‘It’s Been Quite a Ride’

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Bill Ballerini & Kathy Cooley

It seems like 13-year-old Max Ruether has known since he was a toddler that he wanted to be a performer. His parents, Brian and Tina (Morgan) Ruether, Washington, can still remember the day when he was about 3, standing in front of the family TV asking, “How do I get in the box?”

It took some doing, but Max and his family have figured it out. Max is a professional working actor with a string of credits to his name and an even longer list of potential jobs on the horizon.

He spent almost all of last year living in Los Angeles with his mom, going on auditions and shooting a variety of projects — from TV commercials to a web series to short films to a couple of music videos.

He even auditioned for a part on “Modern Family,” although he didn’t get it.

They also met a number of influential people, including Jon Woodward, who is the creator of the well-known “This is your brain on drugs” TV commercial from the 1980s.

These days Max is home now in Washington, but any moment he could get a call for an acting job and take off to film. For now he’s enjoying his daily life as an eighth-grader at Washington Middle School, where he is most looking forward to this week’s auditions for the spring play, “Flat Stanley.”

Of course, he’d be happy if the phone rang with a job offer somewhere, but Max said he’s also happy where he is right now.

“I don’t want to miss everything that’s going to happen,” Max said, ticking off things he’s booked on his Washington social calendar — the play, band concerts, just hanging out with friends . . .

Getting Started

Max said it was a children’s community theater group at Gateway Center for the Arts in Downtown Washington that gave him a taste for acting. He was in fifth grade when he was cast as Winthrop Paroo in the group’s performance of “The Music Man.”

“We thought it was funny that his first acting role was a character with a lisp after we had spent three years in speech therapy to get rid of a lisp,” Tina Ruether said, with a laugh.

The experience was so positive that Max wanted to keep going, so his mom began researching his options and settled on Images Agency in St. Louis. Max signed with the booking agency in October 2010 when he was 11 and began taking classes through its academy, John Robert Powers (JRP).

By January 2011, JRP had invited Max to audition for the team it was sending to Los Angeles for iPOP, International Presentation of Performers, an annual convention where agencies from all over the country send clients (actors, models, dancers, singers) to perform for a panel of judges. Agents, casting directors and managers from all over the world are there too, scouting talent.

Over 400 JRP clients auditioned for 24 spots on the team that went to LA for the 2011 iPOP that July, and Max was among those selected. He spent the months in between the audition and the event preparing.

“You’re in charge of finding scenes or monologues to bring for practice,” Max explained. “You perform them for (the head of the team), and she decides which one suits you.”

And at the 2011 iPOP, Max was a hit. He took first place out of 1,200 kids and was awarded “Best Scene of the Year.” His award is a sleek trophy that looks like an old-fashioned microphone.

Even better than the award, though, was the response Max received from the agents and casting directors.

“On the last day of iPOP they have callbacks,” Max explained, “ . . . they say who wants to talk to you. So you go into a room and they’re all lined up waiting.”

Max had 15 callbacks.

That was the easy part. Next came the follow-up work, which fell on his mom’s shoulders. Back home in Washington, Tina Ruether put in hours of work — phone calls and emails — finding out what Max’s next step should be.

She was able to set up 14 meetings with different agents and managers to get representation lined up for Max, and that meant another trip to LA.

Welcome to Hollywood

By this time, however, Max had started classes at Washington Middle School, so Tina and Brian Ruether approached his principal and teachers about how to handle the time he would miss class.

The family said the school was more than accommodating to Max’s unusual set of circumstances.

“They sent his work out for that second quarter, . . . and they listed him as home bound,” said Brian Ruether, noting he was impressed by the principal’s comment to them, “What kind of educators would we be if we taught our kids to reach for the stars, but didn’t help them do it?”

Max and his mom returned to LA just as the “episodic season” was getting under way — TV shows were beginning to shoot their episodes for the season.

They arrived in early October with plans to hire a manager and agent, but soon realized it made more sense to stay in town awhile longer in case Max was offered any auditions or jobs.

