How do child actors cope with horrific scenes?

I can’t find the behind-the-scenes clip mentioning it now, but when they shot It (2017), they wouldn’t let the kids meet Bill Skarsgård (Pennywise) until they had to shoot a scene with him. During the scene, he grabbed (I think) Jack Dylan Grazer (Eddie) in the Neibolt scene, toying with him and slobbering on him as Grazer screamed in fear.

Finally, the director yelled, ‘CUT!’ Skarsgård went out of character, worried he might have legitimately scarred Grazer, and asked if he was OK.

Grazer enthusiastically responded, ‘LOVE what you did with the character!’

I misremembered a little: apparently Grazer had seen Skarsgård in costume before the shooting, but it was indeed Skarsgård’s first day.

Asa Butterfield (above) was only ten years old when he played the leading role in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (a 2008 Holocaust drama). He played the role of an eight-year-old son of a Nazi Commandent who befriends a Jewish prisoner.

Important Note: Movie spoilers ahead.

At the end of the film, Asa’s character unknowingly and unwillingly goes into a gas chamber with some grown men and they all get gassed (i.e, killed by poisonous gas).

It’s a pretty horrific scene for a ten year old.

There was a false story that circulated on the internet where people claimed Asa was told by the director that they were filming people going into a huge bathroom (the gas chamber) to just take a shower together.

There are many variations of that story, but the main idea is that Asa didn’t know that they (the characters in that final scene) were going to get killed.

In 2019, over a decade after the movie was made, Asa revealed that he knew exactly what they were acting out. In other words, no one lied to him and told him it wasn’t what it was.

He said even though he knew he was just acting and it was not real, it was still hard for him.

Even at a young age, he knew that the people who went into the gas chambers got killed so he understood what he was doing.

After they finished filming that scene, he told his mother he didn’t want to be an actor anymore, so one can imagine how awful filming that scene must have been for him.

I remember bits of that job and the bits that stick with me were the hardest. The gas chamber scene, at the end, I knew what it was, I knew what we were demonstrating, I knew it was only acting.

But I remember being in a room full of men, some of whom were completely naked, and it was dark, and they shut the door on us, and it was just… awful.

There were a few times I came out and said, ‘I can’t do it.’

We took gaps between takes, we played games. But it’s hard for a kid.

When we were finished on ‘Boy In The Striped Pyjamas’ – I don’t remember this, but my mum told me after I finished that job – I said I didn’t want to be an actor any more.

How do child actors cope with horrific scenes?

In Asa’s case, he coped with that scene by taking breaks between takes to play and rest a little.

2. This is a scene from Anabelle : Creation

Our young child is being chased by a demonic creature

It’s very scary and extremely tense in the movie. But this is actually how they filmed this scene

Not so scary anymore huh?

The truth is, filming scary movies is not scary in the slightest. At times, it’s nearly laughable how not scary it is.

When the filming begins the room is well lit, we have about five different people holding cameras and microphones following us around.

Nearly nothing one sees in the cinemas is real. Not the dark lighting, the horrific monster or the quick intense cuts.

Takes away all the horror now doesn’t it?

It’s important to realise that when we see the actual movies it is an extremely edited footage. What you see on the screen certainly isn’t what filming actually looks like. They make it dark, they make it scary when it really isn’t.

3. The other answers to this question were great in explaining that most of the time, the “horrifics” in horrific scenes in movies are put in through CGI or are just props, and the kids have cameramen with the director and film crew literally looking at them from right behind the camera. The experience isn’t scary at all.

However, there is a special case I want to mention, and that is the movie Maleficent.

Angelina Jolie revealed after the movie was filmed that she never intended for her daughter, Vivienne, to become an actress. However, due to the costume she had to wear as Maleficent, they had a hard time finding a child who wouldn’t start crying while filming scenes where she was wearing her costume.

Angelina Jolie’s daughter, Vivienne, was the only one not scared of her, so she was chosen to play the role of young Princess Aurora.

4. Robert Rodriguez breaks down a shocking sequence in Planet Terror where Marley Shelton’s Dr. Dakota Block, unable to use her hands because her psychotic husband anesthetized them in a fit of jealousy in the middle of a zombie outbreak.

As You Do…

hands her son (played by Rodriguez’s son Rebel) a large handgun, with desperate instructions not to point it at himself ever and not to pull the trigger unless Mommy tells him to. In the next shot, we see the kid playing with the gun – then we hear a loud gunshot inside the car as Dakota turns in horror, then she cradles her bleeding son in her arms and sobs.

In the movie, the kid’s dead because – kids and handguns don’t mix, ever. In reality, Rodriguez shot the scene in such a way that Rebel is handed an unloaded gun (yes, they made sure there weren’t even blanks in it!) and told to just fiddle with it for a minute before it was taken away from him – then a couple days later they shot a quick pick-up of Rebel lying slumped in the passenger seat coated with fake blood while Marley Shelton howled in grief and guilt…so Rebel Rodriguez, then age eight, didn’t connect playing with the gun with his being “hurt”. Rodriguez even took his son to Tulum and put him in several shots playing with the other surviving children so he’d think he survived to the end.

As for the rest of it? Kids are natural actors, and have fun being pretend bloodthirsty. I mean, I’ve got nieces and nephews – how many times did you point your finger at a child in your family, say “Bang! You’re dead”, and the kid gleefully falls to the ground, giving a death scene that makes Hamlet’s look like an elision!

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