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IML interveiw * I got this from Aja thanks again!* sorry about the unicode. I tried to fix it, but in some places, u can still see it, sorry

Ever since Holes, Khleo Thomas has been one busy guy. The fifteen-year-old actor plays the best buddy and wrestling teammate of a blind teen in the Disney Channel movie Going to the Mat, and he'll be back on the big screen as The Rock's nephew Pete in Walking Tall. Balancing Hollywood with schoolwork, family, and friends is no problem for this talented teen, and he told IML why!

IML: Had you ever wrestled before shooting Going to the Mat?

Khleo: No, but we had a good coach and he put everything together for us. He made us go through the steps of each move that we needed to do. We had training before the movie and during the movie. I noticed that I picked it up really fast. It was a fun experience, but full of surprises, too.

IML: Like what?

Khleo: When I first heard it was a wrestling movie, I knew that I had to wear those tights, but when I first saw them I was like, Oh my God! because I look so skinny in them. Each day I had to walk out in front of a crowd with them on. After a while, I kind of got used to it and laughed about it a lot.

IML: Did you identify with your character, Fly? How are you alike?

Khleo: There are definitely some similarities but the difference is I'm not a nerd. Fly's kind of a nerd, and nervous around people, I'm not. I try to be as cool with people as I can. That's kind of why the school is against him. But he's a musical guy, and music is something we both share.

IML: There's a scene where the jocks invite Andy's character Jace to go with them, leaving Fly behind. Did you ever have that happen to you?

Khleo: Yeah, when I was elementary school one time. It was about music. There was a music group out that I liked and no one else liked them, so it got lonely after a while.

IML: You have two brothers and a sister, right?

Khleo: Yeah. I'm the oldest!

IML: Are any of them interested in being in show business?

Khleo: Actually, the brother right after me, he's the athletic one. I thought I was athletic until I saw him. His name is Khadeem. When it comes to football, basketball, track, he's got it all. Khameel, the four-year-old, is into music and computers. We have a digital piano in our living room and he knows how to set it up and he can do anything on the computer, watch DVDs, go on the Internet, play videogames. My little sister Khaleea was just born five months ago, so we're trying to figure out what she is. We all have the ËœKha" thing in our names. it's hard for my dad sometimes!

IML: Do you and your siblings get along

Khleo: Yeah, we do a lot of fun stuff together. it's all fun and games for us. We hang out all the time. We have family reunions with both sides of my family.

IML: Is it a big family?

Khleo: Yes, especially on my mama's side. She's from Morocco and has a lot of aunties and cousins she hasn't met yet. She came here when she was my age.

IML: What have you learned about her culture?

Khleo: My mom's culture is amazing. She tells me everything about it. Their math over there is so easy and it helps with math here, with multiplying for instance.

IML: You were born in Alaska, right?

Khleo: Yes, I was born in Anchorage, Alaska because my dad was in the military. I lived there for like a month, that's it. Only Khameel and Khaleea were born in the U.S.. Khadeem was born in Germany. I was about four when we came to the States.

IML: What was it like working with The Rock on Walking Tall? Were you nervous to meet him for the first time?

Khleo: I've been a fan of The Rock ever since he first came to wrestling. Every time I went to school I talked about The Rock. So when I finally got to meet him I couldn't believe it! When he walked through the door I went bug-eyed! I'm standing next to The Rock, man!He's huge. He's very nice, though. Everyone thinks he walks around with steam coming out of his head. No. He's a real nice guy. But all that wrestling stuff he does he could do easily with me. It was fun doing scenes with him. We would joke around on the set. One time, he was supposed to throw me a blanket ‘cause I was sleeping outside, but he threw a teddy bear to me. It was pretty funny.

IML: Do you generally keep in touch with people you work with?

Khleo: Yeah, always. I’ve called Andy (from Going to the Mat) a bunch of times now. I talk to Shia LaBeouf. We hooked up on the set of the movie he’s doing now, Constantine, with Keanu Reeves.

IML: Of everything you’ve done so far, what’s your favorite?

Khleo: I’d have to say Holes because of the experience I had. It was my first major motion picture and I got to work with the best people in the business: Jon Voight, Sigourney Weaver, Tm Blake Nelson, Patricia Arquette. And Eartha Kitt, who played my great-great-great grandma. It was a dream come true to be on set and work with these people every day.

IML: Who would you want to work with if you had your choice?

Khleo: I’ve been wanting to work with Adam Sandler for a while, and Bruce Willis too. And Halle Berry!

IML: When did you know you wanted to be an actor?

Khleo: At a very young age, I was in Germany watching TV and I told my mom I wanted to be an actor. She said, ”Go for it.” When my dad retired from the military we moved to Los Angeles and it all kicked off.

IML: Do you think you missed out on anything by starting out so young?

Khleo: There’s nothing I missed out on. I do everything a normal kid does. My parents keep me grounded. I still play sports. I still go to a rec center every day.

IML: What do you play there?

Khleo: Basketball!

IML: What else do you like to do in your free time?

Khleo: Work on music. Hang with my friends.

IML: Since you’re home schooled, when do you see them?

Khleo: Every weekday, after they do their homework, we chill. If we want to we go to the mall and see a movie.

IML: What do you think is the most important quality in a friend?

Khleo: Basically, people who’d be on my back. Three of my friends, the closest ones, I’ve known them forever. I grew up with and played on the same basketball and football teams with them. They always stick by me.

IML:Do you have a girlfriend?

Khleo: No, I’m actually single right now. I am looking!

IML: And what do you look for?

