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Local kid invites folks to ‘toon’ in to his new show

The next time your kids are watching cartoons, you just might hear a familiar voice. Thirteen-year-old El Roble student Blake Bertrand has a starring role in the new series Shimmer and Shine, which premieres on Nick Jr. this Monday.

The show, aimed at preschool audiences, follows the adventures of a girl named Leah who’s befriended by two genies in training. Blake plays Leah’s next-door neighbor and good buddy Zac.

The young Claremonter is no stranger to the screen, both large and small. At 5, he nabbed a part in the Adam Sandler film You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. Subsequently, he’s landed roles in a host of TV shows, including House, How I Met Your Mother, Private Practice and Wendell & Vinnie.

Along with his Shimmer and Shine gig, Blake has an ongoing role in the animated Disney Channel cartoon Gravity Falls. Voiceover work is an unusual job, but it’s one he enjoys. “It’s really fun. It’s just me in a room and I’m just reading my lines,” he said. “The directors and producers are in another room, giving me tips and stuff.”

Playing a role convincingly is easier with other actors on the scene. It helps that Blake finds his character appealing. “Zac is very funny and kind of clumsy, and he has this dog that he’s always with named Rocket. He’s a cool character,” he said.

Recording the new show involves hour-long taping sessions a couple times a week, plus round-trip freeway rides to the Los Angeles studio.

Blake’s older brother Jacob, 16, is also an actor, notably playing the title role in the Disney show Kirby Buckets. He had a longrunning role as the fish Gil in the Nick Jr. show Bubble Guppies and has performed in the animated features Rise of the Guardians and ParaNorman and in the live action film Jinxed.

The boys’ older sister Mckenna, 18, was the first in the family to begin acting. She’s too busy to undertake many auditions at this point, being in college at APU where she’s a member of the swim team.

Driving two kids back and forth to tapings and auditions constitutes a full-time job for their mom Christina, but she sees it as a worthwhile endeavor.

“One thing that’s so fascinating for the kids is the people they’ve met and get to look up to,” Ms. Bertrand said. “They get to see and be a part of animation, art, singing, writing. They get to interact with other voiceover actors and other kids, and they get to see so many different careers.”

Some people might view the boys’ lives—including Blake’s current role on a show about genies—as covered in stardust. Ms. Bertrand sees their involvement differently.

“If a kid is playing baseball or soccer on a club team, you see the sacrifices and commitment that has to go into it,” she said.  “Even though it’s acting, it could be swimming or piano.

“People will ask, ‘Weren’t you worried about exposing your kids to the pressures of the industry?” Ms. Bertrand continued. “With our kids, it’s almost like it’s an outlet for them. They love it.”

Ms. Bertrand also credits their hometown for helping keep the boys grounded in reality. “I really love our community,” she said. “Claremont is a college town and it’s very down-to-earth. The kids ride their bikes to the Village. They have their friends here. We also have a lot of friends in the industry.” 

Ms. Bertrand is well-suited to the task of being a stage mom, albeit of the non-pushy variety. She’s organized, she’s a people person and she knows how to delegate. This includes relying heavily on an agent who has represented her children for almost 13 years and who has been “a real blessing.”

Sometimes being an actor and a kid requires a juggling act. Blake has had to miss a few classes. We probably shouldn’t share this, but though he says math and English are fun, Blake calls the occasional time off from school “awesome.”

In fact, Blake seems to find his double-life awesome in general. He takes acting classes from a professional coach. He’s also taken drama at school and is looking forward to getting involved with Claremont High School’s theater program.

The middle schooler enjoys the chance to meet fellow actors and industry players of every age and every level of fame. He also loves to spend time cruising around Claremont on his longboard. “Styx is awesome,” Blake said of the local board-shop. Sometimes Jacob accompanies him.

There’s a sense of camaraderie between the two brothers, whether they are vying for roles, heading off for jobs or just chilling.

“We hang out all the time, play basketball, go swimming, skim-boarding. We wrestle sometimes, too. He mainly wins,” Blake said. “And we give each other advice when going out for stuff and help each other with lines.”

Blake, who is going into eighth grade, may have a grownup job, but his parents treat him like any other kid. He recently got a new TV, but only after fulfilling his promise to get all A’s in school.

He’s humble but confident, having spent years winning some and losing some. Not getting a part you want is hard at first, Blake said.

“It’s like, you can’t take it personally. You’ve just got to keep on trying. Sometimes you’ll miss out just by your look,” he said. “I started when I was like three. Since my brother and I have been doing it for a long time, we kind of get more yeses than no’s.”

Blake, who counts many actors, including Brad Pitt, as role models, said he hopes to continue acting. “It’s what I want to do—It’s a lot of fun,” he said. 

And he has some advice for other young people interested in getting a toe in show business.

“Just keep on trying and be yourself, and eventually you’ll get something,” he said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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