“One person can’t change the world by themselves but a bunch of people together can definitely change the world.” So says 12- year old acting extraordinaire Jonathan Morgan Heit.
Jonathan has been performing on stage since age 2, ever since he participated in his first Montessori preschool play. The role was Macbeth; he commanded the room and people began to take notice. Though too young to realize what the acting world entailed, Jonathan knew he loved being on stage, particular the interaction he would receive from the audience. It seems he knew how to work a room early on.
His parents, Jay Heit and Melissa Segal, were encouraged by friends to help Jonathan on his acting quest. Jay now guides in managing Jonathan’s acting career.
By age 4, Jonathan started the audition process and began landing roles on TV shows such as Close to Home, General Hospital, ER, Monk and How I Met Your Mother, in addition to a slew of national commercials.
In 2008, Jonathan appeared in Bedtime Stories, starring Adam Sandler, which lead to Garry Marshalls Valentines Day. Other roles quickly followed in Date Night, Rules of Engagement and Wish Wizard.
Jonathan also does a lot of voice over work, as a lead character Cubby in Disney’s children’s animated series, Jake and the Never Land Pirates. In addition, he just completed his 18th episode of Family Guy playing a multitude of young characters. He is also the voice of Kip Supernova in the highly anticipated upcoming release of the Weinstein 3-D family comedy Escape from Planet Earth that opens in wide release on February 14th. Jonathan stars along side Brendon Fraser, Jessica Alba, James Gandolfini, and Sarah Jessica Parker among many others.
Jonathan’s most recent experience has been playing the lead role in the dramatic series Granite Flats that will debut April 2013. The series is being produced by Brigham Young University television and was the first time Jonathan was sent on location for 6 weeks.
The series, circa 1962, is set in a small town where mysterious on goings are taking place and a group of amateur sleuths work to unravel a complex web of secrets.
RT: Since you started this at such a young age, when did you begin to realize acting as a profession?
JH: Hmm. I think from the very beginning. Even though I was so young I just loved it. It felt normal or natural to be on stage. It was just fun. The same with auditions. I would prepare and then just have fun. I never had any kind of stage fright. It didn’t matter if I got the role. I just enjoyed the process. I think that’s important to remember for actors of any age. Because, well, chances are maybe, 92% you won’t get the role. So you really have to be committed. And just have some fun.
I remember I had 7 callbacks for Bedtime Stories! And by the time I went back for the 8th callback, I had a broken leg. By then, I was pretty relaxed about it. And I got the part.
RT: That brings up a good topic. Do you think kids that don’t have this natural ability can be good actors and succeed in the profession?
JH: Definitely. Like, the most super shy kids can be fantastic. They are really quiet, then the camera rolls and they become the character. Maybe it’s training or just experience, but at some point they figure out that it’s a job, and after the camera stops they can go back to being shy. It’s a muscle we all work on. Some harder than others. But for sure a discipline that requires training.
RT: What kind of training have you had?
JH: Well, I’ve taken Improv classes with Gary Austin; those are my favorite because you get to be yourself and work directly with other actors. Then surprises can happen and maybe your true self will come out. I think to be good; you have to put a little bit of yourself in every role.
RT: Have you ever had to struggle with certain scenes, where they want you to cry on command or laugh or fall apart?
JH: Yes! Ugh. You can’t force it. If you don’t feel it, then wait. It will come. The more you prepare for a role, the easier this will come up. The homework is really important, so that you know the character. Sometimes if the script says to cry, but you know he’s just not going to cry, just wait until it seems natural. For me that works.
RT: Can you tell us what other classes you find useful?
JH: Voice lessons help. Dancing. I think any activity where you use your body as an instrument and get comfortable with yourself. I really want to play guitar, but maybe in a couple years.
RT: Tell us about your role models?
JH: Well of course my parents. They are completely supportive of what I want to do and that means a lot to me. And of course my aunt who introduced me to Kiva and Kids in Kenya. She really helped me realize how important it is to give back. I get so much satisfaction from doing things for others. And Gandhi. On a hero level, not having to do with family or friends, for sure Gandhi. I can’t think of a more inspirational figure! He woke up every day and said I’m just going to make a difference today, and tomorrow and the next day after that.
RT: How does the KIVA organization work?
JH: KIVA is a microloans program and how it works is we pick a person then loan them a certain amount of money to put toward one of their projects they are passionate about. KIVA is now in 60 countries and anyone can get involved. It’s really incredible to watch someone’s life change for the better or to help someone realize a dream.
RT: And you are the team member?
JH: Yeah. What that means is I started a group called Artists in Lending and basically we are a group of actors and artists that want to help entrepreneurs realize their goals. So right now we are in the process of raising loan money that will go toward someone’s project to help him or her get there.
RT: How did you get involved with Kids of Kenya?
JH: Through my aunt who runs a number of non-profits. For my 11th birthday, I went to Kenya and met all these amazing kids. The program is designed to help them make these beautiful gift bags out of recycled materials then they sell them to help their community. It was awesome. Also, part of the money goes to improving the living conditions of the kids. This is really important to me and to bring awareness to what is happening in Kenya. The kids are so great. Oh, and I became friends with this baby elephant. He wrapped his big trunk around my waist. It was wild. I can’t wait to go back.
RT: Who are some of the people you most enjoyed working with so far?
JH: Definitely Garry Marshall when I did Valentines Day. He is one of the nicest people I ever met. Adam Sandler is fantastic. So funny and real. We had a blast. Gosh, there are so many. Everybody on the Jake and the Never Land Pirates set.
RT: You have a lot going on so I’ll take a wild guess and assume you also have some pretty great hobbies.
JH: Yeah. Okay, so I love sports. Love. Tennis, basketball, lacrosse. I don’t care as long as I’m moving. I love art, doing sculptures and paintings. And I love to sing and dance.
RT: And you have a full school schedule. Do you sleep?
JH: (laughs) Just enough. I like to be doing. Everyday I wake up and wonder what will happen, what great thing will happen and how I can make it happen. I have so many ideas on what I want to do, act, direct, write. As long as I’m growing and changing, that is what counts.
RT: Where do you get all of your amazing confidence?
JH: Gosh. My family, friends, my older sister, my grandfather who always sees the bright side of things no matter what! Some I think I was born with. I just think good things will happen, and most of the time they do.
RT: It’s almost as though you don’t have much time for any negative thoughts.
RT: Are you excited about Escape from Planet Earth? It opens on Valentines Day.
JH: I can’t wait. The film was so fun to work on. Working with Brendan Fraser was fantastic.
RT: What advice can you give kids out there that are thinking of pursuing acting?
JH: I think the most important thing is to be natural. Be yourself. Being shy or scared doesn’t have to stand in the way. Once you get involved in a character, the shyness can fall away. Kids don’t have barriers, but sometimes if they feel pressured, you’ll get scared. It’s just so important to be yourself. And you really have to want it. There’s so much rejection, but it’s not real. You can’t take it personally. So, yeah, being really driven and being natural as possible.
RT: Thanks Jonathan. You’re quite an inspiration and there is no doubt in my mind you will do very well in all your pursuits.
You can also find Jonathan on twitter @jjheit and also http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2384128/