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The Joy of Hallie

The 8-year-old girl best known for her Pepsi commercials has a starring role in 'Beautiful.' She loves to read and write and, especially, to have fun.

September 28, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

One minute Hallie Kate Eisenberg is acting like a typical kid, hanging upside-down from a luggage cart at a Santa Monica hotel as she poses for a photographer. And the next minute, the 8-year-old actress is discussing a script she is writing about three generations of one family.

"I am not writing it for myself," the diminutive Hallie says matter-of-factly.

"She's learning French," pipes in her mom, Amy. "So she's doing [the script] also in French. One of the couples is in Paris for their honeymoon."

The dimple-cheeked Hallie, who sports long curly tresses that would have made Shirley Temple envious, is best known for her popular series of Pepsi TV commercials in which her singing and talking voice is dubbed in by famous singers. And she's more than held her own in these ads with the likes of KISS and Faith Hill. Hallie also has starred in several satirical spots for the Independent Film Channel playing a savvy young director.

Sitting in the middle of an overstuffed sofa in a lobby area of the Casa del Mar Hotel in Santa Monica, Hallie is precocious, inquisitive and bright but still very much a little kid. She frequently glances over to her mom when she's asked a question, but not because of shyness. "I don't want to leave anything out."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 29, 2000 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Photo caption--The first name of actress Minnie Driver was misspelled in a photo caption accompanying a story about Hallie Kate Eisenberg in Thursday's Calendar Weekend.

Hallie, who lives in New Jersey, is in town for the premiere of her latest film, "Beautiful," a comedy-drama that marks Oscar-winning actress Sally Field's feature directorial debut. In the film, which opens Friday, Hallie plays Vanessa, the bright, opinionated daughter of Mona (Minnie Driver), a young woman whose main ambition in life is to win the Miss America beauty contest. Because mothers cannot participate in the contest, Mona has had her best friend Ruby (Joey Lauren Adams) raise Vanessa as her own child.

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Talking about the role of Vanessa, Hallie sounds like both a bubbly 8-year-old ("It was fun to play her. She got to do fun things and it was cool") and a seasoned professional. Hallie points out how much she admired Field as a director because "Sally says things other directors wouldn't have because she has acted, too. It was kind of easier to communicate because she knows how to get you to the point where you can do something--you get down and be angry and everything."

All in all, Hallie says, the whole experience was a "very fun shoot. I like doing parts with challenges. In this movie it was screaming and playing soccer. In one movie I had a stutter. I just finished playing Helen Keller [in an upcoming TV movie of "The Miracle Worker"] and I had to be deaf and blind. That was hard."

Though Hallie watches beauty pageants on TV, she has no desire to ever enter one. "I don't think you have to be beautiful," she says. "I think beautiful means a lot of different things to different people. But I think you don't have to be pretty. It's how you behave."

Hallie recently completed ABC's "Wonderful World of Disney" presentation of the William Gibson classic "The Miracle Worker," set to air Nov. 12. The moving drama focuses on the relationship between teacher Annie Sullivan (Alison Elliott) and 8-year-old blind, deaf, mute Helen Keller.

Patty Duke won an Oscar for playing Keller in the 1962 version; Melissa Gilbert starred in an earlier TV remake.

"I didn't know that much about her," Hallie says of Keller. "Once I got the call, I did research. I watched [the 'Miracle Worker'] movies. I went to deaf and blind schools. I learned sign language in two hours."

Hallie says playing such an emotional and physically demanding part wasn't difficult for her. "It was actually kind of fun. I got to walk on coffee cake. I got to step in a plate of sausages. I got to break glass. I got to step in eggs. I got to spit eggs in Alison Elliott's face. I got a pitcher of water thrown on my face. I got to pull hair. I just got to roll around and make weird noises."

Hallie is in third grade and lists her favorite subjects as writing and reading. She notes that she began reading at the age of 2, and her mother quickly adds that her daughter wrote an anti-smoking public service announcement at the age of 3.

'I Am Never Without a Paper or Pen or a Book.'

Hallie used to write poetry, which she has recited on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," but lately she's been more interested in short stories and scripts.

"I am never without a paper or pen or a book," Hallie says. "I like [to read] Judy Blume. I like stories about orphans and the 'American Girl' series [of books]."

When she isn't acting or writing, Hallie takes tap, ballet, jazz and lyrical dance lessons. "I want to take horseback riding," she says. "I did that once. I [skate] and I go on the new scooters."

Hallie isn't the only actor in the Eisenberg family. Her 16-year-old brother Jesse has appeared on the New York stage and was a regular in the Fox series "Get Real" last season. (Show business runs in the family; her mother used to perform as a clown at birthday parties).

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