Why Hollywood Won’t Cast Hayden Panettiere Anymore

With a gorgeous face, a gift for music, and a hit primetime TV series under her belt, Hayden Panettiere was supposed to be Hollywood’s next big thing circa 2006. But ten years after she became a breakout star on Heroes, the actress isn’t anywhere near as famous—or busy—as expected. What happened?

Her first big break ended on a bad note
Unlike a lot of stars who’ve been working in Hollywood since they were just a few years old, Panettiere never experienced growing pains when it came to shedding the mantle of childhood. After making her mark as a cute-as-a-button kiddo in films such as Remember the Titans (2000), her big break came when she scored the role of an unbreakable teenage dream girl on NBC’s hit series, Heroes. When the supernatural drama debuted in 2006, the 17-year-old actress was front and center as its most recognizable star, and her character, Claire Bennett, was an instant fan favorite. Save the cheerleader, save the world!

Unfortunately, what should have been a career-making breakout series—and a part Panettiere could have played for years as a great way to bridge the gap until it was time to take on more adult roles in more serious projects—went super-sour, super-fast. After being initially heralded as an addictively watchable new series on a par with LOST (2004-10), Heroes took a ratings nosee after its second season, and the producers’ efforts to resuscitate it (by cramming up the already-convoluted drama with even more characters and storylines) only made things worse. The result wasn’t good for the careers of anyone involved, but Panettiere arguably had it worst. By the time the show was cancelled in 2010, she’d spent four years of her life as the de facto face of a flailing, failing series. While she was blameless in the show’s demise, being so inextricably associated with it definitely didn’t help when it came time seek more work.

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Her attempt at teen comedy was a terrible flop
Like so many starlets before her, Panettiere had a window of opportunity in her late teens to break into feature films, beginning with the title role in the high school raunch comedy I Love You Beth Cooper (2009). While the project seemed like a perfect fit—one that would give its star a foothold in Hollywood the way that, say, Superbad (2007) did for Emma Stone—it didn’t translate on-screen. The critical reception was brutal. The movie holds a dismal 14 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and failed to earn back its modest $18 million budget at the box office. What’s worse, Panettiere couldn’t even make the best of the role by putting in a good show in a not-so-great movie. One of the biggest complaints about the film was that director Chris Columbus gave his actors nothing to work with, resulting in lifeless performances across the board. In short, the movie did absolutely nothing for Panettiere’s career. The best thing that can be said about the film is that few remember it.

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Her films struggle to find an audience
Indie projects can be a great way for up-and-coming stars to branch out, try new things, and show off their range as actors, but only if people actually see the movies in questions. Panettiere has a knack for picking projects that struggle to find a distributor and end up languishing in the can for years, where they lose momentum and ultimately end up released direct to DVD with minimal fanfare.

Case in point: The Forger—an indie flick with a cool premise, an all-star cast (including Hollywood grande dame Lauren Bacall, in her final role), and another promising young star (Josh Hutcherson) in the leading role. It should have been a feather in the cap of all involved and a chance for Panettiere to show off her range in a more serious film. Instead, the movie sat unfinished for two years before a studio picked it up in 2011, and then released it straight to DVD in 2012, at which point it got virtually no attention, thanks to Hutcherson’s appearance in the mega-blockbuster Hunger Games franchise that same year. Womp, womp.

What’s worse, these post-production/pre-release snafus don’t just happen to Panettiere. They happen to her a lot, including with big-name projects such as Scream 4 (2011) that shouldn’t have such a fraught journey into theaters. Even her latest film—a movie called Custody, in which she plays an attorney—has been in a similar state of limbo since its premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. As of this writing, it doesn’t have a distributor or any plans for wider release, making it one more thoughtful performance by the actress that nobody may ever see.

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She’s been pigeonholed by her cheerleader persona
With her round face, blonde hair, and petite, athletic physique, Panettiere still looks every inch the cheerleader she played for four years on Heroes, and unfortunately, a lot of people can’t imagine her playing anything else. Long after she’d wrapped up her time on the show, the actress confirmed that she was still struggling to be accepted as a serious contender for any other kind of role, telling Movieline, “Playing such a specific role—young, female, all-American cheerleader—you definitely tend to get typecast.”

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Her career in music turned out to be a dead end
Panettiere came of age at a time when the actress-slash-pop-star career path was having its big moment in Hollywood, with artists such as Miley Cyrus, Hilary Duff, and Mandy Moore all making a splash in both music and movies simultaneously. At the time, splitting her focus seemed like a winning proposition and natural fit for Panettiere, a gifted singer who’d already been featured on the soundtracks of several films in which she also starred. In 2008, she planned to release an album and even penned several songs, only to have the entire endeavor stall and die amid creative differences with her label. Not only did it cost her in terms of professional momentum—the aborted album was a total waste of her time and energy at a moment when she needed to be moving forward with her career—but according to Panettiere, the experience was also profoundly demoralizing. In a 2013 interview with Vulture, the actress was still visibly cringing at the memory of her attempt at pop stardom, saying that by the time she hit the recording studio, “I was a puppet, basically. It wasn’t me.”

