Former Teen Show Actors Are Speaking Up About Their Uncomfortable Experiences On Set, And It's An Extremely Important Conversation

·12 min read

Editor's note: This post mentions sexual harassment, abuse, disordered eating, and racism.

It goes without saying that Hollywood is, unfortunately, often rife with abuse and exploitation. This is particularly true for young actors, who are especially vulnerable to mistreatment and may not feel safe speaking up given the power dynamics at play.

The cast of "iCarly"
David Surowiecki / Getty Images for Nickelodeon

Over the years, more former teen show actors have opened up about their uncomfortable and inappropriate experiences on set. Here are seven times teen show actors spoke up:

1.Jennette McCurdy, who starred on the Nickelodeon show iCarly and its spinoff Sam & Cat, recently opened up about the alleged abuse and exploitation she faced on set.

Closeup of Jennette McCurdy
Axelle / FilmMagic / Getty Images

In her new memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, McCurdy wrote that an unnamed Nickelodeon executive dubbed “The Creator” — who many assume to be iCarly producer Dan Schneider — pressured her to drink alcohol at age 14 and gave her a shoulder massage without consent. She also wrote that Nickelodeon offered her $300,000 to never speak about the behavior, which she declined.

Closeup of Jennette McCurdy

In an excerpt published by Vanity Fair, McCurdy recalled the shoulder massage incident: "'You’re about to star in your own TV show, for crying out loud,' [The Creator said]. 'You know how many kids would kill for that opportunity? Every last one of them.' I nod along. He reaches out and places his hand on my knee. I get goosebumps."

Gregg Deguire / WireImage / Getty Images

McCurdy declined to return for the iCarly reboot. In her book, she recalled telling her co-star and friend Miranda Cosgrove, "There’s nothing you can say to convince me."

Jennette McCurdy and Miranda Cosgrove
Jason Merritt / Getty Images

2.The Boy Meets World cast recently spoke up about having to film uncomfortable kissing scenes as child actors.

The cast of "Boy Meets World"
James Sorensen / Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

On an episode of Pod Meets World, the Boy Meets World rewatch podcast hosted by Danielle Fishel (who played Topanga), Rider Strong (who played Shawn), and Will Friedle (who played Eric), the actors discussed the numerous scenes they had to film over the years, and why they wish intimacy coordinators had been used back then.

Rider Strong, Danielle Fishel, and Will Friedle
David Livingston / FilmMagic / Getty Images

In particular, they talked about how Strong and Friedle's characters were expected to be "heartthrobs." Friedle said at one point he was kissing a different girl every week. "It was hugely uncomfortable," Friedle said. "Everyone talks like, ‘Oh man, you get to kiss all those girls!' But it’s not as awesome as you might think it is. It really is horribly uncomfortable, and to do it in front of an audience and hearing people go 'woo' and all this, it’s really uncomfortable."

Screen shot from "Boy Meets World"

Strong agreed, adding, "There were times when it was fun, but other times when it wasn’t, and it really just depended on the person. ... There were times where I was like, 'I don’t want to have to kiss this person again, it was awful,' and there were other times where you’re like, 'Oh, that was fine.'"

Getty Images

Strong said that, ultimately, he thinks the cast would have all benefited from having intimacy coordinators on set: "I love the idea. That never existed, and now it’s become pretty standard on set, and I love it. I’ve never worked with one personally, but I totally think that it’s a necessary role because you can’t just trust that a director or a producer is going to have the experience or the delicate tone that is required of that situation."

Screen shot from "Boy Meets World"
ABC

3.This wasn't the only issue on the Boy Meets World set. In 2020, Trina McGee (who played Angela) spoke about racist comments she received from castmates during her run on the show.

  Bill Reitzel / TV Guide / ABC / Courtesy Everett Collection
Bill Reitzel / TV Guide / ABC / Courtesy Everett Collection

"Called aunt Jemima on set during hair and make up. Called a bitter bitch when I quietly waited for my scene to finish rehearsing that was being f’ed up over and over due to episode featuring my character. Told 'it was nice of you to join us' like a stranger after 60 episodes," McGee wrote.