“As soon as you sign, you have to be here to get the job,” Tina Ruether remarked.

So she and Max were able to sublet a room in someone’s home and stayed in LA through Thanksgiving. In the nearly eight weeks that they were in LA that fall, Max went on five to six auditions a week and was hired for a number of jobs.

One was a TV commercial for a local bead store owned by actor Jon Woodward’s wife. The pay wasn’t a lot, but the connection the family made with Woodward — who has been in the business for decades — has been more valuable to them than cash.

“He’s become almost like a mentor to Max,” Brian Ruether commented.

The connection with Woodward also has led to a movie deal with Sony Pictures, said Ruether, which, if the first movie does well, has the potential to be a four-movie deal.

2012 Was a Busy Year

Max and his mom returned to Washington in time for Thanksgiving, but after New Year’s they were headed out West again with plans to stay until April, although they ended up staying until June and then going back mid-August to early November.

The schedule was often hectic, said Tina Ruether, noting there was one week that Max went on 18 auditions. And he was working steady through it all.

Among the highlights are a principal role in a director’s reel (to showcase what a movie is about to help secure funding) for “When Clark Met Bruce,” about when Superman met Bat Man. The work was filmed on location in Oaxtepec, Mexico. Max played Pete Ross, Superman’s childhood friend.

He also was hired for a part in an anti-bullying PSA commercial and, in a weird twist, Tina Ruether also was hired to play a role.To help his untrained mom prepare for her audition, Max gave her some pointers in memorizing her lines.

“He sat me down on the bed and made me read the lines,” Tina Ruether recalled. “Then the more I got to know them, he made me close my eyes and he was walking around the room.”

She was hired for the part, but in the end her role was edited out of the final commercial. Ironically, she hadn’t been hired to play the part of Max’s character’s mom because they “didn’t look enough alike.”

A few months back, Max was hired for a series regular role in a teen comedy pilot, “Not So Ordinary,” that is being pitched to Disney and Nickelodeon, among others.

“It’s like ‘Hanna Montana’ meets ‘Phil of the Future,’ ” Max said in describing the premise of the show.

Other jobs have included playing a street urchin in a web series based on Dunk and Eggs and parts in two music videos — one for the Australian singer Cartier (“Worst Best Friend”).

He also booked a part in a play, “Godat,” that was at The Met theater in Hollywood. It ran for six weeks with over 20 performances.

There were countless “fun” events, too — attending movie premieres and walking the “red carpet” at a launch party for a new magazine.

Locally, Max has had a number of jobs too. He’s still represented in the St. Louis market by Images Agency and has been hired for several parts — a bunch of student films, as well as a short film with High Five Productions in St. Charles for a film about homeless people.

He also was hired on a modeling job for Eli Lilly, the global pharmaceutical company. Max is featured playing with different dogs on the labels of some pet medication bottles sold in other countries.

Throughout all of his auditions and stage/film work, Max has kept up with his schoolwork (being homeschooled for a while). He’s also continued to take classes for his craft.

He enrolled in hip hop dance class to build up his dance skills. Max also sings, plays the piano and saxophone, “fiddles around” on the electric guitar and can play one song on the harmonica.

‘Stay Grounded or Be Grounded’

Looking back on the last two years, the Ruethers can’t believe all that they’ve experienced.

“It’s been quite a ride,” said Max.

“We definitely saw both sides of it, too,” Tina Ruether added, “parents pushing their kids to do things and kids who could do whatever they wanted.”

That has led to their family motto, which they keep posted on the refrigerator:

“Stay Grounded, or Be Grounded.”

“It’s very easy to get caught up in everything,” admits Tina Ruether. “We’ve met a lot of stars.”

Among them . . . lots of Disney Channel stars, Amy Adams, Anthony Hopkins and CeeLo Green.

Throughout these experiences, one of the hardest things for the Ruethers has been the family separation — Max and his mom in LA, his dad home in Washington, going out to California for visits once a month; and his brother, Coty, away at college at Warrensburg.

So for now, they are enjoying having three of the four together under the same roof.