Sunday, November 8, 2009

Where are they now? Melissa Gilbert

You will remember her in red gingham and braided pigtails, running through the prairie grass near Walnut Grove as Laura Ingalls in much-loved children's classic serial of the '70s Little House on the Prairie.

It doesn't seem possible that Melissa Gilbert, 45, the Half Pint of our childhood memories, should be a 40-something mom to a teenager and grown adults.

Gilbert, who lives in California with husband Bruce Boxleitner, has decided to embrace a new challenge: embodying the role of Ma as "Little House on the Prairie, the Musical" tours the US this autumn.
Gilbert took a few minutes from her busy schedule to chat with a local newspaper and give advice to parents of young actors:

Q: What drew you to do the "Little House on the Prairie" touring show?
Gilbert: It was a combination of the book and the music, so compelling. This was a chance for me at the age of 42, 43 to really challenge myself (to do something) I'd never done before, but in familiar territory. There's singing, there's dancing.

Q: How does the stage production of "Little House" compare to your TV show and the original book by Laura Ingalls Wilder?
Gilbert: We stick a lot closer to the books in the theater production. With 10 years on TV, we had to go with the dramatic license. We had to create characters that didn't exist in Laura Ingalls Wilder's world.
The musical sticks very closely to the books.

Q: How have you made your interpretation of Ma different from Karen Grassle's on TV? Was it difficult to recreate the character?
Gilbert: It definitely has a memory of her music as Ma, but I approached it as I would any role. I didn't go out to get something different; I tried to create my own version. Oh, and I'm not blond. Ma is not going to be blond.

Q: From your perspective as a mother and former child actress, what advice would you give to moms of would-be actors and actresses?
Gilbert: Let them remain in school. Do acting in community theater and regional theater until they are ready to go off on their own in the world. My son is in this show with me, but he is in the show "with me." I know all the pitfalls all too well.
As soon as a child star starts earning more money than anyone else in the family, the dynamic changes, no matter how functional the family is.
Regional theater is fine. Let them go to school and then later, when they are ready, go out on their own.

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