Photo by Jack Gould
Luke, Hallee and Caitlyn are hanging out by the pool at the Toluca Hills Oakwood apartment complex.
“TV for the most part, I’m just not interested in,” says Luke sprawled out on the cement. “I don’t like the way it works. I don’t like how fast it moves. Maybe I can name four shows on TV that are worthwhile: The Simpsons, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, South Park and one more actually — The Daily Show absolutely impresses the hell out of me.”
“But you’ve done some TV?”
“Yeah, yeah. I actually have a TV movie on Sunday. It’s called A Painted House, I don’t really play a big part in it, but I am sort of there through the whole movie standing in the background. That’s generally the kind of parts I get. My job as an actor is, ‘Whose shoulder can I peek over today?’”
Luke Eberl doesn’t have “a look.” The Boulder, Colorado, native, who got his start playing frogs, princes and the like in a local “no big deal” children’s theater company called the Peanut Butter Players, is the type of kid you used to see around before the youth marketing craze took off. He wears a short, beaded necklace he got on location and almost always Tevas, no doubt a holdover from his Colorado roots. He carries a black moleskin pad with him at all times, is an “aspiring vegetarian,” plays keyboard and guitar, has practiced Bikram yoga and described the recent Matthew Barney show in New York as “David Lynch meets Jacques Tati.”
Though the child actor co-starred in Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes and recently appeared in the aforementioned TV movie, Luke doesn’t just act. He’s also a filmmaker. His short film Incest and a self-produced local-kids’ lifestyle show he did back in Colorado when he was 11 have won him a number of national awards. He produced and starred in a $125,000 thriller Searching for Haizmann, which will be in video stores this October. And, he wrote a feature-length screenplay called To the Raccoon, which has attracted a commitment from independent film director Julia Jay Pierrepont (Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel), who is currently making a “pass on it.”
(Photo by Jack Gould)
“When I saw Dogtown,” says the 16-year-old, blue-eyed auteur, “I thought, I want to be to film, to storytelling, what Jay Adams was to skating.”
Hallee (pronounced Holly) Hirsh has been booking jobs since she banked a Disney Cruise Line commercial when she was 3. Today, the photogenic, doll-eyed 15-year-old has her own house — a two-bedroom prewar with lemon trees in the yard — that her older brother, Greg, and a few college buddies are currently renting out. She also has a résumé a mile long, including 12 episodes of ER as Anthony Edwards’ daughter, a supporting part in the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romance You’ve Got Mail, a recurring role on Dharma & Greg, and a particularly tear-jerking performance on Judging Amy.
Caitlyn Folley, a 16-year-old Brittany Murphy look-alike, is relatively new around the Oakwood. But, thanks to her savvy outlook and “sick, twisted sense of humor,” the actress, who “lives for” her “fro-yo” and Smart Pop, is completely at home hanging with the Oakwood kids.
Tucked inside the Hollywood Hills, the massive 11,052-unit residence on Barham Boulevard is one of many Oakwoods in an international network of somewhat upscale, pre-furnished, short-term living communities. Spitting distance from the Warner Bros., Universal, NBC, Disney and Nickelodeon lots, the gated community caters to industry types, like the some 500 out-of-state child actors who shacked up here last pilot season — that gold-rush period of time between January and April when the studios, networks and productions companies cast their sample episodes of new TV shows looking for the next Jennifer Love Hewitt, Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) or Jessica Biel, all of whom once stayed here. Luke basically lives here year round.
Not long ago this place was packed with perfect-looking, Midwestern, bikini-clad 15-year-olds and their mothers gossiping and giving each other what Caitlyn calls “the fake Oakwood hug.” But pilot season is over and the scene is otherwise dead.
Caitlyn and Hallee are perched comfortably on chaise longues near Luke. Hallee, who also appeared in Incest, doesn’t live at the Oakwood anymore, but she hangs out here all the time. Her miniature Chihuahua puppy Dylan (“I love Bob Dylan”) is in her lap. He just farted.
“Dy-lan!” the actress smiles, shrugging apologetically.
