This is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series with my VAST network of stage moms! I am so connected. This is going to be amazing. (Cut to: me sending threatening phone calls to fellow stage moms, Rebecca and Angie, before they wearily succumb).
Angie Jones has three child super stars: Mary Charles, 15 (Footloose, Dear Dumb Diary, Kevin Can Wait), Maggie, 13 (We Bought a Zoo, Ben and Kate, American Girl: Lea to the Rescue) and Lillian, 9 (Halt and Catch Fire, Offer and Compromise, Forever My Girl).
Rebecca Gagnon has four equally super, super stars: Pierce, 11 (One Tree Hill, Looper, Extant, Tomorrowland), Steele, 9 (East Bound and Down, Kung Fu Panda) Knox, 7 (Jungle Book) and little Poppy (is that not the best name ever!?), 5, (Fun Mom Dinner and a new one we can’t announce or Rebecca will be sued.)
These two are so fun. When I put out the announcement that I was going to be interviewing them, Rebecca sent an email to Angie saying that she had negotiated top billing on all social media announcements. Angie fired right back, yes, but I got a back end deal so who wins now?
Stage mom humor. I mean.
Kelly: So I chose you two specifically to be my guinea pigs because Matt did his first commercial at 5 years old with Angie’s daughter Mary Charles. Here it is:
Kelly: I’m sorry. I need to die and resurrect myself exactly 100 times. THE CUTENESS! They were so little! I haven’t seen that in years. Do you remember that, Ang?
Angie: I do remember that because I was a huge fan of Surface, in which you co-starred, and I sort of fan girled when I saw you.
Kelly: I’m sorry……can we just go back and say that again? Someone actually fan-girled over ME!?
Angie: I did! I was obsessed with Surface!
Kelly: No one ever notices me because I’m usually just the mom, so this is a big moment for me.
I take a beat to relish my single fan girl experience.
Kelly: Since then, Mary Charles has gone on to many other projects and is now starring in the CBS series Kevin Can Wait, which reminds me, who coached her for that audition again?
Angie: Some girl named Kelly Lintz who starred in Surface….
Kelly: Oh it was me!? Oh wow, I’m amazing!
Joyous laughter all around.
Kelly: And Rebecca, Matt and Pierce did their very first movie together 8 years ago! That’s them with Dean Cain, aka. Superman!
Rebecca: Yes Pierce was 3!
Kelly: So, I’m not going to ask how your kids got into the business because they’re in; that ship has sailed. I’ll skip right to asking if either of you are on the verge of a nervous break down like I am?
Angie just stares at me with a dead look in her eye. I take this as a yes.
Kelly: You both have multiple child actors in the family, as do I. Sibling rivalry. Discuss.
Rebecca: Well funny you should mention that because we just had a situation where Knox got his first callback for a movie because he’s just now getting started, and we all celebrated and high fived, and I totally wasn’t thinking that Steele had read for the same role. Knox got called back, while Steele did not. So it was a great opportunity for me to explain to Steele that he had had lots of turns and now let’s be excited for Knox.
Kelly: And was Steele amenable to this preposterous suggestion?
Rebecca: He was! He was very mature about it! I was very proud of him. My boys are only 2 years apart so it happens quite often that they read for the same role. Angie, I would imagine there is lots of overlap with your girls!
Angie: There is. I wouldn’t say there is rivalry per se. But there are many times when one of my daughters beats the other one out for a job. Ant Man? Both Maggie and Lillian were up for the same role. Neither got it. But the good thing is, none of my kids really look alike…
Seriously? You can spot a Jones girl a mile away.
Angie (cont’d): And I have always drilled into them that once you get to the final stages it is just not about the acting anymore. You’re all good, and 99 times out of 100 it comes down to a look at that point. They wanted a red head this time, or they wanted a twelve year old, not a ten year old. They wanted this, instead of that. So, do they get jealous? Not necessarily because one books a specific job. They might get jealous that someone has worked in the last six months, or that one is getting more auditions, or gets to go to a premiere. But they are always genuinely happy when someone books a project.
Kelly: Isn’t that darling…..
