Spotlight Interview: Mother of young actor, Julia Stone

by Kirsten Clarkson on September 30, 2011

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Last week we featured the spotlight interview with 12 year old actor Julia Stone who stared in the feature film, The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom.  We are continuing the interview but now with Julia’s mother, Sue Chappel, about the reality of parenting a young film actor.

How did you feel about Julia getting into acting?

Sue – Julia was 9 years old when she stated that she wanted to be an actor. I say “stated” because she just walked up to me while I was making dinner and made her announcement, as if it was old, factual news that I’d heard 100 times before. A bag of emotions bombed my brain.

Surprise!  Julia is an incorrigible introvert. How could such a shy, quiet, thinking/observing kid who preferred books to TV, desire such a public, extroverted career?  How does an arts child come from a math genius and science nerd?

Scared! I was worried about her big heart being crushed before she really started living!  I was even more concerned that she would change who she was, to pursue something that seemed to contrary to her personality.

Panic!  She was serious. I felt the winds of change blowing on my face with each uttered word.  Supporting her meant overcoming my own misconceptions and fears. There’s also the hypocrisy of being a big supporter of the arts, but blocking my own child from creating it. Finally, I couldn’t make personal peace with the duplicity of telling a kid that they shouldn’t chase impractical dreams.

So, I did what most parents do when their 9 year old scares them witless with intense proclamations: I delayed the inevitable for as long as possible by blowing it in another direction.

I held her off for a year.  We made a pact. She was to spend 1 more unfettered year becoming “Julia”. She had 1 more year to experience real life before letting other complex characters in confusing adult situations temporarily take over her mind and body. She also had to do some research to understand what a demanding, lifelong journey it is to become a great artist. Finally, she also had to consider whether she was willing spend the time developing her skills and making some sacrifices, even if she never booked a single role. Without any reminders and almost 1 year to the day, she confirmed that she was ready and proved that she did her homework.

In September 2008, Julia got an agent and enrolled in her first professional acting class.  By December 2008, she was hooked and happy. She became very serious about it.  Another pact was made.

I work full time. In fact, I work more than full time because I own my own business, have 6 employees, nearly 1000 clients and an office. Time is precious to me. Skiving off work and shirking business responsibilities to support a half- hearted hobby wasn’t a realistic option. So, I agreed to support her in proportion to the effort she put in herself. For example, I won’t change my work schedule to take her to an audition unless she’s put in the work herself to prepare. I won’t take her to a class unless she’s prepared for it. And finally, nothing happens until homework is done and minimum grades in a handful of subjects are maintained.

And so began our incredible journey into this new, wonderful and mysterious world. Armed with determination, moxy and a big bag of ignorance, we set on our way. As things turned out, Julia puts in a lot of effort and my clever plan boomeranged right back on me. True to my word, I give my full support in very happy measure.

If you had any hesitation what was it and have the things that worried you happened?

I had 4 concerns:

    1. She would change who she was.
    2. Constant rejection would crush her self esteem.
    3. She would de-prioritize school.
    4. She would stop pursuing and exploring other interests or having a balanced and diversified life.

None of these things happened. This is partly because she had a grounded sense of who she was before exploring and pursuing acting. In addition, when she became more deeply immersed in the art, we became more proactive in actively mitigating our concerns. Finally, and most importantly, we soon discovered that the film community is packed with extraordinary, powerful and positive role models for kids. Acting is a big positive force in Julia’s life. Irrespective of whether she’s among the fortunate few to make it a career, it has given her vital life skills, tools and the self discipline to succeed in whatever she pursues.

What kind of relationship do you have with Julia’s agent?

Our relationship is fantastic because we share common goals, concerns, and values. He’s supportive of Julia. He has a long term view. They share the same key ideals and artistic vision.

Every agent is different. Every kid is unique. It’s important to find an agent that’s well-suited to your child, their interests and personal goals. It’s also crucial that your agent respect the non-negotiable things. For Julia, it’s school. He also recognizes and supports Julia’s desire to explore the craft by volunteering herself for rich and challenging roles with local, emerging film makers.

Are you in any way a Mom-ager!?

My most important job is to be Julia’s mom. That comes first. I’m extremely time-crunched, so when it comes to acting, I delegate as much as possible. That’s why Julia’s agent is vital to our family. Also important are classes and the instructors she works with. They give advice and guidance. I depend on them for their experience and wisdom, and trust them.

