10 best childhood flashback casting decisions

on Fri, 09/09/2011 - 12:01
Childhood flashbacks can be a tricky thing to get right on screen, but here are 10 casting decisions that got it absolutely spot-on
Flashbacks, where would Citizen Kane and Family Guy be without them? Those neat little narrative tricks that let us shuttle back and forth in time, witnessing the moments that shaped film characters, shedding light on the origins of all their adult peccadilloes and neuroses.
More often than not, these cinematic jaunts down memory lane pull up somewhere near the schoolroom, playground or another formative childhood experience. Grown-up movie characters drift off, remembering key moments from their youth: that time a Vietnam vet handed them a gold watch, that day they spent larking around on their first sled, or the night they witnessed their parents being gunned down by hoods after a night at the theatre.
We’ve gathered together the ten best childhood flashback casting decisions in cinema, the ones where pint-sized versions of the older stars not only looked, but acted the part.


Izzy Meikle-Small as Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go

Mark Romanek’s film adaptation of Never Let Me Go has a sublime-enough cast when it comes to the adults alone, but the arrival of Izzy Meikle-Small as a young Carey Mulligan was a touch of inspiration. It wasn’t just the shared features – the two have such similar wide-set eyes, pixie
jawlines and prettily crooked smile they could be sisters – but the performance.
Meikle-Small was able to translate Mulligan’s wise-beyond-her-years watchfulness as carer Kathy even as a schoolgirl, and there’s a reason for that. Romanek rehearsed the child and adult actors together, having the grown-ups (Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley) play the children’s scenes and vice versa, so a common character thread was established between each pair and it paid off in spades.


Bobby Anderson as Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life

There are a lot to reasons to love Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life: Clarence the hapless angel, Buffalo girls coming out tonight, Zuzu’s petals, the original Burt and Ernie, and Jimmy Stewart as wonderful dreamer George Bailey.
Bobby Anderson (later Robert J. Anderson, Hollywood production manager) was the boy who, at the age of thirteen, was tasked with portraying the young George Bailey. One moment of the film in particular shows what a fantastic choice Anderson made for the part. It’s the scene in which young George stops his grief-stricken pharmacist boss from accidentally poisoning a child, and it gets me every time.
Anderson is backing away from another beating by Mr Gower, cupping his bleeding ear and begging the old man not to hit him again, all the time reassuring his boss that the poison was an honest mistake. Mr Gower’s final lunge for George turns into a desperate hug when he realises the service the child has done him. It’s enough to make you want to take leaf out of Donna Reed’s book, lean over the counter and whisper “George Bailey, I’ll love you till the day I die.”


Mila Kunis as Angelina Jolie in Gia

Back in the nineties, before the Pitt-Jolie merger took place, Angelina Jolie was just your everyday stunningly beautiful actress, with a side line in wearing her husband’s blood as jewellery and exciting all kinds of tabloid-y gossip. The role of supermodel Gia Carangi in HBO TV biopic Gia made Jolie’s name, and when it came to casting the child version of the doomed beauty, a certain little Ukrainian kid called Mila was found.
A petite brunette with bee-stung lips and Bratz doll eyes, Mila Kunis’ facial similarities to Jolie seemed almost genetic. The role as eleven-year-old Gia didn’t ask for her to do much except for look the part, but it was a great bit of casting and an early glimpse of Kunis’ future success.


River Phoenix as Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Though the role of young Henry Jones has since gone to other actors on the small screen, it was River Phoenix who first picked up that whip in cinemas. Steven Spielberg has said it was Harrison Ford who suggested Phoenix for the part, having worked with him on Mosquito Coast and noticing a physical resemblance between himself at that age and his on-screen son in the film.
Phoenix admitted to impersonating Ford for laughs on the set of Mosquito Coast (evidently a braver man than I) and making use of those mannerisms as the teenage Indy. Though only a five minute role, it was action-packed, with Phoenix as young Indiana Jones giving us the origins of the Fedora, the whip, the scar, and exactly why Indy hates snakes. That moment on the train still haunts my nightmares…


