Interview With Brock Waidmann
Interview With Brock Waidmann
Many in the disability community have been calling for Hollywood producers to cast real people with real disabilities in roles where the disability has little or nothing to do with the plot. The people behind the Paul Reiser Show, a series which will soon be broadcast on NBC, will apparently do just that. Twelve year old Brock Waidmann has been cast in the role of Zeke, one of Paul Reiser's two sons on the show. This interview with Brock Waidmann took place by email over a couple of weeks in June 2010. This is Brock's first ever interview:
Gene: Brock, tell us how you got the role of Zeke? Do you have an agent?
Brock: It's a funny story. Just like something out of a Hollywood script. My brother's manager, Cinda Snow, who is now also my manager, called my mom one day and told her that NBC was looking for a boy in a wheelchair my age and asked if she would let me audition for it. I have always wanted to be an actor! I love TV shows & movies, and thought it always looked like fun, but my parents were always worried about it. It's hard enough to make it in show business for someone who is able bodied. We had talked a lot about me going into directing and my parents let me use the video camera a lot with my brothers and friends to make our own videos. Cinda sent the character breakdown to my mom & dad, and after reading it over, they knew it was the perfect opportunity for me to give acting a shot. I didn't even have a headshot yet, so my mom sent one of me at the zoo. It's funny because I had two parrots on me and a trash can behind me. Definitely not your average headshot.
Gene: Tell us about the audition. What was that like?
Brock: The audition was at the Warner Bros studios in Burbank. It was really exciting when we got there because we were able to drive right onto the lot. My mom said that's when it really hit her and she started to get nervous for me. We met Cinda outside the building and she went over the lines with me a few times. When we went inside, there were a lot of boys there auditioning. Some were there for the same part as me and some where there for the part of "Gabe" my brother on the show. When it was my turn to audition, I went into the room by myself. There were several people in the room. I met Paul Reiser and read my lines with him a couple of times. They all asked me questions about myself and it was a lot of fun. When I was finished, Mr. Reiser followed me out to the waiting room. He said "I love this kid!". He told my mom and Cinda that I did a really great job. The next day they called to offer me the part!
Gene: Do you have any acting experience or training?
Brock: Not really. When I was in Kindergarten, our class did The 3 Piggy Opera. I was the Stick Pig. I even had a solo to sing. It was great! I was also recently in a production with our local community children's theater group called Cinemagic LIVE!. It's a musical showcase and this year's theme was tv and movie theme songs. I was in Spongebob Squarepants and 9 to 5. I loved being on the stage!
Gene: Were you nervous when you auditioned? Were you nervous waiting to hear if you got the part?
Brock: I wasn't nervous at the audition. I was really excited to be there. It is what I've always wanted to do so I couldn't wait to get there. I really wasn't nervous afterwards either because I didn't have to wait long. They called me the very next day.
Gene: Tell us something about your life now? How is it different since you were selected?
Brock: So far not much has changed. Friends have asked for my autograph which is pretty cool. We were in Costco when we got the call that NBC was picking up the show so several people overheard my mom on the phone. We were so excited I'm surprised the whole store didn't hear it. After we got off the phone, people came over to me and said they'd overheard us talking and congratulated me. That was really cool.
Gene: I think you have two brothers, right? Are they also interested in acting? What do they think about their brother becoming a TV star?
Brock: Yes, I have two younger brothers. Mel is 10 and William is 7. William started acting last summer as part of the Children's Musical Theater Group at Valverde School of Performing Arts where I was taking vocal lessons. He liked the stage so much, he started taking acting workshops and that's where we met Cinda. Mel wants to be a race car driver. He's really funny, but isn't interested in acting. He likes to watch William and I though. He did do Cinemagic with me, but just for fun.
Both of my brothers think it's pretty cool that I'm going to be on TV. They're planning a Pilot Premiere Party for all of our friends to come over and watch the pilot with us when it airs. It's gonna be great!
Gene: Are you planning to make a career of acting?
Brock: I've always dreamed of being an actor. I hope that it works out that I will be able to keep doing this for a very long time.
Gene: I heard something about an audition for the Disney Channel. Are you working on anything else at the moment?
Brock: I have gone on a few other auditions recently. We're looking at a few more projects that could start soon, but nothing definite yet.
