“Bridge of Spies,” the highly anticipated thriller from director Steven Spielberg, opens in movie theaters across the U.S. today. The DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 Pictures drama, based on historical events that took place in the 1960s, stars Tom Hanks as Brooklyn lawyer James Donovan, who gets recruited by the CIA to negotiate the release of captured American U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers (played by Austin Stowell) from the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The film also features Mark Rylance, Alan Alda and Jillian Lebling.
Lebling plays Peggy Donovan, the young daughter of James and his wife Mary (played by Amy Ryan). “Bridge of Spies” is the first motion picture for the 9-year-old actress from Delaware — but this isn’t her first professional gig.
Acting since the ripe old age of 6, Lebling has appeared in commercials (for companies like ESPN/Microsoft and Wells Fargo), on Broadway (in the Tony Award-winning production of the musical “Once”) and on television (her credits include NBC’s “The Blacklist” and voice-over work for the animated Amazon children’s series “Creative Galaxy”).
In this exclusive interview, Headlines & Global News chatted with the blue-eyed cutie about life in and out of the spotlight.
When did realize that you wanted to be an actress?
I didn’t know I wanted to be an actress until I did a one-day acting workshop when I was 6 — and I loved it! After that, I was hooked. I love performing for people.
What’s your favorite thing about acting?
I love acting because it’s really fun to do, and I love getting a chance to act like a different person. I love dressing up! And, I made a lot of new friends.
Do you sing and dance too?
I like to sing and dance. This year, I’m going to learn tap and jazz, so I’m excited for that. I’m not a big fan of ballet.
Do you get lonely when you’re the only kid on set?
I like having other kids on set to talk to, but it’s always fun being the only kid because all of the adults are friendly.
Who is your favorite actor?
I really like Kevin James. He was so funny in “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.”
What about your co-star, Tom Hanks?
I really liked working with him. He was really nice and funny, and joked around with me in between takes.
Did you know who he was before you filmed “Bridge of Spies?”
Yes. I got to give him an award at the 69th Annual Theatre World Awards in 2013.
And what was it like having Steven Spielberg as your director?
It was really great getting to work with Mr. Spielberg. I didn’t know who he was at first, but I’ve seen a lot of his movies. My mom didn’t want to tell me all about him in the beginning because she didn’t want me to get nervous working with him. I wasn’t nervous though.
Would you work with him again?
Yeah, he was really nice.
You appeared in two episodes of “The Blacklist” earlier this year as the younger version of Elizabeth Keen.
Working on “The Blacklist” was really cool. We always watch the show [at home], and it was great to be a part of it. It was exciting to actually be in it and watch myself in it.
Did you get to work with James Spader?
I didn’t get to work with him, but passed him and said, “Hi!” I got a teensy bit starstruck.
What other shows or movies do you enjoy?
I liked “The Whispers.” It’s kind of creepy. I mostly like scary movies and stuff. “The Whispers” had a whole bunch of kids in it, and it’s about a guy talking through the lights. A movie I like is “Mama.” Mama is kinda like a ghost, and these two kids are the kids of Mama. Then Mama tries to hurt the parents that adopted them so she could get her children back.
And this doesn’t scare you?
No. Well, sometimes. [Giggles]
Do you want to be in a horror movie one day?
That’s my dream!
Do you go to a regular elementary school or are you homeschooled?
Regular school, and they are really supportive of my acting.
What’s your favorite subject to study?
I like science. Last year, we had experiments every Thursday. We made Flubber — gooey stuff you play around with.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not acting or going to school?
I like to do lots of things: I like to go fishing with my dad and my brother, play guitar, play soccer, play dice with my family, go to the beach....
You like to be outdoors?
Yeah, mostly. Pretty much you could say I like playing outside.
For more on Jillian Lebling, check out her Facebook page.