Welcome back to When I Grow Up, where we interview entertainment pros with Broadway kid roots!
Niles Fitch made his Broadway debut in The Lion King after touring with the show across the country. After adding an Off-Broadway credit to his name with Our Lady of Kibeho, he began popping up on shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Army Wives, and Best Friends Whenever. Currently he reoccurs as the teenage version of Randall Pearson on NBC’s breakout freshman series This Is Us follows a group of people whose lives intertwine more than audiences expect. The show garnered a nomination for Best Television Series – Drama at the Golden Globes and NBC has already renewed the show for a second and third season. We are so excited to interview Niles via email to discuss his Broadway career and This Is Us! Catch the season finale tonight at 9/8c on NBC.
How did you entertainment career begin?
I always liked to take pictures and started print modeling in Atlanta at 4 years old. My first job was a Back to School ad for Parisian dept. store.
Niles taking his last bow with The Lion King
What was a typical day like while on tour versus on Broadway?
On Broadway I was living at home so I caught the subway to and from Times Square every day. On tour I was in a different city every month and I lived in different apartments and hotels on the road with my family. There were more rehearsals because of different staging at the different theaters. Both were a lot of fun.
Describe your Broadway debut
At first I was a little nervous because it was Broadway, but when I got on stage it immediately felt natural and fun just like the tour shows. My Lion King tour family was very supportive and sent me a debut big gift of fruit and my new Lion King Broadway family made me feel welcomed.
Did you get to interact with other Broadway kids?
The other Lion King kids and I interacted a lot.
Now let’s move on to “This Is Us.” What is the audition process like for someone to play a younger version of a main character?
Exact same as other auditions. I guess the difference would be the young actor is asked to read for the role because he/she resembles the adult character.
How often do you get to see Sterling and Lonnie?
Worked with Sterling in Season 7 of Army Wives so had met him before, but haven’t seen him in person yet during This Is Us. Just text messaging between us. See Lonnie when we film on the same day and off the set for events. Glad to be the teen version of them, both are the BEST!
Niles with his castmates – Back row: Mandy Moore (Rebecca), Logan Shroyer (15 year old Kevin), Niles, Hannah Zeile (15 year old Kate), Milo Ventimiglia (Jack) Front row: Parker Bates (9 year old Kevin), Lonnie Bates (9 year old Randall), Mackenzie Hancsicsak (9 year old Kate)
What was it like filming the scene in which teenage Randall has a panic attack (view a brief clip here)?
Difficult at first because I wanted to portray what some people experience and make it look real. When we started filming it got easier and easier. Mr. Milo was really supportive too. He treated me just like a dad would treat a son in that scene, with a lot of compassion and love.
There are so many people who feel a personal connection with “This Is Us”. Is there a fan encounter (either online or in person) that sticks out among the rest?
Met the Twitter This Is Us Fan Crew at a screening and they were really awesome!
Is there any other area of the industry you want to try next (producing, writing, etc.)?
Photography and Directing
Do you have advice for kids or teens who want to pursue acting?
Read a lot. Don’t overthink it, always be yourself. Bring your unique self to every role.
Favorite thing to do in NYC
Catch the subway everywhere.
Favorite food to eat in NYC
Broadway dream role
Mufasa in The Lion King
If you could swap roles with anyone on Broadway (male or female) right now for one night only, who would it be?
Mufasa in The Lion King
If someone wrote a musical about your life, what would it be called and what would be the name of its show-stopping number?
The Early Years of Niles Fitch
Showstopping Number – Way Back When by Brenda Russell
Thank you SO much to Niles and his mother Nakata for taking the time to answer our questions! You can catch a sneak peek at tonight’s finale below.
We continue with When I Grow Up, our interview series where we catch up entertainment pros with Broadway kid roots and talk about their upcoming film/TV/music projects! This month we talked to Akira Golz who recently finished playing Alice in Matilda, her Broadway debut. She lept from Broadway to Nick Jr. a month later to star as the titular character in “Nella the Princess Knight”! Akira plays 8 year old Nella, a princess who fights for justice with her fellow knight Sir Garrett and trusty unicorn Trinket. We talked with Akira about booking Matilda, playing Minecraft, and leading a groundbreaking Nick Jr. show!
How did your performing arts career begin?
My parents actually have videos of me singing from a very young age, so think I was born that way. LOL. But my career started when my gymnastics coach suggested acting to my mom because I’d always sing and dance when waiting in line to use the different equipment. After a lot of pushing from my coach, my mom sent my picture to two modeling agents and it began from there. So I started out as a print model at age 5 and from there did commercials, voiceovers, and musical theater. I began auditioning for musical theater at age 7 before ever being in a theater production. After auditioning for a year of Broadway shows I started doing regional and community theater, which helped me soooo much on my journey to Broadway.
