A year ago today, a movie musical called “The Greatest Showman” was released. Back then nobody knew that it would be a box-office hit, earning 434 million dollars worldwide, and being hailed as the fifth-highest grossing live-action musical of all time. Twelve months later, people still sing their hearts out to the film’s soaring hits such as “Rewrite the Stars” and “Never Enough”, and many fans found a new anthem in the Oscar-nominated power ballad “This is Me” by Keala Settle.
The enduring success of “The Greatest Showman” has been felt in different parts of the world. Inspired by the life of American showman, businessman and philanthropist Phineas Taylor Barnum (known for founding the Barnum & Bailey Circus), it once again introduced people to the spectacular world of circus. With its inspiring storyline, remarkable dance numbers, show-stopping performances, and a great, infectious soundtrack (written by award-winning duo Pasek and Paul), it also highlighted the acceptance of people regardless of color, culture and race. Its exciting ensemble cast – Hugh Jackman, Michelle Williams, Zac Efron, Rebecca Ferguson and Zendaya – also added appeal to such a huge audience across the globe, bringing out undeniable screen chemistry. But out of all the big names in the movie, one in particular has stood out and has left a memorable mark on the big screen. Cast as the young Barnum, then 13-year-old Ellis Rubin had the time of his life while portraying one of the most influential people in the history of the entertainment industry. Despite being on screen for less than 10 minutes, his part was considered by many as one of their favorite moments of the film, singing and dancing to the song “A Million Dreams”. But many are wondering, who is Ellis Rubin and how fortunate could this kid be for bagging such a very important role in a major motion picture?
Currently a high school freshman from New York, Ellis reveals that he has always loved performing in local plays, but never thought that it would turn into something big and serious. He tells us, “I had performed in plays with a children’s community theater group for several years, starting when I was eight years old. It was an after-school program once a week and then every year we put on a show. [But] I wasn’t thinking of it for a career.” Eventually, his mom heard about a casting call for a new film in the works, “It was only the second professional audition I had ever gone on. I live in New York City where there are sometimes open calls where any kid can try out for a role in a play or film. My mom found out about a couple of these and we went just to give it a try.” According to Ellis, the audition process may have been a long one, but it was definitely worth it when they chose him at the final callback. So how did his family react over him being selected? “Everyone was amazed but very happy for me! Nobody had heard of the movie yet, but they thought it was a big deal that I was going to play the young Hugh Jackman.”
It was the beginning of his first professional role in the industry. When asked about the lead actor of the film, he revealed that Jackman gave him great support, “Hugh Jackman was very encouraging whenever I saw him. He always gave me a high five and told me I was doing great.” The Tony Award-winning actor not only coached his acting, but also gave him tips to his crucial performance of the song “A Million Dreams”. While the film gives credit to Ziv Zaifman for his incredible rendition of the song, Ellis tells us that he had to practice perfect lip-sync while filming, and Jackman was kind enough to help him out, “He talked to me about where to take a breath while singing. I had to sing along with the song during filming, even though you don’t hear my voice in the movie, and it had to look right.” In fact, only a few knew that Ellis was lip-syncing, which goes to show that he did an outstanding performance with the song!
What does he think about the song that gave such an impact to his role? “It’s a beautiful song. I went to speak at a career day at an elementary school in New York City and the students there were learning [the song] for their graduation, so they all got up and sang it for the career day speakers. That was a big surprise and it sounded amazing to have so many kids sing it together as a choir!”
But many are asking, aside from his talent in acting, does he sing, too? He tells us that he loves music and wants to learn more about it, “I have sung in theater productions in the past. I’ve also studied piano and percussion, [and I like] to learn how to play guitar, too”.
Despite the popularity of the film and his memorable role, he continues to be the person that he is. Anyone who appeared on a blockbuster hit would probably get non-stop attention, but Ellis says that people doesn’t come up to him on the streets or at school, “That really doesn’t happen! I’ve gotten older and a lot taller, so I don’t look just like I did in the movie anymore.” Even with all the praise from his big screen performance, he vows to remember that he is still the same kid before fame got in the way. What’s memorable for him though is the fact that he became part of something special— and something that people grew connected in. He adds that the film made way for people to be connected regardless of where they’re from, “It’s brought together people from all over the world. It’s amazing how many Greatest Showman fans there are in so many different countries, like the Philippines and the United Kingdom and Australia and Japan.”
Being around a great and popular cast must have been a thrill, but who else would the teen want to work with? He tells us, “It would be a lot of fun to work with any actor who is also a comedian. I filmed an episode of a TV show called ‘The Last O.G.’ starring Tracy Morgan and there was a lot of kidding around when we were shooting our scenes.” So when will we be seeing “The Last O.G” on TV? “It is the season 2 premiere, which will air in early 2019.”
He also talks about the Jason Winer comedy “Ode To Joy” which is yet to be released sometime next year, “Even though I filmed ‘Ode To Joy’ in 2017, I don’t know when it is going to be released.”
With many projects in line, how does he juggle it with school? How’s it like to be a high school freshman and an actor at the same time? He tells us, “I go to a high school for the performing arts, so I am now getting training in acting at school. I now have some classmates who act or dance professionally, or go on auditions like I do. I like all of my teachers, and it’s great to be at school with other kids who do these things too.”
Like any other teenager, he spends his free time with the things that he loves the most, “I am a big fan of baseball and I like to relax by playing video games.” Aside from the performing arts, he also joins other school activities like debate, “I am very interested in politics. I really like debate and I participate in high school debate tournaments.”
With his sudden achievements in film and TV over the past year, life has certainly changed for Ellis. A year after “The Greatest Showman”, fans are still rooting for his next move, but his biggest and most loyal followers are right back at home. “My parents are always very supportive and I really appreciate them.” He shares about how both his mom and dad worked their way to help him prep for his first movie role, “They took turns accompanying me whenever I was on set. They help me learn my lines when I have auditions. My dad records my self-tapes, which are audition videos that you do yourself and send in. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. My parents are both self-employed, so I’m lucky that they can control their schedule and go on appointments with me if they need to.”
So much has happened in a year for Ellis, and when asked about what he learned from the experience, he mentions about the value of hard work in crucial times, “Working hard is important, even when you just feel like procrastinating all the time.”
Indeed, the possibilities are endless. After captivating hearts at a young age, Ellis has already proven that he can be the next great actor of his generation, and though this is what most fans are hoping to see very soon, he can still choose to be a normal teenager who will shine in his own field. He tells us about some dreams that he wish to pursue one day, “I have thought about being a lawyer in addition to being an actor. Right now, I would [also like] to be a politician when I’m an adult”. While it’s exciting to know what would come next for him, there is no need to rush success, especially of a 14-year-old’s. Whatever he wishes to be one day— a baseball player, a lawyer, a successful politician, a respectable actor, a talented theater performer, or his own version of a great “showman”— the world is definitely waiting to witness him fulfill more than a million dreams, however big, or however small they may be.