Former child stars are opening about sexual abuse and emotional trauma resulting from being a child actor in Bill & Ted star Alex Winter’s new HBO documentary, Showbiz Kids.
“It was a fantasy come to life,” Winter told the New York Post. “All of the Broadway giants would be backstage every night. It was an amazing memory.”
Winter — best known for portrayal of Bill S. Preston, Esq. in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure — does not appear in his documentary, because he “would have overtaken the film.” Winter, now 55, revealed to The Post that he had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of an adult during a show’s run when he was only 12-years-old.
“I didn’t feel safe talking about it for 25 years,” Winter said. “You keep [the experience] compartmentalized and it either blows apart — drugs, alcohol, suicide — or you get help, process what happened and put the pieces back together.”
Watch the trailer of Showbiz Kids below:
Former child actor Todd Bridges — best known for his portrayal of Willis Jackson on the sitcom Diff’rent Strokes — was also featured in the documentary directed by Winter. “I wanted to be like Redd Foxx. I wanted to be on television,” said Bridges, who reportedly had to deal with racism, money-stealing team members, and a sexually aggressive publicist.
“I had a gun pulled on my head when I was 12. An officer told me that my bike was stolen. If you are going to be in showbiz as a child, make sure you have a secondary business as an adult,” added Bridges, who is now 55. “Acting is a fictional life, and you have to discover real life. I can deal with both. But I prefer real life.”
Several of the former child stars in the documentary noted that their parents had pressured them of living up to their personal ambitions. Wil Wheaton — best known for his role in the hit 1986 film Stand By Me — revealed in the documentary that his mother had pushed him to be an actor because she had her own dreams of fame. “It was never my idea,” he said. “I don’t know a 7-year-old who says they want to go to work.”
Evan Rachel Wood — who starred in the sexually provocative film Thirteen when she “was 14, on the verge of becoming a woman” — talked about how failing to become an actress was not an option in her family. “It would be disappointing to people if I didn’t want to do this because I was talented,” said Wood, now 32. “If I didn’t want to do this, the vibe would have been ‘what a waste.’ I didn’t feel that I could stop because I was good. So I just did it.”
“Suddenly I felt like a commodity that needed to be monitored and groomed and I had to present myself in a certain way,” recalled the Westworld star in the documentary. “My voice just kept getting quieter and quieter. Nobody asked me how I was doing. My emotional state was equated with how I was doing in my career.”
Actor Henry Thomas — known for his portrayal of Elliot in the 1982 film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial — added that “acting scared the hell out of me, outright. I pissed my pants the first time I was in the spotlight.”
Former child star Mara Wilson — who starred in the 1996 film Matilda, as well as alongside Robin Williams in the 1993 film Mrs. Doubtfire — said that her childhood involved people photoshopping her into child porn. “People Photoshopped me into child porn — and called me ugly online,” said Wilson. “They were mocking me for going through puberty.”
Wilson, now 32, added that her experiences had given her a special gift as a young actress — the ability to cry on command. “I felt too vulnerable. That is why I disappeared [from acting],” she added. “I’ll never be an A-list actor and I am happy with that.”
As for Winter, he says that he will not be getting his children into the entertainment industry.
“I am not putting my kids in the industry,” said the father of three.