As Hollywood history used to read, a new crop of actors emerged in the movies every generation or so. The "veteran" actors and actresses (in their 30s and 40s) would still get the plum roles, of course; the rookies could only fill in as necessary, dreaming about the day they would age enough to win a meaty part.
Not so anymore. The choice roles today are going to a new generation of younger actors, and movies--both in subject matter and in ad campaigns--are aimed more and more at the young.
It's hardly surprising, since the core moviegoing audience remains in the 16- to 25-age group.
Hollywood's current crop of new actors is currently being showcased in several films that rise above standard teen fare. Far from being exploitative, movies such as "The Breakfast Club," "Heaven Help Us," "The Sure Thing" and others portray 16- to 25-year-olds in realistic fashion.
The actors and actresses in this generation are so plentiful they can be categorized. At the top of the heap--with asking prices of $500,000 and up and critical praise for their numerous films--are Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Tom Cruise, Daryl Hannah, Matthew Modine, Elizabeth McGovern, Matt Dillon, Nicolas Cage, Matthew Broderick, Rob Lowe, Rosanna Arquette and Ralph Macchio.
In the newer wave are actors and actresses who are breaking free from smaller parts to juicier leading roles and prices of $75,000 and up per film. Among them: Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Chris Penn, Andrew McCarthy, Lori Singer and Vincent Spano.
This year's youth movies mentioned earlier produced a third tier of young talent, some of whom were singled out for praise by critics. Some are making their feature film debuts and others finally have gotten their first big break:
John Cusack, who portrays Walter (Gib) Gibson, an Ivy League college freshman in "The Sure Thing." Gib becomes the unwanted traveling companion to classmate Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga) while hitchhiking to California to find his dream girl.
Malcolm Danare is Caesar, the arrogant, overweight intellectual at St. Basil's School for Catholic boys in "Heaven Help Us."
Kevin Dillon plays Rooney, a would-be ladies man and resident smart aleck St. Basil's student in "Heaven Help Us."
Mary Stuart Masterson is the shy, street-wise Danni in "Heaven Help Us." Danni runs her father's smoke shop/soda fountain across the street from St. Basil's and becomes the love interest of Andrew McCarthy.
Anthony Michael Hall plays Brian Johnson, the brainy nerd stuck in eight hours of Saturday detention with four other students in "The Breakfast Club."
Judd Nelson is seen in "The Breakfast Club" as John Bender--a punk kid from the wrong side of the tracks.
Eric Stoltz, plays a teen-ager who triumphs over a congenital defect that disfigures his face in "Mask." The film is based on the true story of Rocky Dennis, who was raised by an unconventional mother (Cher, in the movie) and a gang of bikers.
Daphne Zuniga, is studious, All-American, rather naive Alison Bradbury in "The Sure Thing." Repulsed by classmate Gib Gibson (John Cusack) and his clumsy attempts at wooing her during school, she is horrified when she finds they must travel cross-country together.
Not all the young actors agreed to be included in this article. Stoltz and Hall declined to be interviewed.
Careers are about all these eight young actors and actresses share in common. Unlike stars of earlier generations, who may have all been under contract to a particular studio, the "newest kids" come from diverse backgrounds, with formal training that ranges from none to prestigious acting coaches such as Stella Adler and Peggy Feury.
There are some areas of overlap, however. Masterson, Cusack, Hall and Dillon all have one or more members of their families in show business. Masterson's mother and father (Carlin Glynn and Peter Masterson) act on stage, primarily in New York. Cusack's father is Chicago-based Emmy-winning film maker Richard Cusack. Hall's mother and sister are actresses who had small speaking roles in "Breakfast Club" (as his mother and sister) and Dillon's older brother is actor Matt.
"Matt really didn't give me any pointers (about acting)," Dillon commented in an interview. "I think he figured he'd just let me go through it. But since he more or less grew up in the business, I learned first that you gave up a lot of freedom."
Masterson's parents, she said in an interview, taught her to determine "whether or not a project has integrity. They helped me stay on track as a person, with my first priority being experience. They told me 'You can't play a person unless you are one.' "
Masterson, Hall and Dillon live in New York; Cusack lives in Chicago. While the rest live in Los Angeles at present, only one--Danare--grew up here. Ironically, Danare was also the only one who had no intention whatsoever to become an actor.
"I hated acting," Danare said in an interview. "The only reason I took it in high school was because I needed an elective class."