“I’ve found a niche in killing people,” she explains, her thick, dirty-blond mane hanging halfway down her slim, tank top–clad back. “I’ve killed three or four people in my career, bashing them over the head with a rock, with a gun, and not giving an insulin shot. But I play a saint in Manna From Heaven, so I swear I can be good.”
“You’ve done a lot of TV, right?”
“I haven’t been on a series.”
“Yeah, you have,” Luke insists, sitting up at attention. “What about that soap you were on?”
“Daytime. Okay, daytime,” concedes Hallee, who spent a few years on ABC’s Loving.
“That’s more than I’ve done!” Luke blurts, half joking.
A while back, Luke and Hallee kinda liked each other. Now they’re just friends, good friends. They also share the same agent, Abby Bluestone at Innovative Talent. Innovative is the only big agency that has a real children’s department. If a kid is at CAA or ICM it’s
only because they are, like, Hilary Duff.
Hallee has a new boyfriend, Parker. He’s not an actor, a fact Hallee is “glad” about, but his band, the Naturals, are good for real. Stylee and melodic, they are like the Velvet Underground meets the Beatles meets Phantom Planet. They played their first show a few weeks ago at the Whisky a GoGo; it was packed and “awesome!”
Luke says a relationship right now would only be “excess baggage.” Caitlyn is a self-professed flirt who, Hallee confirms, “destroys young actors one at a time — slowly.”
“I’m not that bad, really,” laughs Caitlyn, who admits she likes a boy back home in Toledo.
During pilot season and then again between June and August, when about 150 or so kids return for a few more rounds of auditions, this place is like a cool-kids’ summer camp. Not to mention much of the time famous bands like Papa Roach, 98 Degrees or Aerosmith and a handful of cute, senior-year film school interns can be staying here as well. It’s the perfect reality-show setting for the younger set. Especially among the new kids, or “newbies” as Caitlyn calls them.
“They’re a bunch of these really pretty kids, a lot of them come from, like, Texas and Florida, where, like, cheerleading and modeling are big. So, they sort of come from that angle, ‘The prettier I look the more I’ll work,’” explains Hallee, petting Dylan on the head.
“They get a lot of the same looks. Like, the generically beautiful girls in bikinis and the sort of laid-back surfer guys. All hanging around the hot tub.”
(Photo by Jack Gould)
“They don’t realize it’s like winning the lottery,” says Luke matter-of-factly.
During pilot season, both Luke and Hallee were going out on about one to three auditions a day. Neither booked a pilot, but Hallee, a former military brat, “went to studio” and network a few times. Translation: She came really, really close.
“The kid acting community is very small,” Luke explains, pushing back the chin-length blond hair from his face. “It’s all intertwined, everyone has some kind of history with each other. It’s kind of a cool thing to be a part of, and on the other hand it’s a bunch of very emotional kids, who are thrown together in certain situations.”
“It’s such a hard industry,” adds Hallee, who has done four pilots over the years and so many national commercials (“over 50 to be exact”) they aren’t even listed on her résumé. “And we’re teenagers at the same time. We’ve got the hormones, you know? It’s a confidence battle.”
“The business is full of bullshit and hypocrisy,” announces Luke emphatically. “Because it’s a business where you are constantly being told that who you are isn’t interesting enough.”
“You have to be completely confident, always at the center of attention,” says Hallee, who appeared regularly in skits on SNL, Letterman and Conan when she was still living back in New York. “It’s weird trying to find yourself. I can’t wait until I’m older and kind of beyond that stage. I want to laugh at that, like, ‘Yeah, I was a child actor and I found myself, la, la.’”
“I am a washed-up child actor and I found myself,” says Caitlyn wryly, flipping a neon-green Motorola back and forth in her palm.
“Hey,” Luke inserts. “Luke’s living under the 101! He’s a crack addict now, homeless, it’s grrreat!”
