As TV kids grow up, they sometimes need to be replaced. That's the case with the role of Lily, the pint-size daughter in the ABC hit series "Modern Family," as it begins its third season. Welcome the new Lily: Aubrey Anderson-Emmons, 4, who replaces the original twins who played the child as a baby and toddler.
Her mom, Amy Anderson, grew up in Excelsior and graduated from Minnetonka High School; she now lives in Los Angeles. While Anderson has been an actress and comedian for several years, she never seriously considered pursuing similar opportunities for Aubrey because of her age. That is, until the audition for "Modern Family" came along.
The weekend before the audition, Anderson worked with Aubrey on a page of dialogue, for a scene with Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell, one of her gay parents.
"To be honest, I was ready to call my agent and tell her to forget it," said Anderson with a laugh. "The concept just didn't seem to click [with Aubrey], but then all of a sudden it did. She remembered her lines and I could tell she 'got' it."
After two auditions, Aubrey was called back for a screen test. "All the way through the process, I just wanted her to feel good about what she was doing and to have fun," said Anderson.
A million-to-one chance
While this kind of success story in the world of kids and show business is rare, Susan Wehmann, president of the Wehmann Agency in Minneapolis, said the fundamental principle is always the same: Is the child right for what the client has in mind?
"I spend a lot of time reminding parents this is a business. That's hard for some parents to understand, because everything else you do for your child is not a business," said Wehmann.
She also believes that many parents have what she calls a "lottery mentality" about their kids landing a job: What happens to someone else's child could happen to theirs. However, there are many factors that go into why a child is or isn't selected.
Obviously, children must be photogenic. But some may look cute in person while not photograph well, said Wehmann.
Then there are the very young children. Wehmann is candid about what makes a difference with them for the client -- the child's mother (and yes, it's usually mothers, not fathers, who are with the kids).
"How will she be to work with? Will she let the photographer do their job without interfering?" said Wehmann.
Parents also need to consider that their children will have to be pulled out of school for auditions, regardless of whether they get the job, in which case they will have to miss more school.
A major time commitment
As an entertainer herself, Anderson knew Aubrey's role would affect their lives, but she has still been surprised by the amount of work involved for her as a parent. Anderson is on the "Modern Family" set in Los Angeles with Aubrey several times a week, but due to her travel schedule (she regularly performs across the country), she also relies on a nanny and Aubrey's father for help.
Anderson's parents now live in Baxter, Minn., and she has siblings in the Twin Cities; all are very excited about Aubrey's new role.
"My parents had never seen 'Modern Family' before. They watched it a couple of times this summer, so they are up to speed," said Anderson.
The character of Lily is bound to generate more attention this season because she will be talking for the first time, which is likely to appeal to fans of the show.
"Sure, it's weird to think of your 4-year-old being a celebrity," said Anderson. "What has been nice is that Aubrey is having fun and really seems to understand that when she's on the set, she's playing make-believe. She's pretending to be Lily."
Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.
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