Photo Credit: Akira Golz
What was it like finding out you booked Matilda?
Well I’ve been auditioning for Matilda for about 3 years. The music director at Matilda told me that I was one of the first group of girls to audition for the role of Matilda, I was 7. There was a period where I auditioned for both Matilda & Lavender roles. After that I auditioned for Lavender/ensemble kids, then I got Alice. Matilda has been a big part of my life so when I got into Matilda I was beyond happy!
Describe your Broadway debut.
I was very excited on my Broadway debut. I wasn’t nervous at all. I’m not sure why but it felt like a rehearsal with an audience. I was worried more when I had my put-in.
Did you have a favorite song or scene to perform in Matilda?
My favorite song to perform was Revolting. Because the feeling of the dancing in that number made me feel empowered. I always looked forward to performing it.
What was your favorite thing to do backstage at Matilda?
My favorite thing to do backstage was to play Minecraft with the other kids and I loved making Video Stars. They are videos you make where you lip-sync to a song, like it’s a music video.
What was the audition process for “Nella the Princess Knight” like?
My audition for Nella I could not make the audition in person due to Matilda rehearsals. So we ended up doing a self-tape recording the sides on my phone. Sometimes you do so many auditions you forget about them, but probably a month to maybe 2 months later I got callback. My callback was in person. One month later my manager called me with the news that I booked Nella. I couldn’t believe it!
Akira presenting at UNICEF’s 70th Anniversary Event with Chen Lin and Millie Bobby Brown. Photo Credit: Zimbio.com
Did you have a favorite Nick Jr. show when you were younger?
Yes! My favorite Nick Jr. show was definitely Dora. I watched that every day before I went to school.
What’s your schooling situation like for “Nella” as compared to Matilda?
Since I record Nella once to twice a week I’m able to go to back to my public school. When I was in Matilda I had to be home schooled, because we had to go in 2 hours early for safeties. So that schedule didn’t work to well for regular school, especially my middle school.
Take us through a typical day in the recording studio.
A typical day is I first warm up on the car ride into the city. When I get to the studio I’ll have some tea, it helps warm up my throat. I go into the booth with the voice director and engineer. Sometimes the director of the show Skypes in from Europe and the musical director from California. The voice director talks with me about what we’ll be recording that day. It could be episodes, songs, promos for the show, pickups (which are changes in the lines), or a video game. Then I start recording. I do each line 3 times with different reactions so they have something to choose from.
What’s your advice for kids who want to pursue a career in acting?
My advice is just to never give up. I kept going to auditions even when my mom didn’t want to go. Another tip is to have a good attitude when you go in. Most of the time people want a kid with a good attitude so they’re easy to work with. Also, don’t be scared to ask questions.
Favorite thing to do in NYC: Either go to Central Park or to any museum.
Favorite food to eat in NYC: Chipotle. Because there are none where I live. Broadway dream role: Elphaba in Wicked or Angelica in Hamilton. I can’t decide. If you could swap roles with anyone on Broadway (male or female) right now for one night only, who would it be?: Either one of the roles I listed above. If someone wrote a musical about your life, what would it be called and what would be the name of its show-stopping number?: It would be called, Holo There!: The story of a 12 year old wannabe hipster. The best number would be called: Hunty (like honey but hunty. or hun-ty if that makes sense.)
Thank you so much Akira and mom Wyonna for this really fun interview! You can catch “Nella the Princess Knight” weekday mornings at 10am on Nick Jr.! Check out a promo below:
This month brings the launch of our brand new interview series When I Grow Up where we catch up with Broadway kid alumni (with a focus on YBAN alumni) to talk about their exciting film/TV/music projects! To kick things off, we talked to Katherine McNamara who was one of the very first kids on our website when we launched in April 2010. She made her Broadway debut at 14 in A Little Night Music, working with legends like Catherine Zeta Jones, Angela Lansbury, Elaine Stritch, and Bernadette Peters. She has since made the leap from Broadway to film/TV starring in the “Maze Runner” film series, guest starring on shows like “CSI”, “Jessie”, “Kickin’ It” and now starring on the hit Freeform show “Shadowhunters”, based on the best-selling series “The Mortal Instruments” which follows a group of human-angel hybrids who protect the mortal world from demons. We are incredibly delighted to talk to Kat about her start in musical theatre, her Broadway days, and the return of “Shadowhunters”, which returns on January 2nd at 8pm!
*Note: some portions of this interview were edited for brevity and clarity.