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She doesn’t have a versatile look
Remember when Legally Blonde’s Reese Witherspoon dyed her signature blonde locks dark brown, and promptly won an Oscar for Walk the Line (2005)? Obviously, not everyone can find that kind of professional success inside a box of hair color, but for actresses who struggle with being typecast, a dramatic new look can be just the ticket to breaking out of a rut…if you can pull it off. Alas, Panettiere’s one and only attempt at a drastic change in appearance was so catastrophic that it seems to have put her off ever trying again. In 2011, she revealed that she had gone ginger after the cancellation of Heroes, only to hate the results so much that she immediately went back to blonde, which reportedly traumatized her hair so badly that it started falling out. The actress was forced to chop her tresses into a super-short pixie cut, which she grew out as quickly as possible, albeit not before it earned her a place on various lists of the most regrettable Hollywood hair changes. Unsurprisingly, she has since stuck to her signature California-girl look—even if it limits her options, career-wise.

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She’s been plagued by family drama
Although Panettiere is personally scandal-free—a rarity for someone who’s been in Hollywood as long as she has—she has also struggled for years with the legacy left by her parents, whose eyebrow-raising behavior and contentious orce rivaled the Lohan family’s turmoil in terms of the shadow it cast on their talented daughter’s career. In a town as gossipy as L.A., that kind of baggage can drag down even the most determined star. Even if Panettiere’s parental drama didn’t cost her in terms of opportunity, it definitely cost her financially, in a way that’s hard to argue hasn’t put her at a disadvantage as she tries to establish herself in more adult roles. When her parents’ orce settlement was finalized after eight years of turmoil, it included the shocking revelation that Panettiere had shelled out for her dad’s legal fees, which he had to repay to the tune of $100,000.

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She courted controversy at the wrong moment
Plenty of big-name actresses have lent their star power to Lifetime original movies about controversial public figures, but when Panettiere joined a Lifetime production, her timing and choice of project could not have been worse. Amanda Knox: Murder on Trial in Italy (2011) is a true-crime film about the infamous murder trial of an American student. The film was plagued by problems from the start, with all the real-life people involved (including the family of murder victim Meredith Kercher as well as Knox herself) petitioning Lifetime to pull the film. Panettiere was criticized for taking on the role; the production was denied permission to film in Perugia (where the murder took place); and by the time the movie premiered, the project was so overshadowed by conflict that nobody even noticed the performance of its lead actress, even though she did a highly respectable job with the demanding role.

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Her acting talents are totally underrated
It’s hard to believe, but the career-making role of Juliette Barnes on Nashville (2012-) almost missed Panettiere. According to Vulture, she wasn’t the show’s “first choice” to play the “villainous young country star with a trailer-trash past; producers worried she might not be vulnerable enough.” Obviously, she got the gig, but the second-guessing is basically a microcosm for how generally overlooked her talents have been by casting directors across the board. Whether it’s because so much of her more erse work has flown so far under the radar, or because people can’t look past her perky blonde facade, Panettiere is an actress whose range has gone sadly unrecognized for much too long.

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Motherhood sapped her momentum
Having a baby isn’t a recipe for lost momentum all by itself, but for Panettiere, the birth of her daughter brought a series of challenges that went beyond the norm for new moms. She actress had seemingly just found her groove on the critically acclaimed series Nashville when she announced that she’d be taking a leave of absence from the show to be treated for severe postpartum depression, which she began to struggle with shortly after giving birth to her first child with then-boyfriend Wladimir Klitschko. Not only did PPD sap her energy and ability to work, but it evidently caused a huge change to Panettiere’s priorities and perspective as she worked to raise awareness for the condition. “There’s a lot of people out there that think that it’s not real, that it’s not true, that it’s something that’s made up in their minds, that ‘Oh, it’s hormones,'” Panettiere told the hosts of the Today show in 2015. “They brush it off. It’s something that’s completely uncontrollable. It’s really painful and it’s really scary and women need a lot of support.” Panettiere checked into a rehab facility twice to seek treatment for postpartum depression.

According to a September 2016 Radar Online report, she willing to e back into work on Nashville, but under one condition: she wants a pregnancy written into the script because she’s looking to expand her family in real life.  “Hayden’s informed her bosses,” a source told the tab, “and they’re more than happy to incorporate a baby bump into the show in some way.” Even so, taking her health seriously could mean Panettiere’s career has to take a backseat.

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She can still turn it around
Despite suffering some major setbacks and no small amount of freakishly bad luck, Panettiere has finally re-emerged as a talent worth noticing thanks to her work on Nashville—where both her skills as an actress and her musical abilities are getting the attention they deserve. 2013 and 2014 saw her nominated for a Golden Globe for her role, and critics have been amazed by her ability to hold her own on the show, especially when sharing the spotlight with a powerhouse such as Connie Britton. While Panettiere’s health-related leave of absence from the show came at an inopportune time, the cliffhanger created by her disappearance should only highlight for the show’s producers—and anyone else who’s paying attention—just what a force she is on-screen.

In short, whatever Panettiere’s next move after Nashville, nobody will be able to write her off as just another one-dimensional Hollywood blonde. The challenges she’s weathered since her breakout role on Heroes have clearly left her stronger, more grounded, and with a much clearer sense of what she wants out of life—not only as an actor, but as a person. In addition to the career renaissance she’s experiencing as a major network TV star for the second time, Panettiere has also found a remarkably balanced and relatively private life outside the Hollywood mainstream, where she’s as likely to be found raising awareness for animal rights or enjoying time with her non-Hollywood fiancé, Ukranian boxer Wladimir Klitschko, as she is schmoozing at a party with paparazzi present. Whatever path she takes from here, as long as she brings that confidence and energy to her next project, there’s basically no question it will be an amazing success.

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