Why Hollywood won't cast Jena Malone anymore

Jena Malone might not be the most household name in Hollywood, but chances are you know her work. At just 14, she stole just about every scene she was in from a pair of Oscar-winning powerhouses — namely, Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon — in the popular tearjerker Stepmom. Then she broke everyone's hearts as the young woman whose brother chose to wander into oblivion in Into the Wild. She also commanded the small-screen scene with her convincing portrayal of Nancy McCoy in the celebrated TV mini-series Hatfields & McCoys, and she brought the feisty tribute Johanna Mason to life on the silver screen in The Hunger Games films.

Despite her prolificacy and talent, Malone's public presence seems to have slowed down significantly in recent years. What's made the actress disappear from the spotlight? 

From personal projects to her strange relationship with Tinseltown, here's why it feels like Hollywood won't cast Jena Malone anymore.

She may have peaked early

Malone made her feature film debut when she was still a pre-teen, starring in Bastard Out of Carolina at the age of 12. Despite her youth and inexperience, she was immediately embraced by the film community and even earned nominations for a Screen Actors Guild Award and an Independent Spirit Award for her work in the film. 

Within two years, she also earned a Golden Globe nomination for her standout work in the 1997 TV drama Hope. The very next year, she wowed Saturn Award voters with her portrayal of young Ellie (the elder version was portrayed by Jodie Foster) in the sci-fi drama Contact, and she continued to impress critics with various nods for her small-screen work as the title character in Ellen Foster and as an ailing, impoverished girl in Hidden in America.

With so much adulation earned at such a young age, Malone's career seemed to be soaring right from the start. She'd soon nab the role that made her recognizable to audiences everywhere — appearing as the sharp-tongued teen Anna Harrison, a girl who navigates her father's remarriage and her mother's cancer diagnosis in Stepmom. Oddly, after that film is when the heaps of praise started to slow. There were still opportunities aplenty headed her way in the decades to follow, but the awards season attention seemed to come to a grinding halt once the teen made her way into the mainstream.

She took the lead, then took a time out

After showing off some serious screen skills in Stepmom, Malone shared the screen with Kevin Costner in the sports drama For Love of the Game; starred opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in the creepy sci-fi thriller Donnie Darko; and took the title role in TV's The Ballad of Lucy Whipple. However, many of her most prominent projects would go unnoticed, including her work in Life as a House, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, and The United States of Leland.

Although she did get a chance to lead some films along the way, including American Girl (which she also co-produced) and Saved!, her few mainstream movies, including Cold Mountain and Pride & Prejudice, gave her little chance to leave a lasting impression. By the mid-2000s, it looked like she might fade back into the background of show business, so she took some time off to regroup. 

As she told The Independent, "I wanted a year to myself ... I really think the least wise thing you can do as an actor is just keep working because the most important work I do, I don't get paid for. That's all the watching and listening and learning and the quiet moments — the reading, examining and getting away from everything. You have to be able to have multiple perspectives of different aspects of human nature. Anything truthful about being a human you won't find as a celebrity."

She's already staged one comeback

Before Jena Malone could fully fade from the spotlight, she made the decision to start branching out with her workload, and it paid off. 

In 2006, she made her Broadway debut in Doubt and soon after took the lead in a mediocre but memorable horror film called The Ruins. She was also a major part of the celebrated cast in Sean Penn's adaptation of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild and got to show off some fighting skills in Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch. None of those projects were runaway successes or earned her much acclaim, but they definitely brought her back into the realm of public recognition.

By the time she joined The History Channel's well-received mini-series Hatfields & McCoys in 2012, often starring opposite Bill Paxton, Malone was known for more than just her seminal showcase in Stepmom. She'd successfully repositioned herself as an adult actress on the rise, and her next big role would arrive as an unexpectedly perfect fit: the tough-as-nails tribute Johanna Mason in The Hunger Games franchise.

Fake it 'till you make it?

The casting process for The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was as much a spectacle as the films' brutal arenas. The major characters that needed to be introduced in the second film, including Johanna Mason, were fan favorites and consequential to the rest of the series. Speculation over who'd play the new parts created a big buzz.

When Jena Malone's name came up for the role of District 7's bold victor over other named candidates, some gossip experts inferred that Malone herself may have been playing games with the media to secure her status as the trailblazing tribute. Soon after, a similar leak about her involvement with Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice raised even more eyebrows, especially after her role was axed. 

Malone eventually talked about the media savvy lessons of that experience, telling The A.V. Club, "...you don't have to be in a movie to let everyone think you're in a movie. I learned a really interesting lesson in the sense of false PR — by me being just on-set of that, there were all these swirling rumors that I was Robin. And I was like, wow, this is actually a really interesting technique to get a job — to pretend you have it." 

That tactic might be good for grabbing a few headlines, but it might also irk studio executives who are trying to keep big-budget film developments under lock and key.

