Taylor Paige Henderson puts a spell on Hollywood

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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) — She’s only 15, but when she talks about her job, actress Taylor Paige Henderson sounds like a seasoned pro ready to cast a spell over the industry.

“Hard work is better than talent,” she says very simply. “Let’s say you’ve just done a job and a producer from another project contacts the director of the project you just worked on to ask about your work ethic. If the director responds, “Oh, she’s got talent, but her focus isn’t great,” then they’ll move on.

Henderson has starred in stage productions for the Actor’s Equity Association, the first-ever computer-generated animated film from acclaimed animation studio Studio Ghibli, and most recently, the upcoming sequel to Disney’s cult classic Hocus Pocus.

She has the confidence of a seasoned performer, but the energy and youthfulness of a child. She sits classy, ​​her straight hair perfectly combed, wearing a red and white turtleneck sweater. She is sometimes shy, but talks about her goals with great confidence. Henderson will not be the child the director leaves behind. She is from Amarillo, Texas and starred in her first production at the Amarillo Little Theater when she was just seven years old. Even then, she was a star.

Before long, she was performing in professional theater productions of Fun Home and Matilda in San Antonio. She later headlined her first film, Earwig and the Witch, for Studio Ghibli, before getting the opportunity of a lifetime to star in Disney’s upcoming Hocus Pocus 2 as young Winnifred. Sanderson, a character created by Bette Midler in 1993. Her dreams are so much bigger than her roots, and she knew that from a young age.

“There was definitely a time,” says her mother Melissa Henderson. “She was around nine years old and was doing community theater and she naturally knew she wanted to do more. We realized pretty quickly that her journey might seem a little different than everyone else’s.

His first mentor, Jason Crespin, directed his very first shows at the Amarillo Little Theater. Even before she knew the “hard work beats talent” mantra, he remembers her exemplifying it. From the first day, she cast her spell.

“She was just a determined kid,” Crespin said. “You could always see that she was thinking. Other kids might be playing, but she was thinking for herself about things like certain emotions and characteristics of her scenes. She was always asking very intelligent questions as well, which made me surprised, for a child of his age.

Henderson’s path to success hasn’t come without its fair share of obstacles, however. She was set to make her off-Broadway debut in a 2020 production of Bedwetter before the COVID-19 crisis hit, dealing a massive blow to the entire theater industry. Broadway theaters finally reopened in the summer of 2021, but many smaller theaters weren’t so lucky. Henderson, on the verge of a career breakthrough, was forced to retreat.

“The day I left New York was the day I was supposed to start rehearsals,” Henderson said. Like millions of others, she was only planning a two-week shutdown. But as the virus dragged on, she began sending remote auditions, called “self-cassettes.” Henderson says she’s sent over 250 self-tapes over time, with her only audience being a camera.

“Every audition I had, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to book this one,’ and then I didn’t,” she said. “When you submit an audition and you don’t get it, you don’t hear anything. They don’t email you. No, you have to wait months and months and then an article on Deadline comes out and you see who got it. It was hard.

Still, Henderson didn’t want to be the kid to leave. Of the millions of young actors who dream of a career in showbiz, Henderson is as determined as any of them to do so. His dream was more than a dream, it was a goal. But no goal comes easily, and a pandemic hitting in the middle of such a developmental stage is an unprecedented hurdle.

The process also involved the rest of the family. You need technical expertise to make a self-cassette look good, and Henderson didn’t have that. So it fell on his mother, Melissa.

“It’s a lot of work for her, but it’s a lot of work for me, because someone has to edit them,” Melissa said. “It takes a long time and she’s just not good at it. There were definitely times when I looked at it and said, “That’s not worth it at all.”

Through it all, however, young Henderson — and her parents — stuck with it. After all, hard work is better than talent. Eventually, after hundreds of submissions without a word in return, in December 2020, she was cast in the lead role in Studio Ghibli’s first venture into the world of computer-generated animation: Earwig and the Witch. After focusing on Broadway for so long, moving to the movies was a change of priorities, but a welcome one nonetheless.

And that change might have been a blessing in disguise, as his success in Earwig led to Hocus Pocus 2. The film is available to stream now on Disney+, releasing nearly 30 years after its predecessor was released. For fans, it’s a long-awaited return to the spooky world of the Sanderson sisters. For Henderson, this could just be his ticket to glory.

However, portraying the iconic Winnifred Sanderson is no easy task. In the original 1993 film, Bette Midler’s Winnie is a driving force throughout the film, receiving the most screen time and creating what would become a cult classic. Henderson knew the gravity of the role from his meeting with Midler.

“I got to watch her do her character work, she calls them ‘Winnie-isms,’ so I call them too, naturally,” Henderson says. Her eyes widen in delight as she recalls the first time she saw the Hollywood legend at work. “As soon as she showed up in front of the camera in her costume, it was like that. She was Winnie. It was crazy.

Henderson will join Zendaya, Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus in the club of teens who found their big breaks at Disney. Whether or not she will reach their level of stardom remains to be seen, but with the professionalism of a seasoned actress, an iconic character in a hot new movie, and the adorable enthusiasm of any 15-year-old girl, she may have the recipe. perfect to bewitch the whole industry.

“There will always be someone who will be better than me. I know it,” she said. She has a confident smirk that quickly turns into a focused determination. “So I’m still training, because…that person who’s better than me?” Soon, I don’t want them to be. I want to be better than them.”

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