There were approximately 80 pilots cast this season and about 40 roles for actors between the ages of 8 and 16. According to young-talent agent Larry Corsa of Epstein, Wyckoff, Corsa and Roth, the casting directors will “whittle it down to like five kids,” at the end of the casting process. At which point, seven-year deals will be cut for each kid, in order to avoid any one kid having too much negotiating power.
“It’s a real struggle,” explains Corsa, who currently handles 35 kids theatrically and about 200 commercially. “You have a 1-in-5 chance that the kid will be cast and maybe a 1-in-30 that the pilot will end up on the air. And, we are trying to negotiate for as much money as we can possibly justify for the kid.”
Corsa, who lives in Santa Monica with his screenwriter wife and 8-year-old daughter (who has no desire to act, “thank heavens”), says that on top of that, reality shows have cut into the amount of work that is out there for actors, and writers for that matter. “There just aren’t as many slots on the schedule.”
The agent placed three kids on pilots this year, two shows for Carsey-Werner, the production company responsible for That ’70s Show, and one with Regency, which does Malcolm in the Middle. He said he felt he had “a pretty good chance,” but unfortunately none were picked up.
Deedee Bradley, an independent casting director, has been in the business 22 years and cast two pilots this past season. One called for two minors, a boy and a girl.
“When I have a role for someone under 16 I see everybody,” says Bradley, who also casts the young-Superman show Smallville. “That’s the only way you’re gonna find a pearl. I just see kid after kid after kid. I’m one of those people that has to see everybody myself. I don’t do it with pictures,
’cause, you know what? In pictures they’re all cute.” Bradley
estimates that she saw “every 11-, 12- and 13-year-old that was in town this year.”‰
Compared to Luke and Hallee, Caitlyn is new to the acting game. The strawberry-blond daughter of two doctors got her start last year at the same New York talent convention, International Modeling and Talent Association (IMTA), that launched the career of fellow Toledo native Katie Holmes. In fact, the two actresses’ families live on the very same Toledo block. Urged on by her acting coach at Margaret O’Brien’s acting school, who also worked with Holmes, Caitlyn made a splash at the IMTA by winning Best Actress and the sitcom award and quickly followed that up by coming out to Los Angeles and slam-dunking a pilot.
“I was all enthusiastic ’cause it was starting out great,” she explains, dressed in orange Joe Boxers with paw prints on the butt and knee-high tube socks. The pilot was an hourlong “dramedy” for Noggin, the Nickelodeon offshoot. Caitlyn was the lead, but the show was ultimately red-lighted.
This year, her second pilot season, hasn’t gone so well. Truth is, she’s barely in the game. Shocking, considering that she is, well, so hot. Freckle-faced and sitcom thin, Caitlyn just looks like a rising star. But in reality, the sassy actress has hardly even been seen by any casting agents this year, unless you count a couple of auditions friends told her about and a few independents she read about in the trades. Her manager, her second in two years, tells her there’s nothing out there, even though all her peers are regularly “going out.” Her agent is nowhere to be seen.
But Caitlyn, who plans on moving to Los Angeles permanently after high school, is content to spend the summer sending out 8-by-10s and looking for new representation. “The thing is, it doesn’t matter how good of an agency you are with if no one is gonna push you. It’s all about the relationships you have.”
Caitlyn, who knows 15-year-old Nikki Reed, the writer and star of the hot independent film Thirteen, is also working on a comedic feature and two sitcoms, one about her life as an actress in L.A., and one about her life back in Ohio. “I swear if you followed me and my sister around with a camera it would be so funny.”
(Photo by Jack Gould)
The sun is setting on the thick California foliage outside Luke’s apartment window. You can hike straight up to the Hollywood sign from here, and Luke, the son of a geologist/former professional rock climber, frequently does. Tibetan peace flags hang off his balcony. An acoustic Martin guitar is in one corner of his living room. A “Local Birds of L.A. County” poster is tacked above an open Apple I-Book. A stack of DVDs, among them Thelma & Louise and Do the Right Thing, and a well-worn copy of Atlas Shrugged sit on the coffee table next to a bowl of fresh green grapes.
“Are your other child-actor friends interested in making their own films or are you an exception to the rule?”