I decide to hide the fact that my own kids have all had massive breakdowns over the career advancement of their siblings at one point or other. I paste on a beaming smile and continue.
Kelly: Ok, next topic. What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in this business?
Rebecca: I don’t make mistakes.
Good natured cackles all around. However, this is true. Rebecca Gagnon is the quintessential Pinterest mom. Arts and crafts abound, and happy, joyous photos document it all. Like this one:
They made lobster pictures with their feet and hands. Notice they are not even wearing smocks. If I had attempted this with my children, paint would have been on the ceiling and someone would have been sobbing. Probably me.
Kelly: Ang? Big mistakes?
Angie: Heh heh heh……Ummmmmmmm…..
Kelly: There are so many you don’t even know where to begin.
Angie: Pretty much. I think it was, in the beginning, trying to overanalyze the business and the casting process. When you think you’ve figured it out, you go to the next project and it’s totally different. It’s a waste of time because you will never figure it out. I wish I hadn’t spent so much mental energy trying. More specifically, there was one project, where Lillian and Maggie were cast in a pilot, but the money was not right for Maggie when it was picked up to series, so we pulled them both out. In hind sight I would have fought harder for Lillian to stay even though it was the wrong choice for Maggie at the time.
Kelly: You called me about that. I should have advised you to try that! What was I thinking? I’m a terrible mentor.
Angie: They probably wouldn’t have done it anyway!
Kelly: You’re right. That’s why I didn’t advise you to try it……..
Rebecca: I think a good way to look at that is to realize that you do have more power than you think to ask for things! Sometimes when I feel very small in a big production, I am too afraid to ask for something for fear that I might burn a bridge. I might look greedy or dumb, but sometimes you can ask, and the worst they can say is no! I think we need to trust in the value that we bring to a project more and stick our necks out and ask for things more. We are worth it!
Angie and I look at each and silently wonder where we were on the day optimism and good cheer were handed out. Apparently Rebecca got our share.
Kelly: What is the worst part of this biz?
Angie: You give up so much. If your kids are any good, then your life revolves around the business, unfortunately, and it changes all the time. A lot of people outside the business don’t understand that.
Rebecca: Right. I think the worst thing is that you cannot plan. We were supposed to go to a wedding, but then a super important chemistry read came up and we could only do it THAT DAY so we cancelled our trip. It does take you out of real life sometimes. You hope your friends and family will understand and still like you!
Kelly: That is Murphy’s Entertainment Biz Law 202B. If you book a plane ticket, your phone will ring from your agent 5 minutes later with the opportunity of a life time.
Exhausted, knowing nods all around.
Rebecca: And also, unlike a typical hobby, the kids put so much of themselves into these auditions, their heart and their emotions, so when it doesn’t go their way, the disappointments are SO HUGE. But then, the successes are so great, and one of the great things about this is sharing in the joy of those successes.
Kelly: Right, there’s got to be an upside to this right? Or we wouldn’t do it.
Angie: There is! You get to spend so much time with your kids. I’ve spent more one on one time with my kids than I think a lot of people get to. You really get to know them and have an incredible impact on how they go into the business world as adults, because you are modeling for them how to behave every single day.
Kelly: I have seen this in action. I have a very special relationship with each of my children because not only do I go with them to set, but I’m their coach. They allow me into some vulnerable moments and I consider it such a privilege to watch them create. Macsen was always my most independent child, possibly because he’s the youngest and I forget him at Target sometimes. But now that Macsen is starting to work more, I am getting that one on one time with him and I am seeing our personal relationship grow as well. Yay!
…..wipes tear, hopes D-Fax doesn’t call about Target……..
Rebecca: I also love the relationships my kids get to make with all kinds of people. Older actors. Little kids. People that they normally wouldn’t get to know.
Kelly: Any of your kids ever want to quit?
Angie: Yes. Multiple times. In fact, my most successful child (Maggie) has wanted to quit the most mainly because she also loves sports which can be more immediately rewarding than preparing over and over for auditions that go no where. Mary Charles had a two year dry spell and was like why am I even doing this?
Note: There is a hellacious dry spell between the ages of 13-15. Expect this. It will happen.