Specifically, here’s what I do:

    • Ask questions – everything except “Why aren’t there more auditions?”
    • Review incoming auditions
    • Scheduling ….& rescheduling!
    • Research and book classes and workshops
    • Research independent, volunteer role opportunities & do self-submissions.
    • Maintain resumes, casting accounts (Casting Workbook, etc.) and web sites (IMDB, Facebook page). It’s faster than going back and forth with someone.
    • Organize audition coaching and taping
    • Drive!
    • Administration and bookkeeping
    • Discuss characters and scenes – but actual scene work is between Julia and a pro coach, (unless I’m her last resort.)

How have you had to change your life to make her dream happen?

I don’t make her dream happen. She does.

I can’t do the work for her. I can only help her create the time to get the work done, explore opportunities to learn and grow, and support her when things look grim. But, in the end, it’s up to her to make her dream happen and carry the load.

Having said that, our family life has changed quite a bit!

Here are some examples:

  • Nothing is planned far in advance – many things have become last minute only.
  • I start work a lot earlier and usually work late in to the evenings to make up for time away for acting-related things.
  • I’ve become seriously mobile and adaptable. I can work from any location – including cars, cramped corners, trailers, tents, etc! My only needs have become warmth, hot water for coffee and a strong wifii signal!
  • I’ve delegated a lot more responsibility to my amazing staff. I couldn’t support Julia without their support.
  • I’ve stopped sweating the small, mind numbing and time-eating stuff in life.
  • I’ve weaned myself away as much as possible from the comforting concept of a daily routine. I’ve accepted that it no longer exists for me or our family!
  • I schedule meetings and time commitments with the upfront disclosed caveat that I may have to cancel due to family commitments. I used to be dependable. Now I am dependable with full disclosure of the risks.

Above all, the realities of the film industry have given me a great gift. They’ve forced me to live in, and appreciate, the joy of the moment. I rarely know what’s coming in the next one, so I really savour the present, the people and perfection of what’s in front of me. If it sucks, I exit to a better place.

Advance plans and schedules are reserved only for a very small number of truly important things

What can you tell parents to help them in their journey guiding young actors?

  • Kids should only pursue acting if they love it and as if they’ll never book a paid role.
  • Focus on the craft and art above all else. All good things like joy and fun, flow from there. One day, they may get paid for it. But that shouldn’t matter at this point.
  • Know your real life priorities and preserve them. Instill them in your kids. Actors must live a full, diverse and authentic life. Acting is pretend. There’s no substitute for the real thing to fuel the authenticity of your pretending.
  • Be realistic – there are no shortcuts. It takes 10,000 hours to be really good at anything. The 10,000 hour plan includes classes, volunteering for roles, being an extra, and any skill that helps them physically express a character. This could include voice and movement skills, like dance and martial arts.  It also includes understanding why people are they way they are, and why they do the things they do. Reading amazing books is a tunnel into a character’s mind – so encourage your kids to read a lot.
  • There are no shortcuts. They must do the work and it takes a lot of time.
  • Work and time don’t guarantee success.  And, since there are no guarantees of success, it’s important to do really, really well in school. It’s how they can get in to competitive, related film making, writing and digital technology programs later in life.
  • They’ll write as they read and act as they read and watch. Pay a little more attention to what they’re watching and reading. Monkey see, monkey do.
  • Give back to the film community, emerging writers and filmmakers in any way you can.
  • Support local productions by seeing them in the theatres and renting them. Choose Canadian. Their success and growth are essential to a vibrant industry and employment. Learn more about what’s filming and showing at www.firstweekendclub.ca.
  • When on set, tell your child where you are and make sure it’s out of their view while they’re working. You’re goal is to be present, but invisible and out of the way!
  • There’s lots of waiting around for everyone while on set. Bring things to do while you’re waiting.
  • Have and develop your own life, relationships and goals. Remember, your first job is to be their parent and role model.

How do you see the future for you and Julia?

Lots of skiing, movie watching, cooking, reading, learning and having fun working hard on our own respective goals that make our hearts beat just a little faster!  If Julia is lucky & keeps growing as an actor, toss in some film projects, meet some more fabulous people and travel to interesting places!

It goes without saying that acting classes are a de facto part of whatever is left of the daily or weekly routine. Expect Julia to be lurking around in pretty much every class opportunity she can find for the rest of her life.

We’re really close, so whatever Julia does and wherever she is, we’ll be close by cheering her on and helping out however we can. I’ll be the one waving from behind the computer screen with a big mug of steaming coffee.

———————
Kirsten Clarkson
is the Founder and Senior Education Advisor at Young Screen Actors Academy. For over 20 years, she has been coaching Vancouver’s top young actors who have book everything from actor to leading roles on films and TV shows. Kirsten has experience as an actor, writer, director, development executive, casting director and talent agent.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Joanne September 30, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Sounds like a great support team! I look forward to seeing more of Julia on screen!

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