15-year-old recalls time on set of 'The Butler'
PATTERSON, La. — Though he only got into acting about a year ago, a Patterson teen is on screen with Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”
Isaac White, 15, a junior at Patterson High School, says he did not originally intend to get into acting.
He started as a singer three or four years ago. He began traveling around to different churches to sing, his father, Grey White, said.
White was going to a vocal school that closed down.
“We were looking for somewhere else to go to bring him to keep him busy at vocal lessons,” Grey White said.
Grey White said he and his wife found out about a performing arts school in New Orleans. When Isaac learned the school gave acting as well as vocal lessons, his father said, he decided to try it.
Issac White said he has done up to three auditions in one day.
“We audition whenever something comes up,” Issac White said. During pilot season for TV shows, which runs from February to April, he auditions in Los Angeles two times a day, up to 10 times per week.
He learned he had won the part in “The Butler” while he was in Los Angeles for another audition, Grey White said.
The movie is about a White House butler, played by Whitaker, who works for eight presidents. The movie follows his life from his childhood to his 90s and is based on a true story, Isaac White said.
“It’s basically a love story between father and son because what they go through is what father and son go through in America,” Isaac White said. “It’s a story that needs to be told.”
The oldest son is an activist who joins the Black Panthers. The father is fighting for the same cause during the civil rights movement but goes about it in a different way, Grey White said.
Winfrey plays the butler’s wife and Isaac White plays Charlie Gaines, their youngest son. The oldest son is fictional but the youngest is based on a real person, Isaac White said.
He said it was scary at first being on set, but he had fun once he met everyone and saw how nice they were.
Still, the film’s director, Lee Daniels, was intimidating, Isaac White said.
“Working on set was scary, too, because as a beginner, the director ... was looking for a certain part. And so the director was scary,” Isaac White said. “He even scared Jane Fonda. He was just that tough. He was the real deal. And he wanted his particular thing.”
Isaac White played kind of a “bratty kid” and “a momma’s boy,” Grey White said.
The teenager was on set for two to three weeks in New Orleans last summer, he said, and Daniels always called cast members by their characters’ names on set.
Isaac White said he was surprised during one of his scenes with Winfrey where she was supposed to slap him.
“I didn’t really think I was going to get slapped hard,” Isaac White said. When Winfrey slapped him the first time, she just kind of tapped him on the cheek, Isaac White said.
“I didn’t know, but the director went to my dad ... and he said, ‘Mr. White, can she hit him a little bit?’ And my dad was like ‘Tear him up!’” Isaac White said. “The next time she did it she slapped me hard, and I said, ‘Ohhh!’ because I wasn’t expecting it, so they had to cut it,” Isaac White said. “Then the director said, ‘Be a man, Charlie! Take it like a man!” Isaac White said while laughing.
Isaac White plans to continue to sing in church and act, he said. “Whatever God wants me to do, basically,” Isaac White said.
He said he has a lead in the recently filmed “Sex Ed,” in which Haley Joel Osment stars.
Grey White, who owns Screaming Eagles Tae Kwon Do Academy in Patterson, said he quit his job to make sure his son can get to where he needs to for auditions to pursue his dream.
“Right now, Dad’s life is kind of on the standstill to make sure he’s good,” Grey White said. “That’s my sacrifice.”
He said all three of his sons have competed in martial arts.
“I try to do everything I can to make sure his dream comes true and my other kids’ dreams come true at the same time,” Grey White said.
Isaac White plays percussion in the band, and is involved in a vocal gifted program at Patterson High School, he said.
“Eventually, hopefully, we can be able to go ahead and showcase his voice through television shows or movies,” Grey White said.