Angie: There are so many no’s in this business. It’s not like soccer where you try out, and you get to play in every game. You audition to maybe get to do it one or two days. And then you have to audition again to get maybe one or two more days. And then, if you’re lucky, maybe you get to do it for a month, or if your ridiculously lucky, maybe you finally land a television show.
Kelly: But then you land the television show, and perhaps the writers don’t write to your child very much and it’s not as great of a gig as you thought it would be. Or a scene isn’t directed the way you envisioned. I just had a situation where one child prepared for a scene that I thought, “Oh this will make the demo reel. This is going to be AMAZING.” And then they shot it from far way and you only see the back of his head. #fail
Angie: Oh yes, been there! But you know, kids want to quit sports too. I don’t want people to read this and be like oh, you’re forcing your kids to do this, because I’m sure that your kids have told you they don’t feel like going to practice. Or they had a bad game and want to quit football and you have encouraged them to keep at it.
Rebecca: My kids have not said they want to quit acting, but they have for sure said, “I don’t want to learn this audition. I’d rather play outside with my friends!”
Kelly: And this has been true since child actors were invented. Ok, next question. Without naming names…..
Angie: Uh oh.
Kelly: You know what I’m going to ask.
Angie: I can only imagine.
Kelly: Without naming names, do each of your child actors have a nemesis? You know…..that kid that is constantly up against your kid and when you walk into a callback and see them YET AGAIN you silently wish that a bone break is in their immediate future, effectively taking them out of the running? Or is that just me?
Angie: The longer you’re in this business, you start seeing the same people over and over. And, um….yes….we have nemeses. But then, I know there are kids out there that hate to see my kids walk into an audition!
Kelly: Well, they ARE coached by me……
Wink to camera……
Rebecca: I think yes, for sure. But sometimes your nemesis is also your friend. So when Knox’s friend was at the same callback he said, “I hope if I don’t book it, that my friend books it.” I thought that was a really sweet way to look at it.
None of my children have had a thought remotely of this kind.
Rebecca: Pierce has been around a long time and there’s one particular kid, you know the one Kelly, that always gets his parts, and Pierce does not love that! This will just happen. But it does drive you to be better and prepare more. So competition isn’t all bad.
Kelly: The people that are at the top of this business are simply the people that have been told no the most. Or at least that sounds good…….
R and A: Mmmmmhmmmmmmm!
Kelly: Time for a game!
Angie: I did not know this was coming.
Kelly: I feel like Ellen right now.
Angie: SPEAKING OF ELLEN!!!!!!
A slight break where I relate the story of how I went to the Ellen show with a friend and somehow won the freaking lottery and got invited back to her 12 Days of Christmas Show! Jealous exclamations abound! Tune in on December 1st and watch me literally go apoplectic when she hands out cars all around. (please dear baby Jesus, let her hand out cars all around. My stage mom mini van is on it’s last legs.)
Kelly: OK! I am going to say a word and you say the first thing that comes to mind without censorship. Ready?
A and R: (hesitant sounds of assent)
Kelly: Los Angeles
Angie: (Is about to say suck again but stops herself) Yeah, traffic is good. I’ll take traffic for $100.
Angie: Kill me.
Rebecca: Ummmmmm, I don’t have a word……..just life.
Rebecca is a homeschooling phenom. She actually DOES SCIENCE. At one point my son Macsen asked what the Gagnon’s were up to that day, then said oh wait, they are probably re-creating the sun in their living room. When I homeschooled, my kids were lucky they learned to read.
Angie: What’s that?
Kelly: Wrap gifts.
Kelly: I just found the EASIEST wrap gift ever. I had Nick “crafty” order a coffee truck from Madison to the crew of Bosch. $500. Cheap. Done.
Rebecca may or may not be looking at me with slight disappointment.
Kelly: Stage moms.
Rebecca: Creepy. Crazy. Expect for us. We’re all nice.
Rebecca is very nice.
Kelly: And finally……Fame.
Kelly: Agreed. And I would add……possibly detrimental.
Angie: Ooooh, that’s a good one.
