Hollywood has a long history of putting young actresses in scenes that are mature or “beyond their years.” Sometimes these scenes are sexual in nature, sometimes violent, and, on a few occasions, a little of both. It happens with boys, too, but much less frequently. What’s troubling about this phenomenon is that there are comparatively few good roles for actresses in general, much less for those under eighteen. Many times, these little girls and teens are used for purposes of titilation. Since men statistically write and direct the lion’s share of movies, the way they view young actresses says a lot — and sometimes, what it says isn’t all that great.
What follows are fifteen egregious examples of actresses who were too young — physically, and probably emotionally — to perform the scenes they were in. Admittedly, some of these movies are quite good, and a few of them are designed to get at a larger truth about their subject matter, which is why they take a provocative route. Regardless, every eyebrow-raising instance will make you wonder whether it’s right to ask minors to participate in such scenes, at least the way they’ve been carried out here.
These are 15 Actresses Who Were Way Too Young For These Scenes.
15. Thora Birch in American Beauty
American Beauty is the 1999 Oscar-winning film that takes a look at the kinds of dark secrets that are hidden within seemingly ordinary families. Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening play an unhappily married couple. She’s having an affair with her professional rival, while he develops an unhealthy obsession with his teenage daughter’s best friend (Mena Suvari).
Thora Birch plays the daughter, Jane, who has problems of her own. In one of the film’s more memorable scenes, Jane notices her video camera-obsessed neighbor Ricky (Wes Bentley) videotaping her from his house. She goes to the window and removes her blouse, followed by her bra. Birch was only seventeen when this scene was filmed. In order to do cinematic nudity at that young age, the production had to receive formal permission from her parents. The scene, like the movie itself, is designed to seriously explore sexual obsession. Still, once you know how old Birch was, seeing her naked starts to feel uncomfortable and exploitative.
14. Kirsten Dunst in Interview with the Vampire
Most women would probably have no issue with kissing Brad Pitt. They aren’t Kirsten Dunst. The actress broke onto the scene co-starring with Pitt and Tom Cruise in the 1994 screen adaptation of Anne Rice’s beloved novel Interview with the Vampire. She plays Claudia, a vampire who was frozen at the tender young age at which she was bitten. Claudia may look like a girl, but she’s very intelligent and unafraid of slaying others. At one point, the older-than-she-looks character shares a kiss with Pitt’s Louis.
Keep in mind, Dunst was ten years old when she made Interview with the Vampire. That’s the age when kids find the opposite sex to be icky anyway. Imagine being ten and having to kiss an adult, with a camera pointed at you. Awkward as that must have been for her, it had to have been even worse for Pitt. Being a grown man required to kiss a child would be an incredibly uncomfortable task. The scene certainly achieves its desired impact. Whether it was a good idea to ask either actor to participate in it is another matter.
13. Natalie Portman in The Professional
In The Professional, also known as Leon, an assassin (Jean Reno) takes in a twelve-year-old girl (Natalie Portman) following the murder of her family. His parenting skills are minimal, so he decides to teach her what he knows — namely, how to kill people. A scene in which the girl learns how to use an assault rifle is unsettling because we understand she’s impressionable enough to use it.
But there’s an even more questionable moment. Portman’s character, Mathilda, later confesses her love to Leon. She lays down on a bed and caresses her exposed stomach as she does so. It’s a moment that sexualizes the actress in a way that proved controversial in some quarters when The Professional was released in 1994. The sequence also made Portman the object of forbidden desire for some morally-bankrupt adult viewers. There used to be a website with a “jailbait clock” that counted down the days until she turned eighteen. As sophisticated as she was (and still is), no child should be viewed in such a manner.
12. Dafne Keen in Logan
Twelve-year-old Dafne Keen got about as big a break as any child actor could have when she was cast to star alongside Hugh Jackman in James Mangold’s box office smash Logan. Keen makes a strong impression as Laura, a mutant whose abilities are rather similar to those of the titular X-Man. The role requires a kid performer who can convincingly match the fierceness of Jackman’s Wolverine, and she pulls it off magnificently.
That said, Keen has to take part in a brutally violent finale that finds Laura repeatedly slashing enemies to shreds with her claws. Blood spurts everywhere as she slices and dices. The filmmakers doubtlessly handled these moments with sensitivity on set, and Keen certainly understood that nothing happening was real. Movies are filmed in pieces, too, meaning that what took place in person was nowhere near as intense as it looks when played out nonstop onscreen. Nevertheless, putting an innocent girl in a position where she has to summon up a fictional murderous rage must take some kind of toll on her psyche.
11. Alicia Silverstone in The Crush
The Crush has an intentionally provocative premise. This 1993 thriller is about a writer named Nick (Cary Elwes) who rents a room from a couple, then finds himself attracted to their teenage daughter, Darian (Alicia Silverstone). She’s attracted to him, too, making no effort to hide this fact. It’s a tawdry Lolita knockoff that makes Silverstone a sex object. Nick does things like ogle Darian through a window as she sunbathes out in the backyard. Of course, since he’s ogling her, the audience is forced to as well.
