Disney Channel, Disney+ movie “Christmas Again” casts two young actors from Elmhurst – Chicago Tribune

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Starring in a new Disney Channel Original Movie are two young actors from Elmhurst — and for one of them, it’s his first ever role on the big screen.
“Louis is supposed to be annoying, but he’s actually just trying to have fun,” said 7-year-old James McCracken on the character he portrays.
“Christmas Again” released Dec. 3 and available on streaming platform Disney+, tells the story of a blended family’s struggles navigating the first holiday spent together where a wish leaves the main character Rowena, played by Scarlett Estevez, reliving Christmas Day over and over again.
With no prior acting experience of any kind, James, a second-grader at Fischer Elementary school, plays Rowena’s stepbrother.
“It was kind of a crazy experience, James showed interest in acting honestly maybe two weeks before he auditioned for it,” his father, Michael McCracken, said. McCracken runs Vagabond School of the Arts in Ravenswood, Chicago, and has coached several kids looking to book the Disney Channel movie.
“They just hadn’t found the right kid yet, and James saw someone else do an audition and wanted to try it, so we let him and we were very surprised at how quickly he memorized and how natural he was to read,” McCracken explained.
Realizing their then 6-year-old might be onto something, McCracken and his wife, Becca McCracken, signed James up with an acting agency. About two weeks later, Disney Channel’s casting department reached out asking if James was interested in reading the role.
“We got an email maybe a couple days later saying they wanted to see James again. We were like “what, no way! You got a call back, that’s a big win. That’s a win right there,’” McCracken said. “We told James the chance of him booking this is very small and that it’s not his job, but a first audition is exciting.”
Within days, James went from his first audition to booking a role on Disney. And he isn’t the only Elmhurst kid in the movie credits.
Kenny Rasmussen, 11, landed a secondary role as Wyatt, a young sweet boy who is out with his sister, collecting money for a charity in honor of his mother that passed away.
“We’ll see what will end up on the cutting room floor I guess!” Megan Rasmussen said of her son’s screen time. “It’s not a main character but it’s a loop movie, so you see him quite a bit. I’m anticipating it to be like the Ned Ryerson of Groundhog Day.”
Rasmussen added that her son was thrilled to land a Disney audition since leading up to it he had only been on adult-type shows.
Kenny’s budding acting career includes recurring roles on Showtime’s “Work in Progress” and Chicago Med, and a stint in an upcoming sci-fi series on Amazon with JK Simmons and Sissy Spacek. One of his “main acting goals” however, is to do voice-over work. “I would really like to be a character in the Simpsons, at least a one episode role or a recurring character,” he said, citing some voice-over inspirations like Nancy Cartwright, Kevin Hart and Hank Azaria.
According to Rasmussen, Kenny’s school schedule and audition lineup doesn’t always blend together seamlessly, but his approach makes it less daunting. “He doesn’t take it too seriously which I think makes a big difference to casting, his life doesn’t depend on it. It’s just one more fun thing he gets to do,” she added.
Kenny was only on set for four days during “Christmas Again” filming between Nov. and Dec. 2020, but when he was, McCracken had two of his boys shooting a high profile project at the same time. Kenny’s acting coach is in fact McCracken, which just happened to be circumstantial, he said.
“To me, as a coach and a teacher, to have two kids from the same city in a Disney movie — it was an honor for myself to watch them work and have both of them here. Its funny Disney didn’t know any of that. I still don’t know if anybody knows,” McCracken said, who also acts in several of the TV shows filmed in Chicago as well as commercials. “What are the odds. I’ve seen the industry from lots of different sides of the table. I know the chance of you booking something is generally very, very small.”
When Kenny was on set with James, he often busted out big brotherly advice like, “we have to pretend color” or “we can’t talk,” things like that, said Rasmussen.
“I had a lot of favorite parts, but one of them was me shooting a bow and arrow at Scarlett,” James laughed. His dad chimed in that along with learning how to shoot an arrow, James learned how to catch a baseball in one day outside of his trailer.
“If something comes of this, we’ll ride that wave. We’re going to be gently pushing it, see if there’s other opportunities out there,” McCracken said. “But if this is his one thing and it’s one and done, what a thing — it’ll be a new family Christmas tradition and we’ll be watching this movie and I’ll get to see my six-year-old kid forever in a Disney movie. That’s our big win.”
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