The new blockbuster movie Marley & Me provides a special attraction for Manhasset- up on the big screen is Benjamin Hyland, 6, a first-grader at Munsey Park School.
In the engaging story of the Grogan family and their adventures with their labrador retriever, Ben is featured playing Conor Grogan at age 5. The high-energy little boy with bright brown eyes delivers one of the movie's great lines when Jennifer Aniston introduces a new baby sister to her brothers: "Daddy says her name is Whoops!" Ben appears in three scenes, as well as movie commercials and trailers.
Since 2005, Ben has studied at the Manhasset location of the Actor's Garage, a program that uses acting exercises to help build children's life skills and self-esteem. Ben's parents, John and Amy, saw this as a fun activity, and Ben enjoyed the classes and performing. About a year ago, John recalls, Ben came home with a flier about auditions. The Hylands thought nothing of it, until Ann Graf, founder of the actor's garage and also a Manhasset resident, recommended that Ben try out.
"The day Ben walked in our door, every teacher he came in contact with said the same thing: 'He's going to be a movie star!'" said Ann Graf. "He is just magical-you can't help being drawn to him!"
The audition was followed by a series of callbacks. Finally, the call came late one night: "We want Ben to be in the movie!" the casting director told John. Mom Amy was traveling when her husband called with the question: "What do you think about our son being in a movie?"
In April, Ben and his family went to Florida for filming. "It was really fun!" he exclaims. "One of the best parts was going in the pool every day!"
While fun, the pool scenes weren't easy. "Filming with two kids, a baby, a dog, and a pool? Even the director said, 'What were we thinking?'" John recalls.
"Owen Wilson was really nice," says Ben, "Jennifer Aniston, too." The adults on the set wanted to make the children feel comfortable, John and Amy pointed out.
Not only were there a few different Marleys in the production, but they also "had 20 cakes prepared for the surprise-party scene!" Ben says. "They needed about eight to get the scene done." The extra cake was a tasty benefit.
Ben loves acting and looks forward to more work, "as long as it is fun for him," his parents say. They recently signed with Don Buchwald & Associates, Inc., a talent and literary agency in New York and Los Angeles, and Ben has done more acting, as well as voice-overs for cartoons.
Although he is happy and excited, Ben is also nonchalant about the experience, and says that his friends in Mrs. Brooks' class at Munsey Park School aren't making a big fuss. Enjoying himself is what this is all about, stressed John and Amy. "Whatever the future holds, he'll always be able to look back with pride at this exciting experience," said John.
Little brother Jack, 4, also studies at the actor's garage. With baby brother Colin, 1, the Hyland family is busy and happy, like the family in the movie.