Anna Chlumsky: Act II

Local child star decides to give acting a grown-up try

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By LAURA STUART

Anna Chlumsky had a very normal childhood. K to eight at Grace Lutheran School in River Forest. High school at Walther Lutheran. She was a teenage nerd, she admits, "home watching Star Wars again and studying for AP tests."

Except for the movie star thing. Picked from a nationwide casting call, Chlumsky starred in My Girl when she was just 10, and went on to make five more movies before retiring at the ripe old age of 17.

In Forest Park over the holidays to visit her dad, WEDNESDAY JOURNAL food columnist Frank Chlumsky, Anna, who just turned 24, is acting again. "I took six years off to regroup and find my footing. [An acting career] is all will. I didn't have that when I was younger. The rejection is too much when you're a teenager?#34;just being a teenager is to feel that every day."

An excellent student, Chlumsky earned a bachelor's degree in international relations from the University of Chicago. The degree, she says, "wasn't career driven. God, I just love studying history, international politics. It was academically driven."

After graduating, she landed a job with Zagat in New York City, fact-checking entries in guidebooks, and then moved on to a position with the science fiction/fantasy imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

"It was a great job. It's fun to be reading books you like to read. But it took lots of time, effort and energy, and I didn't have the stamina for it. I was exhausted, and that's a gauge of whether you love what you do. When I spent that much or more time on my acting career, it didn't feel exhausting because I loved it. I'd been pushing that instinct [to act] back, but I realized what I need to be doing," she explains.

So she quit her job to act, full time. "Now it's such a relief. I want to be an actress again," she says.

It's a familiar life. Chlumsky began appearing in print ads when she was a baby, and was in commercials from age 2. She was in a few stage productions?#34;Pheasant Run, Drury Lane?#34;and then got her big break in My Girl, after a screen test with Macaulay Culkin.

Filming took three months in Florida. Dan Aykroyd, who played her dad, was "nice," she recalls, and co-star Jamie Lee Curtis was "awesome. She still sends me a Christmas card every year," says Chlumsky.

The movies that followed were perhaps less memorable, although Child's Wish, filmed when she was 15, included a scene with then-President Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. "He was very charming, very accommodating," she remembers.

Chlumsky survived her stint as a child star without scars. "I have a good head on my shoulders. I know drugs kill; I know I'm not immortal. My family never let me get a big head. And my roots are here; school is here. There were no L.A. nightclubs for me," she explains.

The work is different this time around, notes Chlumsky. "When you're a kid, you're a 'natural,' whatever that means. You say the lines, and it comes out right. Performing as an adult, that's a whole other ballgame. You need to treat it as a craft, and work very hard. It's all the more satisfying."

Chlumsky took her first acting lessons last summer, and has been auditioning for?#34;and getting?#34;roles in off-off Broadway shows. She just finished Measure for Measure, and is cast in two upcoming plays in the next few months. Still a recognized name, she's got an agent, a rare advantage for someone trying to break into the business.

On the side, she also has a writing partner and a few screenplays in the works, but that's not her focus now. "I'm so driven toward this one thing. I'm auditioning full time, getting my name back out there. It's been fun. I never thought I'd say that," she observes.

Chlumsky's confident that New York City is the right place to be to perfect her craft, even from a one-bedroom in Brooklyn so tiny "you have to sit on the toilet diagonally," she says.

"There's a wealth of theater I can do [in New York]. It's such a pool of great creative minds?#34;actors, writers, technicians," she explains. "I'm getting really great experience."

Her goal? Roles that challenge, in movies and especially on Broadway, "a dream come true," she says. And she has no doubts that she'll succeed.

"I don't say 'if.' I say 'will.' It's gonna happen."

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