The wait finally will be over for Bakersfield’s Evan Whitten with the launch of the new FOX series, “NEXT,” at 9 p.m. tonight.
The 11 year old Bakersfield native worked on the series a year ago that was originally scheduled to be a summer series but because of the pandemic, FOX executives opted to hold it for a fall release.
“NEXT” looks at what happens when a tech billionaire (John Slattery) invents a form of artificial intelligence that becomes super smart and threatens mankind. Evan plays Ethan Salazar, a young boy put in danger when the rogue AI invades his life via the smart home assistant known as Iliza.
Although it’s been a year, Evan clearly recalls working on the series.
“I remember the experience of being on set and working with the same people. For four months, you work with the same people and you really get to know them,” Evan says in a phone interview a day before the debut of “NEXT.” “I made very good friends with them.”
Evan spent a lot of time with Fernanda Andrade and Geraldo Celasco who play his parents. Andrade plays a special agent looking into odd events triggered by the AI. The three hung out before and after the filming to help create the kind of chemistry a family would have.
“NEXT” joins the growing list of acting jobs for Evan who discovered a passion for acting while performing with Bakersfield’s Stars Theatre. He went from the local stage to appearing in TV commercials and in television shows such as “The Rookie” and “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels.”
He played Henry Barnett on the second season of the FOX series “The Resident.” That work earned him a Young Artist Academy Award for Best Guest Starring Performance in a TV Series. And, took on the role of young Elliot in season four of “Mr. Robot.”
There was a new acting challenge for Evan with “NEXT.” Because his character creates such a close connection with the electronic home assistant, there were times when he was acting with an inanimate object.
“It is a bit different looking at the device and talking to it,” Evan says. “But, I have kind of gotten used to it because of ‘NEXT.’”
Evan explains the actor providing the voice for Iliza – Olenka Wos Kimball – was just outside the view of the cameras. He was able to carry on the conversation with her.
Working on “NEXT” tested Evan’s acting skills but he prepared for the job as he had for all of the acting roles. He is accustomed to doing prep work because of school but explains that getting ready for an acting job and homework are not quite the same thing.
“Homework is more like you think about the question and you answer and hope it is right when they grade it,” Evan says. “Acting is like you have to stay a bit more focused. There’s really not an answer to it. You just have to do it the best that you can.”
He gets ready for a role by going through the script and learning his lines. While he is reading the script, Evan tries to imagine what it would be like to be in the character’s shoes.
There are times when Evan’s younger brother will read the lines with him. This not only helps Evan but is a chance for him to mentor his brother who also is looking to start an acting career.
One thing Evan will be able to teach his brother is how to go directly from being on a set and acting to a classroom for mandatory studies. There are strict rules regarding how much time young actors can spend working and have to devote to their education.
“I am used to it,” Evan says. “It’s kind of like two modes of me – school and acting. It’s acting, I know none of it’s real. School is real. So I think about how they are different. I just separate the two.”
The first batch of episodes of “NEXT” were wrapped up before productions were shut down in Hollywood because of COVID-19. Evan’s TV show is finally going to be seen but the shutdown of movie theaters has delayed the opening of his feature films “Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon” and “Dino Dana the Movie.”
He’s been dealing with the delays through a virtual return to the classroom and by continuing to audition. Evan has submitted videos of himself in the past as a way of auditioning. But, because of the quarantine, videos and online tryouts have become even more important for Evan.
More information on the young Bakersfield actor can be found through Instagram at evan.whitten.