Fans of NBC’s hit show “Parenthood” know Mae Whitman as Amber, a smart but complicated teenager often clashing with mom Sarah, played by former “Gilmore Girls” star Lauren Graham. But this 22-year-old first got her feet wet in the acting world as a young child.
An Accidental Start in Show Business
Whitman was barely out of diapers when she landed her first official job in the entertainment business – a voiceover for a Tyson Chicken commercial. According to IMDB Mae’s mother was actually auditioning for the role when the 3-year-old interrupted because she was bored, immediately grabbing the attention of everyone in the room. To see what reaction he might get, one casting director told Whitman, who was wearing white and purple clothing, that he liked her pretty yellow dress. Whitman simply stared at him and said, “What are you, some kind of knucklehead?” The casting directors fell in love with Mae’s firecracker personality and ended up hiring her.
Soon Mae was starring opposite Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia in the heartbreaking but optimistic film “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Playing the youngest daughter of an alcoholic, Mae was not only adorable but began to turn heads with her impressively natural acting chops at such a young age.
The Box Office & The Small Screen
After that breakout role in “When a Man Loves a Woman” Mae continued her career as a child actor playing Mathew Modine’s daughter in “Bye Bye Love,” starring opposite megastars George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer in “One Fine Day” and playing Bill Pullman’s daughter in the massive blockbuster “Independence Day.”
Early on in her already growing career the young actress made the television rounds, guest starring on shows like “Friends,” “ER,” “Judging Amy,” “Providence,” “JAG,” “Cold Case” and “CSI.” But a lead role with Sandra Bullock in “Hope Floats” did even more to establish her as a notable performer. Casting director Ronnie Yeskel certainly saw something special when she auditioned a young Mae Whitman for the role of Bernice Pruitt.
Landing Her Career-Making Role
As a child Whitman was undoubtedly most known for her heart-wrenching scene in “Hope Floats,” immediately winning her a profound respect from critics and viewers in countless numbers. In the memorable film Mae plays a hurting young girl who moves with her mother Birdee (Sandra Bullock) to her grandma’s house in Texas after her father leaves the family for another woman. Early in the story Bernice reads a note she thinks is from her father, explaining how much he loves her and wants to be with her. But we end up learning that the letter was written by her mother in an effort to comfort her daughter’s broken heart.
In a heartbreaking but unforgettable scene (view here) Bernice believes she will be going home with her father after he visits to attend her grandmother’s funeral and is crushed when he does not allow her to come with him. In pain and confusion the little girl attempts to put her bag in her dad’s car and chokes on authentic tears as she cries out, “You want me! You wrote it in the letter!” As her father simply drives away, leaving his devastated daughter sobbing in the street, Birdee intervenes to lift her child and silently hold her as she cries.
Few people were not in some way emotionally affected by the end of this scene. Movie-goers all over the world sat in shock, many moved to tears watching this little girl perform something that seemed so real and natural that for a moment we almost forgot she was acting. Her outstanding work in the film, directed by Forest Whitaker, won her a Young Artist award as ‘Best Performance in a Feature Film.’
Transitioning From a Child to Teenage Actress
After “Hope Floats” Mae continued her thriving career, thoughtfully choosing roles that would be a great challenge or simply a lot of fun to play. For two years Whitman and costar Alia Shawkat had their own show, “State of Grace,” giving Mae another award show nod when she was nominated for ‘Best Young Artist in a TV Comedy Series.’
Playing Diane Lane’s daughter, Mae did another fantastic job in the romantic drama “Nights in Rodanthe,” followed up by her zany role in “Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World” with Michael Cera (“Juno”). Recently Mae was also named ‘The Best Crier on Television’ by NY Magazine’s Vulture.
Exploring Her Character on NBC’s “Parenthood”
At just 22 years old Whitman boasts an impressive resume that would easily outrun even many established actors much older than her. These days Mae is loving her current job portraying her complex character Amber Holt on NBC’s hit show “Parenthood.” The actress tells NBC that she likes her character’s interesting, complicated nature and the fact that she’s “a little dark” with a bit of an attitude.
While Amber has certainly made her fair share of mistakes, faithful viewers find her story captivating and have enjoyed seeing Amber grow up considerably right in front of their eyes in the first two seasons. Mae has the ability to be sarcastically hilarious on “Parenthood” while still coming off incredibly endearing to the audience as we see her moments of raw vulnerability. One moment she seems to be thinking only of herself but in other moments we see a bigger glimpse into the tenderhearted, caring person hiding behind those walls of pain and a childhood of disappointment.
Whitman’s Most Important Goal
Mae Whitman has certainly accomplished a lot in a short time. But what is her biggest goal in life? Becoming a mom. Whitman tells NBC, “I don’t know what Parenthood [is like] yet but I feel like being a mother is sort of my calling in life. I think that parenthood is going to be a really big deal for me.” Whatever path Mae takes next she is sure to have fans following her life and career for many years to come.
More From This Contributor:
“Parenthood” A Hit With Fans
Test Your “Bones” Knowledge
Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Join the Yahoo! Contributor Network here to start publishing your own articles.