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Hanging with the actor kids at the Oakwood Apartments

Thursday, Jul 31 2003

Page 5 of 7

In general, Luke, Hallee and Caitlyn don’t seem all that concerned. For them this is what they love to do and they wouldn’t have it any other way. As far as the seemingly endless hazards and crash-and-burn scenarios that go with child acting, they believe that drugs and breakdowns happen everywhere, not just in show business.

“I think the drama and drugs in Hollywood gets a lot more attention because if you’re an actor, you get a lot more attention,” says Luke. His mom, a human rights activist/housewife, who commutes back and forth from Boulder, feels it’s Luke’s friends back home — the ones that aren’t acting — that are more apt to drink and do drugs.

“Most of my friends that are in the business don’t do them at all,” says Luke, who thinks River Phoenix “had the potential to be one of the most powerful actors to have graced the movie screen. When you see Cary Grant onscreen, there is almost a light around him. That’s how I feel about River Phoenix, there’s a light.”

Names like Gary Coleman and Corey Feldman elicit less response around here than do Helen Hunt and Jodie Foster. Luke, Hallee and Caitlyn don’t so much view themselves as child actors as they do actors. Well versed in filmography, they spend their hours studying all kinds of art and dissecting favorite performances, not trying to wrangle their way into Hollywood bars frequented by Paris Hilton.

A list of Hallee’s current faves: Cameron Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, “Hurdy Gurdy Man” by Donovan, Bobbie Gentry (“Ode to Billie Joe”) and Led Zeppelin. Caitlyn’s are all things Brittany Murphy (especially Girl, Interrupted), David Spade, Fight Club, Rufus Wainwright (a former Oakwood resident) and the Doors. Luke likes Philip Seymour Hoffman in A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Audition by Takashi Miike, William Goldman’s book Which Lie Did I Tell?, The Band and Wes Anderson. Luke’s ideal career would be that of Owen Wilson, Vincent Gallo, Woody Allen or Mike White if he acted more.

For every horrifying, Dana Plato–type tale, there seem to be as many stories about nightmarish stage parents in the pages of National Enquirer.

Deedee Bradley admits that she has seen her fair share of it. “Sometimes I get some pretty scary parents. When that happens, I tell the agent right away. One time, I had a little 4-year-old that got slapped in the hallway. The kid didn’t want to audition and the mother hit her. My assistant told me about it. We called the agent and the agent dropped them. The agent was horrified. The agents that I deal with are real good, very reliable, very honest. They won’t handle kids and/or parents like that.”

Some parents, though, just recognize early on that acting is where their kids excel and make a decision to support it. When Hallee’s older brother switched from sports, which he wasn’t good at, to theater, where he shined, her parents noticed the change in him right away. “Greg is a very soulful person. It was making his personality,” explains Debbie Hirsh, a former Navy captain, from her sunny Toluca Lake kitchen. When their daughter decided to follow in her brother’s footsteps, the Hirshes were prepared.

The Toluca Hills Oakwood has been aggressively pursuing a child-actor clientele since the early ’90s, acquiring the domain name and procuring relationships with SAG, child-actor advocate Paul Peterson, and kid agents and managers across the country.

Besides security and convenience, the Toluca Hills Oakwood offers acting and dance classes, child-rights advocacy seminars, schooling and the veritable rite of passage Sunday Brunch, where kids of all ages schmooze and line up for a continental breakfast of doughnuts, OJ and cereal. As well, there are the expected Oscar-viewing and holiday parties. And, this year, a particularly popular (not) teen meet-and-greet, a sort of group therapy/orientation which put the clubhouse karaoke mike to use. “All the kids just ended up freestyling,” recalls Hallee with a laugh.

“The parents would go crazy having their kids for a month or two at a hotel,” explains Joni Rodenbusch, the National Entertainment accounts manager, who, along with Oakwood’s activities director, Rose Forti, developed the specialized program. For the past few years, the child-actor business has consistently brought in more than a million dollars a year for the global corporation.

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