I am on the set of Law and Order watching my 12-year-old-son rehearse a scene with a crowd of crew and actors including Bradley Walsh and Ben Bailey-Smith who star as the two detectives. This is my son’s first paid job and I am his chaperone, earning a fifth of what he is. My flat fee for the morning is £95. The money has gone to his head and he’s offered to buy us a “mansion” when he grows up and gets to Hollywood. I feel as though I am at his mercy and that he has a strange new power over me. He is the undisputed star, and me and his father are merely the facilitators – the ones who get him to castings, or help him learn lines. He is an A-lister and we are nobody’s. When he goes to his agent’s Christmas Party, he is the one who is taken around and introduced to all the other performers (he is at the same agency as Eddie Izzard, Rowan Atkinson and Dylan Moran) while me or his Dad linger around on the sidelines hoping someone will talk to us.
We never aspired to have a child actor as a son. When he was nine some proactive parents persuaded Olly Murs, Davina Mccall, and Oritze from JLS to come and judge the school talent contest. Our son won first prize, with a satirical stand up comedy routine he wrote about his family. The laughs were at our expense of course.
The first prize was an acting agent and we were somewhat taken aback, horrified actually. We did not envisage our child being a professional actor. His days were already filled with schoolwork, football and piano. Jude was determined that acting was his new vocation, and harassed us for a year. We eventually gave in and went to visit our first prize and discovered that she wanted us to pay to have his photograph in Spotlight - a mere £95. We went home and did nothing. She did nothing either and so we parted ways. I was relieved. Perhaps that would be the end of it.
He continued to harangue us though. Every few weeks he would ask us if we had found him another agent; and I would answer that it’s hard to ‘find an agent.’ They have to see you act in something. They need to love you, and want to work with you. I asked advice from a casting agent acquaintance and she tried to put me off by saying having a child actor in the family was problematic – all the auditions you have to take them to, schlepping across town in rush hour. I relayed the information to my son, but he was more determined than ever.
When he eventually ended up at PBJ Management, his brand new agent sat down one afternoon and explained that there would be many reasons he may not win a part – it could be as minor as having the wrong colour hair, or that he didn't look enough like the “parents” who had already been cast. Luckily he’s small for his age as most casting agents want a boy who looks younger than his years. He’s been put up for parts that occasionally I’ve had to veto because the content of the script seems too alarming or dark (think sexual predators or murder most horrid). He recently auditioned for a lead part in an American action film that if he actually won, would been reallocating to New Zealand for six months filming. Whenever I ask, ‘what if he actually he gets the part? Because that would mean turning our life upside down, his agent always replies, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Law and Order was about his tenth audition. An actress on the set told me that an actor will get about one job in every thirty auditions. The competition is vicious. At the various castings I have met extremely dedicated parents. Fathers who home school their children, especially so that they can get them to the castings and have time to learn their scenes without the constraints of a school day; children who are at full time stage school and do extra dancing and acting at the weekends.
Scenes are sent home one or two days before an audition and children are expected to know about three off by heart. Castings are usually in central London, at the end of a long, busy day. We have twice been called to the BBC in Elstree, (The first time we went, we walked from the station two miles up the road to the wrong BBC studios). There is unlikely to be any feedback on the child’s performance, and if there is a call back the child will have to go again, and do the same scene again, only this time in front of the producer and director. Not every child would be able to deal with the rejection, but my son is fairly sanguine about it, and my feeling is that it is good preparation for the real world.
The day of the shoot for Law and Order he is treated like a Prince. He has a bedroom in the house, with an en-suite bathroom where he can chill out between scenes. There are snacks delivered to the room from the studios (about a mile away) when he is hungry. He asks for several different snacks, which are driven over by a man whose job it is to drive us around. He collected us at 6.00 a.m and explained that on TV productions such as this, it’s only the lead and child actors who are chauffeured to the set, everyone else travels on public transport and only the stars and my son (because he is a child) get an en-suite bathroom.
When it comes to the actual scenes, I watch on a monitor in the kitchen. There is no sound, but he does look like a nervous, guilty boy, trying to defend his mother as he is supposed to while being questioned by the police. I see him mouthing the words on the screen. He appears to be on the verge of tears and he is doing exactly what is says in the script – twitching his hands. For a shy boy like my son who often feels he’s “shrinking away” at school because of is height, learning lines, auditioning in front of strangers and finally acting real scenes has given him an enormous boost of confidence and some welcome extra pocket money. I am a convert and glad he enjoys is career but still wondering what will happen if we have to relocate to New Zealand.
Law and Order (episode 2) tonight at 9pm on ITV
Law and Order (episode 2) tonight at 9pm on ITV