Mayim Bialik as Bette Midler in Beaches

Right, now this is a class piece of casting. The weepiest weepy since those kids from Love Story died of preppiness or whatever happened in that film, 1988’s Beaches starred Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey as opposites who become life-long friends. Well, as long as their lives lasted anyway (did we mention it was a weepy?).
For the childhood flashback showing the girls’ boardwalk meeting, they needed a kid with the pep and verve of Bette Midler’s CC, as well one who was a dead ringer for the big-haired singer. Who better than Mayim Bialik, or Blossom to those who know her from the 1990s kids’ TV sitcom?
Currently starring in The Big Bang Theory, Mayim Bialik was perfect as the brassy young CC with the show tunes voice. Stellar bit of casting, that.


Michael Conner Humphreys as Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump

Tom Hanks won an Oscar for playing the slow-witted southerner with the big heart in Robert Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump, but it was Michael Conner Humphreys who gave us some of the most memorable moments in Gump’s early life, and a fine job he did too.
The “run Forrest run” scene became so well-known it’s long since fallen into parody, but Humphreys was behind other moments just as enjoyable. Strutting around to Elvis Presley’s guitar, whooping like a baboon after hearing his new headmaster ‘strike a deal’ with his mother, and being like peas and carrots with best friend, Humphreys (and Hannah Hall as young Jenny for that matter) turned in a charming performance.


Anna Paquin as Charlotte Gainsbourg in Jane Eyre

Long before she was raunching it up a storm as Southern sexpot Sookie Stackhouse in True Blood or sapping mutant powers as Rogue in the X-Men films, Anna Paquin was cast in, and won a Best Supporting Actress for Jane Campion’s The Piano. I could watch the nine-year-old Paquin’s moments of open-mouthed giddiness before she pulls it together to deliver a brief but professional Oscar acceptance speech all day long, but that way leads to missed deadlines. Do take a look on YouTube though if you missed it first time around.
Paquin’s next film role found her playing the young Charlotte Gainsbourg in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jane Eyre, a part she undertook with the required seriousness and gumption of spirit.
We’d like Paquin to share this honour with young Amelia Clarkson, who delivered a blinding performance in Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of the novel currently in cinemas, as the mini-version of Mia Wasikowska’s Jane. Read our review of the film here.


Logan Lerman as Ashton Kutcher in The Butterfly Effect

2004’s ambitious psychological thriller The Butterfly Effect fell short in a number of ways, mostly thanks to an incredibly dumb story, some needless nastiness, and a questionable choice of lead in Ashton Kutcher, playing out of his rom-com comfort zone. Where it didn’t fall short though, was in casting Logan Lerman as seven-year-old Evan.
The physical similarity is absolutely there, and Lerman showed real promise with a difficult part inside this mess of a movie. The young actor has since gone on to a truck-load of roles, not least playing lead D’Artagnan in Paul W.S. Anderson’s new version of The Three Musketeers. Well spotted, casting director, seems you caught a good’un.


Ella Purnell as Keira Knightley in Never Let Me Go

It might seem a bit off-form to choose two kids from the one film for this list, but we were so impressed by the girls from Never Let Me Go that we had to give a separate nod to young Ella Purnell. Playing the young Keira Knightley is a boon to any young actress, and Ella Purnell seems to have been genetically designed to do so. The match was a stroke of luck for all concerned.


Christa B. Allen as Jennifer Garner in 13 Going On 30 (and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past)

It’s a shame little Christa B. Allen couldn’t have been kept at the age of twelve cryogenically, then defrosted every so often to play young Jennifer Garner in flashback roles, such a good match was she for the older actress in 13 Going On 30 and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
2004’s 13 Going On 30 was Allen’s first big-screen role before she went on to reprise her part as mini Jennifer Garner in 2009’s not-very-good Ghosts of Girlfriends Past. Alas, the trend couldn’t continue, as Allen is quite definitely 20 years old now, whilst Jennifer Garner is set to permanently remain 35 in that way Hollywood actresses seem to these days. Still, it was nice while it lasted.