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My Kid Made It in the Biz

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Diane Mizota: What parent hasn't thought at one time or another that their kid has got what it takes to make it in show business? They're adorable, they're funny, how hard could it be?

To find out what life's really like when your kid is in show business, momlogic talked to Ken and Patti Lerner. Their son, Sammy, has been steadily working in movies and television since the age of nine. Ken, an accomplished actor and acting coach, and Patti, a writer, were kind enough to share some of their insights.

Momlogic: How did Sammy first get into the business?

Ken: We were at a party and a friend was blown away by Sam's personality. She wanted to introduce him to a manager for kids. Months went by, but Sam kept asking if we ever called "that lady." Finally we did, and he is now with the wonderful Susan Curtis managing company.

Patti: I had a lot of reservations about my kid going into show business ... pretty much right off the bat, Sammy booked a Ben Stiller/Jack Black movie. This enabled us to turn down auditions whenever we wanted to, so that Sam could have a childhood.

Momlogic: What has the process of auditioning been like for him, and for you as parents?

It's a lot of time spent on the freeway in rush-hour traffic. Ah, the glamorous life. It became progressively harder to go to auditions as he grew up because as you're driving with him, you end up having to listen to loud, misogynistic rap music in the car.

Ken: We kept him out of commercials because we didn't want to have to go to auditions every day. And I, being an acting coach, worked with Sam, so he was always prepared for auditions when he was younger. That changed when he became a teenager and girls came into the picture. His focus skewered, but he still managed to book parts.

Momlogic: How does he deal with the rejection?

When it's something he really wants, he doesn't understand how they can go with anyone but him because he was so good. His biggest rejection happened when we were on vacation in Wyoming and we got a call that the lead part in "Monster House," which we were assured was his, had gone south. There we were, in the middle of beauty, dealing with an 11-year-old's sadness. He shook it off.

Patti: I liked the way that happened, because with "Monster House," Sammy learned to deal with rejection -- and then ended up getting the part. When he was young, to keep him from getting warped by the rejection, I would say, "Just have fun. Just throw it all away and have fun with it. Who cares?" As he grew older, I realized that I may have been giving him the wrong message. A better message is: "Do your best, work hard! Work your butt off!"

Momlogic: How much school has he had to miss, and has it been much of an imposition on his education?

Patti: Sam missed a month or so of fifth grade -- not such a huge deal because he worked with a studio teacher on set three hours a day. He missed a couple of months of seventh grade, and that has really hurt him in math to this day because we had trouble getting the work from school. Of course, trouble with math may be in large part genetic.

Sam and costars
It truly has been an imposition on his teachers, who had huge classes, and on top of that, they had to give Sam extra work. He got graded down for missing several days of summer school classes to do an episodic TV show. The teacher felt that lowering Sam's grade was the only fair way to handle the absences. Frankly, if I were a teacher, I'd be thinking, "This little runt is earning in a week what I earn in a month," and not be cooperative either.

Momlogic: Any words of wisdom for parents thinking about getting their kid into acting professionally?

I would say to try to always project out ahead as to what's going to be good for the child. Is it good for the child to get a huge ego? No. I actually want Sammy to get a job at Burger Chef so that he realizes what a lucky little cuss he has been ... We've strived to convey that he is not an exotic fruit. It's just the family biz.

I can remember when Sam was shooting "Envy" and he would be nagging me to go buy a toy after work. I'd say, "No, we're not going to do that, you have toys at home," and Sam would be flipping out and nagging me as kids do, and I'd think to myself, "In 5 minutes, they're going to come get him for his scene and he has to be happy and in a good mood." I didn't give in. But I can see how, if your kid is like Macaulay Culkin, or on a series, you could have to give in to your kid on some stuff to keep him happy. You could get into all kinds of weird dynamics. It's built into the turf.

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