Like many young child actors of the time, actress April Lerman was obsessed with Annie. So when she landed the role of Tessie for the 1st national tour of the show, (and on her 9th birthday, no less), she was thrilled. Eventually, she went on to portray Kate in the 1982 film version, and a legacy of stage and screen was born. We spoke exclusively with April about being in the play and movie versions of Annie, what life was like after Annie, and how being a mom has allowed her to learn to let go of perfection.
How did you become involved in Annie?
I tried out for the Broadway show. It was my first professional audition. The line was around the block! It seemed like thousands of people were there.
I was cast as Tessie in the 1st national tour of Annie. I got the part on my 9th birthday. There was a blizzard in New York, and my Mom was worried that they would change their minds about the script, so she walked in the blizzard to pick it up. We went on tour around the country for 1 ½ years. It was a wonderful experience; it was pretty much a dream come true.
What happened after you finished the tour?
I decided I wanted to go back to school in New York. I was in 5th grade, and then the movie came around. I went to a few auditions, and I remember seeing Aileen there. I thought she was the most adorable thing I’d ever seen! I was cast as Kate in the film.
What was it like filming Annie?
Being at Monmouth University was extraordinary. We filmed the movie backwards, so one of the first scenes we filmed was the finale. I remember the fire-eating guy actually burned himself! Most of all, it felt like a wonderful party. And we got to stay up all night. For a 12-year-old, that’s a pretty cool thing!
What was it like working with the all the other orphans?
It was really, really fun. We were running around all the time, playing, and we got into a lot of trouble! We would run around the studio lot. I remember that I was being really wild one day, and one of the child wranglers said, “You children are untamable!”
[laughs] That’s hilarious! So what happened after the filming ended?
I went on to do some TV shows, like Charles in Charge, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, and Kate & Allie.
I loved Kate & Allie! Wasn’t one of the sisters in Annie, too?
Yes, Allison Smith was the Broadway Annie. And Ari Meyers, who also starred on the show, had been one of my best friends since 2nd grade. It’s such a small world.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews the perils of being a child actor. Let’s talk about that.
When you’re a child actor and everything is going well, it’s awesome. And when it’s not going well, it’s devastating. You are always trying to attain that level of stimulation and fulfillment in every area of your life. You’re always searching for that high again. It’s almost impossible to have a regular job that will give you that. For many child actors, they believed that their value was in their success. And when that success fades — as it does 99.9% of the time — it’s devastating.
How did you deal with stepping away from the limelight?
When I was younger, it was always hard for me to go back to school and live a normal life. I was always seeking that charge. I tried to be the life of the party all the time. In my 20’s, I realized that an acting career might not happen for me. This was hard to deal with, as I had always thought that I would be famous. I had no other reference point. It came very easily to me, and I had no reason to think that it was going to end.
It was a difficult realization. My mom was a stage mom, and so naturally there’s drama surrounding that. The good thing was that my mom made sure that I got good grades, and she always gave me good educational opportunities. I was luckier than some girls because I had something to fall back on. That’s why it wasn’t a huge jump for me to go on to law school.
In speaking with many of the other orphans, it seems that Annie defined their acting career, no matter how many other roles they had before or afterwards. Do you find that to be true for you?
Annie defined my career, for sure. Annie defined my life. I don’t know what my life would have been like without Annie. My memories before Annie were in black and white; after Annie, they are in color.
Do you think you’ll go back into acting?
Oh yeah! Absolutely! I mean, I still have fantasies of getting an Academy Award when I’m taking a jog or listening to a soundtrack. That dream doesn’t die. The good thing is that I know it’s a fantasy and I can enjoy it for what it is.
Let’s talk about what you’re doing today.
Well, after law school, I graduated and passed the bar. I was married and then I had my son, Sean, and became a stay-at-home mom. It was wonderful being home with him. We did Mommy & Me classes, we strolled in the park. I was having a different sort of childhood experience with my son than I had as a child myself.
I went back to school when Sean was 7. I realized that my personality was more suited towards being a therapist than being an adversary on either side of the law. My husband is a D.A., and I saw how stressful it was, and I didn’t want that. So I went back to school and got my Master’s in Childhood Psychology.
And today you work as a therapist.
I work in a community counseling group in Thousand Oaks, California. I work with children and adolescents. I love it. It’s the only thing that could have come close to acting for me. It’s an intense personal experience. I get so much out of it. Your job is to connect with people and have a relationship with them; it’s similar to acting. Someone once said that if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. That’s how I feel.
Let’s talk a bit about your son, Sean.
Sean is 13, and he is incredible on computers! He loves videotaping, and he’s a great video editor. He loves to film things and then edit them. He’ll put special effects in the videos, too. Last year, we went on a road trip, and he filmed himself doing a magic trick — another one of his hobbies — in each location. He edited the video and put music to it. It was incredible.
How do you find a balance between work, family, and time for yourself?
I learned that letting go of perfection is the only way to do it. Sean has his friends in and out of the house all the time. The house is never how I want it to be, and one of his friends knocked a small hole in my wall by accident! But I don’t let it get to me. Otherwise, I’d be a basket case! I’m only in one place at one time. It may seem like I’m doing ten things at once, but really, I’m only doing one thing. In this moment, I’m right here, and it’s a great place to be.