Kelly: Ok, we are coming into the home stretch ladies. Final questions: If you could tell a new stage mom one thing, knowing what you know now, what would it be?
Angie’s husband chimes in from the other room “DON’T DO IT!”
Angie: My answer would be, keep your kids involved and plugged into the real world. Let them play sports. Let them have something else, because if they are waiting for the next audition or booking and they don’t have a sport, or friends, or something else outside of this, then when they get told no over and over and over, it’s just going to suck the life out of them. I think that’s what drives kids crazy in this business. So keep them plugged into the real world because Hollywood is NOT the real world.
Rebecca: I think my advice would be that it’s your job to protect your child, and that there’s no job that is more important than your child. There’s no relationship that’s more important than your child. And so, know that it’s ok to step in and ruin a shot because you don’t feel you’re child is safe, or if they ask you to do something you’re not comfortable with, you say no. I’ve been in a situation where they asked me to step far away from a scene where my child was feeding raw meat to a wolf. I was not comfortable with that so I said no! Just have confidence that there’s no movie, no part, no fame that is more important than your child. Know what your standards are ahead of time and what your rights are ahead of time and be the advocate for your child.
Kelly: And finally, would you go back and do this all over again?
Angie pauses while making agonized sounds of indecision. I take a refreshing nap, and wake up in time for her answer.
Rebecca: Yes. In a heart beat.
Kelly: You guys are amazing. Thank you! Dinner on me! Not really, but you ARE amazing. Mwah!
There are two types of people in Hollywood. The people who other people want to know what they are wearing so designers give them free stuff to wear. And the people who no one cares about what they are wearing, so when they ask designers to give them free stuff to wear, the designers just stare at them blankly, then get back to dressing Lupita N’yongo.
We fall into the latter.
However, its not like we are sitting around doing NOTHING worthwhile in the entertainment business. We do have STUFF TO ATTEND. But to ATTEND STUFF, you have to WEAR STUFF. So what that looks like is us trudging wearily all over downtown Atlanta (where the cool people shop) searching for the perfect outfit for whatever premiere/screening/event we have to go to, trying to find something that makes us LOOK LIKE we are the type of people that people care what we are wearing when really we have found it, styled it, and put it on our own selves.
We are the Arya Stark of fashion. The family wears no one.
I am forever indebted to Catt Sadler of E! News. Mackenzie was 14 and walking on the biggest carpet I have ever seen for her tiny role in Hunger Games, in which she played the tribute from District 8. The dumb one who lit the fire and was killed by the careers? Anyway, when Catt called Mackenzie over, I was simultaneously thrilled that she ranked high enough to be noticed by E! News, and terrified that Catt would embarrass Mackenzie by asking who she was wearing, which was no one.
Kenz, ya looked gorgeous, but this was no Dolce and Gabbana. I saw Catt assess the dress in a quick glance and then simply say ,“Mackenzie, you look absolutely beautiful tonight! Did you enjoy working on this movie?” And that’s how I know that Catt is a kind person and I would like to send her a box of all her favorite things.
By the way that dress was never worn again. Why? Because once you are photographed at an event of any kind, the pictures will be all over the internet so when you say to your teen daughters, “Hey, I know, how about you wear one of THOSE dresses to your prom and save some money?”, they are all like, “Dad, you need to take mom to rehab because she is clearly addicted to crack. We do not repeat outfits. Like EVER.”
We are the Kaucasian Kardashians and I was not informed.
So when Matt was invited to the premiere of his next movie, Free State of Jones, I inwardly groaned. I was going to have to shop. And I would rather hang from a cliff by my eyelids than shop. I actually sent my daughters out by themselves to find their prom dresses, which is arguably one of the most important mom/daughter rites of passage there is, aside from shopping for their wedding dress. Oh God…..do they want me to go with them to shop for their wedding dress?
I am not a good mom.
Anyway, back to the Free State of Jones premiere which would not be FREE at all. We begin by entering a literal apocalypse of traffic to head down town ON A WEEKDAY. An hour and a half later, Matt is snarling at me for making him physically BE with me on this mission of doom rather than bringing him home choices to try on. He wants choices to try on, ya’ll. And then I can just return all the things that don’t meet with his approval, he says, because he is a millennial and doesn’t actually DO THINGS.
