Michelle Trachtenberg: On the Fast Track

Posted on 20. Apr, 2009 by Administrator in hCovers, Profiles

hcover Michelle Trachtenberg: On the Fast Track

Michelle Trachtenberg photo by Robert Todd Williamson. To see the full layout of Michelle buy your copy today.

words by Jason Dean

There are few sure things in the entertainment business, but here is one truth you can bank on: Audiences love the young, precocious screen star. In recent years, Hollywood has enthusiastically fed the public’s addiction, churning out cuddly, pint-sized stars with the prolific pace of a puppy mill.

But the glare of the spotlight and the pressure of growing up too fast can do strange things to a kid’s equilibrium. Just ask McCauley Culkin and Haley Joel Osment. Or Tatum O’Neal and Drew Barrymore. Or any former child star named Corey. In that sense, most child actors are like kittens and puppies. You wish you could give them a shot (and I don’t mean Botox or Restylane) that would keep them young and adorable and thus prevent them from growing into full-sized, colossal fuck-ups that dig up flower beds, destroy furniture and crash their Mercedes while snorting coke off the steering wheel. 

Michelle Trachtenberg is a notable exception to this overplayed scenario. The early bloomer’s career has maintained an upward trajectory with nary a hiccup of indiscretion. A shill for Wisk laundry detergent as a tot, Trachtenberg landed a role on the daytime soap All My Children at the tender age of 6. She notched her first leading film role at 10 as the title character in Harriet the Spy, based on the popular book series. Her high school years were spent as Sarah Michelle Gellar’s kid sister on the WB series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Today, the 23-year-old has blossomed into a full-fledged sex symbol. But if you pop your eyes back into their sockets, you will find a dedicated actress who has nurtured her craft and aspires to continue growing professionally. It’s no accident that she’s a survivor. 

“It hasn’t been one-hundred percent smooth,” she says, “but it hasn’t been rocky, either. It’s been a challenge, because I’ve always had to prove myself.” Granted, Trachtenberg is not the first to negotiate the transition to cinematic adulthood with aplomb: Jodie Foster is a fine example of such crossover success. Even the impish Drew Barrymore put her well-documented missteps behind her to become a true box-office force. But under the intense scrutiny of scandal-hungry tabloids and online rumor mongers, the fact that Trachtenberg has stayed above the fray is particularly commendable. 

 In New York while shooting the new season of CW’s Gossip Girl, Trachtenberg recently took some time to talk about her new film with Zac Efron, 17 Again, which opens April 17. Between shooting the pilot for Mercy, a hospital drama for NBC, and returning to Gossip Girl along with fulfilling press obligations for 17 Again, Trachtenberg’s time is in demand. Realizing this, I decide to limit my line of questioning to legitimate topics, resisting the urge to find out who she thinks is hotter: Efron or Chace Crawford. When you’re a young starlet, those are the pressing issues you regularly get quizzed on, Trachtenberg informs me, just a hint of annoyance in her voice. 

In 17 Again, Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry), visits his old high school and reminisces in front of an old trophy case as he laments past decisions that he believes turned his once promising life into its current sucky condition. His marriage has fallen apart, he’s lost his job, and his teenage kids think he’s a loser. Luckily, the school janitor happens by and – thanks to some mischievously inexplicable janitor voodoo – 37-year-old Mike is soon transformed into 17-year-old Mike (Efron). Along with the chance to alter the course of fate, Mike’s return to his youthful appearance gives him a peer’s eye view into the lives of his kids, who are now his fellow classmates, not to mention the flirtatious attention of his wife (Leslie Mann), who can’t get over how much he resembles her ex. Trachtenberg, as Maggie O’Donnell, gets the surreal experience of having both Perry and Efron as her onscreen dads. The actress, who has joked that she might wear a “Zac Efron is my daddy” T-shirt to the movie’s premiere, likes the fact that her character is opinionated, confident, and smart – a role model for the cool, modern teenage girl.

“One of my favorite literary terms is ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’,” she says, referring to what attracted her to the fantasy premise of the film. “The mystical imagination of the writer—that’s very appealing to me.” Now for the obvious question: Would she make the trip back to year 17 of her own life if she had the chance? “There’s no way I’m going back to high school,” she immediately responds. “Kids are cruel.” Taking a moment to consider the question, she adds, “Maybe for a week, knowing what I know now.” For instance? “Knowing that I wouldn’t be flat-chested all my life or that all the boys that made fun of me would be dying to ask me out now, so maybe that might be fun.” 

 So there’s nothing in her past the young actress would like to erase or fix? “I’m a believer that everything happens for a reason and even the hardships that you face in life are meant to form you as a person and as a character in your own right,” she says. “Maybe there’s a few guys that I wish I hadn’t dated, but they shall remain nameless.” 

 Trachtenberg’s focus on her craft was never clouded by youthful experimentation with drugs or alcohol. She’s proud of the fact that she never became just another cautionary tale about the pitfalls of teen celebrity success. In fact, she was a youth representative when President Clinton launched the Coalition for a Drug-Free America program. “I’ve never done a drug in my life. That’s a hundred-million percent true,” she says. “I enjoy what I do, and I wouldn’t ever sacrifice that for anything.” If there’s a minor down side to such clean living, it’s the scenes in which Trachtenberg has had to snort coke or smoke weed. Suffice it to say her technique was not one-take caliber in either case.

