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Gurnee teen finding fame in Hollywood
By Vince Pierri | Daily Herald Columnist

Academy Award-winning actor Lou Gossett Jr. and fellow actor 13-year-old Brandon Tyler Russell of Gurnee became friends while filming in Iowa.


Courtesy of Desiree Russell

Hollywood legend Peter Fonda, right, plays the grandfather to Brandon Tyler Russell in the movie, "Smitty." Their off-screen relationship is similar to the characters, Brandon says.


Courtesy of Desiree Russell

Brandon Tyler Russell says actress Mira Sorvino, right, is easy to work with. Sorvino won an Oscar in 1995 for her role in "Mighty Aphrodite."


Courtesy of Desiree Russell

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Published: 12/9/2009 12:01 AM

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When he was 3 years old, Brandon Tyler Russell asked his mom a strange question.

"He would finish watching a program and ask, 'How can I get into the TV, mom?'" Desiree Russell said. "For as long as any of us can remember, Brandon wanted to act in front of a camera. He wanted to be on TV, in the movies or on stage."

Now, years later that dream has come true, and in a big way. Brandon just wrapped up filming for the new movie, "Smitty." The 13-year-old from Gurnee is cast with Oscar winners Lou Gossett Jr., Mira Sorvino and Hollywood legend Peter Fonda.

"Peter Fonda has been super fantastic with Brandon," Desiree Russell said. "Their relationship is much like the film. It's a grandfather and grandson."

Set in rural Iowa, the story is about how a dog's love melts the heart of a rebellious preteen boy, setting him back on the right path. Directed by David Mickey Evans, the film is set to be released late next summer.

Brandon is no stranger to the camera. He's been in two dozen commercials, appeared on Disney's "Wizards of Waverly Place" and has done voice-overs for other ads, according to Desiree Russell. "He's been acting since he was 4 years old," she said.

While many are glad to catch a glimpse of famous stars, Brandon is friends with them.

"They are all really, really nice. Fonda is really cool," he said. "Lou Gossett talks a lot and we have a great relationship. It's been fun to hang out in Mira's trailer, too."

Desiree Russell knows the Hollywood lifestyle has claimed more than a few child stars. As a mom, she says there's concern but not worry. "I keep him on a pretty short leash. We don't go to many late-night parties," she said. "I try to keep him grounded by coming back to Gurnee as often as we can."

Acting may look easy to some, but Brandon says the days on the set can be long. "I'm up at 6 a.m. and to work by 7 a.m. I'll work a nine-hour day and sometimes longer," he said. "In one scene, I had to run down the street about 18 times for all the different takes. I was just about limping when I got done."

Because of Brandon's demanding schedule, he's home-schooled by Desiree, a certified teacher.

And what do his friends back in Gurnee think of his new fame?

"They are mostly excited for me," Brandon said. "They say things like, 'Hey, you're famous. When I see your movie, I'm going to scream I know that kid!'"

Brandon expects he'll be an actor for the long term.

"I love what I do. I want to do this for the rest of my life," he said. "I just want to be the best I can be."

Having worked alongside some Hollywood heavyweights already, Brandon says there are others he'd like to collaborate with.

"I'd love to work with Johnny Depp. That would be amazing," he said. "And Megan Fox. Oh my gosh. That would be a dream come true."