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Milford boy lands key role in 'Nanny Diaries'

JOE MEYERS [email protected]

Some critics have enjoyed "The Nanny Diaries" more than others, but everyone who sees the new movie seems to agree that Milford's own Nicholas Reese Art makes something special out of his role as the boy who is taken care of by the title character.

Adjectives like "natural" and "delightful" are being attached to the 8-year-old performer, who plays opposite Scarlett Johansson.

"The Nanny Diaries" is only Nicholas' second film after a small role in "Syriana," but he has been a regular on the daytime drama "The Guiding Light" for the past five years.

On Thursday morning, as Nicholas and his mother Sharon were getting ready to head into New York for an interview on the Fuse network, I spoke to them about the movie and the whirl of screenings and press sessions they were attending in the build-up to Friday's opening.

"It's great but it's a little scary, too," Sharon said of all the excitement that surrounds the opening of a major movie.

"People keep saying, 'Get ready! Get ready!,' but my response is 'Get ready for what?,'" she added of the talk within the industry.

"My husband and I have lived in Milford all of our lives. Nicholas fell into this and he loves it, but we are about as far from Hollywood people as you can get," Sharon said of herself and her husband Richard.

Nicholas' "career" began by accident when Sharon put one of her son's photos in a frame at a photo lab where she works in Trumbull.

"I put other family photos in the frames just so we wouldn't have empty frames," she recalled.

When someone came into the store and suggested that the 3-year-old Nicholas would be a perfect child model, Sharon sent a photo to a modeling agency.

"That's all I did," she said, "and the next thing we knew he was doing catalog work that led to more commercial work in New York." On one of his first auditions for acting work, Nicholas was chosen to play Zach Spaulding on the long-running daytime drama, "The Guiding Light," a role he continues to play on two or three episodes a month.

"The Nanny Diaries" happened quickly, too, when one audition last year led to two callbacks and a rapid decision that Nicholas was perfect for the role of Grayer, the Upper East Side Manhattan boy who is largely ignored by his parents and forms an almost immediate bond with the nanny played by Johansson.

Grayer is a pivotal role in the movie because the Johansson character becomes so fond of the boy that she finds it hard to quit her job even though the parents (Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti) are such hellish employers.

After the filmmakers decided Nicholas was right for the role, Johansson set up her own play date with the boy "just to see if they meshed," Sharon recalled.

"She took him to Coney Island and they hit it off right away," she added.

When Nicholas got on the phone, he said the trip to Coney Island and its aquarium was "just a really fun day."

"Working on the set was fun, too, meeting new people. I f I got out of work at 3, I'd want to stay and watch," Nicholas said of the filming of "The Nanny Diaries."

"I could see that he was having so much fun," Sharon said of the 44 days Nicholas worked on the movie.

The Art family suffered a terrible loss last month when Nicholas' older brother, high school student Donald James (who everyone called D.J.), was killed in a car accident.

Nicholas has dedicated his performance in the movie to his brother's memory.

Sharon said she and her husband's strong ties to Milford were reaffirmed in the aftermath of the tragedy.

"We both grew up here. Everyone knew us. Seven-hundred people came to the funeral which is what small towns are all about. That's why we will never leave to go to California," Sharon said of she and her husband's decision not to pursue any TV series work that would entail a long-term commitment by her son.

"He loves doing it now, but I don't want to lock him into some job for two or three years," she said. Nicholas and his mom weren't able to do a local celebration of his movie on opening day, but they were both looking forward to seeing it again at the Connecticut Post 14 in Milford over the weekend.

"The first time I saw the movie I had fun looking at me," Nicholas said, with a chuckle. "But then I was able to watch the whole movie.

"It's going to be fun to see it with my friends here," he added.

Sharon said she is still amazed by what her son has done and even though she was on the set for the filming, there are moments in "The Nanny Diaries" where she gets caught up in the story and sees Grayer rather than Nicholas.

"I cry every time I watch that scene and I was there when they filmed it," Sharon said of an especially emotional moment near the end of the movie.

"The Nanny Diaries" is now playing at the Bethel Cinemas; Fairfield Cinemas; Connecticut Post 14, Milford; Bow Tie Criterion, New Haven; Bow Tie Royale, Norwalk; Seymour Cinemas; Bow Tie Landmark, Stamford; Regal Cinemas, Stratford; and Bow Tie Marquis, Trumbull.
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