Review by Mary Grace Gallagher
Max Page, the young actor in No Stranger Pilgrims, drew a square in the air in front of him.
“Here’s the box that is humble,” he said. “My mom, she never lets me out of this.”
The three actors in the “The Kid Stays in the Picture” panel at the Annapolis Film Festival – Anthony Gonzalez, 12, who played Oscar in Icebox, Jillian Lebling, 11, who wrote, directed and starred in Sleeptalker and has already been part of the team nominated for an Academy Award for her work in Bridge of Spies, and Max Page, 12, who has been receiving critical acclaim for his sensitive portrayal of No Stranger Pilgrims – are all professionals when it comes to memorizing and reciting lines.
But there’s one person’s lines they know better than all other’s: their mom’s.
The children credited parents as partners in their success, helping with everything from reading scripts to responding on their social media sites.
“She reminds me all the time: You’re not the whole product. You’re just one part of the product,” Max said, smiling at his mother, who sat in the back of the room, which was, fittingly, an elementary school cafeteria.
Later, when asked by a member of the audience how each of the actors handles the disappointment which they all acknowledged was part of the trade, Anthony called upon his mom’s sage advice: “When one door closes,” she told him, “another opens. You’ve got to keep on trying.”
Moderated by Casey Baum, a student at nearby Key School whose Chemistry 101 was being screened later that day, the panel offered a glimpse into how young performers can break into the industry.
Several parents of aspiring young actors sat among the panel’s audience, their children with them as they peppered the cheerful trio with questions about whether they planned to attend college (They all agreed they did), which movies they would most enjoy remaking (Max would be Harry in Harry Potter, Anthony would be Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible and Jillian would redo a horror film called Mama) and who they aspire to work with (Max said Kenny Johnson, his co-star in No Stranger Pilgrims; Anthony echoed his admiration for Tom Cruise and Jillian said it would be Tom Hanks, with whom she worked on Bridge of Spies, because “He is so nice.”).
The performers talked about their “big breaks.” Max was just a toddler when he started working as Reed Hellstrom on The Young and the Restless, but has found the soap opera’s fans to be the ones who have recognized him out in public, even more so than his 2011 part as the kid in the Darth Vader mask in the Volkswagen commercials.
Anthony recounted how the Pixar executives didn’t realize he could sing when they called him back for Coco.
“They were like, “Oh!” he recalled of his landing the part of Miguel in the animated feature being released this fall.
It was shortly after landing the role of Ivanka in the Broadway production of Once, that Jillian tried out for the part of Peggy Donovan in Bridge of Spies.
“It was a really secret project,” she said. “I knew it was a Steven Spielberg project, but I didn’t know he was big.”
Asked for advice, Max was pragmatic: “Definitely take your talent where you lead it,” he said. “You just gotta find your niche.”
Jillian, who got her start playing Ivanka on Broadway’s Once, spoke of her surprise run-in with A-lister James Spader on the set of The Blacklist.
“I got a little star-struck,” she said, touching her cheek. “My face was so red.”
Anthony explained that even though his work on the Icebox set included fun times playing soccer with other kids, he said the heavy subject of deportations of undocumented immigrant families had a big impact on him.
“It hurts,” he said of the devastation the film depicted. “Because of that short film, I know what others go through.”