If you haven’t had a chance to watch NBC’s new comedy Growing Up Fisher, set your DVR for Tuesday nights! Created by DJ Nash, the show is honest, fun and heart warming – a rare combo in today’s saturated TV world. And you’ll soon fall in love with twelve-year-old star, Eli Baker, who plays Henry Fisher, the son of TV vets JK Simmons and Jenna Elfman.
I first met Eli Baker in January 2013 when he took one of my on-camera audition workshops. Pilot season was just gearing up, so the class was aimed to help young actors get ready for TV pilot auditions. I was blown away by Eli’s smarts, natural charisma and acting talents displayed during the class.
Discovering young talent is one of the best parts of my job but not an everyday occurrence. I’ve been thanked in Playbill bios as the “Jewish Fairy God Mother” from some of the Broadway talents I’ve found and cast during my seven years as a Casting and Talent Executive at The Walt Disney Company. But when it comes to young talent, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve met a young actor who is 100% ready to book a role. But that day, the stars aligned when I met Eli. This Fairy God Mother was suddenly back in action.
When the workshop ended, I pulled Eli’s mother, Jessie, aside and told her to please call me the next day. I couldn’t wait to pick up the phone and recommend Eli to my fellow casting colleagues. First I rang Marci Phillips, head of ABC Primetime Casting. Then I sent Eli and Jessie over to meet Kerri Krilla and my agent friends over at CESD Talent Agency. CESD signed him on the spot, and he literally started going in to audition for every single pilot that was casting at that moment.
Exactly a month after taking my class, Eli booked the NBC Growing Up Fisher pilot. David Schwimmer (who was directing the pilot) and DJ Nash (the show’s creator) called him personally with the life-changing news. Eli and Jessie headed out to LA. The pilot got picked up and now Eli’s in the middle of shooting season one. The rest, as they say, is history.
I caught up with Eli and his mom this week after the premiere. Here are some highlights of our chat:
Jen: It’s so hard for an actor of any age to book a television pilot. Tell me about the process of your pilot test.
Eli: When I heard that I was going out to test in LA, I was excited, ecstatic, and nervous. What would this mean for my life? Was my whole world going to change?
Jessie: Eli and I flew out to LA. The test was scheduled for 4 PM. I figured we might as well have some fun while in LA.
Eli: So we went to Universal Studios.
Jessie: If he didn’t get the role, at least we would have a visit to Universal Studios, and it wouldn’t be a wasted trip. The agents called while we were at Universal, and they were flipping out when they found out that Eli was riding the roller coaster and not in the hotel room practicing the lines.
Jen: But you got the role! How did you hear the life-changing news?
Eli: DJ and David (Schwimmer) called me and asked “Would you like to play Henry Fisher in our pilot?” I just fell to the floor and laid on my back, phone in hand, in utter shock. I could barely speak.
Jen: What was the red carpet experience like for you when NBC announced the show’s pick-up during the upfronts in New York?
Eli: Photographers were snapping pictures lie crazy, calling my name. After I finished an interview for E!, I walked over to my mom and saw her with tears rolling down her face. I said “I love you and I promise I won’t change.”
Jen: How about that first day on set?
Eli: I was nervous and excited. I loved doing the scenes and meeting Jason Bateman. Everyone was a family, and I’m really lucky to have such an amazing crew and cast.
Jen: And have you changed?
Eli: I have great friends and they don’t treat me any differently now that I’m on TV. Acting is something I do, but I still have my life.
Jen: Jessie, what’s your best advice for kids who want to break in?
Jessie: For parents, be really sure that your child really wants this. It’s not glamourous. There are long hours. This is crazy hard work. I have never seen a child word as hard as Eli does. He wakes up ever morning exhausted but smiling. He also keeps up with his studies and he’s incredibly humble, grounded and doesn’t think of himself in a different light than he did a year ago.
Jen: Eli, what’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far from Growing Up Fisher?
Eli: Be nice to everyone. From the people who work at craft services (aka, catering) all the way to the show runner. If you’re not nice, nobody wants to be with you and you won’t get cast. If you’re not nice to everyone, it’s like saying they are below you. And they are working equally hard or harder than you. Everyone on set is equal.
Final last words from Eli and Jessie:
Eli: You have to have your childhood. You have to be normal. Otherwise you have no experiences to draw on from in your acting.
Jessie: The whole thing’s crazy, Jen, and it’s all because of you. You took a chance on him.
I’m one very proud Jewish Fairy God mother!