Khleo: Personality, a great smile, funny, and very smart.

IML: What turns you off?

Khleo: A girl with a phony laugh!

IML: What would people be surprised to know about you?

Khleo: I can’t stop biting my nails. It’s a bad habit of mine. I like anything to do with math and numbers. I know a lot of people don’t like geometry, but for me it’s fun.

IML: Do you plan to go to college?

Khleo: Yeah, that’s my plan. I want to go to college and get my degree. I want to major in acting or biology. I also want to play basketball.

IML: Do you think you can make the team? You’re not exactly Shaq-sized.

Khleo: I know, but size doesn’t matter. If you can shoot and dribble and run fast, you can get on the squad. I’ve got some more to grow. I have big hands and feet. I wear a size 10 1/2 now!

IML: Who are your role models?

Khleo: My parents. My mom and dad have been together since they were in ninth grade. They had to deal with racial issues along the way and to this day they’ve been together. They taught me that no matter what people say, you have to be yourself. And if stuff isn’t going a good way, it could turn out good the next time.

IML: Which entertainers do you admire?

Khleo: Will Smith, because he doesn’t cuss in his rap. He’s an artist who does everything, from TV to movies to rap.

IML: You’re working on a music career too, aren’t you?

Khleo: Yes. I’m so into music. I love reggae, rap, rock. I love all kinds of alternative. My own style is hip-rap. I’ve been in the studio and I have six tracks down.

IML: Do you play any instruments?

Khleo: On the set of Holes, Shia taught me some of the strings on the guitar.

IML: What advice do you have for other kids who want to sing or act?

Khleo: It’s hard at first, but don’t give up. You may go out on something you think is right for you and you might not get it. The first time it happened to me I wanted to stop acting. It was a TV show, Wanda at Large, and it didn’t come through. I felt I was perfect for it. You can go two months or a year without booking something. It’s a challenge. There are so many actors and actresses out there who want to make it. My mom said, “You don’t have to stop. Don’t give up, this is just one.”

IML: Do you work with any charities or do volunteer work?

Khleo: I’m planning to get with the Starlight Foundation. I’ll be playing in Frankie Muniz’s charity basketball game this year.

IML: Good luck in everything, Khleo, and thanks for talking to us!

Khleo: Thanks to you too!



Going to the Mat



Bottom line: A fine acting team marks a blind student's emotionally satisfying journey of self-acceptance.
8-10 p.m.
Friday, March 19
Disney Channel

Armed with tons of bravado, a blind student tries to win friends and "blend" in at his new school, but his New York chutzpah isn't cutting it -- at least not until he wins a spot on the wrestling team. This new Disney Channel telefilm is an emotionally satisfying and entertaining teen drama, with a minimum of self-pity expressed by the lead character.

Although somewhat formulaic and set in an "alternate universe" where everyone is fundamentally decent, "Going to the Mat" has charm and conflict aplenty, with a strong headlock on decent acting, direction and pacing. The visual, competitive elements of wrestling add to the fine dramatic line of the telefilm.

The engaging Andrew Lawrence ("Oliver Beene") stars as Big Apple transplant Jace Newfield, an accomplished young musician who faces life at a Utah high school campus where sports are king. Jace, smart and potentially likable when he's not being a defensive jerk, refuses to become an object of pity, compensating instead by running his mouth at targets including the campus jocks. Not a swift move, but Jace has a temper and an understandable chip on his shoulder.

The opening sequence in New York doesn't really point out Jace's problems with accepting himself and his blindness. He's got a lot of friends there, and his musical ability makes him popular. When his family moves to Utah (the telefilm was shot in Salt Lake City), his uncertainty leads him to show off during the first day of music class. This draws the disapproval of blind teacher Mason Wyatt (a solid turn by likable, convincing Wayne Brady).

Mason later becomes Jace's mentor in terms of self-acceptance in a positive, nongushy way. It should come as no surprise that Jace's determination and hard work win over his wrestling coach (the fine D.B. Sweeney, "Brother Bear") and other teammates. The teenager is backed by extraordinarily supportive parents (Brenda Strong and Brian Wimmer), who make the folks in "Father Knows Best" seem dysfunctional.

Along the way, Jace becomes friends with fellow student Mary Beth Rice (Alessandra Toreson, "ER"), the coach's daughter, and with Vince Shu (Khleo Thomas, "Holes"), nicknamed "Fly" in the film. Toreson's character treats Jace with sympathy and a refreshing lack of pity, and Shu effectively makes the transition from discomfort to acceptance of his new blind friend.

Press notes report that actor Lawrence learned the elements of wrestling for the role and that adds to the authentic sports-action appeal. It's a relief from the inevitable self-pity that the character must express.

Here's one movie that goes for the noble impulse and celebrates grit and hard work, serving as an inspirational model. And that's not a bad thing.

Disney Channel
Chanticleer Films for Disney Channel
Executive producer: Jana Sue Memel
Director: Stuart Gillard
Producer: Don Schain
Teleplay: Chris Nolan, Laurie Nolan, Steve Bloom, Stu Krieger
Story: Chris Nolan, Laurie Nolan
Production designer: Alfred Sole
Director of photography: Thomas Burstyn
Editor: James R. Symons
Music: Chris Brady
Jace Newfield: Andrew Lawrence
Vince "Fly" Shu: Khleo Thomas
Mary Beth Rice: Alessandra Toreson
Mason Wyatt: Wayne Brady
Coach Rice: D.B. Sweeney
John Lambrix: Billy Aaron Brown
Patty Newfield: Brenda Strong
Tom Newfield: Brian Wimmer