Lindsay Burton: How did you get started in musical theatre? Katherine McNamara: I got started in musical theatre when I was about 12 years old, I think. I was living in Kansas City, where I grew up. I was a dancer as a kid and I ran into a family friend who happened to be directing a community theatre show and needed a dancer. So I thought “Well, I’ll give it a go. And I’ll do something new. I’ll try something different, try something fun for a change. And I ended up falling in love with theatre and with performing on stage in that way and in that relm. I’ll never forget the moment I walked on stage for the first time on our opening night. Something hit me like a brick wall and I just knew in that instant that this is what I was put on this earth to do and that I have to do this for the rest of my life. LB: What show was it? KM:The King and I
Kat working with Sutton Foster at a Broadway Artist Alliance workshop in 2010 Credit: Broadway World
LB: Oh cool! So for A Little Night Music, can you take me through the audition and rehearsal process all the way through your opening night? KM: It was a bit different for me than normal because I was actually an immediate replacement for the show about a month after it opened. So, I – it’s so strange how this happened – I worked with a woman in Kansas City who ended up being in A Little Night Music because the theater brings in actors and actresses in New York sometimes to come play the leads in the shows to bring an audience in. And so she went back to New York and ended up working on A Little Night Music and when she heard they needed an immediate replacement, she and I had gotten to be pretty close while we were working together. She said “Oh there’s this girl in Kansas City. You should really look at her. She’d be great for this part.” And I get this random phone call one day at my house and they say “Hey, there’s an audition for you for Broadway’s A Little Night Music if you would like to fly to New York and two days and meet with the directors and go through this process for the immediate replacement.” And I said “Oh! Well, sure. Why not?” I had just started rehearsals for a show in Kansas City at the time and I had spoke to the director and I said “Hey, I have this opportunity to go audition. I know that I’m not going to get this in a million years but, you know, would you mind if I just went for the experience?” And they said “Sure! Of course! Have fun! Go for the experience.” And I said “Great. Awesome. I’ll see you in a few days.” So I go to this audition and I do the audition and the callback, all that. And then, 40 minutes later – it was all in one day, the audition, 4 hours later was the callback. 40 minutes later I was at LaGuardia getting ready to fly back to Kansas City and I get this phone call. And they said “Hey! Congratulations. You’ve booked the part. We need you to come back in a week ready to stay for 6 months or more.” My life changed. Never in a million years expected to go to New York. Never in a million years did I expect for Trevor Nunn. Never in a million years did I expect to be working on a Broadway show with the likes of Catherine Zeta Jones and Angela Lansbury. LB: So, for a majority of minors on Broadway they need to attend school for a certain number of hours a day in addition to rehearsals, special appearances, the show itself, etc. You, however, received you high school diploma at 14 and then your undergrad at 17. So, what was your schooling situation like? Were you juggling college and A Little Night Music? KM: What I was doing during A Little Night Music was, I was doing my last semester of high school, full enrollment in college, and I started university while I was in A Little Night Music. It was insane because I was working 8 shows a week [and] doing school. But the way they did it was instead of having one full-time understudy and one full-time performer, we would each do 4 shows a week. So I had four shows where I was on stage and four shows where I was backstage and I would use that time to get my homework done. It took a lot of discipline because I wanted nothing more than to be out and about spending time with the cast and chatting with people and listening to the show and watching the show and things like that. But I had to prioritize my time and I had to learn to be self-disciplined and self-motivated when it came to my studies. LB: Did you get to interact with other Broadway kids while you were in the show? KM: I did. Some of my best friends to this day I met through the other shows. There were so many shows going on that you would think that Broadway is such a large community and that it would be hard to know everybody. But, honestly, the people that I met and the friends that I made on the show, you really do become family. It’s a really tight knit community. LB: Let’s move on to “Shadowhunters”. So, your character goes through this emotionally taxing journey in just one season. Even her world completely changes within the first 15 minutes of the first episode. So, what’s next for her in season 2, for anyone who hasn’t read the books?
