Since playing Young Andrew in NBC series A to Z, Hunter Payton has continued his career in screen work including Criminal Minds and Who’s Driving Doug, written by Michael Carnick. Already an award-winner for previous roles, Hunter has filmed for the future release of A Genie’s Tail as Ryder and in 2017, set up his own Alzheimer’s charity called Hats for Thoughts. Taking time to chat with us, Hunter talks about winning awards, his upcoming role of Ryder and his charity work.
You have filmed for the future release of A Genie’s Tail as Ryder, is there anything you are able to say about it and how did you feel when booking the role?
Yes, sure. The film is directed by Brent Huff and written by Elisa Eliot. A Genie’s Tail is a film that starts out with a puppy digging up a genie lamp, where two genie brothers live who are loud and argue a lot. A boy makes a birthday wish and one of the genies ends up stuck in the puppy who suddenly gets big. Being stuck in the dog makes it really difficult for the genie to accurately grant wishes so he is really unreliable which creates so many funny situations. Throughout the movie there is chaos between the six kids (myself, Riley Jackson, Merrick Hanna, Brady Bond, Nick Fisher and Liam Kellman), two genies (Kevin and John Farley, brothers to the late Chris Farley), a magician (Jake Paul), several dogs and more. I play one of the six kids, Ryder, a bully, and I have a younger brother. This was the first time I played a bully so it was hilarious to turn it on and people would actually come up to me on set and be shocked how I could transform once they said action into a really mean kid and then once they said cut I would start laughing and having fun with everyone. Oh it is so much fun being an actor!
I was freaking out when I found out I’d booked the role. It was crazy because I originally went in for a different role and, when I was in the room, at the same time they looked at each other and felt I was better for a different role and belted out the name of the role. So, they handed me a different set of sides and had me practice outside and come back in. They loved it and called me back a few weeks later for a director session with the director, producers and writer. A week later I got an email from my agency that I booked it and they gave me the dates. It was a great way to start my 2019 year.
When did you film for this role and what was it like on set?
I just finished filming in February of this year and it should be coming out later this year around October. I have never worked with so many kids and dogs in one film so that was pretty cool because I even got my own dog in the movie, a really cool german shepard named Ruoz. The main dog Hero, trained by Sara Carson, was on America’s Got Talent and recently broke the Guinness World Records title for the most tricks performed by a dog in one minute. Hero and I skateboard in the movie, which, let me tell you, should be one of the main reasons you watch the movie when it comes out because a dog skateboarding is super cool.
How did you find acting alongside the rest of the cast which includes Austin & Ally actress Laura Marano?
Everyone on set was amazing and really great to work with. Best part about working on set with the same people for several weeks is that over time you create friendships so we still have hung out outside of work and have become good friends. I have to admit that Austin & Ally was one of my favourite shows growing up and one of my dreams was to work on it and meet the cast. Sadly, the show was cancelled before I could work on it, so when I found out I would be working with Laura Marano and have scenes with her, I was super excited. Laura was so nice on set and it was really great to work with her. One of the coolest things that happened on set was on the last day of filming, Jake Paul hired a gourmet ice cream truck to come to set and serve ice cream to all the cast and crew. It was raining and cold but we all had ice cream because it was so good.
Last year, you played Michael in the short film Father’s Day Breakfast, can you tell us about it?
Yes, of course. This was a film based on the play The Good Boy written by Michael Bonnabel of true events that occurred in his life. The story is based on a deaf father, Troy Kotsor and his son, played by me, in the 1950s and the struggles they go through trying to show each other they care during a time that was difficult for deaf people. On set, there was an ASL interpreter, Jann Goldsby, who helped me with my sign language for my scenes and communication with Troy. It was directed by Natalie Simpkins.
Your portrayal of Michael saw you win two awards, what was this like?
I was so grateful to be recognised for my hard work for not just one but two awards last year as Best Actor at the Young Entertainer Awards and the Malibu International Film Festival. Father’s Day Breakfast was my first film I ever booked when I was seven and it didn’t premiere until I was thirteen. When I saw my seven-year-old self on screen during the premiere it was kind of surreal to see me and to remember filming at that age. I remember at the time my agency wasn’t ready to send me out for films because they thought I wasn’t ready because I had just started. But I told my mom I was ready so she pushed them to send me out so that was my first film audition. I had just gotten the script that same morning on a Sunday because they were recasting the role. I hadn’t even had time to memorise all the scenes before I read with the director. I remember walking out super excited because I felt I booked it. A few hours later I got the call I booked the lead as Michael and I was so happy I was jumping up and down.
Who is your character Patrick Douglas in The Joneses Unplugged, where you were nominated for Best Young Actor at the Young Entertainer Awards?
It was really cool to be nominated by the Young Entertainer Awards for my role as Patrick. My character is kind of the glue that helps my school teacher, Sean Faris (Pretty Little Liars) notice things that may help his marriage to his wife, Mischa Barton (The OC). After a power outage, they are forced to go without all their electronic devices and, for the first time in a long time, they have a great time together because they do not have electronics distracting them. In order to save their marriage, they decide to go Unplugged whenever they are together and start doing things they haven’t done in a long time.
How was it having a guest role in popular series Criminal Minds?
It was super cool because I love these kind of shows and in this episode I was going to get killed which was a role on my bucket list I always wanted to do. So, my mom didn’t like that part because I got shot two times and it looked really real between the gun and the blood. It was a crazy experience on set because they had to put fake blood on me and make something on my neck and chest that looked like a bullet hole. Funny part about the whole thing was when I was shot, I got stuck to the ground. The mixture what they use to look like blood is part molasses and it was so sticky so they had to peel me off the ground.
