While many grow up dreaming of becoming a famous celebrity one day, few actually get the chance to display their talents to the world on the big screen or dazzle audiences at red-carpet events. Despite the industry's cut-throat nature, some argue that there are a privileged few that have an easier time making their name in the Hollywood ranks. Specifically, those whose parents have already made a name for themselves and are famous celebrities with the best connections to agents, producers, and talent scouts.
In 2022, media outlets repeatedly referred to these actors and models as “nepo babies,” claiming that much of their own stardom had little to do with their talent or ability and everything to do with who their parents knew. Naturally, the stars who also have celebrities for parents had something to say about the trend. While some acknowledged that it was much easier for them to catch their big break, others argued they had to work twice as hard to prove they were worthy of the roles they received.
As the daughter of Working Girl's Melanie Griffith, Dakota Johnson's mother once described the 50 Shades of Grey star's early childhood as “privileged.”
Johnson, whose father happens to be Miami Vice's Don Johnson, admitted she struggles with that portrayal of what it was like growing up with parents in the film industry. Still, she recognizes the advantages it gave her:
I think that glamorizes it a little bit or makes it seem like everything was totally amazing all the time… My life is incredibly lucky and privileged, and the life I led growing up was remarkable - the places I went and how we lived and what we were able to experience. But we also struggled with internal family dynamics and situations and events that are so traumatic.
In addition to having Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as sisters, WandaVision star Elizabeth Olsen's mother was a professional ballerina. While she acknowledges that acting and performing run in her family's blood, the Avenger wanted to make her own name for herself. Olsen attended acting school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and spent a semester at the Moscow Art Theatre School studying Stanislavski. In an interview for Grazia, the star shared:
Nepotism is a thing and I’m very aware of it… And of course, I’ve always wanted to do it alone.
Jamie Lee Curtis argues that the discussion of generational privilege in show business undermines the dedication and talent actors bring to their workplaces every day:
I’ve never understood, nor will I, what qualities got me hired that day, but since my first two lines on Quincy as a contract player at Universal Studios to this last spectacular creative year some 44 years later, there’s not a day in my professional life that goes by without my being reminded that I am the daughter of movie stars…
The current conversation about “nepo babies” is just designed to try to diminish and denigrate and hurt…
For the record, I have navigated 44 years with the advantages my associated and reflected fame brought me, I don’t pretend there aren’t any, that try to tell me that I have no value on my own… It’s curious how we immediately make assumptions and snide remarks that someone related to someone else who is famous in their field for their art, would somehow have no talent whatsoever.
I have come to learn that is simply not true. I have suited up and shown up for all different kinds of work with thousands of thousands of people, and every day, I’ve tried to bring integrity and professionalism and love and community and art to my work. I am not alone. There are many of us. Dedicated to our craft. Proud of our lineage. Strong in our belief in our right to exist.
Look, this is the family business. This is what we’ve been doing forever. It’s what all of our kids grew up in… If we were a plumbing supply business or if we ran the florist shop down the street, the whole family would be putting in time at some point, even if it was just, you know, inventory at the end of the year…
The thing that doesn’t change, no matter what happens, no matter what your last name is, is whether it works or not. I mean, that’s the issue anytime any of us go off and try to tell a fresh story or create something that has a beginning and a middle and an end. Doesn’t matter what our last names are. We have to do the work in order to make that a true and authentic experience for the audience…
That’s a much bigger task than worrying about whether anybody’s going to, like, try to scathe us or not.
The Forrest Gump star continued:
I think my kids are all like Renaissance artists, you know? [They] are good at whatever they choose to be. But the question here is, “Can you make it stick?”… You've got to have a passion, you've got to have a drive. And, yeah, our household has existed in the company town that is Los Angeles.
On his son gaining a role as the younger version of a character he played, Hanks responded:
That would make sense because we do resemble each other a lot…
But the final analysis is the person has to show up on the day and hit the marks and tell the truth. Only he can make that decision. It was totally up to him… [Success is] a combination of talent, perseverance, drive and no small amount of luck.
Maya Hawke Knows 'The Chances Will Not Be Infinite'
Stranger Things actor and singer-songwriter Maya Hawke may have Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke as parents, but she says her connections don't automatically provide instant opportunities:
I have no idea who I would be if I was somebody else. I feel like the only way to handle the nepotism thing - which definitely gives you massive advantages in this life - is, you will get chances for free, but the chances will not be infinite; so you have to keep working and do a good job. If you do a bad job, the chances will stop. That’s my ethos.
When asked how she handles nepotism accusations, Hawke responded:
I don’t really interact with either the haters or the complimenters very much. I love this piece of advice I’ve gotten, which is that if you read the good reviews, they’re partly true, and if you read the bad things that people say, they’re also partly true. You’re not God’s gift to humanity, nor are you a little dirty garbage rat. You’re neither and you’re both.
Dan Levy Feared The Label
Though Dan Levy starred alongside his father, Eugene Levy, in the hit series Schitt's Creek, he never asked his dad for acting help as he was learning the trade. Conscious of what the media would say, he feared being labeled:
I’ve never really turned to my dad for anything, I think out of fear of the label of nepotism… Entertainment seems to be the only arena where children who pursue the work of their parents, which is an inherently natural thing to do, is met with a lot of skepticism. And so for my whole life, leading up to [Schitt’s Creek], I’ve always tried to do everything on my own, I guess to prove, mainly to myself, that I could do it…
Now that we’re working together, it’s a completely different story, but I needed to prove to myself that I could stand on my own.