Oct. 08--Here's one birthday present that definitely can't be re-gifted.
When Emma Brandstad's dad, Jeff, turns 45 on Thursday, family, friends and her soccer teammates gather in Linden for a once-in-a-lifetime -- almost totally unbelievable -- experience.
That's when Emma, 12, makes her cable-TV debut as a lead character in an episode of "Deadtime Stories," a series on Nickelodeon.
"Yeah, it's on the my dad's birthday. I'm kind of nervous to see how it works out," Emma said, laughing and sounding anything but timorous.
The slightly spooky show is the second one based on a series of "children's horror" books by AGCascone (Annette and Gina Cascone).
"Goose-bump novels," Emma's mother, Stephanie, called them.
"It feels amazing," said Emma, an upbeat and enthusiastic seventh-grader at Linden's Waterloo Elementary School. "It's so cool. Just to think about me coming from such a small place. It seems almost impossible. I've been working on this for a real long time."
Emma, also a soccer player who's been acting in TV commercials since she was 8, first auditioned for the role in December 2011 in "Tarzana." She got it.
Production on "The Witching Game" episode, however, was delayed until October 2012.
That's when "they ended up calling at the last minute and we had to go in, re-audition and be there in two weeks," said Stephanie Brandstad. "We think it's awesome. She's worked so hard. In Hollywood, you get a lot more 'no's' than 'yes-es.' "
This time, Emma acts the role of Lindsey, who repeatedly -- and apparently harmlessly -- plays a sometimes scary "wishing game" ("Bloody Mary") with her friends by taunting a dozen mirrors.
One of the reflecting glasses "warns" that if they persist in prodding and pleading, the "haunting will come true, but in a twisted way," Emma said of the 30-minute episode that was filmed in a vintage downtown Los Angeles house. "It says it just wants to be left alone. The mirror turns life upside down by trapping their family ... and it has no way to get out."
For Emma, it helps that she's familiar with her fictional character.
"She's kind of actually like me," Emma said. "I got really lucky. It's really hard to one day have such a cool character. We have the same personality kind of thing. We won't give up on anything. She's really brave. I work hard and never give up on things."
That started early.
"She wanted to do it when she was real tiny," said Stephanie Brandstad, 41, a mother of three who's a real estate broker. "She always had a microphone. I guess you have to be a little bit crazy. She just has such a passion. Her personality is extremely outgoing. I think of it as being just kind of her.
"So, 'What the heck? Give it a shot.' It kind of panned out. It's not the most convenient thing."
Emma was 8 when she attended a Nickelodeon talent search in Anaheim. Representatives of six agencies -- theatrical and commercial -- were sufficiently impressed. Emma picked two.
She's appeared in TV commercials for Little Caesars, Sea World, Build-a-Bear Workshop, Nintendo and Mattel, among others.
That's required lots of driving to and from Southern California.
"Nobody does this around here," Emma said. "Everything seems crazy. You drive for five hours and come back in the same day. They think it's amazing."
That's how Emma describes her family's support.
"I'm behind the scenes," Stephanie Brandstad said. "I do the dirty work. My husband helps. It's all very good."
A partner in Lodi-based Colligere Farm Management, Jeff Brandstad helps his uncle, John, grow walnuts and cherries in Linden. Emma's brother Richard, 17, is a senior baseball and football player at Linden High. Sister Nina, 7, is a second-grader at Linden Elementary School.
A right halfback and right forward in soccer, Emma hopes to keep playing the sport at Linden High and in college. She learns how to act on the field, too.
"Yeah," said Emma, whose favorite subjects are math and history. "When you're on a team you're meeting new people, learning things and becoming better at something. That's what I see.
"I love becoming a new person for a few hours. I love my own town, but it's so cool to go somewhere else and meet new people. The most fun is becoming someone else and stepping into a whole new world. To see how many things are different between me and my characters."
Her mom got a preview of Thursday's birthday show -- during filming a year ago in Los Angeles.
"It was absolutely one of the most awesome experiences I've ever encountered," Stephanie Brandstad said. "To see your child is absolutely phenomenal. They let parents in this historic old home. We kinda just had to be quiet. It was 10 hours a day for five days. After the last take on the last night, we all cried. We'd developed real bonds with everybody."
That won't be Emma Brandstad's final last take.
"More TV shows," she said with plenty of purpose. "Something bigger. TV shows. Movies. Something big. That's what I see."
Contact Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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