“As far as being interested, there are a lot of people that are interested. I mean, obviously, how could you walk onto a film set and not be interested?” asks the barefooted actor, popping a grape in his mouth. “It’s just the most amazing process, so consummate, you know?”
“As far as people that are actually gonna take action, that’s kind of a smaller minority,” he continues. “’Cause, A: A lot of kid actors, who are working all the time, just don’t have time. And, B: A lot of people might not have quite the motivation to really get up and do it themselves.”
Luke pulls his knees into his chest and wraps his arms around them. “I see a lot of these older actors, friends of mine, complaining ’cause they don’t have their own TV show yet. I don’t want to sit around and wait for everyone else to make me a success. Because no matter what position you are in in this business, no matter what job you have, you are always going to be at someone else’s mercy. So, I decided it’s better, and it’s gonna end up being a lot more fun, a lot more fulfilling, if I take things into my own hands and create my own work and tell my own stories.”
Caitlyn says that Luke’s drive and ability to cultivate relationships will take him far, and she wishes she could be a bit more like him. “He meets everyone,” she explains one afternoon after hanging out with him. She’s kind of right.
Luke, who was known to spend the “entire day” at Brent Bolthouse’s now-defunct Coffee House on Sunset and once introduced himself briefly to Charlie Kaufman at an Adaptation screening, was also invited “to basically hang out with Paul Thomas Anderson [Luke’s favorite] and Jon Brion for six or seven hours while they were scoring Punch-Drunk Love. It was the coolest experience.”
In a dream social world, Luke would love to have coffee with David Fincher, Steven Spielberg, William H. Macy, Todd Solondz, Edward Norton and Edgar Allan Poe — “the greatest storyteller that ever lived.”
For the most part, Luke and his pals have already surpassed the typical child actor’s career arc. According to Larry Corsa, a great child-actor career would be something like this: “A kid does it for like three or four years. Does about five or six commercials, maybe no TV shows or movies at all, banks $80,000 to $100,000 and has some money for college. That’s the ideal. I would say 85 percent of the kids I sign don’t even do that well and leave even earlier.”
One of the reasons the life span of a child actor is so short is that the transition from child actor to adult actor can be such a hard one. Historically, it’s kind of the baby-animal syndrome — cute and cuddly grows up not-so-cute.
“There are kids that work a lot from 2 until 6 and never work again. There are other kids that work a lot from 10 to 14. The ones with incredible talent, like Haley Joel Osment, Hilary Duff or Amanda Bynes, they explode on the scene and work and work and work and work because nobody can touch them,” Corsa says from his Beverly Hills office.
According to Bradley, the casting director, such talent is few and far between. “A lot of times children get overcoached,” she says. “They become like little puppets. There are a lot of kids that come in that should be back home playing baseball or whatever kids and teenagers do. But somewhere along the line someone encouraged them to do this and they are not emotionally ready, not prepared enough. That is what breaks my heart. It’s not a passion with them. They just aren’t good enough to compete.”
Bradley, who got her start as an actor — and ultimately married one — admits that when it comes to roles for adolescents, she generally tries casting older actors that can “play young.” This makes it easier on the production overall, avoiding the limited work hours child-labor laws demand.
“From a producer’s standpoint, yeah, it’s a pain in the ass having a kid in your movie,” says Luke, popping another grape in his mouth. “It’s just kind of too bad, ’cause you can actually gain a lot from having an actual young person play these roles rather than a person who seems like they should be having families of their own. A lot of roles I have been up on have literally gone to guys that are 26, 27 playing 16.”
Luke had a particularly disconcerting audition recently. “I was talking to the woman and she said, ‘You know, I don’t know what to do with you ’cause you don’t have long hair.’ And, I said, ‘My hair is kinda long.’ She said, ‘You don’t skateboard.’ And, I said, ‘I do skateboard!’ Then she said, ‘I don’t buy you being 16 years old.’ I said, ‘Wow! That’s interesting. What do you buy me being?’ And, she said, ‘Well, at least 22.’ I said, ‘I actually am 16 years old.’ And, she was like, ‘uh-huh.’ She didn’t even know if I could act or not.”
