There are actors in Hollywood who don’t stay on message as well as 12-year-old Caitlyn Carroll.
You’ll see what I am talking about in this Q&A with the young actor — indeed, ambassador — in the haunting PSA calling attention to the dangers of drowning in plain sight. It’s a powerful reminder from the parents of Abbey Taylor, who died after a freak 2007 swimming mishap. The 6-year-old Edina girl was eviscerated when she accidentally sat on an improperly maintained wading pool drain at the Minneapolis Golf Club.
The 30-second “No One is Watching” PSA, produced by Minneapolis agency Gabriel deGrood Bendt, opens with Carroll in a pool treading water while there are distracted people in the background.
“In a minute I’m going to drown in this pool surrounded by friends and relatives. That’s because Dad thinks Mom is watching me and Mom thinks Dad is. But actually, nobody is watching me.” The PSA ends with a voice-over encouraging the viewer to become a “Water Watchdog” at Abbey’s Hope, the foundation started by her parents Scott and Katey Taylor.
Carroll has taken the Taylor family’s message to heart. This is the young stage actor’s first audition for a TV spot and the only on-camera work she has ever done.
“I’ve been in two Guthrie productions, ‘The Music Man’ and ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and I was recently in ‘The Secret Garden’ at Theatre in the Round,” she said.
Pressed to pick an actor she admired who didn’t work in the Twin Cities, Carroll named Vivien Leigh.
That was so unexpected, it didn’t occur to me to ask Carroll to give me her best Scarlett O’Hara for my video.
Carroll is extremely mature.
“She was born like that,” said Jessica Carroll, her mom.
“I used to be embarrassed. She was this little tiny thing, 9, reading ‘Gone With the Wind.’ And she was tiny. She was reading this huge book and people are looking at me like What kind of mother are you, letting this 6-year-old read ‘Gone With the Wind?’ ”
Caitlyn, who is small for her age, was probably 10 at the time but “I looked like a 6-year-old.”
Although Caitlyn realizes she has a lot of career options unrelated to acting, she already is good at guarding personal information.
I do believe a hint of mortification played across her face when her perfectly adult mom quipped that sometimes she doesn’t feel as mature as her daughter.
“She doesn’t eat sugar, she’s gluten free — just by choice. She’s a health nut,” said Jessica, a kindergarten teacher. She and her attorney husband, Bryan Carroll, are raising three kids including Sean, 11, and Barrett, 6.
Asked what her favorite food is, Caitlyn obfuscated: “Wow. I like a lot of stuff.”
Not an acceptable answer from someone as smart as this kid.
“I know,” she said. “I like grilled chicken.”
Jessica helped me out in sotto voce loud enough for Caitlyn to hear: “Ask her what she had for breakfast.”
The answer: “Chia pudding.”
Ah, that doesn’t sound good to eat. “It is good,” Caitlyn insisted.
Thanks to Amy and Todd Wilkinson for letting us use their pool as the site of this interview.
Q: What was it like to be part of such a serious PSA?
A: The reality of it is that it was almost scary to film it because it happens all the time. It was my first on-camera experience, and everyone was super supportive and I was so honored to be part of the team. But it was also kind of eye opening because you really feel you’re in the water and you can’t touch. Even the best of swimmers are going to tire out and then you get frantic and you can’t think straight, then you go under and you never come back.
Q: When you say “you can’t touch,” do you mean the wall?
A: Touch the bottom or the wall.
Q: This was your first TV commercial?
A: Yes. This is my first audition and the only on-camera commercial I’ve ever done. It was a new experience. It was an honor to be part of this, honoring the promise that the Taylors made to Abbey.
Q: How did you get into character for that part?
A: The thing about this script is that it was kind of casual in a sense that they were trying to evoke a sense that, “Wow, this isn’t such a tumultuous event. It really is silent and it’s deadly.” I tried to take the script, make it serious but make it so that I am a child and it is me saying it as a child but it is also a very, very serious matter.
