Maxwell Huckabee on the set of Dexter eight years ago with actor Michael C. Hall. Photo courtesy of Chris Canaday
Walking into the audition for a theater production of Oliver, Maxwell Huckabee wasn’t sure he’d land a part.
The problem wasn’t that he was new to acting.
The 11-year-old from Redondo Beach, who attends Alta Vista and loves to play tennis, has a weighty resume; he’s starred in such big-network shows as Dexter (he plays Dexter as a child), Jimmy Kimmel Live, Pretty Little Liars, Bones, Mad Men, CSI, and Alias, and appears in commercials advertising companies like McDonalds and Mercedes.
The pre-audition nerves, then, weren’t brought on by inexperience.
The fifth-grader had just never performed on a theater stage.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I’d get it,” said Maxwell, a poised, articulate, fifth grader who possesses a social maturity beyond his years. “I thought I’d maybe get a smaller part.”
Instead, he landed the lead – a role he will play for six of 12 February shows at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse.
Maxwell’s mother encouraged him to try theater as a means to gauge his level of passion and commitment to his craft.
“My husband and I have been taking him to auditions for years and years, and it does get very tiresome,” said his mother, Chris Canaday. “I saw this ad for Oliver and I thought, ‘You know, this would be really good for him and would really allow him to see and feel the love of acting just for acting. He’s been doing it since he was three and we’ve helped him towards that, but now I want it to be his decision. I want him to love it or not love it.”
After six months spent rehearsing for Oliver, Maxwell is convinced that he loves acting for the sake of acting, rather than for the measure of fame it might afford him. He’s also set his sights on Broadway.
Maxwell landed his first gig eight years ago.
His mother was shooting photos of her son at the beach on a sunny Christmas Day. It occurred to her that the images were turning out surprisingly well, and that Maxwell had a face for television. She had acted in her youth, and she knew the drill: she sent his photograph to 10 agencies. Several days later, Maxwell was invited to an interview downtown.
“We really thought it was a long shot and wasn’t going to happen, but when we went in for the interview, my husband and I were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a really nice building in a really nice neighborhood. This is a really good agency!’” Chris says. “It was crazy.”
That was the beginning of a long, sometimes wearisome but mostly exciting, acting career for Maxwell. Fortunately, his teachers have been understanding of his rigorous auditioning schedule and supportive of his career; his first-grade teacher used to play his shows in class.
Maxwell no longer feels star-struck by the celebrities he works alongside, but the shock of being on TV still hasn’t worn off entirely.
“When you’re not expecting it, you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s my son’s face,’” Chris said.
While Maxwell is formally represented by talent agency Amsel, Eisenstadt & Frazier, he has no formal training. His mom takes his headshots. He practices lines at the dinner table. He’s getting voice lessons and formal instruction as he prepares for Oliver, but his film and television career was borne of hard work, dedication, and a natural flair.
“He just has a great memory,” his mother said. “He could remember lines at three-and-a-half. He’s very good at memorization and really good at following direction. I think it’s just like with any job – you have to go in and do your job well, be there on time, respect your boss. As a family we’ve worked hard to get him there, make sure he’s ready, to be as prepared as we can be.”
He’s also had to learn, at a young age, to become numb to the sting of rejection – something every actor faces repeatedly over the course of his career.
Maxwell Huckabee. Photo by Chris Canaday
“You have to understand,” his mom says, “he’s 11 and has been doing this since he was three. For every [job] he gets, there are hundreds of things he hasn’t gotten. It’s a lot of work.”
As he prepares for Oliver, Maxwell’s film and TV career is on hiatus. He’s focused on remembering his lines, refining his British accent, exercising his vocal chords with a teacher, and becoming familiar with a different kind of pressure.
“It’s not like TV,” Maxwell said. “There’s no take two, take one, take three – when you get up there you have to nail it or you have to fake it. It’s kind of like you have to know the song, know the words, or just keep going. There’s no re-doing onstage. You only have one chance.”
To stave off the nerves, he talks to himself. It’s a trick he knows as a young old hand in the entertainment industry.
“I just have to tell myself it’s going to be fine,” he says. “I tell myself everyone’s going to love it.”
Oliver is being performed between Feb. 4 and 23 on Friday and Saturday evenings (7:30 p.m.) and Saturday and Sunday afternoons (2 p.m.). Maxwell plays Oliver on Feb. 7, 9, 15, 21, and 22.
For more information, visit www.belasco.org or call (310) 379-4208.