Her audition style is aggressive, like, really aggressive

Jena Malone may have ruffled feathers with her unique audition style. In an interview with Vulture, she recalled her off-kilter experience reading the part of fiery Johanna Mason with director Francis Lawrence for Catching Fire. According to Malone, she showed up for the audition stark raving mad.

"Anger's not something you can fake. It's something that channels through you, out of nowhere. It's a hard thing to control," Malone said. "I don't know what happened, but the morning I woke up, everything started pissing me off. My alarm didn't go off right; someone called me at five in the morning. I got out of bed on the wrong side of the bed. And I was like, Whoa, whoa, whoa, what's happening? And I was like, Oh, wait. She's totally taking over ... By the time I was in there, I was seething; I was frothing at the mouth. I don't even think I said hello to Francis. I just walked in and said, 'Tell me when you want me to start.'" 

That bold approach obviously worked, but other Hollywood casting directors might not appreciate such aggression.

She wasn't the prototypical teen actress

One look at Jena Malone's Instagram feed is bound to tell fans a lot about the actress' off-screen persona. She clearly enjoys the natural splendor of the outdoors, which is probably a product of her upbringing in the Lake Tahoe area, and her road to Hollywood was hardly paved with gold. 

At just 15, Malone became emancipated from her single mother after she allegedly mismanaged Malone's earnings. Her father was a self-proclaimed "dead beat dad." Though the actress and her mom eventually reconciled and even began living together again at the end of 2017, Malone's inauspicious start made her early Hollywood experience much different than many of her teen peers, and her lifestyle choices reflected that reality.

As she told The Independent, "I can remember thinking: 'That's what I'm supposed to look like? That's what I'm supposed to wear?' Maybe because I'm a tomboy I'm going to fight to the bitter end that girls don't have to wear a lot of makeup and high heels to look beautiful." 

That refusal to conform may be admirable, but it can also be a bit delimiting for an actress breaking into the biz.

She's a single mom, and the 'struggle is real'

Malone and her mother's reconciliation was catalyzed, in part, by Malone's breakup with her fiancé, Ethan DeLorenzo. The actress moved in with her mom after the split, documenting their metamorphosis into "best friends" on Instagram.

Before making peace with her mother, Malone publicly struggled with postpartum depression after the birth of her son, Ode Mountain. In August of 2017, she shared a blurred image of herself with her son on Instagram and captioned it as follows: "Motherhood , depression and self worth. I don't have anything beautiful to say. Except that this struggle is real. The sharp edges are too much to hold without compassion. I'm struggling with this. Compassion for myself and this moment of growth in my life. I know I am not alone in this. I guess I just needed to share, in hopes of being seen and feeling not so very much alone." 

She received an outpouring of support and went on to thank "the insta-tribe" for its positive influence.

She's not that interested in the rat race anymore

Jena Malone may have been a real gunner during her audition for Catching Fire and picked up on some sly media relations tactics in some of her other high-profile projects, but nowadays, she's content to take a backseat to the blockbuster business. 

A sampling of her recent filmography reveals that she's been opting for projects that may not feature her in the lead or even command a full theatrical audience, but that have been revered by critics, including Inherent Vice, Nocturnal Animals, and Lovesong.

As she told Cosmopolitan, that shift has been intentional — an effort to avoid the rigmarole of racing for the next big franchise. "I think what I consider fulfillment is not what most people in Hollywood see as fulfillment," she Malone. "For me, it's enough to play for a couple days with a really great director, take small parts, and have my freedom. But for a lot of people that's not enough. That's not leading roles. That's not pursuing awards material. That's not the cover of a magazine. That's not you becoming a director and you becoming a writer. It's never enough." 

We applaud Malone for honoring her authentic self. However, that aforementioned article in Cosmopolitan ran with the headline, "Jena Malone Makes a Strong Case Against Hollywood," which could definitely explain why Hollywood may not be hustling to cast her anymore.

One privacy invasion might have sent her packing

Jena Malone has shied away from the spotlight in recent years, and it's not just motherhood or her extracurricular passions for making music and dabbling in photography that may have turned her off of the fame game. She was also one of the unlucky celebrities whose intimate photos were leaked online as part of the 2014 iCloud hack attack (dubbed "The Fappening.") Malone was understandably perturbed by the violative experience.

The actress told Cosmopolitan UK that the hack made her think about the broader issue of privacy in the digital age, saying, "I think it's made all women more conscious of safety online. It isn't just about celebrities, and we need to remember that. I think we all need to have a more open dialogue about what is privacy and what is freedom." 

Indeed, Malone seems to have found her freedom by going off the grid to live far away from the hustle and bustle of the limelight. She's still acting here and there — watch for her in the Amazon series Too Old to Die Young — but at the moment, it looks like her blockbuster days might be done.