That’s one scene that the then fifteen-year-old actress was probably too young for, given that the movie is rated R and aimed at adults. A second one finds Darian trying to seduce Nick by kissing him. Once again, The Crush actively encourages the viewer to look at Silverstone in an overtly sexual manner. It’s true that she was strikingly beautiful as a teen, yet there’s some hypocrisy at work here. The film ultimately condemns Nick, even while indulging in the exact same kind of behavior it’s allegedly critical of.
10. Linda Blair in The Exorcist
If The Exorcist didn’t scare the hell out of you, it’s quite possible that nothing ever could. Linda Blair, who was thirteen when she made the picture, so convincingly and frighteningly played Regan, a girl possessed by the devil, that she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. The role has become iconic not just in the horror genre, but in all of cinema. Since she’s the star of the show, it’s quite the accomplishment.
That said, there are many scenes in the film that were probably too much for a kid her age to watch, let alone act in. Regan’s head spins around, she levitates, she pukes green goo into the face of a priest. All pretty traumatic stuff. If we had to choose the least appropriate thing for Blair to do, though, we’d probably pick out the bits of the dialogue where she starts throwing around obscenities like an angry sailor. Satan speaks through Regan, and the stuff he says is downright vulgar. We can’t print it here, but when Saturday Night Live satirized The Exorcist, they sanitized the most shocking line to “Your mother sews socks that smell.” Swearing kids in movies is nothing new, but having one say the obscene things Regan does has lost none of its punch more than forty years later.
9. Abigail Breslin in Little Miss Sunshine
Little Miss Sunshine tells the story of the dysfunctional Hoover family. There’s mom and dad (Greg Kinnear and Toni Collette), whose marriage is in turmoil. Brother Dwayne (Paul Dano) is selectively mute. Uncle Frank (Steve Carell) is depressed. Grandpa (Alan Arkin) was kicked out of a nursing home for bad behavior. The misfit gang all piles into a van to take daughter Olive (Abigail Breslin) to a child beauty pageant she probably has no chance of winning.
If you’ve seen the picture, you know that the big finale finds Olive taking the stage for the talent portion of the competition. To everyone’s shock and horror, she performs a striptease routine that Grandpa taught her. Although she doesn’t actually get naked, the moves are all ripped straight from a gentlemen’s club. There’s no doubt that the scene is hilarious, but Breslin was nine when she performed that dance. That’s right — a girl whose age wasn’t even in the double digits had to learn to work it like a stripper.
8. Drew Barrymore in Poison Ivy
Drew Barrymore was a popular child star thanks to her role as Gertie in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. She parlayed her inherent adorableness into work in other pictures, like Firestarter and Cat’s Eye. There aren’t a lot of good roles for little girls, though, and that stymied her career. So did a well-publicized drug and alcohol problem. By the time her teenage years rolled around, Barrymore was no longer getting offered very good projects.
The actress reinvented herself by capitalizing on the fact that her childhood cuteness had morphed into full-fledged adolescent beauty. She took the lead in an indie thriller called Poison Ivy that cast her as a teenage temptress who infiltrates the family of her friend (Sara Gilbert) and puts the moves on daddy Tom Skerritt. Everything culminates with a scene in which the 17-year-old Barrymore and the fifty-something Skerritt get hot and heavy. She got good reviews, and Poison Ivy helped revitalize her career, but this is another example of a movie portraying “jailbait” as something stimulating.
7. Dominique Swain in Lolita
Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita was an intentional barn-burner. It tells the story of a middle-aged man named Humbert Humbert who becomes sexually fixated on the 12-year-old girl whose nickname provides the title. (The book inspired or influenced several of the movies on this list.) Stanley Kubrick first brought the story to the screen with his 1962 adaptation, and Fatal Attraction director Adrian Lyne did it again with his 1997 version of Lolita, which cast Jeremy Irons as Humbert.
Irons’ co-star Dominique Swain was two years older than the character she portrayed, but that was still unsettlingly young for what the role required. One scene finds Lolita sitting on Humbert’s lap, which we are to assume is arousing for him. Another moment has him carrying the sleeping girl to a bedroom and undressing her. Lolita’s entrance may be the most inappropriate bit, however. Swain is seen lying beneath sprinklers, her underwear clearly visible beneath her wet dress. Lolita is a serious work of fiction, but Lyne’s film makes you wonder whether turning it into a film that required employing a real minor was a wise decision.
6. Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver
Jodie Foster is an incredibly smart woman. She graduated magna cum laude from Yale, for crying out loud. By the time she co-starred opposite Robert DeNiro in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 classic Taxi Driver, she was not only a gifted child, but also a seasoned actress who totally understood how to play fictional characters who were nothing like herself. That doesn’t mean it’s not a little shocking to see the then-12-year-old playing a prostitute who befriends DeNiro’s unhinged character, Travis Bickle.
Precautions were taken to protect the young star, who had to appear in the bloody finale, in addition to some sexually suggestive scenes in which her character is “at work.” She was evaluated by a psychiatrist before production commenced to ensure that she was mentally ready for the part. A social worker was on-set to monitor things. Foster’s sister also served as her double for some of the more explicit shots. But here’s a question: When you were twelve, did you fully understand what a prostitute was and did? Foster had to, while also trying to put herself into that mindset. That’s a tough load for a kid to carry — even one as accomplished as Foster.
