Two actors, one family

Cloverdale's Donnie and Laine MacNeil reach for the stars while keeping their feet firmly on the ground.

Donnie and Laine MacNeil.

Two promising local actors recently had a chance to walk the red carpet at a Hollywood awards ceremony.

Donnie and Laine MacNeil – siblings whose acting resumés include both film and TV credits – attended the 33rd annual Young Artist Awards in Los Angeles last month, where they were both up for acting awards.

Donnie, 18, was nominated for Best Performance in a TV Series – Guest Starring (actors 14 to 17) for his turn on an episode of Hiccups, the CTV comedy starring Brett Butt and Nancy Robertson.

He was pretty surprised to be nominated in a category brimming with other young hopefuls.

“There’s a lot of big TV shows,” he said, back home in Cloverdale. “I just didn’t think they would consider a small show like Hiccups. It was amazing.”

Younger sister Laine, 16, a four-time nominee at the Young Artist Awards, took home a statuette for Best Performance in a Feature Film, Supporting Young Actress (14-16), for her work as “Patty Farrell” in Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Rodrick Rules.

This was Laine’s fourth nomination and second win at the awards, which recognize children and youth for their work in the entertainment industry.

Laine has acted in all three Diary of A Wimpy Kid movies. The latest, Diary of a Wimpy Kid – Dog Days, appears in theatres Aug. 3. (This Sunday, Laine also appears in an episode of Falling Skies on TNT.)

The gala ceremony was just the latest development in their burgeoning careers.

Both siblings have been acting for several years, enjoying a kind of success – and honing a work ethic – that’s sometimes hard to explain to other kids their age.

They started acting around the same time. Mom Lynda says her kids caught the bug when they got to visit the set of 2006’s Deck The Halls, the movie starring Danny DeVito and Matthew Broderick that was filmed in Cloverdale, and it just went from there. Both were cast both were cast in the first Diary of A Wimpy Kid, a family-friendly movie based on a popular series of books.

The pair had one scene together. “The kinds of kids they were both playing,” recalls Lynda with a laugh, confiding about the roles: “Well, they were mean children.”

Since then, the whole family has pulled together to help the kids pursue their acting careers.

It’s meant juggling school with work, nights home learning lines while friends are at parties, and other sacrifices.

When one parent accompanies a child to a film shoot or audition, for instance, the other keeps the home fires burning.

And the family spent five weeks in Los Angeles during pilot season this year for auditions – the sort of upheaval that not every family would be up for.

Flexibility is important, too. “It’s such a spontaneous industry,” Lynda says.

“You’ll get notice the night before that you’re doing something. It makes scheduling your life complicated. The whole family has to be on board.”

The sacrifices, she says, are worth it, especially when she considers the work ethic her children are  developing.

Last-minute work commitments could have played havoc with a teenager’s social life.

Laine, who entered Grade 8 after she hit the silver screen in the first Diary of A Wimpy Kid movie, admits it hasn’t always been easy staying true to her career and being a reliable friend.

“I’m the most unreliable person you will ever meet,” she’d warn friends, preparing them for the inevitable day she’d have to break lunch plans at the last minute.

“They’d be mad. There were a lot of strains.”

Now that she’s in Grade 10, her friends are “used to it. They’re really supportive.”

So are the teachers and administrators at Lord Tweedsmuir.

“I can guarantee you, I haven’t completed an entire week of school in a row this year,” Laine says. “I miss at least one day a week.”

Laine does her best to keep on top of her homework, asking for assignments in advance, and being diligent about making up class time.

“I have to be teacher’s pet,” she laughs, divulging she’s not above ordering nice coffee in exchange for a deadline extension.

Despite often hectic schedules, both teens are active in sports.

Donnie plays hockey, baseball and Tae Kwan Do, while Laine, a talented figure skater, had to put skating on hold this year due to her filming schedule, but still manages to play fastpitch and Tae Kwan Do.

Glamorous Hollywood engagements like the Young Artist Awards notwithstanding, this has been a busy year for both MacNeil siblings.

Donnie appeared on Supernatural, and Haunting Hour, and was the voice of Devlin Dilophosaurus on Dinosaur Train.

He likes serious roles, but also enjoys exploring the lighter side of things.

“I always like injecting a bit of comedy in there,” he says.

Donnie enjoyed his stint on Hiccups and says Butt is just like he appears on TV – he’s a bit quirky and has a great sense of humour.

He’s about to graduate from Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary this June, and says it feels weird to think about what it’ll be like to not have to go to school.

“It’s exciting – I get to go to university this year.”

He’s hoping to apply to art school in order to study CGI animation. He’s got his fingers crossed for Emily Carr University of Art and Design.

Along with Diary of a Wimpy Kid 3, and Falling Skies, Laine also appeared in Pregnancy Project a Lifetime movie starring Alexa Vega.

Laine, who heads to Grade 11 next fall at Tweedsmuir, is coming to the realization that she may need to move closer to Hollywood to pursue her craft.

And, like her older brother, she’s also drawn to other aspects of the entertainment industry.

Watching wardrobe and set designers on set has stoked an interest in  possibly becoming a wardrobe person one day.  (She sews and is considering taking a drafting class.)

She loves the movie industry, she says, because it’s so much fun to be part of.

When asked what she likes about acting, she responds simply: “What isn’t there to like about acting? I love acting – both comedy and dramatic – because I get an adrenaline rush when I do a good job on a scene.”