Gene: What is the thing you like most about acting and what do you like the least?
Brock: Acting is fun because you get to pretend to be someone else. You can be anyone or anything you want. You can be anywhere your imagination can take you. I've spent a lot of time in hospitals (I've had 10 surgeries) and it can get pretty boring. It makes it easier to pretend to be somewhere else, like in a scene from one of my favorite movies.
The only thing that wasn't too fun was when I had to do one line over, and over again. Sometimes it can get frustrating, but in the end, when you see it all together, it's worth it.
Gene: What can you tell us about Zeke, your character on the Paul Reiser Show? Is he anything like you?
Brock: Zeke is funny, smart, and always happy. He loves sports, music, and everyone he meets, especially adults. He's curious and has a great memory. Zeke can get anxious sometimes, and tends to be a little obsessively focused on things. He also uses a motorized wheelchair.
When my parents read the description of Zeke, my dad said "As long as Brock goes there and is just himself, he's got it." We are a lot alike. I guess the only difference is that I use a manual wheelchair, and only about 1/2 the time. Other than that, we could be twins!
Gene: Tell us about your disability.
Brock: I was born with Myelomeningocele Spina Bifida. It's a birth defect that occurs early in pregnancy. There can be an opening over the spine that exposes the nerves and causes damage to them in utero. In my case, I was lucky. I had a very thin membrane covering my defect so I have minimal nerve damage compared to most people with Spina Bifida. It was also low on my spine, which helped to limit the amount of nerves affected. Because of it, I can't feel my feet, and have mostly no feeling from mid-calf down. There's a little more sensation above that, and above my knees, I'm fine. My parents have always made sure I went to physical therapy and stayed active to help keep my leg muscles as strong as I can. I want to stay mobile as long as possible. I have participated in Special Olympics and won a silver medal in swimming, and a gold medal in bocce at state competitions. I also have a three wheel bicycle that I like to ride with my brothers. I try to walk with my crutches as much as I can, but my legs get tired pretty quickly. So I always have my wheelchair available. I use it probably half the time.
Gene: What has it been like to grow up with your disability? Have other kids been supportive? Or have they been mean?
Brock: Most of the time it's fine. Sometimes there's things I wish I could do like climb a tree with my brothers, but they always find ways to include me. I have a lot of friends who have known me most of my life so to them I'm just Brock. It's no big deal. It's harder with new kids though. When I was in Kindergarten, my mom figured out that the reason most kids stare or say rude things is because they don't understand why I'm this way. With the permission of the principal and teacher each year, my mom would go into my classroom around the 2nd week of school and she and I would talk to the class about me and my disabilities. Once we educated them about it, any problems stopped. The teachers even had to create "Brock's helper" as one of the class jobs because everyone would argue over who was going to help me.
Gene: I am sure you know that it is unusual that someone with a real disability is on TV program like this. Why do you think that is?
Brock: We didn't realize it until after the show was picked up and we started reading online about it. It's hard to know who is and who isn't disabled when they are sitting in a wheelchair unless you research them online. I don't know why it hasn't happened before, but I'm really glad I'm getting to help make a difference.
Gene: As I understand it Paul Reiser and his casting team were specifically looking for a boy with a disability to play Zeke. That is pretty unusual, any idea why?
Brock: When I met Mr. Reiser, he told me he has a son who uses a wheelchair. I'm sure as a dad of a boy with a disability he was as excited as everyone else to be able to cast someone who was disabled for the part.
Gene: What would you like the world to know about kids with disabilities?
Brock: We're just like any other kid. People always worry about me getting knocked down, or falling, but that can happen to any one. My parents always encouraged me to do everything the other kids did. They never told me I couldn't do something because of my disability. My mom always said the world was going to tell me that enough in my lifetime, and that I didn't need to hear it from them too. I've learned what my limits are, and I like to play, and dance, and have fun just like everyone else.
Gene: What do you like to do other than acting? Any favorite hobbies?
