Hollywood has long been known for its obsession with youth. As a demographic, it buys movie tickets. Lots of them. And studios hope that putting youth in front of the camera can help boost those sales.
But it's not so simple a formula--some young actors are better draws than others in the here and now. And some are making enough waves to position themselves as the bankable on-screen kings and queens of tomorrow.
In that sense, studios would be wise to place their bets on Daniel Radcliffe (with a cumulative score of 6.03 out of 10) and Miley Cyrus (5.93), as both had the highest rankings among industry voters in the teen-and-under set from the recently released inaugural Forbes Star Currency actors survey. The survey is an exclusive look at what the business side of Hollywood really thinks of more than 1,400 working actors when it comes to ensuring the financial success of film projects.
All actors considered here were age 19 or younger at the time the survey results were released Feb. 10. More importantly, what they all have in common is range, says producer Rick Alvarez, whose credits include the upcoming film "Dance Flick." Helping them is the fact that today's audiences are able--and want--to see young actors in different kinds of roles.
"In the past, someone like a Shirley Temple was limited," says Alvarez. "She was playing herself, and she was the cute little girl with the patent-leather shoes and the curly hair. How do you go from that to playing Cleopatra or Mary, Queen of Scots?"
Case in point: Radcliffe, 19, recently starred in the West End and Broadway runs of Equus, a play about a psychiatrist treating a disturbed teenager who blinds horses. Roles such as these, says Alvarez, get audiences "to see him as something else, and that speaks to him as an actor."
Producer Cindy Cowan, whose credits include the upcoming Ben Kingsley-Jim Sturgess film "Fifty Dead Men Walking," sees the same potential in Dakota Fanning (5.58) and Abigail Breslin (4.83) who, she believes, will have long, successful careers like Meryl Streep's because, like her, they take chances on different types of roles.
In Cyrus' case, the 16-year-old became a star through the Disney Channel series "Hannah Montana," which has given her a platform to showcase her acting and musical abilities (two essentials for young actors involved with Disney Channel properties--see Disney Channel alums such as multi-threats like Justin Timberlake, the High School Musical cast and Raven-Symoné.
The show gets its big-screen treatment in "Hannah Montana: The Movie," opening in April. (A concert film, "Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert," was released in 2008 to strong box office--$65.3 million in North American gross, according to Box Office Mojo).
The challenge for Cyrus, says Alvarez, will be making the transition to adult roles, as Radcliffe has done successfully. But the different strength Cyrus has going for her is that she's already more than a performer--she's a brand. The trick for Cyrus might be, then, when it comes time to hang up her Hannah Montana persona for good, not to over-expose herself.
"She could be the next Lucille Ball," says Cowan. "She's got the comedic chops."
But what she (and her peers) truly need to maintain is mental toughness, since the success or failure of a film can fall squarely on the shoulders of the young star.
"If Haley Joel Osment wasn't great in "The Sixth Sense," that movie might not have worked," says Alvarez. "Dakota Fanning in "War of the Worlds" grounds the movie. She gave it a greater sense of humanity."
The metaphorical Hollywood road is littered with young actors who never made the tough transition to adult fare. "You have to be good no matter what," says Alvarez. The faint of heart need not apply.
The Forbes Star Currency survey was sent to entertainment industry members globally, asking them to use a provided scale in ranking 1,400-plus actors on a range of attributes regarding their participation in films, including the actor's ability to attract significant financing for a project with their involvement; if their presence guarantees theatrical distribution; if they significantly drive theatrical box-office performance; and if their involvement is an essential component in securing rights deals for revenue streams including DVD, pay and free TV, etc.
Forbes conducted the survey in fall 2008 in conjunction with Erdos & Morgan, a New York-based independent research firm that advised Forbes on the survey, as well as handled the tabulation and ranking of the results. The results were converted to scores ranging from 0 to 10, with 10 being the top.