Xpress, the Coolest Section of the St. Petersburg Times, is the home for features, news and views of interest to young readers. Most of the work in Xpress, which appears on Mondays in Floridian, is produced by the Times' X-Team. The team of journalists ages 9-17 from around the Tampa Bay area is selected every year at the end of the school year to serve during the following school term. The current team of 12 was chosen out of 150 applicants. Watch for X-Team application forms in Xpress during the month of May.
Read the reviews by Xpress Film Critic Billy Norris
He's no mere cub
Jeremy Suarez, 10, has his first starring movie role - in Disney's animated Brother Bear - but he's already a TV veteran.
By STEVE PERSALL
Published October 13, 2003
Brother Bear, opening Nov. 1, tells the story of a vengeful hunter who is magically changed into a bear himself and then needs the help of a cub named Koda (voiced by Jeremy Suarez, top).
[Buena Vista Pictures]
LAKE BUENA VISTA - Millions of people watch Jeremy Suarez on The Bernie Mac Show playing mischievous Jordan Thomkins, whose gawky, curious ways make him one of the coolest kids on TV.
One person who isn't watching is Jeremy Suarez, and that's even cooler.
"I don't like to watch the show," Jeremy said during a recent visit to Disney's Wilderness Lodge. "It's like I've already done it three times. I've read the script - that's when I find it most funny - then we rehearse, then I do the script, and then I have to watch it, too?"
Jeremy, 10, answers the question "no" with an emphatic headshake. "It's not that I'm afraid to see myself, it just gets kind of old," he says.
Being on television can become old hat. That's when it's time to try on a new one, like Jeremy's first starring role in a movie. He provides the voice of Koda, a snuggly cub in Disney's animated adventure Brother Bear, opening Nov. 1.
It's a meaty voiceover role for an actor born too late to play young Simba in his favorite animated film, The Lion King. Koda is a cub, separated from his mother, who befriends a human named Kenai (voice of Joaquin Phoenix) magically transformed into a bear, his worst natural enemy. Through his fraternal relationship with Koda, Kenai learns to admire a culture much different than his own.
"I love the movie better than Finding Nemo," says Jeremy. When an interviewer asks why, the kid shows what hanging around comedian Bernie Mac can do:
"Other than the fact I'm in it," he begins, pausing for the words to sink in, and for the laughs to develop, just like an old pro. "Seriously, it has a very good story behind it and all the characters are really cool."
Jeremy worked off and on for four years on the role, because of animation's slow development process. Nothing as rushed as the pace of creating a sitcom like The Bernie Mac Show each week.
"It's different because when you're doing acting (on TV) you see it automatically," he says. "When you're doing animation and see the final product it's just a gratification, to see the whole thing and go: "Wow, that's me."'
Spend time with Jeremy and he'll tell you about singing in a recording studio with Brother Bear composer Phil Collins, or his role in The Ladykillers, an upcoming film starring Tom Hanks and Scary Movie star Marlon Wayans. Bernie Mac is his "mentor" who is "always telling me, like, not to get a big head."
Even those celebrity experiences don't stop Jeremy from being a child. Ask him if working for Disney offers any perks. He'll glance around the room to be sure nobody is listening, then whisper about getting the Koda toys before anyone else. Jeremy prides himself on trivia: Did you know that a giraffe's head hitting you would feel like being hit by 10 sledgehammers. He later announced a need to go to the bathroom and didn't wait for an answer before he was gone.
His favorite job besides acting would be video-game testing. Going to see Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and Metallica in concert is one of his goals. Jeremy has two brothers, ages 3 and 4, whom he loves even when they won't let him rest after a long day's work, or if they ruin his hobby of writing science fiction. "I had a whole bunch written and my brother erased them, the whole thing," he says.
And you still love them, someone asks? That's when Bernie Mac's influence pops up again:
"Well, yeah," Jeremy says casually. "It took away some. I used to love them a lot. (He spreads his arms wide then closes his hands to a few inches apart.) "Now I just say I love them."
Like most child actors, Jeremy uses an on-set teacher, Barbara Bass, for schooling. "She came in during the first season (of The Bernie Mac Show)," he says. "She wasn't there in the beginning. We had this (whisper) evil lady. It's true. She was evil."
Last report card, Jeremy earned all A's except for a B in math. "That wasn't good but I've improved," he assures everyone.
A week after this interview, Jeremy began taping the new season of The Bernie Mac Show. Jordan's popularity among viewers places him center stage in two early episodes: "In one, Bernie tells me my dad was in the Army so I get all this Army stuff," Jeremy says. "Then in another episode, I find out these three guys like my sister and I'm, like, using her to get all their stuff."
As usual, Jordan will learn lessons from those situations, as only Mac's sense of humor could imagine them. The character is so funny and relevant that Jeremy was nominated for an NAACP Image Award last year for best supporting actor in a TV comedy. Ten years old and the kid is a role model.
"Hmm, I never heard it put like that," he says. "But, uh, I hope I'm a good role model but I'm not that great that I can even be a role model. I just try to be nice, and everybody I meet is really nice. I have no complaints. Except for that one teacher, but we won't go into that."