How much do you remember from your time on set of Who’s Driving Doug as Young Doug?
I remember being super excited to work on a movie again and especially with RJ Mitte from Breaking Bad. It was so funny because when I got to set, the actor playing my best friend was actually a good friend of mine from school so we had so much fun. We had no idea we would be working together so it was a cool surprise. One of the coolest moments was when I got to work with a stunt coordinator and get to do my own stunts. I played a young RJ Mitte with muscular dystrophy and I was in a wheelchair. One of the stunts I had to do was a dead fall out of the wheelchair into a swimming pool and sink but still keep my eyes open under water the entire time. The other was going down a huge hill in downtown Los Angeles in a wheelchair with only a cable supporting the chair from behind held by three guys as I flew down the hill. I was seat belted in and had to stay completely still in hopes the small wheels on the chair did not hit a rock or I would have fallen big time.
You played Young Andrew across numerous episodes of NBC series A to Z, what was the experience like?
It was one of my favourite experiences to get to work for almost a year at Warner Brother Studios as a young Ben Feldman. I got to work with so many talented actors in the industry like Cristin Milioti, Parvesh Cheena, Lea Thompson from Back to the Future and Ben Falcone, just to name a few. Every day was a new experience as each flashback had a super fun script. It was the first time I got to work with a stunt coordinator getting to master a move called the Spider Monkey (which, funny thing, was my nickname growing up before the show) and tackle a kid twice my size who played a bully. That same episode I got to mirror image a scene from the original Pink Panther which was super cool to do and watch after. I remember for one episode getting a call from the director the night before set telling me that I was going to have to sing and dance to a song called Ice Cream Kisses. To this day, my friends make me still sing that song. Lol. I think the best part of the show was that the storyline talked about a friendship between two friends and how it grows over time and that is what all the flashbacks were about. I met Trevor Larcom on set, who plays my best friend, and we are still good friends till this day so we actually became what the script described. There was such a fan base for the show and they even tried to save it from cancelling. Trevor and I still talk about how we miss working on that show because the cast and crew were amazing and it was so much fun.
What do you remember from your first acting role?
That’s a funny story. I was six and it was for a sketch episode called Dry Season for HBO’s Funny or Die with Will Ferrell. The role was for me to play a lemur boy so I was in the makeup chair for what seemed an eternity for a kid that young. I had no clue my lemur dad would be killed by Will Ferrell who played a lion because that is just the way the food chain worked my mom later told me. Being six, everything looked so cool because the production protected me from what was really in the script so I just kept seeing people everywhere dressed like animals walking around; antelope, lions, lemurs etc. and thought it was so cool. Basically, my mom and I had no clue until we watched the episode several months later that a lot of animals died in the episode. My first day, I remember being super excited to meet everyone and work on the project but still nervous because I had no idea what to expect before I arrived. But once it was my time to be on set and I got to work with the director and everyone I knew, I really enjoyed being an actor. It was so much fun and I remember being sad when it was over and wanting to work again.
Is there anything you enjoy most about having an acting career?
Wow, there is so much. I think the greatest thing about being an actor is that you get to meet so many amazing people on and off set. I enjoy being able to give life to characters especially the ones that are completely opposite of me. I love the challenge.
Can you tell us about your own charity you started in 2017 – Hats for Thoughts?
I signed the papers for my non-profit charity Hats for Thoughts in 2017 in honour of my grandpa Gary Payton, who passed away in 2015 from Alzheimer’s. My grandpa was my hero and was a genius, aerospace engineer and would always look at things so differently. He helped me gain a love for science, dinosaurs and hats and taught me to work hard for whatever I want. I think the hardest part was when he had a stroke in front of me when I was six years old and I didn’t know how to handle or understand that my grandpa would never be the same. My grandpa gave me my first hat when I was little and ever since then, hats have been my thing. You might notice me wearing them on the carpet and to events and I am hoping one day to come out with my own hat line. As part of the charity, I am hoping to create a few hats to sell and raise money for Alzheimer’s research to help find a cure so no one has to go through watching your loved one battle the disease like I did.
We understand you are also involved with other charities, can you say about them?
I have been working with the LA Mission, Big Sunday and A Place Called Home for several years now serving the homeless and working with underprivileged families and youth. Through Big Sunday, I volunteer at their events to help families in need especially with their Backpack, Clothing, Book drives, Thanksgiving and more. As a result of being bullied, I became a Youth Ambassador to Boo2Bullying and Free2Luv and I use my social media and attend events helping to take a stand against bullying and spreading kindness. I have been using my negative experience of being bullied and turning it into a positive one while healing myself and others. As a Youth Celebrity Ambassador for The Shoe Crew, I have helped provide shoes to many underprivileged youth with A Place Called Home. Recently, I held a Holiday Fundraiser with The Shoe Crew to raise funds for the many kids at my school in Oak Park that lost their homes during the Woolsey Fire. I held the event at a movie theatre and played the new movie The Grinch and had raffles and raised $3100 for the victims. Last month, I donated, for the third year in a row, new dresses to A Place Called Home for their Cinderella & Prince Charming Project that provides formal wear and accessories for free to underprivileged youth so they can attend prom.
Do you have any roles coming up in the foreseeable future?
Currently, I am in two national commercials for Buick and Great Call and on hold for a few projects. 2019 already started off strong with the film A Genie’s Tail, so I am super excited to see what else is ahead.
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