Luke Benward, the 11-year-old star of How to Eat Fried Worms, which opens this week, still hasn't actually eaten one of the slimy little critters. (They're all fakes in the flick.)
But he has eaten a roly-poly bug—on a dare from his parents, no less. "Got five bucks for it," Luke says proudly. "It had sort of a Sour Patch-y taste. Definitely didn't taste like chicken."
Luke can thank his mom and dad not only for broadening his, er, tastes, but also for paving the way for his acting career. First of all, performing runs in the family: Luke's mom, Kenda, is an actress and TV personality who played Michael W. Smith's fiancée in The Second Chance. His dad, Aaron, formerly half of the Christian music duo Aaron & Jeoffrey, is now in the country music duo Blue County.
And then there's The Acting Kitchen. Kenda, also an acting coach, sometimes turns the family's kitchen into a makeshift studio for audition tapes. She'll record demos of child actors in the Nashville area, and then send 'em on to Hollywood agents. Several young actors got their first break in The Acting Kitchen, like The Disney Channel's Hannah Montana and C.J. Sanders, who played a young Ray Charles in Ray.
Oh, and Luke Benward, of course. The first "kitchen audition" tape that landed him a movie gig was for a supporting role in Because of Winn-Dixie. And it was a kitchen tape that led to Fried Worms, based on the popular children's book by the same name. Luke plays the lead role of Billy, who inadvertently challenges a notorious bully on his first day at a new school—and ends up agreeing to a bet to eat 10 worms in a day.
Winn-Dixie and Fried Worms are both productions of Walden Media, which makes the kind of movies—like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe—that Luke and his family, all Christians, believe in. "We are thrilled to be a part of what Walden is doing," says Luke's mom, "because we want to make a difference in this industry for good. We really want to set a positive example."
In this conversation with the rising sixth-grader, Luke gives Christianity Today Movies the scoop on his acting, his own moviemaking efforts, how his faith plays a role—and what he really thinks about the fake worms he had to eat on the set.When did you first read the book, How to Eat Fried Worms?Luke Benward: In 3rd grade, but I can't remember all the characters. All I remember is Billy, who I play, and Joe the bully. They're the same in the movie.What did you like most about the book?Luke: I thought it was really funny, like the movie. The director made it a comedy.In what ways are you like Billy?Luke: In some ways, I'm different than he is, because I don't have a weak stomach. In the movie, he has a weak stomach; he goes down water slides and throws up. But I can eat anything. And I can go down water slides and roller coasters and not throw up.Why did you want this part?Luke: Well, first I auditioned for Joe, but I wasn't quite into that part, so we auditioned for Billy. I was like, "This is perfect, Mom, I love this part." So we went out to the director's meeting for the audition, and we did it over and over again. When I finally got the part I was so happy, I was jumping for joy, bouncing off the walls.Your mom coaches you in acting, and you do that in your home?Luke: Uh huh, in our kitchen. We take the tables and chairs out, and we do the audition tapes right there. My mom makes the tapes, and then sends them to the agent, and then the agent sends it to the casting director.Most every audition I've done, we've done in our kitchen because we don't have time to fly there [to Los Angeles] for every audition. So we just put it on tape.What was the most fun part about making this movie?Luke: I really loved hanging out with all the guys; there was eight guys and one girl. And we'd all go out to dinner sometimes, we'd go swimming, some of them would come to my apartment and play Halo 2.
What was the hardest part about making the movie?
Luke: It was really hard eating the worms. I almost got sick eating one called The Big Porker, because they fried it in fat. Oh my gosh, I ate it like 18 times.And it's not a real worm, right?Luke: No, it's gelatin. They have different flavors like vanilla, pistachio, cheesecake and just original.So, what was your favorite way to eat a worm in the movie?Luke: I really like The Brown Toad Bloater Special. In the movie, it says that they deep-fried it twice and dunked it in liver juice. But really, they deep-fried it like 10 times, so it was like a giant French fry with syrup on it. It was really good.Yum! Now, moving on. … Does your faith play a role in your acting jobs?Luke: Yes. Before we do an audition, my mom and I pray for God to give us strength that we can get through this. And if God wants us to get this, then we will get the part and do the movie. We always are going to try our best, so we just place it in God's hands.And when you don't get the part, is it still in God's hands?Luke: Uh huh. It's just not what he had for us.Have you ever faced a situation where a director has asked you to do or say something in the movie that you weren't comfortable with?Luke: I haven't really been in that situation, but I have come across movies that I won't do. I won't audition for scary movies. I was asked to audition for The Grudge 2, but we said no. And for Bad News Bears, they wanted me to audition for this kid who cusses a lot. And we said no.Is that something you talk over with your mom and dad?Luke: Yeah, we talk about it, think about it, and pray about it. And then when God just gives us a no or a yes, we listen.I understand you also like to sing, like your dad. Are you better at acting or singing?Luke: I think they're both the same. I get told all the time that I'm a good singer, and I love acting too, so … I sing in my house all the time. I just turn on the radio and start singing along.Do you listen to any of your dad's old music? Or more to his new stuff?Luke: More to his new stuff. He actually has a new music video out right now called "Firecrackers and Ferris Wheels" on CMT.I hear that you have a camcorder and you like to make your own movies.Luke: Yes, actually we're making one today—me, my friend across the street, his little sister, and my two little sisters. It's called Scary Movie 5.OK, so what happens in the movie?Luke: In the beginning, we come up onto the house and we go in and there's a dad, played by my friend across the street. He's watching wrestling, and all of a sudden he goes, "Go, Sanchez, go!" And then he hears the phone ring. And then, I'm the bad guy. My name is Freddy, and his name is Jason. And at the end, he kicks me and I fall on the ground, and then gets up on the couch and he body slams me.You get body slammed. Sounds fun! I guess that will be theaters next year, huh?Luke: (laughs). Yeah. All 10 minutes of it.Movie photos copyright © New Line Cinema; family photo courtesy of the Benwards.