Lonnie Chavis was only nine years old when he was cast on the NBC series This Is Us. The popularity of the series put him on the map as a child actor and earned him a SAG award. This month, the series is poised to finish up the fifth season, and series creator Dan Fogelman has said the sixth season of This Is Us will be the last.
Chavis, who is now 13, doesn’t have to worry about life post-This Is Us. He is already carving out a feature film career in his own right.
Last year, he starred in the Disney Channel ensemble film Magic Camp, starring alongside a trio of seasoned comedians such as Adam Devine, Gillian Jacobs and Jeffrey Tambor. Now he plays the lead in The Water Man, released on May 7, a film that marks the directorial debut of actor David Oyelowo. Later this summer, he stars in his first horror film, The Boy Behind Door, a two-hander about a couple of boys kidnapped and taken to a strange house they must escape from.
When Chavis read the screenplay for Water Man, the 11-year old knew he wanted to play the role of Gunner, a young boy who sets out on a quest to save his ill mother by searching for a mythic figure said to have magical healing powers.
“When I first got the script, what intrigued me about it would intrigue any other 11-year old kid at the time,” Chavis told Casting Networks. “I wanted to be in the movie because of the action, the adventure, the scenery, shooting in Oregon and all the magic and supernatural things that were in the movie.”
As he prepared for his Water Man audition with his mom Najah Chavis, who is also his manager, the duo dug deeper into the script. That’s when Chavis realized that despite those other attractions to the film, there was something else that was pulling him to Water Man.
“I hadn’t realized that this is something I could relate to,” he admitted. “I mean, I would do anything to save the ones I love, especially my mom. Anybody would.”
Chavis recalls an audition process that had him in a casting office for a reading, and then two weeks later there was a callback. Then, a week after that, Chavis was asked to come in for the third time, but when he arrived, he was told to sit on the other side of the audition room. All of a sudden found himself reading with actresses coming in for the female co-star role.
“I was like, wait, did I get the role? And my mom was like, You got it!” he said, laughing. “It was definitely a cool process.”
Was the shooting experience in Oregon as magical as he had envisioned it to be when he read the Water Man script that first time?
“Trust me, behind the scenes there was real magic on that set,” explained Chavis. “I remember on the first day of the shoot, we gathered in a prayer circle and said that we were going to do this project with love, we were going treat everybody how we would like to be treated and there would be no negativity at all. And that’s exactly what we did the entire time. Everybody treated everybody else with kindness, with love. There was magic, real magic, and so much love put into every single detail.”
While his audition happened two years ago, way before most people could even imagine that a pandemic would occur, Chavis says that as he continues with his acting career, he knows that he prefers in-person auditions to the current Zoom readings that are commonplace with COVID.
“Zoom auditions are just so stressful because there are so many things that could go wrong during that meeting,” he said. “I mean, your internet could cut out. That’s happened to me before and it was embarrassing. Or your brothers could walk in and start causing a fumble. There are so many things that could happen. I definitely prefer in-person.”
No matter if it’s in-person or not, Chavis does have a special trick he uses for auditions that require heavy text memorization.
“I go over it like it’s a song,” Chavis said. “Because when you’re listening to a song, you can memorize it easier. That is how I approach it.”
The Water Man in theaters now!