Brock: My favorite thing to do is watch movies! I love ALL the Harry Potter movies and love to pretend to have wizard duels with my brothers. Mr. Reiser even gave me a replica of Harry's wand and I play with it all the time. I can't wait to go to the new theme park they're opening in Florida! I also really love magic. I think the magicians that do the slide of hand tricks are amazing! I'd love to go to the Magic Castle someday. It would be really awesome! Music is another thing I really love. The High School Musical movies are really my favorites because they combine both. I know all the words and dance moves to all the songs.
Outside, swimming is my favorite activity. It's really easy for me to move in the water and I can keep up with everyone else. I really love going to the beach and sitting in the tide. It's fun when the waves splash up over my back and get me all wet.
Gene: Do you have a favorite TV show or movie that you would like to be in?
Brock: That's easy! Wizards of Waverly Place! I bet you couldn't have guess that! (ha ha) The show is really great, and of course there's wizards, plus it would be fun to meet Selena Gomez. She's an amazing singer. I love her music.
Gene: Are you a good student?
Brock: Yes. I'm really good at spelling and reading. Math is a little harder, but I like it. My brothers and I have been home schooled this last year and a half and it's fun to have races to see who can do the most math problems in 1 minute. I like it when we go places to learn hands on, like when we went to Griffith Park Observatory to learn about the solar system. We were able to look through the big telescope and see Saturn. We could even see the rings and 3 of it's moons. It was very cool! Next year my brothers will go back to a traditional school, and I will have school on the set which seems pretty fun so far.
Gene: You just recently moved, I believe. Do you like where you live now or do you prefer your old home?
Brock: Yes, we lived in Las Vegas for 1 year, Utah for 2 years, and Oregon for 1 year. Now we're back home in California. Vegas had a lot of fun things to do but it was really hot, especially when you're sitting in a black wheelchair. I liked Utah. My best friend Brayden lives there. We had to move though because I began having seizures that were aggravated by the elevation. Oregon was really pretty and everyone there was really nice, almost all of our family lives in California. We are back in Camarillo where I was born and it's great to be back home. The beach is really close and I can go swimming year round. I do miss each place a little though. A little while after moving to Oregon, my seizures began to slow down, and since we've been back in California, I've been able to stop taking my seizure medication. I've been totally seizure free for over a year now.
Gene: I understand that you were granted a wish, from the make a wish program. Can you tell us something about that? How did that happen and what was it like?
Brock: Well, after I began having seizures, my doctors told my parents I had been born with Agenesis of the Corpus Collasum (ACC). The Corpus Collasum is the band of transmitters that transfers information from one side of the brain to the other. Basically, I was born without it. You do have some transmitters across the front of your brain, but the main bulk of them is in the Corpus Collasum. Elevation can cause seizures in people with neurological disorders. So as soon as the doctors said that, my dad took the first job offer he got near the coast which took us to Beaverton, OR (outside of Portland). I was pretty sick by the time we moved. I was pale and had a hard time eating, plus my head hurt alot because I was having many mini seizures throughout the day. I was also having them at night so I didn't sleep very well. Some kids with ACC have died unfortunately. A friend of my mom's told her to call Make-A-Wish and see if there was anything they could do to help relieve some of the pain and stress I had. The Make-A-Wish program in Oregon called my mom and said they'd like to grant me a wish. Since I love High School Musical so much, I chose to go to Disney World to see the High School Musical Pep Rally. It was SO awesome! The show is done on a float in the street sort of like a parade. After it was over, one of the cast members asked if we would follow the float down the street. It was so cool to be part of the parade! Then, they brought us back behind these big closed doors and when we came around the corner, the whole HSM Disney World cast was there and said "Hi Brock!" I couldn't believe they knew my name! I got to talk to them and had pictures taken with them. We got to spend the rest of the week at the Give Kids the World Village, a village just for wish families from all over the world. It was an amazing place! They also gave us tickets to Universal Studios and Sea World, and when we first landed in Orlando, the pilot even let me and my brothers sit in his seat and wear his hat! It was the BEST trip ever! We can't thank everyone enough! It was so nice to be able to just enjoy the week as a family and not have to worry about doctor appointments, or people staring at us. Everyone at the village was there for the same reason.
Gene: So, when will we see you on TV?
Brock: NBC has purchased 6 episodes so far and has us scheduled for a midseason pick-up for this Fall. You can watch a sneak peek, or check for updates and local listings on the Paul Reiser Show Website or on my Facebook page.
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