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Child Support

Any kid can play pretend. But these three kids can act.

June 04, 2008|Lisa Rosen | Special to The Times

CHILD actors, like tiny Rodney Dangerfields, have a hard time getting respect. Often viewed as puppets of stage-struck parents or grown fodder for where-are-they- now stories, it's easy to overlook the work they do. But family shows require kids as much as moms and dads, and some of those shows need the kids to carry a heavy load. Three young actors -- from the comedy "Everybody Hates Chris," the drama "Medium" and the hybrid that is "Desperate Housewives" -- make it all look easy. Here, and on Page 26, they take a moment out of their workdays to talk about their approach to the craft, and how to keep it real in this business of make-believe.

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THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT

Rachel Fox, 'Desperate Housewives'

ON THE last few episodes of this season's "Housewives," the devil wears pigtails. Rachel Fox played Kayla, briefly ensconced in the home of her father Tom Scavo (Doug Savant) and stepmother Lynette (Felicity Huffman). Kayla, who resents Lynette and wants her dad to herself, cajoled her stepbrothers to set fire to a building and got one of them to jump off the roof. When Lynette became wise to her wicked ways, Kayla managed to frame her for child abuse. She watched from her window during Lynette's handcuffed perp walk. She was finally caught in her own web of deceit, but not before thoroughly creeping out anyone watching her at work. Fox, 11, has been acting since she was 7, but the recurring Kayla role has been her largest part to date.

If "The Bad Seed" came to mind while watching her at work, that wasn't a coincidence. The 1956 film, starring Patty McCormack, was mentioned at Fox's first table read. Fox rented the movie as research. "I didn't copy her exactly," she says, "but I kind of used some of the stuff, like the evilness in the eyes, and you could tell by looking at her she was evil." Fox decided that Kayla's was a case of nature rather than nurture. "It was inherited, because Kayla's mother was very evil," she explains. "I played her as completely manipulative." Even her final shot, crying for her father as she's driven away by her grandparents, is a manipulation; "I played that I can't believe I lost the battle against Lynette."

Although the "Housewives" season finale precludes any recurrences of Fox's Kayla, she thoroughly enjoys the recognition she's already received from people on the street. "They do come up to me and say, 'Oh, my God, you're so evil, I hate you!' " she says delightedly. In fact, she welcomes any and all attention -- from interviewers, the red carpet and even future paparazzi. "Absolutely, I like being treated like a star!" she says. "It's part of being an entity and I love that."

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Sofia Vassilieva, 'Medium'

NBC'S "Medium" centers on Allison Dubois (Patricia Arquette) and her psychic abilities -- in her dreams, she sees how people were killed. A great part of the show's charm comes from the fact that Allison is also a wife and mother, and the realities of family life constantly butt up against her more surreal gifts. Sofia Vassilieva plays her oldest daughter, Ariel, who struggles with the realization that she has inherited her mother's talents.

Vassilieva, who gives her age as 15 1/2, has been acting since she was 8, and has played Ariel for four seasons. "Every episode, Ariel's been developing more and more, and coming into her role as a girl in society, an older sister and somebody who has psychic abilities. So it's always been very interesting for me to develop that balance," Vassilieva says. "For Ariel, it's a constant battle between being normal and being like her friends -- caring about the little things, the dance or clothes or hair -- and constantly trying to figure out what this [ability] is and how to respond to it."

In preparing for a scene, Vassilieva takes a step back, looking at where Ariel has been in the previous moments as well as the previous episode.

And she knows never to play just one idea; "in reality the way we may react to something one day can be entirely different than the way we react another day." Most of her scenes are played opposite Arquette, who she says makes the process very easy by virtue of both her talent and her compassion. "She comes in with so much love and energy, she's so unbelievably great to be around," Vassilieva says. The young actress can't wait to see where her character will go next. "I continue to be really, really eager to go in and do more and have more story lines, and I think that's the beauty of it -- as the character is growing, you're growing as a person."

-- L.R.

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Tyler James Williams, 'Everybody Hates Chris'

AN ACTOR since he was 4, Tyler James Williams took the role of the young Chris Rock at age 12, in CW's "Everybody Hates Chris." Now 15, Williams finds the role comes so naturally he has no sense of needing to get into character.

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