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AnnaSophia Robb: Cuteness and Light – and One Very Big Dog

  • Annabelle Robertson Entertainment Critic
  • 2005 2 Feb
  • COMMENTS
AnnaSophia Robb: Cuteness and Light – and One Very Big Dog

For most people, it takes years to reach their dreams.  But AnnaSophia Robb needed only six, after deciding to become an actress.  At the age of nine, she took a children’s acting class in her hometown of Denver, Colorado, and was spotted by a Hollywood agent.

Soon, AnnaSophia (which is pronounced with a long “o” rather than a short “a”) was appearing in short films and national commercials.  And now, the young actress – who has a deep-rooted commitment to her Christian faith, along with her parents – is about to burst onto the big screen.

In “Because of Winn-Dixie,” by director Wayne Wang, AnnaSophia plays India Opal Buloni, the daughter of a Baptist preacher (Jeff Daniels) who adopts a lovable mutt.  She names him Winn-Dixie, after the store where she found him, and the two bring together the town’s outcasts, including characters played by Cicely Tyson, Eva Marie Saint and musician Dave Matthews

As Opal and Winn-Dixie create a community all around them, they also teach the adults that the things we have in common are far more important than those that separate us. 

Crosswalk interviewed AnnaSophia, now 11, in Los Angeles, during a promotional tour for the film.  Here is some of what she had to say. ...

Q:  What kind of training did you have to go through with the dog for this film?
A: 
Well, for a couple weeks, we had to just get used to the dog. I hung out with him and just walked him around and made him sit and held treats up to my eyes.

Q:  What’s his favorite treat?
A:
  He likes the liquorish treats [featured in the movie.]  I do, too.  (grinning)

Q:  Was it just one dog on set, or did they have different dogs?
A:
  They had five, but two of them mainly [that were used in the film].

Q:  I really love the prayer from the book that you delivered in the film, the prayer that you'd have friends.  Do you pray? And have you ever had a big prayer answered?
A:
  Um, I do pray, and I love being able to pray just because you can tell God anything, and just listen. And even if it doesn't seem like He's listening, He's always there. I think that's really great, because sometimes you just need someone to talk to, but you can't talk to your friends or your parents. I think your animals are kind of like a symbol of God, because they listen to you always, and they're so sweet and they just love you, no matter what, even if you hit them or throw them -- which you definitely do not want to do!

Q:  So how was it working with great stars like Eva Marie Saint and Cicely Tyson?
A:
 It was really amazing. They had so much to offer, and they really took me in as their, kind of, as their child or as their friend or as their granddaughter. And they told me stories about movies, other movies they had done, and childhood stories.

Q:  Did they give you acting lessons?
A:
  Jeff – Jeff Daniels did. Just watching him, I got some tips, just ‘cause he’d close his eyes and really get into a scene for a couple minutes before the scene takes place. So I think I learned a couple things from him.

Q:  How did you approach your character, Opal?  Were there certain ways that you felt you were a lot like your character and some ways that you really had to stretch and become that different person?
A:
  Well, I read the book, and I read the script. And then, I think I'm a lot like the character Opal, or I'd like to think that, anyway. Some of the crying scenes were a little tough because it was my first time crying, like, when Winn-Dixie was about to be taken away.  I had to cry for a day and a half, just solid.

Q:  How did you do that?
A:
 I was isolated, basically. You just think of something really, really sad, and just go for it. And sometimes it doesn't work, and if you can't do it, just physically, if you do it and try and try and you do it, like, 50 times, but they have so many different angles that you just kind of get worn out that you WANT to cry, and so it just kind of comes out.

Q:  Do you have any particularly favorite animals? Are you a dog person or a cat person?
A:  I am.  My favorite animal is…I have a lot, but my main ones are dogs, frogs, little owls, and, um, let's see, and I like reptiles but not snakes. I like salamanders. I think they're cute.

Q:  In the film, your character's dad says that your character's mother didn't like being a preacher's wife. Do you think your character liked being a preacher's daughter?
A:
 I think Opal knows what her daddy has to do, and she's okay with that, but she just wants him to recognize her more and spend more time with her, and talk to her. But me, personally, I think I might enjoy it.  I might.  But he cared too much about the other people and not enough about [Opal,] and I think that's what I'd kind of be worried about – that he'd be so busy making sure that everybody else in the church was okay, that he wouldn't want to spend time with me.

Q:  What about the way other people scrutinize Opal? It seemed like the boys actually mock you because you're a preacher's kid. That kind of attention, would that be a problem?
A:
  I don't think so. They might, some mean kids, but I went to a Christian school, a private school, so I don't think they would.