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 ChildActors.net 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.
“Everyone just sort of ends up at the Oakwood,” explains Caitlyn. “A lot of the kids we hang around with don’t even live there anymore, but they come back just because that is where they meet all their friends. It’s kind of just like, ‘Oh, I have nothing to do, I’ll go to Oakwood.’”
One of Caitlyn’s favorite things about the Oakwood is that all different kinds of kids hang out here together. “Not like at school, where there are little cliques.”
That said, Caitlyn (who is thinking about changing her name to something catchier like Boston or Reggie), Luke and Hallee are part of a sort of core group around the Oakwood. A group that also includes 18-year-old Elyse Rogers, who has been coming out from Florida for six years, 16-year-old Rheagan Wallace, who lives here year round, and a bunch of boys who all have pretty big careers and no longer live here, including Aaron Himelstein (the young Austin in Austin Powers in Goldmember), Andrew McFarlin (The West Wing, My Wife and Kids) and Frankie Muniz (Malcolm in the Middle).
In their defense, much of the segregation arises from the fact that some 95 percent of the pilot-season kids are generally first-timers.
Rodenbusch explains that pilot season can serve as a filter, separating, as the saying goes, the boys from the men. If a pilot season goes well, a lot of parents will figure out something more permanent, and if it doesn’t go well they may rethink the whole endeavor.
Not everyone at the Oakwood is in show business, though. Forti, the 55-year-old activities director, is sort of an omnipresent Mrs. Garrett meets Julie McCoy. “Whenever I think of Rosie,” says one Oakwood kid, “I think of her taking something out of her bra. She uses her bra like a purse, and she’s always taking something out of it, like a camera or something huge, something you wouldn’t expect to be coming out of a bra.”
Forti, who has been a resident of various Oakwoods for 33 years, and worked for them for 30 — she’s been at this location for 17 — got her start in the Department of Recreation back in San Jose. “People always followed me,” the assertive Forti explains from her office, which is lined with 8-by-10s of kid actors, both former and current residents.
Rosie describes herself as the Oakwood’s Auntie Mame, though the kids may see it a bit differently. “No matter what event you go to, she’s always there announcing things,” says Elyse. “I think the kids fear Rosie more than they fear the security guards. She has a microphone in her office in the North Clubhouse, and it’s like the voice of God telling us to be quiet.”
A good number of recent divorcées who are seeking comfort in the Oakwoods’ fully furnished units, and the occasional top-level Fortune 500 executive in the process of relocating, also call the local Oakwood complexes (there are a dozen in greater L.A.) home.
Oh yeah, and of course there’s the Mumbler. “We’ve got a lot of weird old people here,” explains Brittany Robertson, a shockingly petite 12-year-old with a gorgeous face, who has just done a national Mattel commercial and a independent feature called The Ghost Club, on which Elyse happened to be a production assistant. “We got one real mean guy that just hangs around all day and mumbles. He’s all, ‘blah, blah, blah, TV’s-out-of-order, mumble, mumble, mumble.’”
Hallee’s father, Mike Hirsh, a 56-year-old, retired Marine lieutenant colonel, who now dedicates his days to shuffling his daughter to auditions and sets, says that there’s a good side and bad side to living inside the gated community. “The good side is it’s a lot of kids that are like-minded and quasi-protected. You don’t feel bad about them running around the Oakwood at night, the security guards know them. The downside is the backstabbing. It’s a little Peyton Place.”
Along those lines, Caitlyn confesses that when she first arrived, “The core kids weren’t all that impressed. They were like, ‘Oh, she’s just one of the pilot-season kids, she’s just gonna be here for a little while and leave.’”
“She was a bit overwhelming at first,” admits Elyse, who next week starts work on a low-budget horror movie, in which she gets to slit her own throat.
