Peachy perfect skin, doe eyes, bags of energy… it is little wonder young actors are so sought after by Hollywood. But if it seems our film and TV stars are sometimes so youthful they should be in nappies, that may be because they are.
Take Harry and Oliver Newman, who boast CVs the envy of actors 10 times their age. They’ve starred alongside Daniel Radcliffe in the thriller The Woman In Black, and can count Downton Abbey and Call the Midwife among their TV credits.
All this, and they’ve barely cut their milk teeth. For while Harry and Oliver are bona fide screen stars, they are also only 3.
There’s certainly no shortage of demand for child actors. From soaps to hit films, if a character has a baby then somebody has to fill those tiny bootees.
And, given strict laws stating babies can only appear on set for 20 minutes at a time, it is no surprise that identical twins are particularly sought-after by directors.
As a result a number of agencies have sprung up to match tiny twin tots with production companies.
Some ask parents for a one-off fee, usually about £150 (R2 600) to £200, while others have monthly membership fees of perhaps £20.
All take commission of 20 percent upwards from any appearance fees. These fees start at about £100 for a day’s work and can rise to £500 – all of which must be paid into a bank account in the child’s name.
Not, of course, that it’s about the money, as the parents of these rookie performers are anxious to emphasise – although it helps.
Emma East, 24, and partner Humphrey Cruz, 25, a producer, from Hertfordshire, can testify to this. They fell into the baby acting business by accident, after volunteering to take part in a BBC documentary about breastfeeding, for which they were required to sign eldest daughter Olivia, now three, to a professional agency. Within a few months, Olivia had been paid £2 000 for little more than a day’s work appearing in an ad for a super-market. So when her twin sisters Isobel and Sophie, now 15 months, were born two years later, their parents signed them up, too.
“We thought it would be savings in the bank, of course, but more importantly we thought it would be fun,” recalls Emma.
A few months later, they received a call saying the producers of the BBC2 series Rev were looking for nine-month-old twins with dark hair to play the part of baby Katie, the new-born of Reverend Small-bone and his wife Alex, played by Tom Hollander and Olivia Colman.
Filming took place during 19 days over a 10-week period, with Emma and the twins collected by car every morning and taken to the set, where a private room equipped with toys awaited them.
While this was great fun, Emma admits she wasn’t prepared to see Colman stepping into her shoes: “It was odd seeing her being mom, particularly in the scenes where she was lying in bed with one of them, either feeding them or rocking them to sleep. But she was a natural.”
Unlike her on-screen husband, Hollander, who has yet to become a father in real life.
“He explained in an interview that he wasn’t confident with them and that… they would see him and start screaming,” says Emma.
But by the end of the series he managed to bond with the babies.
“For the christening scene, Tom spontaneously used the twins’ real names as Katie’s middle names and I found that very moving,” recalls Emma, who says the twins earned £2 000 for their work on the show.
Watching a famous name cuddle her babies was also a peculiar sensation for Charlotte Weston, 25, who lives with chef husband David, 27, near Cumbria.
Charlotte had signed 19-month-old twins Cole and Logan to an agency when they were born. Five months later the producers of Downton Abbey wanted to meet them: “They were looking for twin boys to play the son of the character Lady Mary Crawley (Michelle Dockery) in the fourth series.” .
Spoiler Alert for South African viewers: The series sees Mary struggling to bond with her baby after the death of her husband Matthew in a car accident.
“I was struck by how convincing Michelle was in the scenes with Cole and Logan,” recalls Charlotte.
Not that her boys always made it easy: “Logan was teething at the time and in some of the scenes, he would abruptly start crying at the worst possible moments. But they simply whisked him away and replaced him with Cole, who was the opposite. And Michelle was brilliant with both of them.”
But again it was the male stars who were sometimes discomfited by their young co-stars.
“Logan just kept crying at the mere sight of Julian Ovenden, who played Charles Blake, one of Mary’s suitors. Eventually Julian said: ‘I don’t understand why he doesn’t like me’.”