Trachtenberg’s strong work ethic was apparent early on. “Maybe I was a weird kid, but I knew I had a lot of hard work ahead of me if this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.” She learned a lot by observing how others conducted themselves on the set. “I have zero tolerance for unprofessionalism,” she says. “It’s my job to get to work on time, learn all my lines, and bring my A-game. It was really fascinating throughout my career at different ages to find people who don’t do that. To me, that’s completely unfathomable.” She elaborates on the point. “If you have a reputation of not coming out of your trailer for hours because you don’t like your shoes or you come on the set and you’re so exhausted from partying the night before, people remember these things. Producers talk.”

Trachtenberg credits her mom with instilling balance in her promising career very early on. During Harriet the Spy, she was on the set every day and accompanied Michelle for the film’s European press junket, making sure some time was allotted for museum trips and other cultural enrichment. Born in Russia, she worked as a puppeteer before leaving for New York, where Michelle and her sister were born. “She molded me into the person I am today. She’s an extraordinary woman – she’s been a nurse and a financial analyst and she’s still very involved in my business stuff.”

When she turned 18, Trachtenberg made a conscious decision to tackle edgier roles. She lit up the screen in the college-age road comedy Eurotrip. She also made her first trip to Sundance, thanks to her role in the indie film Mysterious Skin, in which two young men cope with repressed memories of being sexually abused by their baseball coach. “I’m very proud of that film,” she says. “I was this girl who had done glitzy, PG-themed stuff and here’s Gregg Araki, director of Doom Generation, and we sat down and had a cup of coffee and I said, ‘You’re probably not gonna hire me but this is what I got, this is what I feel. If you’re willing to take the chance, I’m willing to go there with you.’ It was the most exhilarating experience
I’ve had as an actress.”

In 2005, Trachtenberg returned to family-oriented fare, starring in Ice Princess, even though she had no ice skating experience prior to getting the part. She trained for almost nine months, and although stunt doubles did the jumps and more intricate moves, all the footwork was hers. “That was probably one of the most physically challenging experiences of my life,” she recalls. “I give much respect to any athlete for the amount of discipline they need to have to perfect their craft.” Trachtenberg admires actresses who continually explore their range rather than becoming complacent with playing a particular type of role. “Charlize Theron is a great example, as well as Julianne Moore and Nicole Kidman,” she points out. “Look at Halle Berry and how hard she fought for her Monster’s Ball role. She had to prove herself and she was already a full-fledged and incredibly successful actress.” 

Earlier this year, Trachtenberg returned to Sundance for Against the Current, which also starred Joseph Fiennes, Justin Kirk, and Mary Tyler Moore. “When you do a studio movie it’s one for ‘them’,” she explains. “When you do a really awesome indie movie, it’s one for you.” Doing press at Sundance is refreshing, she says, because she doesn’t get grilled with “silly, gossipy questions” about her personal life. On that subject, Trachtenberg has to deal with more than her fair share of trash journalism and the predatory paparazzi. “I’m not gonna lie, it gets a little depressing,” she admits. “When I’m pulling up to a party and there’s thirty dudes surrounding my car and shoving lenses in my windshield—when they’re purposely trying to shoot under your skirt to get a panty shot—it’s insane. How do these people live with themselves?” Thus, she has learned to keep certain details of her life private. “I don’t have public relationships,” she says. “I did that once years ago when I didn’t know any better. So much of my life is ‘Google-able’ it’s nice to have one thing that’s not.” 

Returning to her deviously delicious role as Georgina Sparks in Gossip Girl has been a kick for Trachtenberg. At the end of Season 1, Georgina was hauled off to a boot camp for troubled girls only to resurface in Season 2, which begins airing this fall. “I gotta say, I love being a bitch. I have great words written for me and it’s super fun to be that manipulative and evil on set and then go home and everything’s A-OK.” Trachtenberg has another movie, Young Americans with Topher Grace and Anna Faris, scheduled for release this fall. Then, there’s Mercy, the NBC pilot in which she plays one of a central trio of nurses.

In Hollywood, it’s become de rigueur to never get an adult to do a child’s job. Long gone are the days of Grease, when Stockard Channing, (34) Olivia Newton-John, (29) and John Travolta (a comparatively callow 24), called on audiences’ willing suspension of disbelief as they passed themselves off as a high schoolers. Not to mention Jeff Conaway, who looks to be about 105 these days. In contrast, refer to Efron’s highly successful franchise, High School Musical. Average age of the main cast: just over 18 years old. Which again points to contemporary Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for bankable young stars. In Trachtenberg’s case, even as she takes on more young adult roles, the fact remains that she still looks youthful enough to play high school, as evidenced by her role in 17 Again. “I used to think the second I turn 18, I’ll be an adult and everyone’s gonna treat me as an adult.” That may be true, but just to clarify, youth is skin deep; maturity comes from within. And Trachtenberg has proven time and again that she has the depth to hang with the grown-ups.


styled by Annabel Tollman,  hair by Thomas Dunkin,   makeup by Fabiola

Share this story with your friends:
  • facebook Michelle Trachtenberg: On the Fast Track
  • twitter Michelle Trachtenberg: On the Fast Track
  • digg Michelle Trachtenberg: On the Fast Track
  • stumbleupon Michelle Trachtenberg: On the Fast Track
  • delicious Michelle Trachtenberg: On the Fast Track
  • blinklist Michelle Trachtenberg: On the Fast Track
  • googlebookmark Michelle Trachtenberg: On the Fast Track
  • email link Michelle Trachtenberg: On the Fast Track

Related Posts

Tags: , , ,

No comments.

Leave a Reply

Get Adobe Flash playerPlugin by wpburn.com wordpress themes