What do a mop-head tomboy, a leggy Hollywood starlet, and a 6th grader perfecting her swim strokes have in common? They are one and the same person, Ken and Amy Fuhrmann’s daughter, Emma.
The young Highland Village actress plays a lanky tomboy named Espn in the movie Blended, a comic romance co-starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.
Yes, the character’s name is Espn after the sports network. Emma’s movie father, Sandler, a widower rearing three girls, encourages them to get in touch with their inner guys in his attempt to avoid being run over by the runaway locomotive called young womanhood.
“Adam has a team of comedy writers who threw new lines at us during filming.”
Classical musicians call that an impromptu performance.
“It was a lot of fun,” Emma said, “He’s a nice guy.”
Her mother complimented the former Saturday Night Live comic. “In real life he’s nothing like his theatrical personas. He’s not vulgar; he’s a concerned dad, and a wonderful human being. I can’t say enough good things about the man.”
Several weeks ago the movie, Sandler’s newest, and a year in the making, premiered in Los Angeles at the sumptuous TCL Chinese Theater (formerly Grauman’s) a Hollywood landmark in demand for opening nights.
Living every acting student’s dream, Emma walked between the nearly-century-old theater’s guards, its imported Chinese stone sculptures called the Heaven Dogs. Dressed in the tradition of the grandest stars, she wore stiletto heels and a splashy red, cocktail-length dress designed by Shoshanna Lonstein.
Looking a willowy Sweet 16, the photogenic 12-year-old Texan strolled down the iconic red carpet posing for flashing cameras, hugging and smiling with the big stars, including Ms. Barrymore who had delivered her second child only several weeks earlier.
After the gala Emma and mom flew home to Denton County in time to catch the beginning of the Highland Village municipal swim team season. “Emma could be an Olympic champion,” Mom said with evident pride.
Emma showed off her elaborate manicure.
“But my big life goal is to be nominated for an Oscar.”
Do you wonder what it’s like working with Drew Barrymore?
Emma knows. She shook her head and took a deep breath. “She’s the friendliest person on a set, all the time. Drew puts everyone at ease. She likes to play with makeup, and we had a good time fooling around with that stuff.”
The Barrymore acting clan got its start four generations back when Maurice Blythe assumed the stage name Maurice Barrymore. He married actress Georgiana Drew, and they became the parents of theater and film legends Ethel, John, and Lionel who all used the surname Barrymore. Emma’s new friend Drew Barrymore, one of the child actors in Spielberg’s E.T., is John’s granddaughter.
Emma started modeling for a DFW talent agency when she was 18-months-old. Her mom laughed as she described the experience. “She was talkative and fearless, and had the most gorgeous, big blue eyes.”
Children, she said, go through phases when they are not in modeling demand due to jack’o’lantern smiles among other things. During those phases Emma took acting classes from Cathryn Sullivan, a coach in Lewisville, and performed at Studio B, the community theater and acting school in Highland Village.
Around age 5, Emma made her broadcast debut in a local television commercial, a dramatic crime reenactment bidding viewers to read Dallas Morning News stories.
At age 8, she acted in a pilot episode for the television police drama Chase. “I was the bad guy’s daughter who got kidnapped.”
At age 9, she signed on with a talent agent in Dallas whose move to Los Angeles led to the big break, a movie called The Magic of Belle Isle. Emma played a newly fatherless child who wanted to learn the fiction writer’s art from her next door neighbor, Morgan Freeman, a successful novelist who had given up life for alcohol-induced amnesia.
After Belle Isle, a professional dry spell filled several years until the Blended role arrived.
“Actors often have to hurry up and wait, and we have to learn how to handle a lot of rejection,” she said. “Not being chosen for a role doesn’t mean you’re not a good actor. There are a lot of talented people competing, and the casting director has a vision of the character.”
Actors hire agents and managers who scout for work projects then submit a client pitch to casting directors who conduct auditions and choose cast members for particular motion pictures.
When Emma does not go to Los Angeles for a live audition, she performs on tape. If you’ve attended a live stage production then seen it later on TV or a big screen, you know the audience experiences the scenes differently. “A taping is not the same as being there in person, and I prefer live auditions.”
“But,” her mother added, “sometimes auditions fall into place very fast, and if we can’t pick up and go, Emma will send a tape.”
Minor children work with parental supervision.
“We’re a team,” her mother said, “but, on request, the State of California will administer a GED-like exam to 16-year-old actors and actresses, who, if they pass the test may begin to sign professional contracts and make agreements without parental supervision.”
Remember Patty Duke who won an Oscar for her performance as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker? During childhood she earned a huge income that mostly disappeared through the mismanagement of her guardians by the time she reached the age of legal majority.
“To prevent situations like that,” Emma’s mother said, “California law requires all child actor contracts be court approved, and they must have a 3rd party-supervised bank account, a Coogan Account, in which 15% of their earnings are automatically deposited until they turn 18 or become emancipated 16-year-olds.”
The account is named for Jackie Coogan, the world’s first child film actor. He earned a multi-million dollar fortune in silent movies, and at age 25 sued his mother and stepfather-business manager, to discover the pair had burned through his earnings. Addams Family fans will remember the elderly Coogan as Uncle Fester in the 1960s TV series.
For seven weeks Blended was filmed onsite at the Sun Resort outside Johannesburg, South Africa.
“Warner Brothers went out of its way to make sure we all had a good time,” Emma’s mother said. She and Emma spent a couple of weeks living in a tent while filming on the savannah–the grassy plains most Americans think of as stereotypical African landscape. Dad and younger brother Nick came for a visit during the shooting.
In addition to working, and the law limits child actors to a 9½ hour day that include 3 hours with an academic tutor for regular kid schoolwork, Emma has photos of herself making the personal acquaintance of an elephant and a young leopard.
As a cast member she helped deliver treats, wish-list gifts, and spent time playing soccer and taking pictures with the children at the Grace Help Center, an orphanage.
On a trip to Cape Town on the south tip of the continent, she saw where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans merge between Antarctica and Africa–so much for the idea that the Dark Continent is all equatorial jungle.
She even rode an ostrich. Well, not a real bird, but a bouncing, shrieking piggyback ride on a galloping actor wrapped head to toe in tight blue nylon. The “critter” disappeared after the special effects team superimposed footage of a live ostrich scrambling around a corral like an out-of-control bumper car–amazing technical work.
The acting life includes serious giving. At the Highland Village AMC’s sold-out opening of Blended, Emma and her family raised $1,400 for Cook Children’s Health Care System and the “Boot Campaign” which provides respite and support networks for children of deployed and fallen military personnel.
They also sold Rhino Force bracelets for Save the Rhino International, an African wildlife conservation organization. “Poachers are destroying the world’s rhinoceroses to sell their horns,” Emma’s mother said.
Emma had a word of advice to aspiring actors and actresses. “Believe in yourself. Your dreams can come true.”
Her mother added that a Hollywood career evolves, and requires patience and a team of good people.
See photos and learn more about Emma’s life and work at her official website emmafuhrmann.com
Contact the writer at [email protected]