BROOKSVILLE — Avid theater-goers across the Nature Coast know the name of Matthew Romeo. By year's end, when a DVD of the movie Tooth Fairy 2 is released, people across the country may know him as well.
Matthew, a fixture in local productions and talent shows, will appear in a supporting role to blue-collar cut-up Larry the Cable Guy in the movie, which 20th Century Fox expects to release by December.
Not bad for a prodigy who is all of 11 years old.
His agent (yes, the pre-teen has an agent), Kelly Paige of Tampa, alerted him to the recent filming in Orlando and encouraged him to audition. He was called back for an interview and earned the role of Matthew, a coincidence that made his preparation a bit easier.
Romeo is not allowed to reveal much of the story line until the DVD is released, but he said it involves belief and non-belief in the tooth fairy. Matthew, a mop-haired, precocious youngster, is the movie's lead skeptic.
The filming, he said, took only eight days, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Editing, dubbing in music and special effects then followed.
Matthew said he received the script just three to four days before production got under way. But the tight time line didn't daunt him.
"I find (memorizing) quite easy," he said. "I just constantly read it and read it. You just kind of get the feeling of your character."
But the script changed daily. Every morning, he said, the actors were handed mini-scripts of the day's shootings, which overrode the original script.
"Sometimes the producer changed lines (while) on the set," he added. Knowing your character well enables the actor to adapt the lines with some ease, he noted.
Matthew said he uses the "choice" method of performance.
"You make a choice of whom you're talking to," he explained, rather than addressing an entire faceless audience. He chose to direct his actions and voice to another youth with whom he'd become friends on the set.
As for working with Larry the Cable Guy, Matthew was impressed.
"He was great,'' he said. "He was really fun to work with. He was just a kid."
Born Daniel Lawrence Whitney, the 48-year-old has worked in radio and has made 12 films, five albums and many tour appearances. Larry hit paydirt in the 1990s as a redneck stand-up comedian spouting bathroom-based jokes and off-color one- and two-liners as part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour with stars including Jeff Foxworthy.
But in Tooth Fairy 2, Larry tones down his act. The movie is aimed at children, Larry noted. "It's a funny movie,'' he said, "and, of course, it's different."
Matthew enjoyed working in film, which he said was easier than projecting to a theater audience of 500. "I find it agreeable," he said.
The son of Matthew and Lucia Romeo, he has been acting, singing and dancing on stage since the age of 5. He first appeared with a chorale ensemble in The Magic and Music of Andrew Lloyd-Weber at Stage West in Spring Hill.
Invited by the president of Via Productions to perform at a Festival of Little Italy in Spring Hill, Romeo has entertained at similar festivals in Jupiter and Port St. Lucie. He's also acted in plays at Springstead High School and at the Hernando County Fair.
Last December, he was chosen for one of the leads in Big Apple Christmas at the Show Palace in Hudson. Matt McGee and Scott Daniel said they wrote the play specifically with Matthew in mind. Nick and Sal Sessa, owners of the Show Palace, produced it.
"It's fun," Matthew said, "because you get to create these big characters out of your life. (Big Apple Christmas) took me to the next level, working with professionals."
His mother, Lucia Romeo, was quick to thank her son's teachers.
"People around us have really helped, the schools, John Leggio (dance and acting instructor at the Center for the Performing Arts) and Roberta Moger (voice instructor), Stage West, Springstead, Show Palace's Sessas and the artistic staff."
Matthew handed out more credit. "I'd like to thank God because he's the one who made this all possible. I think talent got me to the door but God got me through it."
Matthew is a sixth-grader in the gifted program at Spring Hill Christian Academy after attending Chocachatti Elementary School, a fine and performing arts magnet institution.
Matthew said he hopes for a career on stage. "I want to act and sing and (take part) in all of the performing arts," he said.
For now, his current pursuit is about as far from Larry the Cable Guy as performing arts can get. He is teaching himself Italian through an educational language series in preparation for taking on Italian opera.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]