Confessions of an Obsolete Child Actor
Being cast in ‘School of Rock’ was a defining moment in my life — for better or worse
A few months ago, I was in hair and makeup for a feature with one of my castmates, a 12-year-old girl. She was on set with her mom and little brother. He was playing games on a phone while the mother and daughter ran lines together. When the mom stopped her kid mid-sentence to give her a line reading, I was instantly transported back to my youth. I felt bad for my castmate. I felt bad for my sisters, who spent years waiting in the car with my mom while I was in guitar lessons or at auditions. I felt bad for all the other kids in all the waiting rooms of all the auditions. Did any of us really want to be there?
Of course, I was there by choice that day — if you don’t count all the choices that led me to pursue acting in the first place. Back in 2003, I was cast as Katie in the film School of Rock. Katie was 10 years old, played bass guitar, and had about five lines that mostly consisted of one word each. I got to meet some of my idols, attend the MTV Movie Awards (hosted by America’s then-sweetheart Lindsay Lohan), and travel the world — all before I got my first period. Then, after my brief break from obscurity, I fell into the classic child actor pattern. I’ve spent the last 16 years of my life trying to be anything but “that girl from that thing” despite the blunt reality: No one even cares that much.
Let me preface this by saying that I am absolutely grateful for the experience as a whole. For those who reach out to me expressing that School of Rock inspired them to pick up an instrument. For the femmes who let me know Katie was their first queer crush. (Does this make me a queer icon? If so, love that for me.) For all the opportunities that followed. And especially for my castmates, who I see as forever family. Nothing will ever diminish these factors. However, I do have some very complicated feelings about School of Rock, so let’s dive in, shall we?
From as early as I can remember, my parents told me I was “destined to be a star.” They were the textbook definition of toxic stage parents. They praised me and gave me all the validation and attention in the world. They spoiled me. They called me perfect and beautiful. They kept a journal of all the adorable and charming things I’d do and say. I started taking guitar lessons when I was four and became the family’s little prodigy, against my own will. It was expected that if I were to make an appearance at a family function, my guitar would be there, too. My mom would coach and critique me from the sidelines.
At school, I desperately wanted to be liked and to fit in. All of the kids in my class were either in dance or sports, so we had nothing in common. I was bullied immensely for being the “weird classical music girl,” and my only friends were my sisters and my guitar. When I was nine, I was on NPR’s From the Top, a radio show that showcased kids who played classical music. A few months later, a casting director reached out to my guitar teacher expressing interest in having me audition for Untitled Jack Black Project. I didn’t know what any of this meant. I was 10; all I really cared about was ice cream and having, I don’t know, one friend who wasn’t a blood relative or an inanimate object.
Initially, I read for the band manager role (which eventually went to Miranda Cosgrove—hey, sis) and played a few classical songs on guitar. For the callback, I was asked to “rock out.” My parents bought me a kid-sized electric guitar, and I played “American Woman” by Lenny Kravitz. I found out I’d booked it the next day. They told me I’d be playing a character they wrote specifically for me and that I’d be leaving in two days for New York, where I’d live in a hotel with my mom for four months. The idea that Mike White, Jack Black, and Richard Linklater saw something in me still blows my mind.
I got to live the Eloise fantasy I never knew I wanted. And then we wrapped.
While on set, I met 14 kids who were underdogs like me. We all fell in love with each other pretty much instantly, and our moms were a cast of their own (and honestly could have had a highly entertaining reality television show). To this day, we have a family text thread where we champion each other’s exciting lives.
On set, I was a walking panic attack. I would fuck up my lines; I would look into the camera and ruin takes. When I looked into that lens, what I saw was my entire family saying, “Don’t fuck this up for us,” and my bullies laughing at me and calling me weird. All this to say that off-screen, it was fun as hell. We’d have cast and crew karaoke parties and play Dance Dance Revolution between takes. I got to see Heather Headley and Adam Pascal in the original Broadway cast of Aida. I got to eat room service every night. I got to live the Eloise fantasy I never knew I wanted. And then we wrapped.
I went home to Chicago, and because kids are assholes, I was bullied even more when I came back to school. I’ll never forget one girl who came up to me and asked me to sign her lunch card, then tore it up and threw it in the trash in front of me. When we started the press tour, I was pulled out of school and got to be with my friends again. Upon seeing myself on the big screen at the premiere, I judged myself for being the tallest girl in the cast, for having bags under my eyes and weird teeth, for having a fat belly and no breasts. I started hating my body and developed an eating disorder.
