Oct. 31--STAMFORD -- It isn't every day that you get to work with one of your heroes.
It isn't every day that you get to play him, either.
Aaron Bantum covered both bases when he was hired by the Good Universe movie company to play a young version of Morgan Freeman's character in the soon-to-be-released aging buddy comedy "Last Vegas."
"He's one of my idols," Bantum, a junior at Westhill High School, said of the Hollywood icon. "I've seen all his movies."
The film, which stars Freeman, Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas and Kevin Kline as a band of 60-something pals who throw a bachelor party in Las Vegas (kind of like a "Hangover" for old folks), features a scene in which a young version of the group, then known as The Flatbush Four, confront a bully in a candy shop.
Bantum plays a young Archie (Freeman's character), who stands up to the tormenter before a young Paddy (De Niro's character, who in the scene is played by RJ Fattori) shows him who is boss.
"My character stands up to him, and then the young Robert De Niro punches him to the floor," Bantum said. "Then we run."
After filming in Atlanta over his winter break last year (this didn't interfere with school, thankfully), Bantum and his young co-stars flew to Las Vegas to watch their elder counterparts shoot their own scene at the Aria Resort and Casino. Upon meeting the group of budding actors, Freeman wondered aloud, "Who's going to play me?"
"He was making a joke," Bantum said, laughing. "I was the only African American kid in the group."
While Freeman was quick with a laugh, Bantum could barely form a sentence.
"I was so excited," said Bantum, who next stars alongside Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sharon Leal in the upcoming drama, "Carry Me Home." "I felt a little dizzy, like I was going to faint. I had to get a hold of myself."
To prepare for the role, Bantum spent weeks practicing Freeman's signature facial expressions ("I had to make my eyes really wide"), grow his hair out ("like a mini-afro") and wear fake freckles (a defining feature of Freeman's visage).
Joined by his mother, Precious Ballard, and step father, Jessie Miller, Bantum watched the final cut of "Last Vegas," and mingled with Freeman and De Niro at the premiere of the film at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City on Wednesday (Bantum will host his own screening of the movie at Bow Tie Cinemas in Stamford on Friday, Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m.).
Asked what he thought of the film, Bantum was effusive.
"I liked how every scene had comedic timing," he said. "Everything was funny about it, everything was great. The characters brought everything to life."
It might be hard to take Bantum's word for it, given his obvious bias. Still, whether or not the movie turns out to be a hit, it'll worth catching a glimpse of this up-and-coming young actor, who may even follow in his hero's footsteps and land a big name role himself some day.
Scott.email@example.com; Twitter: @scottgarg
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