In 2007, Radio City Music Hall was preparing a special 75th-anniversary Christmas Spectacular. For one of the only times in history, children would be cast in major speaking roles.
Trevor Harker had not done much acting beyond Long Lots Elementary School plays and local theater programs. But the fifth-grader had modeled, and his agency sent his head shot to Radio City. They liked what they saw, invited him to audition and soon the Westport youngster had a lead role in one of America's most beloved productions.
Cast as Ben -- a young boy with a lot of faith in Santa Claus who convinces his older brother to believe in Santa, too -- Harker spent a month rehearsing. The show ran for two months, with two performances every day except Monday. A tutor on location guided him through schoolwork.
It was a complex production. He "flew" onstage, with pulleys, after spending two weeks being trained in a harness that helped him fly. Harker loved it all -- meeting other actors; being onstage in front of a huge, full house every night; learning how to be a professional.
"It was the big leagues," he said, and he'd just come up from the minors.
He continued modeling, for print advertisements and stock photography. He did a Procter & Gamble TV commercial. He kept auditioning and landed a role in "Wilderness," an independent film shot partly in Westport. (The film's director, Amy Neswald, went to Long Lots.)
Harker starred in "Pandemic," a short film that was an official selection of last year's Sundance Film Festival.
And then came the film "Ghoul."
Auditions were intense, involving improvisations in which actors had to display intense emotions, including anger. Some youngsters found that difficult. But Harker -- now a Staples freshman -- performed so well, he won a role as one of three main characters in the thriller.
"Ghoul" centers on three friends who are on a mission to discover why people in their town are starting to go missing. It's a coming-of-age story in the tradition of "Stand By Me."
It was Travor's first feature-length movie. Filming took place last spring in Baton Rouge, La., and he described the experience as "something new and fun." The cast -- including Nolan Gould (Luke from "Modern Family") -- had a good time. On their few days off, they took a Louisiana swamp tour and visited the New Orleans Zoo. Once again, a tutor took care of education.
There were lots of lines, and many takes. He did some of his own stuntwork, too. One scene -- in which he breaks a bottle on his father's head -- was particularly difficult.
"It took an hour to plan, for just a 20-second scene," Harker said.
The film debuted in January at the Slamdance Festival, which runs simultaneously with Sundance. Harker's second trip to Park City, Utah, was "really cool," he said. The town is "really cool -- funky and progressive."
Seeing famous filmmakers, directors and actors walking down the street was an added bonus.
He took a step toward fame himself. After the screening, people recognized him. He was even asked to sign movie posters.
His fame may spread soon. On April 13 -- Friday the 13th, of course -- "Ghoul" premieres on the Chiller TV network, an NBC affiliate cable channel that is available in Westport.
Harker loves "all the theatrical arts," he said, but film is his favorite.
"It's because of the final product," he said. "There's something solid, and you can watch it over and over again."
He auditions as much as he can. His goal is feature films. He has auditioned for roles such as Angelina Jolie's son in "The Changeling," Robin Williams' son in "Old Dogs," and spots in "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and "The Dark Knight."
Nearly every actor experiences rejection, but Harker enjoys the process.
Harker does his homework en route to New York, and his teachers at Staples have been very understanding, he said. As someone who finds computer science fascinating, his favorite course is Introduction to Programming and he also loves Silk Screening.
Somehow, Harker finds time to race on two ski teams: Staples and Okemo.
So what do his friends think of his film career?
"They think it's cool," Harker said. "But it's not the only topic of conversation. They do plenty of interesting things, too."