I remember being pulled out of school to go to the Toronto International Film Festival (brag) when I was 11. At an afterparty, having snuck a sip of champagne and snacking on a cup of wasabi peas, I had the realization that I was no longer a kid. I had a job now, and my job was to book another big movie so I could pay my parents’ mortgage. Sometimes, I questioned whether I continued to act for myself or for them. My mom, despite having zero experience in the film industry, had by then taken on the role of my manager. She was always throwing in her unhelpful two cents when it came to my appearance. Neither of us really knew what we were doing. We’d drill lines together in the car on the way to auditions. She was more off-book than I was. She would futz with my hair and tug at my clothes in the lobby. If I did a good job at an audition, I’d get Panera; if I did a great job, I’d get Panera and a Frappuccino.
On message boards (what a time 2003 was), grown men would sexualize me, commenting, “The bassist is going to grow up to be hot” and “Can’t wait ’til she’s 18.” My mom would read the comments online for hours on end, relaying all of the negative ones to me. When I was in sixth grade, a strange man in a trench coat came to my school and tried to take photos of me, and absolutely nothing was done about it. For the first time, I felt unsafe existing. When my parents brought this to my school’s administration, the principal said, “I guess that’s the price of fame.” I was transferred to a smaller private school immediately. “What a relief,” I thought. “I can start fresh, leave the bullies and stalkers behind. I won’t even mention School of Rock. I can go back to being a kid.”
But every time I entered a new school, it would only take a few days before someone found out my secret. I went to three different high schools, and at each one, kids would scream School of Rock quotes at me in the halls. It was annoying and embarrassing. I constantly felt trapped. If I reacted to them positively, I was labeled a bragging snob. If I reacted negatively or ignored them, I was labeled a cold, ungrateful bitch. Every time someone brought up the movie, I didn’t think of my personal highlights, like meeting the Olsen twins or eating Kobe beef with Jack Black and my dad in Tokyo or being on Sharon Osbourne’s talk show. I thought of the girl ripping up my autograph in the cafeteria. I thought of the trench coat guy coming to my school. I thought of my mom reading the awful comments on the message boards, the bullying, and the shame of being sexualized as a 10-year-old.
From the age of 14, I used drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and self-harm to numb all of this pain. I’ve survived dozens of toxic relationships and three suicide attempts. I’m not saying all of this is because I played bass in a movie when I was a kid but because I spent over a decade terrified that I’d peaked at 10 years old.
Even recently, over half of the comments on my social media are from dudes who had a crush on the 10-year-old me (some of them are really gross, and I want to thank my friends who never hesitate to drag those goblins). Sometimes the comments are people asking me why I stopped acting, which fills me with rage. Actors are worth so much more than their IMDb credits.
Sometimes the idea of a TMZ headline reading “That one girl from School of Rock dead from overdose at 27” is all it takes to keep me from a relapse.
Today, I live in Los Angeles, where I work for a skin care company. I still act and perform. I’ve traveled the country as a stand-up comedian and performed in several plays, web series, indie feature films, and bands. I’ve been fortunate enough to be welcomed into Chicago’s theater and comedy scenes. I’ve competed on NBC’s Bring the Funny. And still, no credit or feat is as cool as the fact that I have been in recovery from alcoholism and addiction for two years (and frankly, it’s fucking hard to maintain sobriety, but sometimes the idea of a TMZ headline reading “That one girl from School of Rock dead from overdose at 27” is all it takes to keep me from a relapse).
I’m grateful that School of Rock happened. It’s a great film, and it was, to its core, a fun experience. I’m grateful for the fans who picked up an instrument because of us. And I’m even grateful to my parents; I recognize now that they have unresolved trauma of their own. They were simply doing their best, and unfortunately, their best resulted in some pain. But I get to recover from that pain every day, through therapy and self-reparenting.
To this day, I still get recognized randomly at airports and coffee shops. People ask if I’m “the girl from School of Rock.” For a long time, I used to say no and keep walking, but now that I’m in a better place emotionally, I humbly say yes. I no longer carry resentment for people who only know of me as “that girl from that thing.” I know deep within my bones that I’m so much more — and that’s good enough for me.