The four Peninsula acting students who gathered for a recent interview at White Rock studio The Drama Class are all around 10 years old.
But you wouldn’t know it from their answers, which showed a level of maturity an interviewer might be hard-put to find in actors even three times their age.
Little wonder these junior performers are already making a mark in the Canadian film and TV industry – as evidenced by their wins this month at the annual Vancouver-based Joey Awards, dedicated to recognizing the work of young talents from across Canada over the last year.
The four were Viva Lee, most promising performer and best actress (eight to nine years) in a student or youth-made short film for To Keep Her Safe; Dominic Mariche, best actor in a television or movie featured role (four to nine years) for The Crossing; Ava Sleeth best actress in a short film (10 to 12 years) for A Family For The Holidays and Kayleigh Sullivan, best commercial actress (nine years) for a Toys R Us campaign.
Ava and Dominic also received ensemble awards for their parts in the Got Milk series of commercials.
Missing from the group were fellow Drama Class Joey winners Emma Oliver, best monologue, best actress in a television or movie featured role (four to six years) for The X Files; Luke Roessler – currently living in Los Angeles while appearing in a regular role in the Netflix series Dead To Me – best actor in a movie-of-the-week or video production for Miss Christmas; and Sleeth’s older sister Isabella, best commercial actress (12 to 17 years) for Napoleon Grill.
Curiously, Ava, Dominic, Viva and Kayleigh said that as ready as they like to be for appearances, they were all anticipating someone else would win in their categories at the awards ceremony.
“I was preparing myself for it, knowing all the other nominees were so talented,” Ava said.
“I blanked,” Kayleigh admitted, noting that the situation wasn’t helped by technical difficulties which led to the projection of her name before she was announced the winner.
“I was pretty surprised, knowing all these major actors were there,” added Viva. “I was, ‘are you sure I was the winner?’”
“Ava and two other students and I had planned this little speech,” Dominic said. “It didn’t go exactly as planned, but we got through it.”
Even though they’ve only been in the business a short time they have gleaned some valuable advice from others, they said.
“My friend taught me to start out playing a scene big,” Ava said. “It’s harder to go bigger but easier to go smaller. And don’t try to act like someone else – sometimes other people will tell you how they they want you to do it, but sometimes it’s really good to be natural.”
“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is, don’t be so anxious,” Dominic said. “If you go to an audition, do it and forget about it – don’t stress about it. And if you get the job, do it and forget about it, too.”
Viva said she finds it best not to stress about crying scenes, of which she’s had many. “You just think about what would make you cry.”
By the same token, she said, it’s important to de-stress after filming such emotional material.
“I like to sing sometimes, or play solitaire, or think about happy things. I don’t want to bring (those emotions) back into my life.”
“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is to cheer up if you don’t get called about a job,” Kayleigh said. “Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get it, but be present during the time you’re there.”
And even though the business is notorious for tedious waits while scenes are being prepared for shooting, or other scenes are being shot, the students said they don’t find it boring.
“I enjoy meeting people,” Ava said. “When you’re going on set, there are usually a lot of other kids there and you make a lot of good friends. In school it’s hard to make friends, but in acting it’s really easy, because everybody’s really outgoing. And (as an actor) you also get to experience new things that other people don’t get to experience.”
“I’ve met a lot of friends in the acting business,” Kayleigh agreed. “I think I’ll be friends with them for a long time, but it’s one of those things where you’re meeting new people all the time.”
“It’s not like staying in your home – you’re going outside of your comfort zone,” Dominic said. “I never find it boring. Even if it is a bit repetitive, the takes are different every time. I like to see how (older) actors do different things, add little things every single take. I find that really interesting, although, for now, I think I’ll stick to the script.”
“I love acting,” said Viva, who added she has been building up her portfolio of work steadily since she was two.
“It’s so fun – it swishes past you so fast. I want to do more. Last night I was working for 10 hours, which is pretty challenging. But I love it and I think I’ll pretty much do it for the rest of my life.”