“Prodigy” will premiere at the Sedona International Film Festival on Wednesday, Feb. 22, and Saturday, Feb. 25. The star of the film is Savannah Liles, a Sedona native now living in Los Angeles with her mother. At 11 years old, Savannah has already had an impressive acting career and is now celebrating her first feature-length film hitting the big screen.
In “Prodigy,” Liles plays Ellie, a borderline sociopathic girl locked in a maximum security facility. A psychologist is commissioned to work with her and soon discovers her dark past as well as outstanding intelligence. The two engage in a psychological chess match under the vigilant observation of experts staggered by Ellie’s case — a match that soon turns into a perilous situation.
In an interview with the Sedona Red Rock News, Savannah talked about wearing a straightjacket, seeing ghosts on set and how she manages to balance her acting career with school.
Q: How does it feel to have your first feature-length film coming out?
I was super excited, I didn’t think it was going to happen.
Q: “Prodigy” has such an intense subject — what was it like shooting a film like that?
Well, it was hard to sit in the straightjacket, it was really sweaty. But the place we shot was really fun to film at. It was an abandoned animal shelter, so it was kind of creepy. My friend and I swore we saw a ghost. We were just exploring and then saw it. First we found this picture of a girl and a dog, then we were walking through the place a few days later and we saw this girl walking a dog. And the girl looked exactly like the one in the picture and the dog was the same color. Also, they had a wolf on set. The stunt man came and he had a wolf, and so I got to pet a wolf.
Q: What was the hardest part about portraying your character, Ellie?
Just trying to get into the character. It was funny because once I was in the character, I couldn’t get out. But once I was out, I could easily snap back into it. It was weird. But it was super fun, getting to be someone else like that.
Q: Would you say that’s your favorite thing about acting, getting to be somebody else?
Yeah. When I was little, I always liked acting and being someone else. My friend and I, we had these princess outfits and we would watch a movie and then pretend to be the people and do a little scene.
Q: Are you working on another project at the moment?
I’ve been really focused on school. My friends are going to come over today and work on a film. I’m in the sixth grade and we have a bunch of different classes. Our elective is singing and our project is lip-synching to a song, but we have to create a music video to go with it. It’s really hard because we only have until mid-March to film and do all the editing, and I’ll be gone for two weeks for the premiere in Sedona. We don’t have those two weeks to shoot, so we only have today and then we’re doing the editing over the phone.
Q: When did you first get into acting?
Well, I technically started acting when I was really little. But I started doing projects and actually getting an agent and manager and stuff about three years ago. I think this will be my third year in L.A. But for my first play, I was Jasmine in “Aladdin.”
Q: That was at the Stargate Theater in Sedona, right? How old were you then?
Yeah, I was 8. I did three plays there. My second one was “Mary Poppins,” where I played Mary Poppins, and my third one was “Annie,” and I was Annie. For “Mary Poppins,” my mom picked out my outfit for me, and she put me in this long black coat with a little hat and black gloves, and I actually looked like Mary Poppins. And for Annie, she curled my hair with tiny little curls, so it was short and all curly.
Q: How do you balance your acting career with going to school?
It’s hard. But I just try as hard as I can to keep my grades up. I’ve been getting pretty good grades. I got on the honor roll the semester before last, and I was close to being on it last semester. This semester, I hope I’ll be on it again. My mom takes me out of school early for auditions. Since we live in California, there are a lot of kids here who do acting, and so they have this thing called the independent study at our school, where if you’re gone for five days or longer, they don’t mark you absent. And they give you your work. So if I’m only out for like four days, my mom will take me out for an extra day, so I can just relax.
Q: Your resume lists a lot of special skills like firearms and martial arts, can you expand on them?
I actually have a gun of my own, because my dad loves to shoot. He took me shooting one day, and I was super excited because I hit the target 10 times in a row. I’ve also been doing gymnastics since I was 2. I did martial arts for about four years, and ballet and dance. And I love to jump rope. I got a trampoline for Christmas and I learned this cool trick where I can jump rope, but then sit and jump back up and keep going. I can also do the criss-cross, and if I’m on the trampoline I can to the double-jump. And then I just learned how to do my front handspring on the trampoline.
Q: If you weren’t an actress, what other job would you like to have?
I’d be a professional gymnast. Or, my friends and I are going to work at the same place when we’re older as a side job from acting, because we’re all actresses and singers. Our side job — it’s kind of funny — we’re going to be cashiers at Walmart. Because we like to scan things.
Q: What are your goals for this year?
Well, my first goal is for my mom and me to be able to buy a house out here and live on a lot of land because we want to rescue dogs. And if we do get a lot of land, I want to get a horse. And I want to be a series regular on a TV show. Or be in a movie that goes into theaters, like I hope this one does.
- By Steph Berens
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