Credit: Freeform/John Medland
KM: I’m so excited for people to see season 2 of “Shadowhunters”. We have re-vamped the show. We’ve matured everything. We’ve elevated the entire show to a level that I think will surprise a lot people in a great way, especially for Clary, now that she’s been in this world for a little while. She’s learned a lot. She’s learned what it takes to be a Shadowhunter and the sacrifices that you have to make. And she’s grown up quite a bit and she’s matured quite a bit. And what’s so great about season 2 is that now that we’ve established all these relationships and we’ve established this world. We get to dive into those depths of those relationships and push the characters beyond what we could in season 1 because now we get to see different sides of them and we get to see different colors, especially for Clary now that her mother is awake. She has to deal with that relationship because her mother still sees her as the young girl that she was at the beginning of season 1, but she’s not that person anymore. She’s grown up. She’s now a shadowhunter and getting her mother to see that could prove to be a bit difficult. And also she’s also trying to find and solidify her place in the world of the shadowhunters and in this team of Jace, Alec, and Isabelle. And on top of that she’s still reeling from finding out that Jace is her brother and dealing with that side of everything. But that’s what she spends a majority of the season dealing with is how to bring Jace back because she found out that Valentine was her father in episode 2 of last season so she’s had all of this time and the support of the shadowhunters to deal with that. Jace on the other hand just found out that Valentine is his father in episode 11 last season and on top of that he’s now in Valentine’s clutches, potentially on his side. So Clary’s main motive at the beginning of the season is to get to Jace and get him back because she knows that she could help him through that and keep him from going down this dark path. But on top of everything, you get to see Clary be so much more of a badass this year. I have several legitimate fight scenes. You get to see her tough side and you get to see her maturity and you get to see her take charge in an authoritative way and it’s really nice to see her character. LB: That actually leads to my next question – how do you prepare for the show’s fight scenes? KM: We have some amazing, amazing individuals that help us prepare for these fight scenes. We have an amazing fitness trainer named Nuno and we adore him. He kicks our butts every day in the gym and pushes us beyond what we think is possible. But, what I love about him is that he’s able to craft workouts for each one of us. There’s seven of us and we’re all trying to do something different physically. He’s able to work with each one of us and create a program that actually make a difference. But then on top of that we have an amazing stunt and fight team, which is headed by Darren McGuire who is absolutely an incredible martial artist. We have a master of kali on the team as well, which is a Filipino sword fighting martial art. And then to top that off we have an amazing boxing coach that works with us as well. So we have a boxer, a swordsmen, and a martial artist teaching us how to fight and how to do all these stunts and helping us with our wire work and really improving our skills on the technical side of things. So between our physical training and our technical training with all of these martial arts and weapons and things that we’re learning, it’s coming together to create a team of soldiers, which is essentially what shadowhunters are.
SHADOWHUNTERS – “The Guilty Blood” – Freeform’s hit original series “Shadowhunters” returns on Monday, January 2 at 8pm ET/PT. (Freeform/John Medland)ALBERTO ROSENDE, KATHERINE MCNAMARA
LB: How do you create a character that’s not a copy-and-paste version of what fans have already seen in the books and in film? KM: What I love so much about this series and about what the writers are doing with it is they’re taking the essence of the books and the other iterations of this story and what people love about it and what people love about these characters and they’re extrapolating upon that and they’re making twists and they’re making turns and they’re bringing in story lines that don’t exist in the books at all. So you really get to see these characters pushed beyond their limit and in situations that you would never expect them to be in. And it forces them to show sides and show colors that you didn’t get to see in the books. And I think that’s what fans are really going to appreciate about the show and about this season is that you get to see these characters outside of their comfort zone and having to really work through things and really deal with things. It allows all of us as actors the freedom to create our own version of these characters because there are such differences in the way they are portrayed. LB: What advice do you have for any aspiring young actor? KM: I think my biggest advice would be make sure that you really really love this and that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life because it’s not an easy job. You hear a lot of rejection and you have to have a really thick skin. But if you love it and if this is what brings you the most joy and if this is what you feel you have to do forever and ever, go for it and commit to it with every fiber of your being and don’t let anyone tell you “No” and don’t let anybody get you down. And don’t lose sight of who you are because that’s something I found is very easy to do in this industry where your personal life is so intertwined with your professional life. In an industry where so much is based upon your image and so much is based upon your relationships and things like that, it’s very easy to lose sight of what makes you you and who you are at your core so make sure to stay true to yourself. LB: Do you have any advice for kids who are already on Broadway or performing Off-Broadway or on national tours? KM: Have fun! Keep doing it. Eat healthy. Get rest. Have a blast. I wish I was doing what you’re doing right now. I miss theatre!
Speed Round! Favorite thing to do in NYC: Go see Broadway shows! Favorite food to eat in NYC: Levain Bakery Broadway dream role: I’d like to do a new show. There’s so many shows that I’d like to be in revival of, but something new. If you could swap roles with anyone on Broadway (male or female) right now for one night only, who would it be? Anyone in “Hamilton”. I just want to be in “Hamilton”! I love Lin. He’s one of my favorite humans on the planet. If someone wrote a musical about your life, what would it be called and what would be the name of its show-stopping number?
Oh! *laughs* I think the name of the show would be “Just Go With It” or “Just Say Yes”. And then the name of the show-stopping number would be “When It Rains, It Pours”!
We can’t wait for the season premiere! Thank you so much to Kat for talking with us. It was an absolute delight. Check out the trailer below then tune in on January 2nd.
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