“For some reason we started to really respect her,” says Hallee, slurping from a large iced mocha at Priscilla’s, a Riverside Drive ice cream and coffee shop that offers a safe haven for the vehicle-less Oakwood kids who thrive on sugar, caffeine and Ms. Pac Man. Priscilla’s would make the most excellent location for a TV show: It’s very Friends-y, very prime time, filled with former soap stars, chess players, and acting students from the studio next door.
“It was amazing, the main reason was, she was very persistent. She knew we didn’t like her and she didn’t just give up. She just kept following us around and saying, ‘I’m Caker.’ And now she is like the coolest one here.”
“We have a lot of cool conversations, I swear to God,” Hallee assures with another slurp. “You’ve got to hear us at like 4 in the morning.”
“Do you guys have crushes on any of the guys around here? What about that cutie behind the counter?”
“I don’t like him,” says “Caker,” casting her eyes dramatically to the floor. “He wouldn’t give me free gelato.”
“He wouldn’t accept her flirt,” says Elyse. “That’s all you need to know about Caker.”
“Some people would say I’m a slut, but I’m a flirt,” Caker explains, licking a chocolate gelato–filled spoon clean.
“What’s the difference?”
“Sluts sleep with the people they flirt with. I just think it’s funny.”
“We’re exaggerating, it’s not that bad,” says Elyse, who shared a two-bedroom at the Oakwood this pilot season with a 12-year-old and her grandma.
This afternoon, a number of regulars will drop by the girl’s small round table: “Mitch,” a “writer” who used to live in Maui and now lives in his van with his dog; “Mark,” who last week pitched the girls a celebrity cooking show idea that featured Ricky Martin; and Luke, Frankie Muniz and a leggy Canadian named Jessica who had a bit part in Muniz’s film Agent Cody Banks. One of Luke’s other best friends, 18-year-old Chris Marquette, who plays Linderman in Freddy vs. Jason, and who looks eerily like a mini–John Cusack, will also do a swing-by.
One of the other aspects of life at the Oakwood that can add to its Peyton Placeness, or worse yet, Survivor-like quality, is that everyone doesn’t always achieve the same level of success at the same time. For example, two of Luke’s best friends, Chris and Frankie, both of whom Hallee has known since she was a little kid, have been working nonstop recently, whereas Luke hasn’t booked an acting gig in a while.
“I’m so happy for them,” says Luke, sincerely. “It’s wonderful. But when all my good friends are working and stuff, it’s difficult. It’s true, to some extent it’s trashed my self-esteem. But, obviously, I have enough faith in myself to be out here doing what I’m doing. It’s sort of that spine-of-steel mentality.” Luke admits there is also an art to dealing with those who have achieved less than yourself professionally.
“You try to help all the people you care about as much as you can, definitely. But at the same time you gotta be careful that you don’t burn out the connections for yourself.”
Unfortunately, everyone is not always understanding. “Especially in a place like Oakwood, especially new stage moms,” admits Luke, “they are gonna be asking, ‘Who is your manager?’ ‘Who is your agent?’ ‘What audition do you have?’ ‘What time is it?’ Just trying to ride your coattails any way they possibly can.
“Obviously, when I first got here, I didn’t have any friends, so I would go with the different activities, Sunday brunch, you know?, looking for friends. And then you sort of start to realize how fake that world is. Of course, my mom and I would never hound someone with questions like that. We feel like it would almost be rude. It puts us in a real weird position.”
Auditions and friends won and lost, endless conversations and screenplay ideas, for the most part life around the Oakwood is good, clean kid-actor fun; and, now that pilot season’s over, there’s a little more time to focus on other stuff. Hallee, who starts filming an independent this August based on the popular teen novel Speak, will also take some UCLA Extension classes this summer, go to Hawaii and hopefully learn how to drive. Caitlyn’s gotta find an agent and finish her three scripts. Luke has To the Raccoon — “sort of in pre-production” — which he needs to raise money for and cast, as well as edit his newest short, a “suburban comedy” called Fellowship. Along the way, if any one of them happens to score the role of a lifetime, they can be sure that their friends back at the Oakwood will be rooting them on.
As Hallee says, “Cool times.”