Oscar's very young at heart

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By JAKE COYLE

NEW YORK — With her Academy Awards nomination for best supporting actress today, Abigail Breslin, the joyful 10-year-old actress at the heart of ‘‘Little Miss Sunshine,’’ entered a rich niche of trivia: Oscar-nominated child actors. ...


Who among us doesn’t enjoy rattling them off: the Tatum O’Neals, the Haley Joel Osments, the Shirley Temples? Child actors are sometimes given scant respect — rewarded with tiny statuettes and parodied for their early, outsized fame. But the academy is often quite indiscriminate when it comes to age.

From the 10-year-old O’Neal (1973’s ‘‘Paper Moon’’) to the 80-year-old Jessica Tandy (1989’s ‘‘Driving Miss Daisy’’), the academy has rewarded a wide swath of age groups. It has shown a particular fondness for the young, though, and for a time, made special arrangements for them.

In the ‘30s and ‘40s many child actors (including Temple, Mickey Rooney and Margaret O’Brien) were given smaller-sized honorary Oscars, dubbed ‘‘Juvenile Awards.’’ Otherwise, children and adults have been nominated side-by-side in competitive categories.

In ‘‘Little Miss Sunshine’’ — which garnered four Oscar nominations, including best picture — Breslin plays Olive, the sunny, diminutive diva with her heart set on competing in a beauty pageant. Her dysfunctional family must take a road trip to make it there.

Breslin said on Tuesday that her mother woke her to tell her the news of the nomination.
‘‘I was like ‘Oh, my God!’ and I screamed kind of a little bit like how I did in the movie,’’ Breslin told The Associated Press, referring to a scene from the film where she shrieks at the top of her lungs. ‘‘I was just so excited.’’

The young actress said she is a fan of Margaret O’Brien, who was just 8-years-old when given her honorary Oscar in 1945, shortly after her performance in ‘‘Meet Me in St. Louis.’’

Breslin is the fourth-youngest actress to be nominated in a competitive category, edged out by a mere matter of months. O’Neal, Mary Badham of 1962’s ‘‘To Kill a Mockingbird’’ and Quinn Cummings of 1977’s ‘‘The Goodbye Girl’’ were all 10 when nominated.

She will undoubtedly be an underdog in the best-supporting race, in which she is joined by Golden Globe-winner Jennifer Hudson (‘‘Dreamgirls’’), Cate Blanchett (‘‘Notes on a Scandal’’), Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza (both from ‘‘Babel’’).

Only three actors or actresses younger than 17 have won an Academy Award. The good news for Breslin, though, is that all of the wins have come in the supporting-actress category: O’Neal, 11-year-old Anna Paquin for ‘‘The Piano’’ in 1994, and 16-year-old Patty Duke for ‘‘The Miracle Worker’’ in 1963.

Other young actresses to be nominated include Jodie Foster, who was 14 when nominated for her portrayal of a young prostitute in 1976’s ‘‘Taxi Driver,’’ and Keisha Castle-Hughes, who was 13-years-old when nominated for best actress in 2004 for ‘‘Whale Rider.’’

The boys have been even younger.

The youngest actor ever nominated was 8-year-old Justin Henry, who was up for best supporting actor in 1980 for ‘‘Kramer vs. Kramer.’’ Nine-year-old Jackie Cooper was nominated for best actor in 1931 for his leading performance in ‘‘Skippy,’’ adapted from a comic strip. In 2000, 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment was nominated for his performance in ‘‘The Sixth Sense.’’

Though Breslin was the lone child actor to be nominated today, she could have been joined by others. Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘‘Pan’s Labyrinth’’ received six nominations, but its acclaimed 12-year-old star, Ivana Baquero, wasn’t honored. Ryan Gosling received a best-actor nomination for his performance in ‘‘Half Nelson,’’ but his teenage co-star, Shareeka Epps, was denied.

Child actors are often lampooned as never surpassing their early fame, but many of the previously nominated young actors continued to work successfully in Hollywood — most notably O’Neal, Foster, Rooney and Paquin.

One need look no farther than another nominee this year — the former ‘‘Bad News Bears’’ star Jackie Earle Haley who made a comeback in ‘‘Little Children’’ — to see that child actors can find success with maturity.

AP

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on January 23, 2007 3:02 PM.

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