There was a period in Danielle White’s life when she thought she wanted to be a famous singer.
And she was headed there — fast.
At 11, she auditioned to be on the “American Idol” spin-off program “American Juniors.”
Beating out thousands of tween singers, White landed a spot on the FOX television series, surviving every round of the competition until one night before a live audience in Hollywood, Calif., (and 11 million viewers) she was picked to be in the final five.
As a member of the American Juniors pop group, White recorded an album and toured the country. She signed autographs and got recognized in public.
A Lakewood Ranch resident, she came home to sing with the Sarasota Orchestra, a concert that was met with its share of local fanfare.
In Hollywood, she shared the stage with Ryan Seacrest, received a standing ovation from Gladys Knight and basked in high praise from Debbie Gibson.
Freckle-faced and eloquent beyond her years, the preteen was a source of hometown pride.
Now 19, she says the whole thing feels like ages ago, one glitzy blur of big ballads followed by applause.
“Like any girl, I thought I wanted limos and to sign autographs,” White says. “I was young and I just loved singing. I realized very quickly that’s not what I was after. You get to a point where it’s like, ‘Dance for me monkey.’ No one is really close to you. You start questioning things.”
She takes a deep breath and tries to lasso her thoughts, of which she has many.
“I was fortunate things didn’t work out,” she continues. “I was able to go home and go back to school. I was able to surround myself with people who are inspiring and can teach me things about life.”
She’s talking, of course, about Steve Tatone, the Sarasota filmmaker who cast her in last year’s “Beautiful Noise,” the feel-good musical drama that was shot entirely in Sarasota.
It was her debut film.
After graduating from Booker High School in 2010, White spent a year in California, where she studied English at Santa Monica College, worked at a café and planned on pursuing a career as an actress.
“Typical working-actor stuff,” she says.
Had she not been cast as Dez, a bohemian 20-something with a guitar in Tatone’s first labor of love, she might still be in California waiting tables and looking for a big break.
Instead, she got one here.
Tatone was captivated by White’s performance in “Beautiful Noise” — both on camera and off. When he was ready to make his next full-length feature — a psychological thriller called “Blind Pass” — he offered her the leading role and a co-producing credit on the project.
“She’s a monster talent,” Tatone says. “We connected creatively on ‘Beautiful Noise.’ She knew exactly what I wanted. It might sound like an odd mix from a generational standpoint, but it works. She brings so much to the game.”
White jumped on board over the summer, diving in on pre-production work, casting and scouting. After combing Sarasota for shoot locations, they flew with a small crew to Europe to tour castles, pubs, cliffs and bridges for the film’s overseas action.
As the project got steam, Armand Assante, who won an Emmy for playing John Gotti in the 1996 HBO biopic, “Gotti,” came on board.
They also cast Chris McKenna (“90210”), Michael McGlone (“The Brothers McMullen”), Ed Lauter (“The Artist”) and Mary Rachel Dudley (“Dear John”).
“It’s different from ‘Beautiful Noise’ in almost every way,” White says. “There are still elements of a Steve Tatone production, but it definitely takes a dive off the deep end.”
“Blind Pass” is darker and more action-packed with a soundtrack driven by experimental underground techno tracks.
White plays Carrie, a morally compromised character with a prickly exterior. Although she didn’t write the script, White helped Tatone flesh it out, suggesting back-story details and dialogue.
The two engaged in a verbal volleyball for months over the script, especially when it came to the parts concerning Carrie.
“She’s not easy to pin down,” White says of her character. “Some people will like her immediately, like I did, and some people won’t.”
She refuses to give up too much of the story, except to say that Carrie is an English major and a fan of Irish literature and horses.
“She does something, and the rest of the film is about her dealing with the consequences,” White says cryptically. “I think there’s going to be a lot up for debate. People are going to think one of two things: ‘Is this something I would do if I were in this situation?’ Or, ‘Is this just a crazy, misled girl?’”
Regardless of the answer, Carrie sounds like the antithesis of the bright-eyed “American Juniors” contender from White’s youth.
Or is she?
“Carrie is a trailblazer,” White says. “She is what she is, and she doesn’t look back.”
WHITE’S FAVORITE MOVIE CHARACTERS
Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) in “Dog Day Afternoon”
“He’s just a regular guy trying to rob a bank. He has no idea what he’s doing, and within 15 minutes he’s surrounded. He’s such a good guy he lets the bank tellers use the bathroom. It’s like what you would do if you robbed a bank.”
Billy Brown (Vincent Gallo) in “Buffalo ’66”
“I’m in love with the realism of this film. This guy gets out of jail and basically it’s just him experiencing little moments that shape the story. He’s such an unlikable character. He’s an anti-hero, and that’s where the humorous and interesting parts come from.”
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