Anoka High School's Jake Sullivan, who has been in many theater productions, says he welcomes the new challenge.
Jake Sullivan's dad says he never flinched when facing 300-pound linemen on football fields. But performing on stage would have terrified him.
That's why John Sullivan, Anoka County's director of risk management and purchasing, marvels as Jake prepares to tackle his latest role of a lifetime -- a part in a film about pro wrestler-turned-Burnsville-pastor Jeff Warner.
It's a bit part: Jake will play a member of Warner's family. But it's the kind of opportunity that might never come around again.
"He's had a few leads in Anoka High School shows, he made all-state in choir, and if you go on You Tube you can hear him singing in an a cappella group," John Sullivan said. "But this is completely new."
Jake, 16, who will be a senior at Anoka High School this fall, had a lead role in the school's recent production of "The Sound of Music" and he was in "Guys and Dolls" during his sophomore year. He became interested in the stage when he was 6, performing in "King Midas and the Golden Touch." His theater tour has remained golden: Jake thrived with the Anoka Children's Theater, said his mother, Wendy Sullivan, and he's had speaking roles in high school shows since ninth grade.
But working on the film about Warner is something very different -- and quite unlike Jake's other summer job in guest services at the wave pool at the Bunker Beach Water Park in Coon Rapids.
It happened the way so many big breaks do: He was in the right place at the right time and ran into the daughter of a choreographer who told him he should audition in Edina for a part in the locally produced film.
"Sure, it's exciting," said Jake, whose favorite actor is Hugh Jackman. "I have no idea what to expect."
Warner, who has been training Vikings defensive lineman Ray Edwards in the ring, said he's eager to meet Jake.
"We've got 36 stars in this movie," said Warner. "I'm just amazed that this movie is being made."
An abused child who was beaten often while growing up on welfare in Minneapolis, Warner says he was shot when he was 11 and didn't learn to read "fluently" until his wife taught him when he was 25, he said.
"This whole movie experience is something else," Warner said.
For Jake, a kid who has been playing piano since the second grade and recently decided to teach himself to play guitar, the film is another welcome challenge.
"I had an English teacher who wanted to be an actor," Jake recalled. "He said, 'Theater is not something you want to do. Theater is something you need to do.' That's how I feel."
While looking forward to a final year under high school theater director Matt McNabb, Jake also is looking at colleges with theater in mind. The University of Minnesota, Drake and Northwestern head his list, at least for now.
"John and I were very involved in sports," Wendy Sullivan said. "People look at us and then they see Jake act or hear him sing and they wonder where this comes from.
"It must have skipped a few generations."
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419