Michael Kendall Kaplan's scenes in "Gifted," which filmed on the Georgia coast, take place on a school bus and in a classroom. So it was fitting that we got a chance to interview the talented young actor in the library of Peachtree Elementary School in Peachtree Corners, where he's in third grade.
"You know it’s my first movie," he began. "I loved meeting all the people. I even made a friend there, Mckenna Grace. She’s in the movie."
Mckenna plays Mary, a brilliant 7-year-old mathematician whose extraordinary skills attract unwanted attention when her uncle Frank (Chris Evans) enrolls her in public school. Michael plays her classmate Justin.
In a key scene a 12-year-old bully trips Justin on the school bus and wrecks his art project. Mary wallops the mean guy and gets in trouble for it (standing up for your friends is good; smashing their enemies in the face is not). But after Mary's penance she stands up for Justin once again.
"When I’m in the classroom after I got tripped on the bus she says I had a really nice art project and then my face brightens up," Michael said. "I just wanted to hug myself on the screen. I was so cute! I wished I could jump in the screen!"
Joking aside, Michael said the moment offers a lesson for all ages: "Never be mean."
If he ever encountered a bully he'd try dialogue.
"I’d first talk to them and say that they did a mean thing: 'Why would you do that? Why are you being so mean?'" he said. "I’d be sad but I’d stand up for myself."
He hastened to point out that the actor who plays the bully isn't like that off-screen.
"In real life he’s a good friend," he said.
The movie, released last week, also stars Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer. ( Our interview with her is here ).
Michael, whose brother David, 7, also likes to act, got interested while doing school plays. (He was on his way to an audition when we met up with him and his dad, Alan Kaplan.)
At 9, Michael isn't ready to focus on any particular genre. He has a natural charm and sense of humor that directors casting young roles love.
"I’d be in any movie. I don’t care," he said. "My favorite movie star? Myself! I’m just playing. I think it’s got to be Daniel Radcliffe."
He got to meet Evans, known to Marvel fans as Captain America ( he'll be back this summer for two "Avengers" movies ) in the dressing room one day and said the experience helped him hone his craft.
"I learned how to concentrate better, and how to listen," he said. Spending time in Tybee Island was fun - he got to see dolphins and enjoyed dinner at The Crab Shack.
His most memorable moment? That's easy: "My favorite part was getting tripped on the bus!"