5. Chloe Grace Moretz in Kick-Ass
Kick-Ass, like Lolita, is an example of how something provocative on the page becomes downright scandalous when it’s put on the screen. The source material is a comic book by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. about a teenage boy who decides to become a real-life superhero and ends up meeting a tween girl who also puts on a costume to fight crime. The book was violent and edgy, but in the end, it’s also just drawings and words on paper.
The movie version cast Chloe Grace Moretz (age 11) as Hit Girl, a character who participates in some of the most outrageously violent sequences you can imagine. She murders several people and shows an overall ruthlessness in her desire to put criminals out of commission permanently. The killing scenes weren’t what created the most controversy, surprisingly enough. The single moment that generated true outrage was the one in which Moretz was required to use an obscene word — one that begins with the letter “c.” Having that word come from the mouth of an actress so young raised the hackles of some critics, as well as organizations that advocate for more wholesome motion pictures.
4. Nikki Reed in Mini’s First Time
Two years before she played Rosalie in Twilight, Nikki Reed starred in an independent film called Mini’s First Time. She plays the title character, a teenager who decides to become a call girl. Things get a little crazy when her first real client turns out to be her stepfather, played by Alec Baldwin. They develop a thing for each other and resort to criminal means in an effort to cover up their fling. Once again, a movie uses the whole jailbait idea as a source of titillation.
One person who is very unhappy about this movie is its co-star. In his memoir Nevertheless, Baldwin claims not to have known that Reed was only sixteen when they shot their sex scenes. (He was forty-six at the time.) Only after production wrapped did he find out that he’d done intimate scenes with a minor. The producers of Mini’s First Time publicly fought back, asserting that Baldwin not only knew Reed’s age full well, but that he also had a say in casting her over three other contenders for the role. Regardless of who’s right, there was clearly as much drama off-screen as on.
3. Rosario Dawson in Kids
Larry Clark’s Kids, written by Spring Breakers‘ Harmony Korine, was one of the most controversial films of the ’90s — possibly even the most controversial. The MPAA was so shocked by what it saw that they awarded the movie an NC-17 rating, although it ended up getting released unrated due to the stigma of that particular designation. The film follows a group of city kids through a day as they take drugs, have sex, and engage in very adult mischief. One kid intentionally exposes another to HIV.
Clark filmed the movie documentary-style, featuring a cast of unknowns. Many people assumed it was, to some degree, real. The shock value has been diminished over time by the fact that two of the stars, Chloe Sevigny and Rosario Dawson, have gone on to become famous actresses. At the time, though, it was disturbing to watch the scene in which 15-year-old Dawson’s character engages in some of the most graphic sex talk imaginable, including espousing a fondness for oral sex. Then again, that was kind of the point of the film — that teens aren’t always innocent.
2. Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby/The Blue Lagoon
Brooke Shields was always mature-looking for her age, and it impacted the way some adult men saw her. She famously went topless, but with her hair glued to her breasts, for the 1980 teens-having-sex-in-paradise drama The Blue Lagoon. (A body double was used for the actual nudity.) Nevertheless, Shields was just fourteen when she made the movie, which was all about her character’s sexual awakening. It’s awkward, at best, to be that age and simulating love-making onscreen.
Believe it not, that’s only the second most shocking thing she’s been a part of. A movie she made two years prior, Louis Malle’s 1978 drama Pretty Baby, cast the 12-year-old actress as a child prostitute. There’s a scene in which she is “sold” to a male customer, leading to her first sexual experience. It gets worse. You’d never see this in a movie today, but Malle had the prepubescent Shields appear nude in his picture. Once again, for emphasis: she was twelve and doing onscreen nudity. The American public would probably revolt if a filmmaker attempted something like that now.
1. Dakota Fanning in Hounddog
Dakota Fanning began working as an actress at an incredibly young age (five, to be exact). While most children that age are finger-painting in kindergarten, she was doing commercials and TV guest spots. She then broke into movies, appearing with Sean Penn in I Am Sam, Denzel Washington in Man on Fire, and Tom Cruise in War of the Worlds. None of that was preparation for seeing the work she had to do in the 2007 drama Hounddog.
Fanning, then twelve, has a rape scene in the film. The camera only shows her pained face, intercut with shots of falling rain, but it’s quite clear that a teenage boy is violating her. After it controversially premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Hounddog became known as “the Dakota Fanning rape movie,” which led to some significant challenges in finding a distributor willing to release it. There were boos at the fest’s press screening. Fanning’s parents received harsh criticism for allowing their daughter to participate in such a sequence. It was, to say the least, a major uproar.
Even the most seasoned actresses will tell you that filming a rape scene is a deeply disturbing undertaking. For her part, though, Fanning dismissed the concerns of adults on her behalf, showing a sense of maturity about her profession. She told the news agency Reuters, “It’s a movie, and it’s not really happening.”
What do you think of these examples of young actresses doing mature or explicit scenes? Are there any other instances that have caught you by surprise? Tell us what you think in the comments.
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