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Stardom--More Than Just a Smile

March 12, 1992|PAT LAUNER

While some kids thrill to the cheers of an audience, others would rather face a camera than a crowd.

When it comes to being the star of commercials or print advertising, which sometimes leads to work in films, a child needs to be "alert, direct, outgoing, precocious, personable. He should have very good verbal skills and be a risk-taker," says Oceanside talent agent Liana Fields.

All those qualities applied to Nick Vultaggio, an 11-year-old from Temecula, who walked into Fields' office at age 8 and landed a national commercial job for Nickelodeon Shoes.

Last year he appeared in a "Milk Does the Body Good" spot for the National Dairy Board, and, when he did a Mr. Goodbar commercial in January, he joined the Screen Actors Guild.

"You don't always need a lot of expensive training," said Fields. "But you need character and the gift of gab. I always encourage kids to get involved in drama and speech in school. Any performance class that helps overcome the shyness. But, with a kid like Nick, you could tell right away. He was open, spontaneous, high-energy. But very disciplined and focused."

Nick's mother, Irene Vultaggio, describes her son as having a lot of expression, but as "no cuter than anyone else's kid."

"He does have an impish look, with the devil showing through. Ever since he was a little one, if he saw a camera, he'd want to have his picture taken. I wish we'd started when he was younger. I thought you had to have a lot of talent to get in, and you don't. Nick still has no formal training, though he's done several national TV commercials. So far, he's earned about $5,000. We don't intend to live off it. We just take out expenses: gas, meals, pictures and union dues, which are $900."

Nick's mother carries a beeper with her so she doesn't miss his calls for auditions.

"I was working before," she continues, "but this is my job pretty much now. I'm learning as I go. No one can sit and tell you everything you need to do and know. The major thing I've learned is not to push. It has to be the child's decision. He went after it more because he always had the option to pull out. Being a stage mom is the worst thing anybody can do to a child."

"It's hard doing commercials," said Nick, a fourth-grader, "but I like it. The hardest thing is that the kids at school get jealous. You have to work hard at ignoring it. The auditions feel like a lot of competition. But to me, it's a challenge. You gotta work for it. But I think it's cool."

Fields, an agent for 27 years, says most of the kids who come to her really do want to get into the business.

"It's not healthy if they're dragged in by their parents. I've seen stage moms and stage fathers. But the main desire has to come from a passion from within the child. You can tell, from their enthusiasm, their answers, whether they want to be there or not."

There seem to be certain personality characteristics that lend to commercial desirability, but is there "a look?"

"The more different and unique you are, the better," said Fields. "They're not looking for gorgeous kids; they're looking for real, down-to-earth kids. Ethnics are in high demand these days. English is not necessarily a factor in working in the business."

Masha Godkin of Del Mar has always been a beautiful child, but when her Russian immigrant parents took her to modeling school when she was 4, she didn't speak a word of English.

Today, Masha is fluent in English as well as Russian and has appeared in eight national commercials, many print ads and a video with Madonna. She has been in Barbie commercials for Mattel, in car ads for Chevrolet and Ford. So far, her only speaking role has been in a Rice Krispies commercial, where she said "snap, crackle, pop" in Russian.

But her most exciting experience was the Madonna video, "Oh, Father," for MTV. The entertainer had looked for three months for someone to play her as a child before finding Masha.

"Madonna was very nice to me. She gave me a bracelet. Also a necklace. She told me she loved me and wanted to take me home."

"She has the face of an angel," said Candy Westbrook, Masha's agent at Barbizon Modeling Agency and School in Mission Valley. Westbrook says it's important to start children young. "The younger, the better. They're fresh and open, and have fewer inhibitions."

According to Masha's mother, Berta, "Masha was very pretty, but very shy and introverted. The Barbizon classes really helped her. Then she went to commercial class, acting class. And now she takes dancing and singing lessons."

"When I went to the classes at Barbizon, I was the youngest, and everyone laughed at me because I didn't speak English," Masha said. "But I didn't cry. I wanted to do it. I would do the same for my kid, at the same age."

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