Q:  I loved the part in the movie about tasting the lozenge, which tastes like an idea, essentially the feeling of melancholy. If you could make your own candy and have it taste like something – like an idea – what would your candy taste like?
A:
  That's a very good question! Umm, I'd probably want it to taste like helping people. Because there are so many people in the world that don't have anything, and I feel that America is kind of protected from all that. If you go to out of America, there is real poverty, like where the tsunami hit. I want to help people in Mexico. I want to make a foundation for dogs all over the world because I feel so bad for them. I just, I just, I love dogs, and I love people too, and I want to help them. 

Q:  What’s it like being a movie star?
A:  It's kind of chaotic, really. I don't really think of it as being a movie star, because I'm just doing what I love to do, and I don't think anybody really does it just because they want to be famous. I'm just another person on TV, and that's how I like to think about it.

Q:  Last week you spoke at the Crystal Cathedral in front of thousands of people and on television. Do you ever get nervous?
A:
  Nope. The only time I get nervous, two times, is doing math problems in front of my class – can't stand that! – and I don't like performing in front of people that I know. That is, sometimes you can do it, but sometimes it feels weird. I can do it in front of people that I don't know, but in front of people that I do know, in a small group – I can't do that.

Q:  How is it being a Christian in Hollywood, in the movie industry? Is it difficult or easy?
A: 
You just go with yourself and you pray, but I don't like forcing things on people, like, you know, talking about what they think about God, because sometimes it makes them feel uncomfortable. And I think, you know, everybody can believe what they believe, and I believe what I believe, and that's okay. 

Q:  How do you go about choosing scripts?
A:
  Well I haven't really gotten to choose scripts yet!  [ laughter ]

Q:  Who chooses them for you?
A:  Well, you don't really choose them, you audition for them. But I have an agent, and he looks at stuff and brings them in. I audition, and if I get it, that's great, and if I don't, you know, too bad!

Q:  What are the criteria that you have?
[Mother answers]: We pray about it. We pray about every role for AnnaSophia, and our prayer has always been to follow God’s plan for her life. If it’s a meaty role, it’s worth doing.

Q:  There must be a lot of sacrifice that you as a parent have gone through, to allow her this kind of opportunity. Does AnnaSophia recognize the sacrifice?  [ laughter ]  No pressure.
A:
  Yeah!  I do. I think I do. My mom has, she has sacrificed her career for me and my dad has started his own business, now, and I realize what they've done, but I think it's – I think it was kind of meant to be, because I think my mom kind of enjoys this, because, not working, I think it might be kind of fun, and traveling around, and having free time. But I really thank her, a lot, for doing this, because it's a really big thing for me, and I don't think lots of other kids have their parents going about and going all over the world just for them.

Q:  What sort of films would you, as you get older and you do get to make more of your own choices, what sort of films would you like to do, what sort of roles would you like to stay away from?
A:
  Well I don't want to do any Victoria's Secret commercials.  [ laughter, applause ] Um, I think, just anything, really, that's worthwhile. I want to do stuff that kids can watch, but sometimes I think it's a good thing that kids can't watch stuff, because there's stuff that's made for adults, and there's stuff that's made for children. I mean, I want to be in adult films, when I get to be an adult, because I don't want to be in Barney videos, you know.  I can be in kid movies and I love kid movies because they usually have really good morals.

Q:  If you could pick one or two actresses to model your career after, if you had to pick a career path of type of movies you wanted to do, who would those actresses be?
A:
  I'd like to do, uh, be with Nicole Kidman, she's my role model, and Meryl Streep.

Q:  You obviously have a different kind of life, but the whole moving from one community to the next is a very real thing, not just for preachers’ kids, but for a whole bunch of other kids. What would you say to kids who feel lonely and isolated?  Do you have any kind of advice to kids your age about how to cope? 
A:
  I think you should, um, don't be afraid of other kids, because some of them are kind of mean, but if you really try to love them and be kind to them, they'll be nice to you, like Opal was to the Dewberry boys, and Opal was to Amanda, and that's all you have to do, and just don't be shy, because, I mean it's okay if you're shy, but you have to make SOME friends, and I think having a dog is a good way to start – unless you're allergic to one.


20th Century Fox's "Because of Winn-Dixie" stars AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Elle Fanning, Dave Matthews, Cicely Tyson and Eva Marie Saint and releases in theaters nationwide on Friday, February 18, 2005.

Photos © 20th Century Fox