Should You Let Your Child Be a Model or an Actor?

stella-hoptonYou have a beautiful, photogenic child — or so you’ve been told. Should you let that child get into modeling or acting? With ad agencies all over the country looking for kids to appear in local campaigns and commercials, and TV/movie production spreading out to almost all U.S. states and Canada, it’s not just a question for folks in Hollywood anymore.

I sat down recently with entertainment publicist Alfred Hopton, whose redheaded nine-year-old daughter, Stella, has been modeling and appearing in TV commercials and small parts since she was very young, beginning with modeling for a friend’s clothing line as a baby.

Due in part to her distinctive red hair — and that unpredictable chemistry that makes someone photograph well — Stella wound up getting an agent.

Take a look:

And a more recent Q&A:

Hopton shares some thoughts on what it means to be the papa of a budding performer.

On keeping his child a child:

My kid has the desire to stay a kid as long as she can. We went to the Getty Museum, and we ended up going into this ‘Great Sculptures’ exhibit, and, well, they’re nude. Stella was mortified. She would not look at any of it.

And when she and her father accidentally went past a racy photo exhibit:

Stella spun around and said, “Inappropriate.” Sadly, the most inappropriate thing my daughter has seen in Hollywood was me taking her to the Mapplethorpe exhibit.

On not leaving her on her own (one of her parents is always there when she’s working):

She’s made friends with the other kids, and most of what she’s done on set has been just a one-day fun experience for her. I read stories and see things about kids that have gone into the industry, and bad things have happened. Stella being between two parents, it’s me or mom. When I’m with Stella, I’d usually focus on her, because I’m as entertained by her as she is with me. As long as I’m around, I don’t think anything bad would happen to her or make her time on set not be fun.

Even though her mom and I may not be together, her mom is an attentive, caring-about-her-daughter mom. We both focus on Stella, and I don’t think she would allow anything bad to happen.

On making sure she doesn’t get a big head:

She’s professional about it. Part of it is, she’s been exposed to being an entertainer because [I work in entertainment PR] and she’s been on TV shows. She sees how things are done. She knows how to sit in the chair and have stuff done. She knows how not to be a “snap her finger because I need this” pain in the butt. Parental guidance has a lot to do with that.

You have to be constantly reminding them that they’re not as big as they think they are. Stella goes, “Yeah, I tell people things I’ve done.” I’m like, “You’re not famous. You haven’t done anything to earn a drop of fame. You’ve been on TV. You’ve been a model, but you’re not famous, kid. Get over it.”

Then she gets it. Kids can get it. If a parent plays like, “Oh, you are famous. Look at you!” I’m not that kind of a parent. I live in reality. Stella lives in reality. Stella knows she’s not some rich kid living in Dallas who gets flown to L.A. just to do a shoot every now and then, then she goes back to throw her baton in the air and be Little Miss Texas. That kid’s going to have issues.

On dealing with the not-so-glamorous side of showbiz:

You want to expose your child to everything about the business, so that when they’re on set, it’s business. Stella gets that, because she’s had to take directions so long.

The casting process for a kid is where you just go on a big cattle call. There are a bunch of other kids. You walk in the room. They hold up a card, they take their picture, and they walk out. Then the casting directors decide who to call back.

I take her to a ton of those. If parents want to do this, just be prepared to drive all over town.

Regarding money, there is a law in California and other states that ensures that a minor won’t have their guardians take all their money. It’s named after Jackie Coogan, a child star in the 1920s, who arrived at adulthood to discover that his mother and former manager had spent what he’d earned.

From the “Coogan Law” description at the home page of the acting union SAG-AFTRA:

At present, Coogan Accounts (a.k.a Blocked Trust Accounts and Trust Accounts) are required by the State of California, New York, Louisiana and New Mexico. In most instances, you will have to supply proof of a trust account prior to receiving a work permit. 15% of the minor’s gross wages are required to be withheld by the employer and deposited into the Coogan account within 15 days of employment. The parent must supply the Coogan account number to the employer.

Click here for a page at about some important things to remember if your child wants to be a model, actor or any other kind of performer. A lot of young careers have crashed and burned, with former child stars falling victim to drugs, alcohol, adult sexual predators and their own rebellious impulses.

Some child actors transition into adult performers, but just as many, if not more, don’t. A lot of times, what helps a child performer become a successful adult — whether they continue in showbiz or not — is strong family support, good money management, a realistic outlook, getting your schooling in, and avoiding having an oversized ego.

As former child actor Mara Wilson says in this piece about why some kids go off the rails:

That’s my suggestion for kids who want to act, by the way: Make sure it’s really your choice, get out of it when it stops being fun, and get an education.

Image: Courtesy Alfred Hopton/FishyFoto

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