Jena Malone Felt “Heard, Validated, Respected” As a Child Actor

  • Jena Malone was a successful child actor who still has a noteworthy Hollywood career at 38 years old. 
  • Unlike many young actors, she always felt respected and like she had an equal voice on sets.
  • She’s a recovering perfectionist whose experiences in Hollywood led to the “pretty decent” work ethic she has now.

Jena Malone, now 38, had a successful career as a child actor — audiences might recognize her kid-face from popular early 2000s films like “Contact” or “Stepmom,” alongside major stars like Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, and Jodie Foster.

Unlike some child actors, Malone has since crafted a varied career as an adult in major films like “Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” and has also become a familiar face in indie genre films, like the classic “Donnie Darko,” the Elle Fanning-starred “Neon Demon,” or her most recent film, “Consecration.” 

While some child actors have dealt with inappropriate work conditions or the pressure to financially support their families, Malone said in a recent interview with IndieWire that she had a uniquely positive experience as child actor.

“I had a really beautiful experience getting to play in that world. I was still a kid, but it was really beautiful to have a voice and be respected,” adding, “I think that there’s something really unique in that.”

Malone said she went through “awkward times of transformation” like most kids, but Hollywood actually didn’t make things worse. “I grew up on sets. It taught me so much,” she said, “My voice was heard, validated, respected — I was brought to the table. I was maybe 10 and everyone else was older, but my voice was still as interesting and valid.”

The positive experiences she had as a child actor seem to have shaped at least some of her views of her career in the present, in that she feels free to follow her own creative interests when choosing her projects.

“I’m stubborn and I know what I like,” she said. “I’ve never needed a career. I’ve never needed to achieve this thing next.”

That doesn’t mean Malone is totally immune to the pressures of the Hollywood rat race, calling herself a “recovering grind culture perfectionist.” She said she’s seen some positive changes in Hollywood over time though, which she attributes to the #MeToo movement and the Covid-19 pandemic. “It’s a really beautiful awareness of not just power structures, but also, ‘Honey, we need rest. Let’s have better hours on set, let’s be kind to each other.'” 

Malone said she has a “pretty decent work ethic,” and her career goals are to explore new ideas and give it her all. “I feel like my linear focus is just like, I love exploration. When that exploration is exciting, I’m so down to give it everything.”

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