TV role is one in a McMillion for Kaden
It could be the role that kick-starts Kaden McMillion’s career: playing Bobby DeBarge in his youth.
At the very least, it should get the 11-year-old noticed.
The life story of the late Motown singer will play out on TV One, described as “the fastest-growing cable network in the United States”.
Kaden, the son of Bermudian Tonika Burgess-McMillion, beat untold actors for the part. According to his mother he was “up against agencies [representing people from] all over the country”.
“In October, Kaden auditioned through his agent,” she said. “We gave up on it because it was all the way back in October. They called [at the end of January] and said he was booked. This is pretty big. It’s the first time he will be on actual TV and it’s a well-known TV station.”
Kaden had been acting professionally for a year when he was hired in 2015, at age 8, to play Chip Potts in the travelling production of the Broadway hit Beauty and the Beast.
“That was so exciting,” he said of the 12-month tour of the musical adaptation of the Disney film. “I got to see the whole world. Egypt was my favourite. I got to go inside a king’s pyramid and see a huge statue of a lion with a man’s face and it was sunny and hot there and I like hot climates.”
Once it was all over however, the McMillions returned to their home in Atlanta with a sobering task: rebuilding Kaden’s career.
“TV was his dream from the beginning,” Ms Burgess-McMillion said. “It just so happened that he got the Beauty and The Beast role. He had never trained for Broadway so everyone wondered how he did it; the first time he auditioned, he got it. It was amazing. We were thinking his career would then go through the roof because he was such a natural, but it’s totally different.
“We didn’t realise that Broadway [acting] is totally different from the TV side of acting. He had to get out of the theatrical mode. It was very hard but he had to retrain himself. Actors are more animated on stage and he wanted to do everything like that.”
Kaden auditioned for almost four years, only getting bit parts here and there. Once his year-long contract with Avery Sisters Entertainment came to a close, Ms Burgess-McMillion was certain they would sever the relationship.
“Four years later, [his agent] said she just couldn’t give up. Sometimes that’s how it works. You don’t get anything for years, and then boom! When [he started acting] he was on top of the world, he thought everything was going to come easy. Now he’s a lot more humble, because he had to work for it this time.
“Many times he wanted to give up but we told him not to. We said that when he does get something, it will be big — and this happened. We were all very excited. I cried my eyes out.”
Bobby DeBarge was plagued by substance abuse problems throughout his music career. Lead singer of the R&B band Switch in the late 1970s, he left it in the 1980s to oversee his siblings’ band, DeBarge. It was around that time he tested HIV-positive and in 1995 died of complications from Aids, aged 39.
Production started at the beginning of the month although the McMillions aren’t sure when the show will air. Kaden will be required to speak and sing for the role.
He “jumped around and thanked the agent a lot” when he got the news.
“I’m so excited,” said the actor, who is dedicating the part to his great-grandmother Victorine Davis. She dreamt of seeing him on television but died last year.
“I’ve been waiting so long for this — as my mom said, four years — I was thinking about giving up. After [Beauty and the Beast] I still got roles, they were just small roles. I was cast as extras and stuff like that. I had fun but I really wanted a part where I’m speaking and I’m really in the movie.”
Now that he has the hang of it, he says that acting is “not really difficult”.
“All I do is take a deep breath, put my hands on my face and ... voilà, I’m that character. I’ve read the storyline and, with this character, I have to feel all the struggles as he does. Bobby DeBarge had an abusive life so that was a little hard.
“But I’m not really nervous. I’m actually pretty good with a big crowd. I like to be around people. I’ve never gotten stage fright, I’ve always been comfortable. It’s not that hard for me.”
Kaden plans to keep auditioning so he has another role when the show wraps at the end of March. Staying focused on his studies is also important as, ultimately, he’d like to become a lawyer and a US president.
“I want to be president because there are lots of homeless people with mental health issues and we really need to help them. I see them a lot. It’s crazy.
“One more thing I want to do is, I was adopted [at age 2] and I want to fix that system. I’m one of the lucky kids that found a nice family but there are some people who make money from getting a whole bunch of homeless kids and don’t treat the kids correctly. So I want to change that system completely.”
Meanwhile his mother is working on getting the family to Bermuda for a visit.
“I haven’t been home since 2013,” she said. “We plan on coming very, very soon. I’m dying to see Cup Match. My kids have heard so much about it.”