Q: Do you think your parents will watch you more closely now?
A: Yeah. They always really were vigilant, diligent about watching us but it was never more than one person. If one of them was watching very intently the other was not, which is fine, but the thing about it is, especially if you are at a large gathering, you really do need something like the Watchdog tag, so there is one person whose sole focus is watching the children or anybody in the pool. Because all these distractions can come about when you’re at a pool. You can read, there is checking e-mails, texting, socializing, drinking. There has to be at least one person who isn’t doing any of those things and can focus on the safety.
Q: What crossed your mind watching a PSA where it looks as though you are drowning?
A: The first feeling I got was, Wow. It is a very, very powerful message and it was like, Whoa, that’s me. I felt great I was spreading a message and raising awareness but it dawned on me that this is common. This is not something that is rare. This happens every day. There are children who will never grow up because the safety in pools is not as diligent as it should be.
Q: How long did you have to tread water?
A: It was only like a minute max every time. I had to say the lines and then there were a few seconds before shooting and then a few seconds afterward when I was under water. I always got a break between takes. I could grab the wall or walk to the shower. But I didn’t realize that while doing it, you do get tired even if you are the strongest swimmer. You can’t tread water forever and you’re not going to cry out. I got to fully grasp the meaning of the script. That was probably a good thing and it got me more used to speaking and delivering lines in the water.
Q: How many times did you have to go under as if you were drowning?
A: Probably the same as when I was treading water. Right after I would go under I would swim off to the side so I could come up for air. So it was a lot but I never felt endangered. It kind of opened my eyes to how dangerous it is if nobody is watching.
Q: When did you decide to act?
A: It was probably fourth grade because I was the youngest you could be when you [start in a] school production. In elementary school I decided I would want to try it just to see if I liked it. In fourth grade I was like, “This is kind of fun, I’ll do it next year.” And I did but I never took it seriously until the director invited me to be in one of the high school plays as a child, helping the play become more realistic. That was when I started to love it. I started to audition for other things like the Guthrie.
Q: Do you memorize just your lines or everybody’s lines in theatrical productions?
A: It really depends. I love, love, love to memorize other people’s lines because I love it so much. It’s fun to be able to say their lines, to be able to sing every single song if you are in it or not. Sometimes it’s hard to get everything. But usually it gets into a rhythm and I love to do it.
Q: Are you a good singer?
A: I hope so.
Q: Do you have any tricks for memorizing or does it come naturally?
A: For Theatre in the Round’s “Secret Garden” I used a lot of different techniques to help me memorize. I had quite a few lines and I was having trouble memorizing because there were so many of them. So I recorded, in my voice, everyone else’s lines and left a space in the recording for my lines and then I would play the recording and say my lines as they came on and I would also be just very consistent in how many times I practiced a day and how many minutes, so that I would know that I would be ready and comfortable.
Q: What child actor has a career that you would aspire to one day?
A: I’m not really sure yet. It’s so open. I have so many options that are there for me. There are a lot of people I do look up to.
Q: Such as?
A: Katie Kleiger. She was in “A Christmas Carol.” I’ve always looked up to her since I met her. Peter Thomson, the mayor in “Music Man.”
Q: Do you admire any people in Hollywood?
A: I’ve always loved Vivien Leigh, because she played Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” She is no longer alive.
Q: She had the world’s most beautiful violet color eyes, apparently.
A: Yeah, and her life really was kind of difficult.
Q: She was probably manic depressive?
A: Yeah. Bipolar, all that stuff. It was rough.
Q: You’re like talking to an old person. You know that, right?
Q: Do you have siblings?
A: I do. I have a little sister [Barrett], who is 6, and a younger brother [Sean], who’s 11.
Q: Are they as mature as you for their ages?
A: Well. They might not appreciate this but my brother isn’t really. He’s mature but it’s in a different way. So not as you would normally think of mature but he is in a sense adultlike. My little sister is just a ball of sunshine. She just embodies what little kids should be.