For some actors, breaking onto the big screen takes years of struggle. Eleven-year-old Tendal Mann is on a bit of a fast track, showing up in his first feature film after four years of working on local Atlanta stages.
Family, friends and fans of Tendal will gather Sunday at the close of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival for the first U.S. showing of "Who Do You Love," a biopic about music industry pioneer Leonard Chess. The young Atlantan appears as Leonard's son in nine scenes.
The event won't be the first time Tendal gets to see himself on the big screen. "The movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival a year ago, and we went up for that," said Tendal, who lives in Lake Claire. "It was a big gala. I got to walk the red carpet and sign autographs. It was really fun."
Tendal snagged the role on his first audition. His poise is the product of several roles that made him comfortable in front of audiences.
"I have been acting for a lot of my life, in little plays, not professionally," Tendal said. "When I was 7, the director of 'A Christmas Carol' at the Alliance [Theatre] asked if I'd audition, and I thought it was cool and would be a fun experience. But I didn't expect to be cast at all. I really enjoyed it and kept on doing it; I played Tiny Tim for three years, and for the past two years, have been in the ensemble."
Tendal also snagged a part in Synchronicity's production of "Bunnicula" and the role of Dill in a Theatrical Outfit staging of "To Kill a Mocking Bird." At the time, he had yet to read the famous novel, "but when I found out I'd been cast, I read it and watched the movie."
After the "Mockingbird" performance, Tendal decided he was ready to take on the silver screen. He asked his parents, both actors, to find him an agent.
"That's how I get auditions," he said. "I tried out for 'Who Do You Love' in Atlanta, and I jumped out at the director and producer. I went to New Orleans for the call back."
Tendal was in New Orleans for almost a week, rehearsing and shooting his scenes. And though it was his first feature film, he didn't find the process any harder than preparing for a stage role.
"It was pretty different, but in fact, I like doing film work more," he said. "And after it's done, you can see yourself acting. On the stage, you can't watch yourself doing it. But films don't require as much rehearsal; on the stage, you have a couple weeks. I also didn't really feel the difference with or without an audience. It's kind of cool to have one because you get their reactions, but with film, there's still the camera people and director watching, so there's some kind of an audience."
In between acting gigs, Tendal is part of a local "unschooling" movement, a slightly different take on traditional home schooling. He takes a variety of classes at the fifth- and sixth-grade levels that are taught by experts. This year, he's taking Mandarin Chinese, but his favorite topics are history and science.
Having a flexible school schedule affords Tendal time for acting. "If we need to go out of town it's a lot easier. I can take books with me."
When not studying or acting, Tendal is a drummer in a fledgling band with two friends. But most of his spare time is spent perfecting his acting skills.
"Acting is a lot of work, but I like doing it," he said. "It keeps me busy, and after the shows are over, I even get a little money to spend."
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