Jack Gleeson ('Game of Thrones') on the modern celebritization of culture
It is a very common occurrence in the film industry to watch child actors grow up in front of our eyes. Sometimes that journey starts when they are babies handed off to actors during birthing scenes or perhaps when they are infants and are used to sell diapers, baby food or even car tires. In Hollywood there is an entire sub-industry dedicated to kids. Children's agencies, classes and even entire housing complexes exist for out-of-towners who commute in for pilot season to see if they can get their children cast on a show . The effect on the child can be varied depending on parenting and that child's relationship to the work. While the culture has a fascination with the destructive tendencies of former child actors as they become adults rarely do we get much insight into what they are actually going through.
Jack Gleeson, the actor made famous for his portrayal of the sadistic Joffrey on the HBO series 'Game of Thrones' leapt to international fame in his late teens. A child actor himself from the age of 7, he claims that he knew then he wanted to be an actor of renown and "heavily lauded" for his talents. His relationship to acting was through the theater and performing in a nativity scene for the church. Then, at age 12, he was cast as the "little boy" in 'Batman Begins' and suddenly things started to change for him.
He noticed he was suddenly "the kid from Batman" which became a defining characteristic. Already his mind was trying to process what exactly was going on. For doing so little he was suddenly getting what he interpreted as undue attention and was already troubled by it. Five years later he would book the role of Joffrey on a show he thought was "cool" but had no idea the phenomenon it would become. In his words, he felt he signed "an invisible contract to enter a new echelon of society."
Gleeson recently sat down with the famed 'Oxford Union' on an invitation to discuss the show, his role and himself. The history of the institution was quite daunting to him as such luminaries as Albert Einstein, the Dalai Lama and Malcolm X have historically preceded him. Concerned he hadn't even lived enough life to fill the evening, Gleeson prepared a speech. The subject of which was the very nature of fame and the ever-growing cultural fascination with celebrities . He was quick to point out the irony that his 'Game of Thrones' fame was the only reason he would even be asked to speak there in the first place. In self-effacing humility, he keenly observes that "all I've done is act on a TV show and pretend to be mean." Pausing briefly he added, "For money, essentially."
What follows is his somewhat anxious and informed inspection of what the nature of celebrity is from his own perspective and its expanding effect on the culture at large. It is well researched, heady and damned impressive. I, like everyone else, despised his character of Joffrey and was quite surprised and astonished there was such a humble and charming intellectual beneath that veil.
Regardless of our opinions of "the industry" and the relationship children have to becoming public figures it is an invaluable resource to have one like Gleason take us by the hand and reflect on the changes taking place. If nothing else, it gives great insight into the transformative power of fame on the individual and those around them. For those on the outside looking in it can be a spy-glass to understanding what challenges and benefits await them on the road to recognition.
For Gleason it is a cautionary tale as he has decided to take a step away from it all and pursue academia. But for us it offers great insight into the engulfing power of notoriety. Child actors are a necessary part of cinematic story-telling and there are a great many who go on to successful, balanced and fruitful artistic lives. But it is important we have an understanding of the nature of what prestige we bestow upon celebrities, child or adult, and how we handle our own relationship to them. If for no other reason than we will be better armed at comprehending the tidal forces of our culture's growing need for notoriety.
Earned or not.