HBO's Showbiz Kids: Evan Rachel Wood, Cameron Boyce and More Reveal the Cost of Child Stardom

HBO's newest documentary examines the dark reality of child stardom through the lens of those who lived it.

By McKenna Aiello Jul 18, 2020 2:09 AMTags
Watch: Cameron Boyce Remembered One Year After Death

HBO's newest documentary, Showbiz Kids, examines the dark reality of child stardom through the lens of those who lived it.

Evan Rachel Wood, Jada Pinkett SmithWil WheatonTodd BridgesMila JovovichHenry ThomasMara Wilson and the late Cameron Boyce paint a sobering picture of the price they paid to pursue their dreams (and in some cases the dreams of their parents) in Hollywood. 

"I gave up my childhood for this industry, and it wasn't my choice," Wheaton, most notable for his roles in Stand By Me and Star Trek: The Next Generation, said. Similarly, Wood remembered a desire to simply play with her friends, noting, " was apparent early on that you would get in trouble if you wanted to play. It would be very disappointing to people if I didn't want to do this because I was talented."

The 90-minute documentary, directed by Alex Winter of Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures, traces these former child stars' trajectories to present day and uncovers the memories they still can't shake. 

Friends Former Child Stars

We've rounded up the greatest revelations discussed in Showbiz Kids below. 

Evan Rachel Wood

On Losing Her Sense of Self: Describing her lifelong acting career as a "very fulfilling but lonely experience," Wood said her success came with a cost. "The better I did the more I felt like who I was wasn't acceptable," the Westworld star said. "I don't think anybody did that on purpose, but it suddenly felt like I didn't belong to myself anymore. I was a commodity that needed to be monitored and groomed"

"No one ever asked me how I was doing," Wood recalled. "My emotional state was equated with how well I was doing in my career."

Wil Wheaton

On Overnight Stardom: Wheaton's role in Stand By Me made him a household name, but he quickly began to resent his notoriety. "I stopped being a kid who was an actor and I became a child star," he shared. "That fundamentally changed my life."

"I turned into a teen magazine, teenybopper idol. I hated all of that stuff. I didn't like it at all. It was way outside of my comfort zone," he explained, adding, "It created this reality for me where I kind of had to play the role of the young celebrity. The adults in my life who should have been protecting me from that were like, ‘This is the dream!' and kept pushing me into these places where I didn't feel safe and I felt really afraid."

Mara Wilson

On Trust Issues That Lingered Into Adulthood: "It felt very out of control to have everyone know my name and I didn't feel like I could trust anybody," the Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire star, now 32, recalled. "That's still a problem that I have now sometimes, because I don't know when people want me because they think I have connections. Or they like me because of an image they have of me as a child."

Wilson also confronted her realization that "much older men" were interested in her, sharing, "I remember Googling my own name, which was a terrible thing, and I saw people talking about photoshopped child porn of me. My parents tried to protect me from these dangers but I could sense them, and I knew that there were times when they just weren't going to be able to protect me."

Cameron Boyce

On Grappling With Child Stardom in the Age of Social Media: The Disney star, who died in 2019 from epilepsy, said he struggled with broadcasting his offscreen life to fans. "You shouldn't have to deal with all of the responsibilities and all of the eyeballs when you're that young," Boyce said. "Everybody has an idea of what they want you to be, and at that age you don't even know what the hell you want to be... It's f--ked up to think about your entire adolescent life is documented for the world to see."

His celebrity status also negatively impacted his family life, explaining, "When it really hit home for me was when my sister would come home from school and talk about how her classmates would naturally associate her with me. I hated that and that killed me. I didn't want her to feel like she was in my shadow or that she was lesser than. There are definitely things that you think back on and you're like that changed the entire fabric of my family and the way that we work as a unit."

Mila Jovovich

On Facing Criticism: At just 15, Jovovich starred in Return to the Blue Lagoon. Her performance, which courted controversy for its adult nature, was panned by critics. "I felt so horrible reading bad review after bad review and it screws you up," she recalled. "You're just becoming a teenager and this is your first understanding of where your place is in the world, how people view you, and that really put a bad taste in my mouth for acting and convinced me that this wasn't what I was meant to do."

Todd Bridges

On Speaking Out Against His Abuser: The Diff'rent Strokes star recounted his family's reaction after accusing his publicist of molesting him as a child. "When I first came out and told my mom about it, she could look in my eyes and know I was telling the truth," Bridges, 55, said. "My dad took his side. That crushed me. It ruined me, actually, because then I was on a self-destruction course to destroy myself just to hurt him."

Henry Thomas

On His Family's Strained Relationship: The E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial attributed trouble at home to his acting career, explaining, "I think I felt an enormous pressure on myself to stay at home and make that peaceful and have a degree of normalcy. There was an ongoing existential 'now what?' with the family. My mom was with me all the time; my dad was still working. She basically came with me for the next four to five years on all of my films until I was 17. I think she resented me for that for years afterwards. When you're a kid you don't really think about what everybody else has to do to accommodate your burgeoning film career."

Jada Pinkett Smith

On Her and Will Smith's Kids Breaking Into Hollywood: Growing up on "the streets of Baltimore" helped prepare Jada for a life in entertainment when she got her big break on The Cosby Show spin-off A Different World, however she feared son Jaden Smith and daughter Willow Smith could succumb to the pressure many child stars face. 

"Money, fame, glamour," Jada remarked, "I have seen people lose sight of that. Even Will and I have slipped into that. We had to catch ourselves. I've seen a lot of beautiful young people and children be destroyed."

Showbiz Kids is available now on HBO and HBO Max.