When you're a child actress, every day at work is another day at school. A film set becomes another classroom, the cast and crew, a fresh batch of teachers.
So Bailee Madison, of "Just Go With It" and "Don't be Afraid of the Dark," went to the school of Bette Midler and Billy Crystal on the new comedy "Parental Guidance."
"Bette taught me to 'Just breathe and jump into it,' " says Madison, who turned 13 in October. Crystal showed her how to spend every minute on the set thinking of something funny to say. Maybe it'll make it in the movie.
"I knew Bette from 'Hocus Pocus,' " Madison says, naming one of the rare Midler movies that could be called "kid friendly." "But everybody tells me I have to see 'Beaches.' " Did she know Crystal? "Does 'Monsters, Inc.' count?"
"Parental Guidance" has Midler and Crystal as two "old-school" parents who take in the grandkids for a few days while the parents (Marisa Tomei, Tom Everett Scott) are out of town. Conflict arises when the too sassy/too mature kids run up against Granny and Granddad's means of child rearing.
Madison, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has spent half her life in the film biz, which includes roles in "Bridge to Terabithia" and "Conviction." However, she got to play something totally new in "Guidance."
"My first crush. That was awkward! What more can I say about it? Is it like that in real life? I don't know.
"Andy (Fickman), the director, kept telling
Fickman ("The Game Plan," "Race to Witch Mountain") calls Madison "one of the most instinctual actresses I have had a chance to work with, no matter what her age. She brings to the character a layer of depth that many of her peers do not possess. She is truly a director's dream, a real collaborator on and off the set."
But playing that "first crush" also means that the apple-cheeked Madison is entering that first potential pitfall child actors face -- adolescent roles. She calls this "a tricky transition, moving into teen roles." She and her "team" are "holding out for wholesome, family films. So it's not easy. 'Parental Guidance' lets me grow up a little."
She has a recurring role, as the younger version of Ginnifer Goodwin's Snow White on TV's "Once Upon a Time," and a few other performances in the can or in the works.
"At my age, I'm learning so much that when a movie comes out that I shot two, three years ago, I kick myself. 'If only I'd shot it last year, then I would have known how to do this thing better, or that one, better.' "
She hopes to maintain a career long past her "first crush" days. But Madison has absorbed the lesson that this is not always the case, "and that I'm very lucky to have come this far."