While Charlotte was never star-struck by the actors her babies starred alongside, Angela Stand-cumbe, 37, found her daughters acting with Hollywood stars Liberty Ross and Kristen Stewart in Snow White And The Huntsman.
Angela, who lives with partner Mark in Northamptonshire, says she put 2-year-old twins Caitlin and Olivia forward to be child stars after they had a traumatic birth.
After they spent their first four weeks in hospital, Angela was looking on a support website for parents of twins when she saw a request by an acting agency for twin baby girls to star in Snow White and the Huntsmen.
“I sent in a photo and Caitlin and Olivia were picked. It meant the world to me because it put a positive spin on their start in life.”
A week later, Angela and her then 7-week-old twins were picked up by a chauffeur and taken to Pinewood Studios, where they were given a private dressing room.
While the babies were treated like A-listers, their pay cheques were a little smaller – £45 a day to share between the girls and £100 a day for Angela to chaperone them.
“As soon as I got to the set I felt star-struck. It was wonderful – we were treated just like stars, constantly fussed over,” she recalls.
Less than a month later, Angela’s babies were hired to play the baby of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in the film starring Keira Knightly.
“Keira was in a horse and carriage, running off to see her lover and she passed the baby over to her nanny en route,” says Angela. ‘It was all done in three shots, but Keira was so beautiful and polite.”
Of course, not all child actors are quite so well-behaved.
When Harry and Oliver Newman were hired for an episode of Call The Midwife, things went a little awry: “The director wanted them to fight over this fire engine,” recalls mother Hayley, who lives in Bedfordshire, with husband Luke, 33. “The rehearsals went well with them fighting on cue, but when the cameras rolled, they played together beautifully.”
Dirty nappies are also an occupational hazard.
“One time during Downton filming one of the babies filled their nappy and it stunk the whole room out,” remembers Charlotte.
Then there’s the babies’ appetite, which can play havoc with filming.
“Rice cakes were a saviour throughout the filming of Rev because they kept the girls happy, but sometimes they wouldn’t stop eating them,” recalls Emma.
“There was one scene where Colman was holding Sophie and she was trying to deliver a line, but Sophie kept interrupting by shoving rice cakes in her mouth. Luckily, everyone found it funny.”
In some cases moms deliberately don’t feed their babies, so that they are hungry and cry on cue.
“They wanted a crying baby, so we waited until (Harry and Oliver) were hungry, with me standing off set with the bottle in my pocket,’ explains Hayley, whose twins appeared in Rock and Chips, the prequel to Only Fools and Horses.
The show’s 1960s set meant the boys’ disposable nappies had to be concealed by terry towelling varieties, teamed with old-fashioned dummies and hand-made knitted hats.
“They did look funny, although it didn’t seem to bother them,” says Hayley.
Her boys were already old hands by then: the day before they had filmed alongside Daniel Radcliffe in The Woman In Black for a bedroom scene in which he meets his son for the first time.
“Daniel was charming, but we all had a chuckle when he said he had never held a baby before and had been getting training from one of the female crew. He did really well as there were a lot of takes.”
Clare Fox, 36, meanwhile, boasts a family of TV-stars. She and husband Mark have two sets of twins – 9-year-old Jacob and Theo, and 2-and-a-half-year-old Fifi and Tullulah – as well as 15-year-old son Izaak, and have amassed acting credits for both duos.
Her boys appeared in Eastenders as babies, while her daughters took part in the British sitcom Hunderby when just 4 months old.
“We had a day’s filming in this beautiful country house,” she says.
Four months later, the girls appeared in ITV’s Lewis, which involved six days of filming.
“We had to keep swopping the babies over because one or the other always seemed to be hungry, but nobody seemed to panic. At times I actually felt guilty, but the crew keep you relaxed.”
Like her fellow moms, she’s kept a recording of Fifi and Tallulah’s roles, and can’t wait to watch them together when they’re older. As Charlotte says: “Obviously Cole and Logan won’t be able to remember any of it, but we want them to be able to relive it as much as possible.” – Daily Mail