AnnaSophia Robb is only 11, but she potentially has a blockbuster summer ahead.
By ROBERT DENERSTEIN
The acting bug often bites early, but in the case of AnnaSophia Robb, it must have been buzzing around her cradle.
The 11-year-old developed the acting itch between ages 2 and 3.
"I saw people on TV and I loved being around people and performing," Robb said. "I loved to pretend. I think that's really what got me going."
The young actress will experience a considerable boost in her profile with Friday's release of "Because of Winn-Dixie," a Wayne Wang-directed adaptation of a much-admired Kate DiCamillo novel about a girl and her dog.
And come summer, Robb will receive even more attention when she's seen in Tim Burton's eagerly awaited "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," playing Violet Beauregarde to Johnny Depp's Willie Wonka in this remake.
"I read the book before I knew I was going to do the movie," Robb said of "Winn-Dixie." "It had a seriousness -- if that's a word -- that kids could understand. ... Little kids can start understanding what they might have to deal with in life."
The movie tells the story of Opal Buloni (Robb), a girl who moves to a small Southern town (the movie was filmed in Louisiana) with her preacher father (Jeff Daniels). Opal's alcoholic mom split years ago, leaving Opal lonely and friendless, a condition exaggerated by a move to a new town. Enter Winn-Dixie, a rambunctious Picardy shepherd. The dog befriends Opal, and life begins to turn around.
Wearing a sweater, a jean-skirt and a tan pair of Uggs for an interview that took place in the children's reading room of the main branch of the Denver Public Library, the self-possessed Robb had no trouble answering questions. Is she anything like Opal? Not really.
"My mom [an interior designer] is wonderful. My dad [an architect] talks to me a ton. I don't have a big dog. I have a little one."
To land the role, Robb competed against 650 young actors who submitted audition tapes. She was called to Los Angeles, met the director and eventually traveled to Louisiana for a screen test.
Before "Winn-Dixie," Robb had been in a short film and had done commercial work.
"When I had an agent in Denver, I was doing commercials and voiceovers. Just little things. Then I started my acting classes ... I had gymnastics three to six hours a week. Then I'd go swimming. I had Irish step dance. I had voice. And school. It was very busy. As soon as I went out to L.A., it was all dropped. I quit Irish dance. I quit gymnastics."
Robb is now schooled by her mother and by tutors on the set. She takes voice and piano lessons.
"I go swimming for P.E.," she said. "I go snowboarding whenever I have a chance."
Busy, busy, busy
Not that she's had much time lately for sliding down hills. After "Winn-Dixie," Robb traveled to Canada to make a TV movie -- "Samantha: An American Girl Holiday" -- about a girl who learns to be a proper Victorian young lady. Next came London.
"For 'Charlie,' they asked me if I could come to London for a half a year. I said, 'Sure, I'll go.' So we packed up our stuff and left."
London meant working with Depp. "At first I was a little nervous. Then you meet him. He's this totally normal guy. ... Kind of quiet. A wonderful actor. It's kind of scary in the movie, watching him be Willie Wonka and then he can snap right out of it and be Johnny."
Aside from having a pigeon lodge its foot in her mouth during the shooting of a pet-shop scene in "Winn-Dixie," things seem to be going quite well for Robb. And she hasn't forgotten the little people, which in her case is literally true. We're talking about kids.
"When I come home after a film, they [friends] think it's cool. I miss them, and they miss me. It's good to see them every now and again."
As mature as Robb can sound, there are limits to what she's allowed to do. Take movies, for example.
"When I heard that Wayne Wang was the director [of 'Winn-Dixie'], my dad said, 'Oh, we'll watch all his films.' We looked him up on IMDB [Internet Movie Data Base]. The movies were rated PG-13 and R. I was 9 at the time. I think in a couple of more years I'll be able to watch them."
Her own movie tastes seem well-defined.
"I like anything, really, as long as it's not cheesy and always happy. I like more dark stories. I like stuff that has a happy ending, but isn't sugary sweet. I love the Harry Potter movies and the books. I love the 'Lord of the Rings' stories and 'The Incredibles.'"