I need a sweet tea from Chick Fil A just to write about this. I’m feeling warm.
We follow our hour and a half of travel with two solid hours of walking into stores, staring listlessly around, and walking out. Too stupid. Too babyish. Matt is a fashion impossibility right now. He is 15 and ready to venture out into making more of a statement with his clothes, but his body is betraying him by being too small to make that happen. He’s sort of like Fashion Simba who is trying to roar like Fashion Mufasa, and Top Shop is Fashion Mufasa who just chuckles, pats him on the head, and says in a James Earl Jones voice, “Son. Journey to the nearest department store. There you’ll find what you seek. In the children’s section.” Then Fashion Simba snarls irritably and swipes his paws at the nearest family member.
In desperation, I begin texting my fellow stage mom friends like Shari Drucker, mom to Jason Drucker (newly minted star of Diary of a Wimpy Kid), and I say, “Hey! That looks cool! Where did you find THAT!?”
And she names all these great stores, not one of which is within the confines of Lennox Mall in Buckhead. Thanks Shari, that’s great. You’ve been such a help. So then I try my friend Beryt, mom of Joshua Rush (Andi Mack, Parental Guidance) and say, “HEY, where did you find THIS? This looks amazing!”
And she says really unhelpful words like, “Oh my husband handles all of his styling. I don’t know where they got that.” Thank you so much, Beryt. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to end our friendship now.
On to Christi Spink, who’s son Brandon was in Miracles from Heaven with me and looked ADORBS at the premiere. I facebook messaged her from my phone outside of Jamba Juice: WHERE DID YOU FIND THIS?? I NEED THIS RIGHT NOW??????? (I was shouting.)
Her reply. “Oh! We had some help with that one. A stylist sent it over!”
I took a moment to question my existence, and then:
Meanwhile, Fashion Simba has not hunted all day. He is famished because I “forgot to remind him to eat” (srsly?), which brings on the following exchange:
Me: You see!? This is what happens when you don’t eat. You cannot shop for an outfit that you absolutely HAVE TO FIND on THIS PARTICULAR DAY without fortifying yourself ahead of time.
Matt: Mom if you tell me I need to eat one more time I am going to turn into one of those ungrateful child actors who are entitled and treat their moms with utter derision.
Me: Happened an hour ago.
(5 minutes later)
Matt: Let’s go, I think I just need to eat.
I stare straight ahead and wish for Jesus’s return, because aside from the rapture occuring, we CAN’T GO. We have to walk out of this mall with a hang up bag over our arm. You cannot walk a red carpet entirely nude, Matt. You are not Shia LeBoeuf.
Finally, FINALLY thank you Jesus and all of his angels who did not defect, we find something that could work. From where? You guessed it. Macy’s. Which is also right at the nice little mall in my nice little suburb of Atlanta and would have saved us A LARGE QUANTITY OF TIME AND SUICIDAL THOUGHTS.
But I don’t even care because I love Macy’s right now! I watch its parade every Thanksgiving with avid attention and now Macy’s is returning the favor by providing me with a nice steel blue suit by Ralph Lauren who IS a designer after all, and it FITS! I am joyous, happy and free!
So Matt flies out to LA with Marc, because I just do all the work around here and don’t get to actually have the fun, and the night of I’m trying to dress him via text message and when I demand photos they do guy things like send me photos from the neck up. But from the neck up he looks good! I ensure that the second button of his shirt is movie star UN-buttoned, that he’s tucked in, and we are CARPET READY.
The Getty Images start pouring in. Fruit of labor realized. Matt looks put together. Handsome. And dressed. By someone. No one need know by who. If Catt were there, Matt could proudly say, “I’m wearing Ralph Lauren, of course.” Then Catt would smile indulgently. “Of course you are Matt, why wouldn’t Ralph want to dress you!” Back in Atlanta, Jesus and I look at one another, wink, and fold our arms across our chest in satisfaction. Somewhere in the distance, a lion roars.