Former Child Star Says Early Career Was Traumatic: "I Was for Sale"
Anna Chlumsky opens up about how being a child star stunted her development.
Many former child stars have spoken out with horror stories about how traumatic being famous as a kid can be. But as one former child actor explains, even when things go relatively well, the experience leaves its mark. In a new interview with The Independent, Anna Chlumsky shared that being a child star left her without a sense of security and kept her behind when it came to developing traits she would need as an adult.
Chlumsky's first major role was opposite Macaulay Culkin in the 1991 movie My Girl when she was 11 years old. She continued acting in the years that followed—including in a My Girl sequel—but stopped when she was in her late teens. Chlumsky then went to college, graduated, and worked outside of the business before returning to acting in the mid-'00s. She's now best known for her role as Amy on Veep and stars in the new Netflix miniseries Inventing Anna.
Read on to learn more about Chlumsky's child star experience, and find out how she'd feel if her own kids want to act.
Anna Chlumsky says she was relatively "lucky."
While Chlumsky now recognizes that being a child star brings issues of its own, she told The Independent that she was "lucky" to not have entered show business with other traumas already stacked up.
"I was lucky because I didn't have any other huge traumas at the time," the 41-year-old actor said. "I'm the baseline of [child stardom] going relatively well. Yet it was only as an adult that I discovered any sense of reliability or security. When I was a child those did not exist, because I was for sale."
She says being an child star meant she didn't develop life skills she needed.
Chlumsky explained that while other children learn to have agency in their lives, child stars don't get that experience in the same way.
"There's a huge societal blind spot about young people in the public eye," she said. "It's not just actors and people in the public eye but athletes, musicians, even now these online personalities. Children don't have agency. That's one of the things they're meant to be learning. So when you suddenly put professional, financial, adult and public—often sexualized—pressures on them, you not only open them up to a world that is commoditizing and objectifying them. You're also setting them back from their ability to develop. So when they are faced with [adult life], the tools aren't there."
Chlumsky said that she didn't gain agency until she quit acting and went to college. "The years away definitely gave me perspective. Going to college was my first act of standing up for myself and asking myself what I wanted, making my own decisions," she said. "You've got to start somewhere, if you didn't get to start at the optimal age."
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Chlumsky came back around to acting on her own terms.
In a recent interview with People, Chlumsky talked about her decision to stop acting and go to college. "Throughout my adolescence, I was not getting booked, I was told I was too fat or too ugly," she said. "You live on a risk-reward system and I wasn't getting much reward. And I knew I always wanted to go to school and get my education so I did that. And I'm glad that I did."
After graduating, she was working in New York and decided to enroll in acting classes, where she once again fell in love with performing. "I was seeing a lot of Broadway, and I was inspired again. And it was alluring to apply my creativity towards something and tell a story—but of my own decision making," she explained. "I told myself I'd give it a year, [but] I realized, 'I'm not giving this a year. I freaking love it. I'm giving this the rest of my life.'"
She had a revelation in her acting class.
Chlumsky told Elle in a February interview that she felt the acting classes taught her how to be a kid, even though she was in her 20s. "I went to the Atlantic [Acting School] just to see what the craft is all about. And the first thing they say is, 'This is a play. It's not called a tedium. It's called a play. So we're here to have fun,'" she said. "I, literally—I had to go to school to find out how to be a kid."
And she knows what she'd tell her kids if they want to act.
Chlumsky has two children with her husband, Shaun So, who are eight and six. She told The Independent that if they said they want to be actors, she knows what she'd tell them.
"The simplest way of saying that is, 'Wait till you're 18,'" she said. "Enjoy doing school plays and shooting hoops and playing. That's what that time is for. You want to be grown up when you enter business."