McGee later confirmed that Friedle was the one who called her "Aunt Jemima," and added that he apologized. "For the record: Will Friedle, the man responsible for Aunt Jemima-gate, apologized to me 22 years ago and again days ago in a three-page letter," she wrote in an Instagram post. "We talked more on it and he acknowledged that he really wasn’t educated enough in his early twenties to know he was truly offending me. This should and could be a teaching moment for all. For all people of all races or different backgrounds. He has conveyed to me how much this has changed his perception of comedy. And humanity."

Fishel also acknowledged her role in the situation, tweeting:

Fishel also acknowledged her role in the situation, tweeting: "I owed @realtrinamcgee an apology for being rude, cold, & distant when she guest-starred on GMW (her tweet regarding warm hellos being met with cold blank stares was about me). Trina and I spoke over a month ago and she gracefully accepted my apology."

Tara Ziemba / Getty Images

Recently, Friedle addressed his past behavior, speaking on an episode of Pod Meets World: "We have all discussed [it] with [McGee], and I can’t wait to actually have a deeper conversation with her about it. I had said stupid, insensitive things at the time thinking that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, and that was kind of par for the course at the time." McGee is set to be a guest star on the podcast in the coming weeks.

  ABC / Courtesy Everett Collection
ABC / Courtesy Everett Collection

4.In 2017, the cast and crew of One Tree Hill — including Sophia Bush, Hilarie Burton, and Bethany Joy Lenz — penned an open letter alleging that former showrunner Mark Schwahn had sexually harassed, manipulated, and traumatized them.

The cast of "One Tree Hill"
Theo Wargo / WireImage / Getty Images

"Many of us were, to varying degrees, manipulated psychologically and emotionally," they wrote. "More than one of us is still in treatment for post-traumatic stress. Many of us were put in uncomfortable positions and had to swiftly learn to fight back, sometimes physically, because it was made clear to us that the supervisors in the room were not the protectors they were supposed to be. Many of us were spoken to in ways that ran the spectrum from deeply upsetting, to traumatizing, to downright illegal. And a few of us were put in positions where we felt physically unsafe."

Screen shot from "One Tree Hill"

You can read the full letter here.

Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Over the years, several cast members have opened up more about their experiences. In 2021, Sophia Bush (who played Brooke) said in an interview with Barstool Sports' Chicks in the Office podcast: "We were in our early 20s playing high school kids, but we didn’t know anything. We were babies. We didn’t get to grow up on a set where people wanted to answer our questions or help us navigate any of the madness of the early aughts. ... We were kind of looked at as pawns. We had grown-ups who we trusted, who now we understand were being really controlling and manipulative."

Screen shot from "One Tree Hill"
Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection

Additionally, Hilarie Burton (who played Peyton) opened up about feeling uncomfortable with having to film an intimate scene in Season 1 with costar Chad Michael Murray (who played Lucas). "I was, like, crying in my trailer," Burton said on an episode of the podcast Drama Queens. "I'm like, 'I don't want to do this. It feels dirty. It feels like they're trying to sex everything up.'"

Screen shot from "One Tree Hill"
The WB

5.In 2021, Charisma Carpenter, who played Cordelia on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, alleged that series creator Joss Whedon had been abusive and hostile to her on set. The actor took to Twitter to write about her experiences after Justice League actor Ray Fisher accused Whedon of abusive and unprofessional behavior on set.

Charisma Carpenter
Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images for Thirst Project

"Joss Whedon abused his power on numerous occasions while working together on the sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel," Carpenter wrote in a statement. "While he found his misconduct amusing, it only served to intensify my performance anxiety, disempower me, and alienate me from my peers."

"Despite the harassment, a part of me still sought [Whedon's] validation," Carpenter continued. "I made excuses for his behavior and repressed my own pain. I have even stated publicly at conventions that I'd work with him again. Only recently, after years of therapy and a wakeup call from the Time's Up movement do I understand the complexities of this demoralized thinking. It is impossible to understand the psyche without enduring the abuse. Our society and industry vilify the victims and glorify the abusers for their accomplishments."

