Utah teen proud of role in anti-bullying movie
When opportunity knocks, Talon Ackerman opens the door. Even if he's really busy
The 14-year-old Utah actor was in the midst of starring in the Broadway musical "Leap of Faith" when his agent called about an audition for the TV movie "Contest." And the casting director wanted to see him immediately.
Never mind that Ackerman had just finished the matinee and had only a couple of hours before the evening performance.
"I'm like, 'Oh, OK,' " he said. "We had about two hours. I ran there, auditioned and we quickly ran to the subway a block away. And I ate in between scenes.
"It was fun, though. Life in New York is never boring, and that's what's so great about it."
Ackerman's long list of acting and singing credits includes roles in the touring company of "Mary Poppins," "Bonnie & Clyde" and "Leap of Faith" on Broadway and a variety of movie roles in films ranging from "Daddy Day Camp" to "Live Strong."
That hurried audition won him a supporting role in "Contest," a live-action Cartoon Network movie with an anti-bullying message. But, in all the rush to audition, he didn't really know much about it until he arrived on set about a year ago.
"When I got to the set, I really found out what it was all about," he said. "The anti-bullying message was kind of like a bonus now I'm shooting a film that has a great purpose."
And it struck home for him. He knows what it's like to be bullied.
"Before I went to New York and did 'Mary Poppins' and all that, I was going to school here and I had this really good friend," Ackerman said. "Then I left, and we didn't really keep in touch. And I came back and he completely changed. He actually turned out to be the guy who bullied me."
Ackerman handled it, however.
"All bullies want is to get attention from you," he said. "If you just wave them off as if it's not even troubling you he just stopped bugging me."
"Contest" is about a high-school athlete (Kenton Duty) who is warned that he'll be kicked off the swim team if he doesn't stop bullying. To boost his chances at a college scholarship, he pretends to befriend a nerd (Daniel Flaherty) but ends up learning something about himself and his newfound friend.
Ackerman plays one of the other high-school boys in "Contest," and life is imitating art. After shooting the TV movie about a year ago, he returned to Utah to finish middle school and start his freshman year of high school.
"I had been working for about three years straight," he said. "So I thought, 'You know, it's probably a good time to take a rest.' "
Those three years included about 15 months on the road in "Mary Poppins."
"It was pretty crazy, but it was also cool because I got to see a lot of stuff that I normally wouldn't. Like, I wouldn't normally visit East Lansing, you know," Ackerman said with a laugh.
He did go back in front of the cameras in September for "Saints and Soldiers: The Void," the third film in the series. This time, he didn't have to audition director Ryan Little asked him to play a boy soldier in the German army late in World War II.
"I did a commercial with him when I was younger," Ackerman said. "So he just called me up and said, 'Hey, would you like to play this part in "Saints and Soldiers 3"?' And I'm like, 'Sure!' "
The teenage actor played a teenage soldier, one of the boys the Germans drafted as the war was winding down.
"It was kind of cool. I'd never really read much about World War II, but I learned a whole bunch about it on set," Ackerman said. "Ryan brought me over to his computer and he showed me a bunch of photos from the actual war. I saw pictures of the guy I was portraying an actual guy. It was a really powerful thing."
And working on the movie reminded Ackerman how much he loves acting.
"I'm starting to feel it," he said. "I'm starting to miss it a lot. I'm ready to go back to New York and start it up again. After this year, I'm definitely going to go full throttle back into it again."
P The made-for-TV movie airs Sunday at noon on the Cartoon Network.
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