Oscar voters: Meet the academy’s youngest members
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For a preteen, membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences brings some particularly grown-up perks. The biggest thrill for Anna Paquin, who joined at age 11, wasn’t being able to vote on the best picture of the year — it was that her membership allowed her to see R-rated movies before she was 17.
“I remember thinking that was the pretty much the coolest thing that could happen to me,” recalled Paquin, now 29. “My parents were pretty finicky with ratings, and occasionally I’d get away with watching stuff that was a little older than they preferred. Plus, I was living in New Zealand, and once a year I’d get sent all of these movies that weren’t coming out for months where I lived.”
In 1994, Paquin took home the supporting actress Oscar for her role in “The Piano” as the daughter of a mute pianist. At 11, she became the second-youngest performer behind Tatum O’Neal to ever score one of the coveted awards. And months later, she became one of the youngest members of the academy.
A recent L.A. Times study of the academy found that the median age of voting members is 62, and few members are too young to legally buy a beer. Among the youngest are 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan, who scored a supporting actress nod for her turn in 2007’s “Atonement,” and Dakota Fanning, who turned 18 Thursday.
Twentysomethings include Keisha Castle-Hughes and Jennifer Lawrence, 21; Mia Wasikowska, 22; Michael Cera and Haley Joel Osment, 23; Ellen Page, 25; and Rooney Mara, 26. Mara, star of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” is up for the lead actress prize at the Academy Awards on Sunday. She will be one of the youngest nominees at the ceremony, along with 28-year-old Jonah Hill, who earned a nod for his supporting role in “Moneyball.”
Not surprisingly, most of the academy’s young’uns are in the actors branch, since it’s easier to get a job at 13 as a kid star than, say, a makeup artist. The sound and public relations branch each have at least one member in their 20s.
Many of those who gained admission into the academy while they were minors, such as Paquin, became eligible for membership thanks to a nomination, which not that long ago almost guaranteed admission even if the nominee didn’t have a substantial body of work. Others were proposed for membership by academy members, which was the case with Marlee Matlin.
The youngest performer to win the lead actress award, Matlin was 21 when she won for her performance as a deaf custodian in 1986’s “Children of a Lesser God.” After her victory, actor Henry Winkler and director Randa Haines wrote letters to the academy suggesting she deserved to be a part of the group.
“It was my first movie. I had just hopped off a boat from Chicago,” said Matlin, now 46. “I was learning to make decisions as an adult having just moved out of my house as a high school student. I must have been the most naive person in the industry.”
She quickly began to learn more about the academy’s demographics while attending functions, where she often found she was the youngest person in the room.
“I really got the enormity of it when I was standing at an event between Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon — that’s when I realized this was a very exclusive club,” she said. “The only person my age was Jennifer Beals, and there we were, next to this wonderful group of actors I had seen on screen for so many years, like Elizabeth Taylor and Jimmy Stewart.”
The weight of the invitation was not lost on Ronan, who became a member at age 16 in 2010.
“I first heard I was invited online, and I thought, ‘It’s on the Internet, it’s just a rumor, so it’s not true,’” the Irish actress said. “Even I was surprised that I was invited into the academy this early. Even though I’ve done a few good films, I guess like most people, you expect to become a part of something like this when you’re a bit older, like in your 20s. So to be considered good enough, or whatever, to be in that group is a real honor.”
Osment says he has vivid and fond recollections of attending the Oscars. Though academy members have the opportunity to enter a lottery to score tickets to the show each year, Osment says he hasn’t tried his luck because he wants to preserve the memory of the 2000 ceremony, when he was nominated for his supporting role in “The Sixth Sense.”
“It’s fun having it right now as an experience that stands alone,” he said. “The year I went, it was one of the last years the show was at the Shrine Auditorium, and I was sitting in an aisle seat. The handles of the seats were these little wooden, wobbly things that you find in a bad movie theater. At some point, I jumped up to clap for Warren Beatty or something, and the handle of my seat flew off. So I even remember the embarrassing things about that night.” RELATED:
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-- Amy Kaufman
Top photo: Anna Paquin with her Oscar in 1994. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times