Charisma Carpenter

You can read Carpenter's full statement about Whedon here.

20thCentFox/Courtesy Everett Collection

6.Mischa Barton, who starred as Marissa on The O.C., opened up about dealing with "bullying" and a toxic environment on set as a young actor.

Closeup of Mischa Barton

When The O.C. started, Barton was only 18 years old. Rachel Bilson (who played Summer) was 21, and Benjamin McKenzie (who played Ryan, Marissa's love interest) was 24.

Paul Archuleta / Getty Images

"I've always felt ashamed in a way to really talk about what went on behind the scenes because I've always been a very private person and very aware of people's feelings," Barton said in a 2021 interview with E! News. "Now that we're living in this era where we do speak out about our experiences and women do come clean about what was really going on behind the scenes and how they were treated, it's a slightly different thing."

Closeup of Mischa Barton
Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images for MTV

Barton's character was shockingly killed off in the Season 3 finale. The actor revealed that talk of killing Marissa off began very early on: "It's a bit complicated. It started pretty early on because it had a lot to do with them adding Rachel [Bilson] in last minute as, after the first season, a series regular and evening out everybody's pay — and sort of general bullying from some of the men on set that kind of felt really sh*tty."

Screen shot from "The O.C."

Barton said that she was ultimately given a choice: Her character could exit the show in an open-ended way and have the opportunity to return in the future, or she could be killed off and gone for good. She chose the latter.

Warner Bros / Everett Collection

"But, you know, I also loved the show and had to build up my own walls and ways of getting around dealing with that and the fame that was thrust specifically at me," Barton continued. "Just dealing with, like, the amount of invasion I was having in my personal life, I just felt very unprotected, I guess is the best way to put it."

The cast of "The O.C."
Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Barton has also spoken candidly about the pressure she felt to lose her virginity while starring on The O.C. "Even being a virgin at the time in that context made me feel like a fraud. ... Here, I was playing a confident character who was fast and loose, and yet, I was still a virgin," she wrote in an essay. "I knew it was important to get this thing — my virginity — that was looming over me, the elephant in the room if you will, out of the way. I started to really worry that I couldn’t play this character if I didn’t hurry up and mature a little."

Ryan and Marissa

Barton also wrote that when she found the courage to speak up about her experiences on set, she was called a "nightmare" to work with. You can read her full essay here.

Warner Bros / Everett Collection

7.And finally, several cast members from the UK teen drama Skins have opened up about feeling uncomfortable and unprotected on set.

The cast of "Skins"
Mike Marsland / WireImage / Getty Images

Unlike many teen shows that cast adults to play teenage characters, Skins mainly cast actual teens. April Pearson, who played Michelle, said on an episode of her podcast, Are You Michelle from "Skins"?: "As with a lot of victims of trauma, you look back at it and think: 'Yeah, that was f*cked up.' There's a difference between being officially old enough and mentally old enough. I was having this conversation with my husband, and I was saying I do feel like I was too young; I feel like I wasn't protected."

Michelle in "Skins"

Laya Lewis, who played Liv, said as a guest on the podcast: "I do think fair enough, we are actors and we are acting, but I think if you want to pluck children out of the street, which is essentially what they were doing to have this authentic onscreen thing going on, there needs to be a bit more help." Both Pearson and Lewis also alleged that Skins staff restricted their food, encouraged them to skip meals before filming bikini scenes, and body-shamed them as teens.

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Additionally, Kaya Scodelario (who played Effy) recently posted a TikTok comparing Skins to Euphoria. She also responded to a comment asking: "Do you think being on Skins affected your mentality at that age?"

@kayascodelario

Will always be greatful. But yeah safeguarding really wasnt a thing back then…

♬ original sound - Kaya Scodelario

"Yes," Scodelario wrote in a now-deleted comment. "It was a beautiful time, but also the deep-rooted cause of a lot of my issues now. Still, it gave me the opportunity to do the job I loved."

  Kaya Scodelario / TikTok
Kaya Scodelario / TikTok

The National Eating Disorders Association helpline is 1-800-931-2237; for 24/7 crisis support, text “NEDA” to 741741.