use a baby if we were filming a fight or a scene with lots of yelling - the child would be filmed separately." In a Steven Seagal film she worked on, a small child discovers the massacred bodies of his parents in their bedroom. "We filmed him coming to the door, looking surprised," she recalls. "He was never on set with all the blood."

Adria, who is also a teacher and welfare worker for older children on set, is a veteran of Jurassic Park, ET, and several Indiana Jones movies, as well as commercials and TV shows. She prefers longer projects which allow her to establish a rapport with the actors and babies. The tight schedules of commercials means high pressure. "I leave those to the women from New York who have teams of assistants," she says. Given the limited time for commercial shoots, multiple back-up babies wait in the wings - for one Doritos ad, Adria had 40 to deal with. Girl and boy babies are interchangeable until the age of 10 or 11 months, she says. "You often end up using the second or third baby rather than the 'hero' baby, which is what we call the first choice."

Peter Robertson of Baby Wranglers Ltd is Britain's only such expert. "My job starts at pre-production," he says. "It's not just a question of being Mr Funny on set, you have to know about lighting and direction." And it is crucial, he says, to know a baby's own schedule - when it eats and sleeps: "If a child has to eat something for an ad, it won't if it's already full." For a grumpy reaction, waiting until the baby is tired usually produces the desired effect - or asking the baby's mother to take away a favourite toy for a moment. For a startled or alarmed expression, a loud noise does the trick, says Peter. "If they have to crawl they will often chase a ball rolled across the floor."

Peter is also something of a psychologist: "If a child isn't doing what it's supposed to, you have to find out why." He was once called in to rescue a shoot where the star would only run in circles. "They'd been filming for days and had nothing. The mother had been feeding the child sweets and tea with sugar in, so it was completely hyper." Sweets in general, he adds, are a complete no-no. "Bribery just doesn't work. After one sweet they want more and become upset if they don't get them."

Kamera Kids is a long-established childrens' agency. "We don't use children that are too clingy, too fractious, too sleepy, too awake, too anything," explains a spokesman. And the parents are crucial. "If the mother isn't happy, it makes for an unhappy child - we call it the umbilical effect." The agency says that beauty is actually less important than being photogenic - they were recently offered pounds 250,000 to find an ugly child to work in Hollywood.

Baby Wranglers Ltd: 0181 780 5234. Kamera Kids: 0181 675 4000.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: In House Counsel - Contracts

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading supplier of compliance software a...

    Recruitment Genius: Associate System Engineer

    £24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Associate System Engineer r...

    Recruitment Genius: Executive Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An Executive Assistant is required to join a l...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat