Destination: Hollywood

Westboro teen winning movie and TV roles
By Pamela  H. Sacks


Brett DelBuono was slouched in a director’s chair in the generous, airy family room of his parents’ modern Colonial home high in the hills of Westboro. The chair’s black canvas backing has Brett’s name emblazoned in red, movie star fashion.

And a career in pictures could be where he is headed.

Brett is winding up work on a new Universal Studios movie called “Balls of Fury” starring Christopher Walken. Brett plays the part of an Olympic

Ping-Pong champion who clutches and loses a do-or-die match. He is the youthful version of one of the movie’s lead characters.

How much of Brett’s part stays in the movie, which will be released in January, and how much ends up on the cutting room floor has yet to be determined, according to the young actor’s manager, Ryan Glasgow. But whatever happens with “Balls of Fury,” things seems to be breaking Brett’s way.

“At my age I’m setting the groundwork,” he explained in a voice that was serious and surprisingly husky for a 13-year-old. “I want to get good parts. You have to be very careful in parts you accept. It’s very easy to get typecast as a kid.”

Brett has curly brown hair and brown eyes that sparkle under dark, straight eyebrows. As he and his mother, Debbie DelBuono, recounted his recent experiences in Hollywood and New York, he fiddled with three plastic bracelets he wears on his left wrist, the kind so popular today. “They’re my lucky charms,” he said with a disarming smile. “If I get nervous, I can take them off and play with them.”

He explained that he got the yellow bracelet at a Lance Armstrong fundraiser. The red one is a Red Sox souvenir, and the white one, well, he got that at the Sundance Film Festival in January of last year.

So how was Sundance?

“Fun, fun, fun!” Brett exclaimed.

He attended the two-week celebration of independent film with his parents to participate in events surrounding the screening of “This Revolution,” in which he plays the son of a lead character portrayed by Rosario Dawson. The movie is about how the government controls the media. It was filmed in New York City in the summer of 2004.

“I didn’t think I’d get that part,” he said. “They were looking for a Hispanic boy.”

In the past year, besides the role in the Walken movie, Brett has landed recurring parts in two TV pilots that have been picked up for the fall. He will start work in July on a film to be shot in northern California.

Mr. Glasgow, of Bohemia Group, said there’s little question that Brett stands out amid the droves of youngsters who arrive in Hollywood hoping to secure even a small portion of the work that his client has landed.

“He’s somebody who kind of gets it,” Mr. Glasgow said. “He is smart and thinks on his feet. He really knows who he is. He’s an old soul.”

Brett’s movie career started three years ago when his mother saw an article in the Telegram & Gazette about auditions for “Freedom Park,” a family comedy made in Central Massachusetts by writer/director Jon Artigo and actress/producer Andrea Ajemian, a Rutland native. Brett, who was 10 at the time, tried out for a lead role, but he wasn’t quite the right type. However, Mr. Artigo was so impressed with Brett, he wrote in a role for him.

“He just seemed to be a person with the maturity of an adult, but the silliness of a kid,” Mr. Artigo recalled. “It made me feel like he needed to be in the movie. He’s witty and quick.”

At the time, Brett had been taking acting, singing and dancing lessons for several years and already had performed in half a dozen community theater musicals. The “Freedom Park” experience was a turning point, affirming his intuition that acting was his destiny.

“I thought, `If I don’t enjoy this, I won’t maybe continue,’” Brett said. “I thought, `Maybe I’ll be a tax accountant and scrap this.’”

Yet even with Brett’s talent and dedication, both Mr. Artigo and Mr. Glasgow said there are a couple of other key ingredients to success: parental support and the financial resources to pursue a Hollywood career.

Parents of child actors are often difficult, Mr. Glagow said, and he won’t take on those youngsters as clients because it makes his job nearly impossible. Brett, the youngest of three sons, has a huge advantage in his mother and father, he said.

Brett’s father, Gary DelBuono, is a vice president at Hanover Insurance Group. Mrs. DelBuono, a lawyer, said that she never got up in the morning dying to go to work. She was at the Ice Capades watching the skaters have a ball when she had an epiphany. “I thought, `Whatever I do for my kids, I want them to be happy with what they do with their lives,’” she said.

After “Freedom Park,” Mrs. DelBuono sought a way to open doors for her son. She discovered the TVI Actors Studio intensive training camp in New York City. The five-day program costs $1,025 and brings together agents, casting directors and actors, who work with the participants.

“I don’t know how else we would have gotten an agent in New York,” Mrs. DelBuono remarked.

Yet the DelBuonos realized that if Brett wanted to act in movies and TV, he had to be in Los Angeles. Brett attended the TVI program in Los Angeles at a cost of $895 and came away with Mr. Glasgow as his personal manager and Kazarian, Spencer & Associates as his agent.

Mrs. DelBuono started home schooling her son, and the two have spent eight of the past 13 months living in a one-bedroom apartment at the Oakwood in Los Angeles, a complex that offers short-term leases and caters to young would-be actors and their parents. They acknowledge that the competitive environment can be draining.

“You can be great friends with someone and then get a job and the other kid won’t talk to you,” Brett said.

At first, work was slow, but things picked up. “Sometimes you have a period when you have one audition a week or three a day, and you’re memorizing your lines while you’re in the car,” Brett said. “Sometimes it’s insane.”

Handling the dry periods and the disappointments takes considerable resilience, Mr. Glasgow said. Brett just missed out on the lead role in the Disney action feature “Underdog,” which is now filming in Providence. He had reached the final stage in the process, making the loss an even bigger blow. Those sorts of roles involve three-movie deals with the studio, Mr. Glasgow said.

Nonetheless, it is critical to quickly move on, and Brett soon booked the recurring TV roles. “Kidnapped,” with Timothy Dalton, Dana Delany and Jeremy Sisto, will air in August on NBC. “The Winner,” with Massachusetts natives Lenny Clark and Rob Corddry, will start its run in the fall on Fox.

Mr. Glasgow said that as he and the DelBuonos ride the bumpy Hollywood road together, his intention is to develop a long-term career for Brett. An important part of what he does is manage Brett’s relationships with writers, producers and directors, who are likely to do major projects in the future.

“My goal is a long career for the kid, so he’s not a rehab case on E!” said the upbeat Mr. Glasgow, breaking into gales of laughter.