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Pinellas boy doubles for "Expectations' star

Published Sep. 16, 2005

When it comes time to write about how he spent his summer vacation, Joe Kay should have an interesting story. The 11-year-old Palm Harbor boy is spending part of the summer on the set of a movie that stars Robert De Niro and Anne Bancroft.

Joe is the "photo double" for the young main character in Great Expectations, a remake of the Charles Dickens novel filming now in Sarasota. As the double, Joe, or at least part of him, may appear in some scenes of the movie.

But the hazel-eyed youth is not letting the experience go to his head.

"With this, I feel more lucky than skillful," he said, "because I look like the kid, that's it. But I feel skillful because I've gotten a lot of compliments."

His mom, Sandy Kay, said Joe has come a long way from the little boy who was too scared to perform in school plays. Joe said he thanks Linda Keith, his teacher in the gifted program at Garrison-Jones Elementary School.

Keith told Joe to pretend there is no audience and to become a character. "She really helped me," Joe said. "She said they're not there. You are an Indian."

Joe is the double for Jeremy Kissner, a 10-year-old actor from Minnesota who plays Finn, the character known as Pip in the 1861 Dickens book. Set in the present in this, the third film version, Great Expectations is the romantic adventure of Finn, an orphan who becomes a wealthy man thanks to a mysterious benefactor.

Show business is hectic, the Kays have learned, and they took time for an interview last week on one of their rare evenings at home.

Last week, Kay, Joe and Joe's little brother Max, 8, spent a lot of time trying to stay cool while a crew of more than 100 scurried around setting up scenes at the Ringling Museum's Ca' d'Zan mansion. Still, the family is having "a big time" on the set, said Kay, who has been a single parent since the boys' father died nine years ago.

Joe's lucky break came when Kay sent photos of herself and the boys to an agent almost as a lark.

Kay, 33, never dreamed the photos would land them in the movies.

"A lot of kids can work around town busting their butts for four or five years and not get the opportunity Joe got," Kay said in an accent honed in Atlanta. The family has lived in Palm Harbor for five years.

Joe may appear in the movie from behind or maybe his foot will be shown brushing away an iguana, one of the scenes he filmed last week. Or he may not show up at all.

"You really never know until they cut the whole scene together," Strogoff said.

No matter, shrugged Joe, who will be a sixth-grader at Palm Harbor Middle School next month. He would definitely do it again.

"Who wouldn't?" he said.