This past October, when most kids his age were debating whether to go trick-or-treating, 13-year-old actor Austin Abrams was in Baton Rouge, La., playing the part of an orphan in a movie (starring Cuba Gooding Jr.) about a serial killer.
It was hard work, and Abrams loved every minute of it: the 3 a.m. shoots; the on-set tutoring; the rapid-fire script memorization; the emotionally draining scenes with Gooding that required Abrams to yell over and over.
“They shot this one scene like 50 times. I’m not kidding,” Abrams says. “The director needed different angles and I had to give him the same emotional intensity every time.”
Of course Abrams, a shy ninth-grader with 17 Sarasota theater credits to his name, would have delivered the performance 100 times if necessary. It was the same scene he had used to audition for the part, which, to be clear, was a starring role.
(Check out imdb.com for the movie “Ticking Clock.” Abrams’ name is three lines down, under actor Neal McDonough, who will star next year in Marvel Studios’ “Captain America: The First Avenger.”)
“It was my first major part,” says Abrams, a former New Gate School student who will start his freshman year this fall at Suncoast Polytechnical High School. “When I heard I got it, I was on the floor. I was shocked. I didn’t know what was gonna happen next.”
Here’s what happened next: After filming “Ticking Clock,” which is scheduled to be released later this year, Abrams signed with APA, a major talent agency in Beverly Hills, Calif., which makes him the youngest male actor on the agency’s A-list roster.
Plopped on a sofa in his Laurel Oak Country Club living room, Abrams shoos away two Great Danes. The dogs, which outweigh the actor by 35 pounds each, nuzzle and lick Abrams’ face. In their company the 5-foot-1 teen appears even more boyish.
Behind him, his mother, Dr. Lori Abrams, a Sarasota gynecologist, is perched at the kitchen countertop eating lunch. Like her son, Dr. Abrams is petite, soft-spoken and unobtrusive. She pipes up every so often to share an anecdote.
“There are two types of actors,” Dr. Abrams says. “There’s the ham, and there’s the quiet, humble actor. Austin is a quiet, humble actor. He’s afraid if he talks about what he does, it’ll be perceived as bragging.”
Sarasota theatergoers are probably familiar with Abrams. He made his professional stage debut in 2006 as Chip in the Golden Apple Dinner Theatre’s “Beauty and the Beast.” That same year he played a footman in “The Plexiglass Slipper” at the Asolo Repertory Theater.
Abrams has performed on the stage of almost every performing-arts venue in town — The Sarasota Opera House, The Players Theatre, The Glenridge Performing Arts Center and the former Backlot Theatre. In 2009, he was cast in the Asolo Rep’s “The Winter’s Tale,” followed by the company’s 2010 production of “The Life of Galileo.”
All of this to prove to his parents that he was serious about acting.
“We had no intentions of turning him into an actor,” says Dr. Abrams of the decision she and her husband, Brad, made to enroll their bashful son in Florida Studio Theatre’s children’s program eight years ago. “We had no idea this would turn into a career.”
Abrams begs to differ. He says he knew when he was 5 years old that he wanted to be an actor, which is why, when was 8, he asked his parents for an agent. He knew he wanted to make movies.
“I think that’s what it’s come to now, being on a movie set,” Abrams says. “I know it’s not like I’ve done a humongous amount of films, but it just feels right.”
His eyes shift to the floor, to his slip-on checkered Vans and matching checkered socks. He may be a reluctant celebrity, but his canvas shoes — a staple among young Hollywood stars — scream hip, young actor.
He mentions that he was able to keep three props from the “Ticking Clock” set: a comic book, a newspaper and a pocket watch.
His mother suggests it might be wise to stash the souvenirs in a dresser where she keeps all of his other acting memorabilia.
The boy blushes.
“You know Cuba’s mom kept a scrapbook of all his acting stuff,” Dr. Abrams says in a tone only a mom can manage.
“Yeah, but Cuba kept his Oscar,” Abrams says. “I get to keep my Oscar.”
ABRAMS’ FAVORITE ACTORS
Robert Downey Jr.
Contact Heidi Kurpiela at [email protected].