You know all those perky, talented high school kids on Fox's hit series Glee? Well, kids they most definitely are not. That adorable, singing cutie-pie Blaine? Darren Criss, the actor who plays him, is actually 25 years old. Cory Monteith, who plays simple local kid Finn Hudson, is – wait for it – 30!
Why such a glaring age disparity between television kids and the actors who play them? "That's just the way the business works," Heather Braverman, a 15-year-old Bergen County actress, explains. "It's a common theme in television, film and Broadway."
There are simply too many things that make working with a child actor more difficult for producers, she says, like dealing with helicopter parents and managers, additional expenses for flying children to film locations and tutoring them on set, and work restrictions like shorter working hours as required by the Screen Actors Guild.
Plus, Braverman adds, the fact that kids still have a lot of growing to do can throw a monkey wrench into a producer's plans. "The way Cory Monteith looks isn't going to change," she says. "But I could suddenly grow another five inches."
A Seasoned Pro
Though it might be tougher for her to land young character roles now that she's looking more like an adult, Braverman has certainly had her share of them over the years. She kicked off her acting career at the age of 5, performing off-Broadway and touring New York and New Jersey schools in a middle school musical called The New Kid. Since then she's had a number of theater and television appearances, including a role in the musical Circle of Friends at the American Girl Place in New York and appearances in Guiding Light, One Life to Live, Law & Order: Criminal Intent and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
With such a stocked résumé, Braverman has become something of a showbiz pro.
"There are little quirks about the system that you come to understand when you've been doing it so long," she says. "Always wear a solid-color top that's bright, dress the part, and have a headshot and résumé with you all the time. These are simple things to know – it's info that you just come to acquire over time."
Braverman has also learned to roll with the punches in unusual situations most kids would never encounter. Like that time she spent in the trunk of a car covered in fake blood in the scorching heat.
"I was 11 years old or something," she says. "I was filming an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. I was kidnapped and attacked by a schizophrenic guy, and Christopher Meloni (who played Detective Stabler) carried me out of a car trunk in his arms." Not only was it grueling work to do multiple takes, but she remembers the heat being exasperating. "It was the hottest September I can remember!" Not easy for an 11-year-old.
Also tricky has been learning to assert herself in difficult situations. Braverman has a severe peanut allergy and found herself in a sticky situation, also on the set of Law & Order: SVU. She had a scene with Mariska Hargitay, who plays Detective Benson, in which Hargitay's character was interviewing Braverman's character in a hospital room. Prior to the scene, Braverman saw Hargitay eating a sandwich on set.
"I thought it was peanut butter and I was really scared," she says. "I have a severe allergy to peanuts and I knew she was going to touch my hands in the interview scene." So at the young age of 11, Braverman plucked up her courage and asked Hargitay what was in her sandwich. (It turned out to be nut-free.)
"Because of my allergy, I learned to be independent and mature," Braverman says. And that she certainly is. Not only does she take full responsibility for her food allergy, but she teaches others about its dangers. She is currently a spokesperson for the Food Allergy Initiative, an organization that increases awareness throughout New York and New Jersey schools. She has also completed the Walk for FAAN (Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network) in Ridgewood and was a featured speaker at the FAAN Convention in Virginia.
Braverman has honed her skills at balancing show business with teen life. When she has auditions, it requires a lot of effort to keep her schoolwork (she's a student at Dwight-Englewood School, which has turned out many talented alumni, including Brooke Shields and Lesley Gore) on track. When she was younger, her mother would sign her out of school and take care of all the logistics.
"But as I got older, I learned to handle it myself," Braverman says. "Now it's all pretty quick. I'll email my dean about what time I have to leave, check online to see if I have any work to get done, then sign myself out."
This year she's missed more school than usual because she was filming Spaz, a movie starring Adriana Barraza and on target to land in film festivals soon. But she's far from an absentee at Dwight-Englewood. In fact, last January Braverman represented her school as a contestant in Englewood Idol, a competition involving several Englewood schools.
"They had about 40 or 50 original auditions, then they narrowed it down to 12, and I was part of that," she says. "We rehearsed for months and then performed at bergenPAC."
With her independence, maturity and passion for performing, it's no doubt Braverman's right on track!
Make it Work!
Love the idea of being a performer? Here's Heather's advice on making it work.
• Be open-minded to learning.
• Always know your priorities.
• Dare to dream.
I'd Like to Thank My...
Heather adores her family and attributes much of her success to their support. Her dad, Steve, owns a family wealth management company with offices in Fort Lee, New York and Atlanta. Her mom, Abbey, is a devoted mom and masterful juggler who takes Heather all over for auditions and performances and is equally supportive of lil' sister Julia, who is also a musician and attends the School of Rock in Tenafly. Here's what Heather says about each of her MVPs:
Lil' Sis (Julia) "Jules, age 13, is a fabulous sister and friend. We love to sing and play instruments together. Harmonizing together is always fun!"
Mom (Abbey) "My mother always encourages us to work hard to attain our goals in school and with our professional aspirations. And she's great at scheduling our busy lives and appointments."
Dad (Steve) "My dad believes so much in my hopes and dreams. He always makes himself available to take me to a recording session or rehearsal or filming. And he's always in great physical shape because he finds a gym in every location where I'm working and meets me afterward."