Psst! If you want to peek into the past, Acorn Media is making it easy. Want to watch Keira Knightley at age 9? Try Acorn’s DVD of “A Village Affair,” a TV movie whose lesbian love story takes place in a small English village. How about Orlando Bloom at 23 in “Midsomer Murders,” a British series in which village sex is secondary to a rich crop of murders?
In one case, the youthful actor was also the star. After Colin Firth won an Academy Award as best actor for his performance as King George VI in “The King’s Speech” (2010), Acorn bought “Lost Empires,” a 1986 mini-series about British music halls in which Firth had top billing as a young boy who joins his uncle’s magic act. “We picked up ‘Lost Empires’ in 2011 because of Colin Firth,” says Acorn publicity director Chad Campbell. "He was “the deciding factor.”
“Acorn doesn’t actively look for early roles of talent,” says Campbell. “But guest stars are definitely an added perk that we consider when deciding whether to pick up a series. We have released early series/roles for lots of actors that have hit it big.”
They include Jeremy Irons in his first role, as “Nephew George” in “The Case of the Mirror of Portugal,” Season 1, Episode 6 of “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes,” a series based on short stories by authors who wrote mysteries at the same time as Arthur Conan Doyle.
And Damian Lewis. The newly minted Emmy nominee for best actor in a drama series–as a U.S. Marine sergeant in “Homeland” who is either a war hero or a mole for the terrorists who took him prisoner — can be seen as a student in a hostel where theft turns to murder in “Hickory Dickory Dock,” Season 6, Episode 2 of “Agatha Christie’s Poirot.”
Then there is Dominic Monaghan. Who would have thought that this wet-behind-the-ears 20-year-old as a wanna-be private detective in “Hetty Wainthropp Investigates” would sacrifice himself for his fellow castaways as one of the main characters in seasons 1, 2, and 3 of “Lost”?
Ralph Fiennes had 48th billing in the original “Prime Suspect” in 1991, two years before his performance as a sadistic Nazi officer in “Schindler’s List” brought him an Oscar nomination for supporting actor and made him a star. Although ”Michael” in “Prime Suspect” was his first movie or television role, Fiennes was already a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. And Jeremy Irons had spent several years with the Bristol Old Vic before he moved to London and got his first television job.
Neither 24-year-old Daniel Craig nor 17-year-old Kate Winslet had such buffed resumes when they were cast in a television mini-series of Angus Wilson’s satirical novel, “Anglo Saxon Attitudes,” although Craig had toured with Britain’s National Youth Theatre. Kate Winslet’s cameo in the third episode was her first role. Craig’s more substantial part was his second.
More often, the young actor was someone who was barely noticed by the television or movie audience. For 23–year-old James McAvoy, a small part in one episode of “Foyle’s War” in 2002 was just another small part. For superhero buffs, it might be worthwhile to take a look at the young man who turned into Professor Charles Xavier of “X-Men First Class,” a paraplegic who used his mutant power of telepathy to control people’s minds.