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Caitlyn says that Luke’s drive and ability to cultivate relationships will take him far, and she wishes she could be a bit more like him. “He meets everyone,” she explains one afternoon after hanging out with him. She’s kind of right.
Luke, who was known to spend the “entire day” at Brent Bolthouse’s now-defunct Coffee House on Sunset and once introduced himself briefly to Charlie Kaufman at an Adaptation screening, was also invited “to basically hang out with Paul Thomas Anderson [Luke’s favorite] and Jon Brion for six or seven hours while they were scoring Punch-Drunk Love. It was the coolest experience.”
In a dream social world, Luke would love to have coffee with David Fincher, Steven Spielberg, William H. Macy, Todd Solondz, Edward Norton and Edgar Allan Poe — “the greatest storyteller that ever lived.”
For the most part, Luke and his pals have already surpassed the typical child actor’s career arc. According to Larry Corsa, a great child-actor career would be something like this: “A kid does it for like three or four years. Does about five or six commercials, maybe no TV shows or movies at all, banks $80,000 to $100,000 and has some money for college. That’s the ideal. I would say 85 percent of the kids I sign don’t even do that well and leave even earlier.”
One of the reasons the life span of a child actor is so short is that the transition from child actor to adult actor can be such a hard one. Historically, it’s kind of the baby-animal syndrome — cute and cuddly grows up not-so-cute.
“There are kids that work a lot from 2 until 6 and never work again. There are other kids that work a lot from 10 to 14. The ones with incredible talent, like Haley Joel Osment, Hilary Duff or Amanda Bynes, they explode on the scene and work and work and work and work because nobody can touch them,” Corsa says from his Beverly Hills office.
According to Bradley, the casting director, such talent is few and far between. “A lot of times children get overcoached,” she says. “They become like little puppets. There are a lot of kids that come in that should be back home playing baseball or whatever kids and teenagers do. But somewhere along the line someone encouraged them to do this and they are not emotionally ready, not prepared enough. That is what breaks my heart. It’s not a passion with them. They just aren’t good enough to compete.”
Bradley, who got her start as an actor — and ultimately married one — admits that when it comes to roles for adolescents, she generally tries casting older actors that can “play young.” This makes it easier on the production overall, avoiding the limited work hours child-labor laws demand.
“From a producer’s standpoint, yeah, it’s a pain in the ass having a kid in your movie,” says Luke, popping another grape in his mouth. “It’s just kind of too bad, ’cause you can actually gain a lot from having an actual young person play these roles rather than a person who seems like they should be having families of their own. A lot of roles I have been up on have literally gone to guys that are 26, 27 playing 16.”
Luke had a particularly disconcerting audition recently. “I was talking to the woman and she said, ‘You know, I don’t know what to do with you ’cause you don’t have long hair.’ And, I said, ‘My hair is kinda long.’ She said, ‘You don’t skateboard.’ And, I said, ‘I do skateboard!’ Then she said, ‘I don’t buy you being 16 years old.’ I said, ‘Wow! That’s interesting. What do you buy me being?’ And, she said, ‘Well, at least 22.’ I said, ‘I actually am 16 years old.’ And, she was like, ‘uh-huh.’ She didn’t even know if I could act or not.”
In general, Luke, Hallee and Caitlyn don’t seem all that concerned. For them this is what they love to do and they wouldn’t have it any other way. As far as the seemingly endless hazards and crash-and-burn scenarios that go with child acting, they believe that drugs and breakdowns happen everywhere, not just in show business.
“I think the drama and drugs in Hollywood gets a lot more attention because if you’re an actor, you get a lot more attention,” says Luke. His mom, a human rights activist/housewife, who commutes back and forth from Boulder, feels it’s Luke’s friends back home — the ones that aren’t acting — that are more apt to drink and do drugs.
“Most of my friends that are in the business don’t do them at all,” says Luke, who thinks River Phoenix “had the potential to be one of the most powerful actors to have graced the movie screen. When you see Cary Grant onscreen, there is almost a light around him. That’s how I feel about River Phoenix, there’s a light.”
Names like Gary Coleman and Corey Feldman elicit less response around here than do Helen Hunt and Jodie Foster. Luke, Hallee and Caitlyn don’t so much view themselves as child actors as they do actors. Well versed in filmography, they spend their hours studying all kinds of art and dissecting favorite performances, not trying to wrangle their way into Hollywood bars frequented by Paris Hilton.