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Growing up Christian in Hollywood

<em>Little Boy</em> star Jakob Salvati and his father talk about the movie business


Jakob Salvati in a scene from <em>Little Boy</em>. Metanoia Films

Growing up Christian in Hollywood

The movie Little Boy tells the story of a child who believes that through faith he can do anything, even bring his father home from World War II. It opened on about 1,000 screens three weekends ago and has grossed $5.3 million in sales. Mark Burnett and Roma Downey helped produce the film with Eduardo Verastegui, who was a driving force behind the pro-life movie Bella. The young star of the film, Jakob Salvati, is the son of a pastor. He and his father, Bruce Salvati, talked with me in Los Angeles about their experience making the film,

How did you get this role, Jakob? Did you have to audition for it and try out against a bunch of other guys? I went to nine auditions to get this.

What did they ask you to do during the audition? Remember lines and a lot of drama where I’m trying to get my dad back from war.

What do you think the story was about? So, Pepper Flynt Busbee, he’s very close to his dad, and his brother tries to go to the war, but he’s not allowed because he has flat feet. So, his dad has to take his place, and Pepper is just petrified because that happened. I mean, would you like your dad to go to war? So he tries everything in his power to get his dad back.

And your dad is here with us. Bruce, what kind of pastor are you? I’m a Bible minister, ordained.

How did your son get into acting? What was that like from a dad’s point of view? His older brother, Josh, was autistic. Josh was in Little Boy in many of the scenes because he was the body double. On the pier, actually, on the poster of the movie, that’s Joshua.

Joshua was born autistic, and it was pretty traumatic for us. Two of his savants, which are parts of the brain that excel, [are] photographic memory, and … perfect pitch. He’s extremely good with music and never had a lesson. And he’s good at remembering lines. But with autism, oftentimes, they are socially challenged. … Apparently, with autism, age 7 is kind of the defining moment where they’ll either escape into themselves and not be social, or they’ll become more normalized and be more social. It was our opportunity from age 3, when he was non-responsive, non-speaking, to get him into the industry and get him memorizing lines and working with other people in a social context.

Of course, we were very guarded because of the curriculum and the subject matter. … Jakob was along for the ride a lot of the times because I would be at work and Leslie would be taking Josh to these auditions. Josh got a few things. They did Mad Men together, and he did a couple films and commercials. Every time, Leslie would say, “Hey, I got another kid here who’s almost the same age. You want to see him, too?" and Jakob started running away with these auditions. He did ’Til Death, with Brad Garrett, and a number of commercials. He was Thor in the Target commercial, and he said the hammer was heavy. He did Victorious. He did Disney, ABC, NBC. He did Grimm.

He’s worked with [screenwriter] Melissa Rosenberg. … When we were watching him film, and it started to be the buzz of Red Widow, for ABC, they said, “This is Little Leo.” So, his name was Little Leo the whole time, which is very flattering, because of what Leonardo DiCaprio has accomplished in his career.

Jakob’s very humble. We are concerned about the industry, but we’re not concerned with him in the industry because he’s a light. He did the Susan Boyle Christmas Special commercial, and he was just supposed to be there as one of the kids holding a candle. He went into a dissertation and stopped filming and everything. The whole film crew was there, paused, for about 15 minutes, and he was preaching. He was talking about Christ, and he was talking about God.

So, Jakob, what’d you say? I was saying that the reason we have Christmas is because of God. I think that’s just a blessing, that He shares His gifts with us. The presents, they’re not because we’ve been good. They’re because He gave them to us. They’re because He died on the cross and gave His life for us, and that’s just a wonderful thing that He did. So, I was just sharing the Word.

Little Boy is a movie about faith. What do you want people to learn from this movie? I want them to have faith in God, also, and I want them to start reading the Bible and just thanking God for everything they have, because He gave them everything. He gave them life.

Listen to Warren Smith’s interview with the Salvatis on Listening In.


Warren Cole Smith

Warren is the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. He previously served as WORLD’s vice president and associate publisher. He currently serves as president of MinistryWatch and has written or co-written several books, including Restoring All Things: God's Audacious Plan To Change the World Through Everyday People. Warren resides in Charlotte, N.C.

@WarrenColeSmith

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