The first time Celesta DeAstis took the stage, the shy, 7-year-old with a stutter morphed into a confident girl who showed no hesitation in reciting her lines. That transformative experience made Celesta decide on the spot that she wanted to become an actor.
"Being onstage is where I felt I belong, as cliché as that sounds," the Addison native, now 18, said of her first performance in a park district production of "Miss Valentine."
Celesta DeAstisAge: 18
School: Addison Trail High School
Who inspires you? My family and my sister, Rossella
What's on your iPod? A lot of country and soundtracks of musicals
What book are you reading? "Marilyn Monroe: The Biography," by Donald Spoto
The three words that best describe you? Optimistic. Bubbly. Warm.
"There is nowhere else I'd rather be. When I'm front and center, I know that's exactly what I should be doing -- and want to do for the rest of my life."
Celesta, who since has stopped stuttering, has been working hard at pursuing her nascent acting career, and already had some initial successes in Hollywood. She appeared as an extra on the Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana" and Nickelodeon's "Big Time Rush," and recently scored her first role as co-star in an episode of "A.N.T. Farm" that aired in October, also on the Disney Channel. All are shows popular with the under-16 crowd.
Her dream role? Someday getting to play screen legend Audrey Hepburn.
Celesta is a senior at Addison Trail High School, where she carries a 3.8 GPA. "School is really important to me," she said. "My parents always taught me that college wasn't optional."
After graduating high school, she will move to California to study film acting at the New York Film Academy of Los Angeles. Her goal is to get a master's degree, she said.
Celesta was involved in community theater until age 10 and then did regional theater through the youth program at Circle Theatre in Oak Park. During auditions in Chicago, she landed a role in the move "Banana Leaves," shown in 2009 at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. She has also appeared in several commercials and promos, including a Coca-Cola ad in 2009 and a promo for the reality TV show "Project Runway."
Celesta already has had a taste of life as an actor in Los Angeles. Twice since she was 13, she and her mother, Maria Roppo DeAstis, moved to Los Angeles from January to July so Celesta could participate in auditions during pilot season. They lived in an apartment while Celesta attended a charter school and worked with her guidance counselor from Addison Trail to make sure she stayed on top of her studies.
"Nothing came out of the first time; I was little bit discouraged," she said. "But in L.A. they say that for every 100 auditions (you attend), you book one. Leonardo DiCaprio was an extra on 'Roseanne' and you see nothing but the side of his face. I watch that every time I become discouraged."
The second time she temporarily moved to Los Angeles at age 15, Celesta got her first roles as an extra. "It was a boost in confidence. I started getting callbacks, casting directors started to remember me," said Celesta, who now has a manager and an agent in L.A.
Celesta is careful to point out that whatever she's done so far is minimal by Hollywood standards. "People so often misinterpret (me) because they think that coming from Hollywood, I'm on a high horse," she said. "I'm just a regular person. I don't want to be considered someone different."
That attitude is typical of Celesta, said Addison Trail guidance counselor Tina Gatses. "She's the most genuine person; nobody would know what she does because she's so humble," Gatses said. "She takes extra care in making sure nobody treats her differently."
Anna Jakubka, director of the theater program at Addison Trail, said Celesta has an indefatigable work ethic. Celesta was cast as the lead in the school's winter play and is now helping direct the spring play. "She is always participating and willing to learn. And she always works very, very hard," Jakubka said.
Celesta's family has made sacrifices to support her dream, but it was just impossible to ignore her daughter's passion and determination, her mother said. She and her husband, Nick, are separated. Celesta has an older sister, Rossella, 24, who is studying law in Michigan.
"It was an investment. It was a sacrifice. Financially, we had to sit down and really talk about it when she was in the eighth grade to see if we really believed in it," Roppo DeAstis said. "We took her college money, and she's made a lot of that money back."
Plus, Roppo DeAstis believes it's her duty to support her children's passions, she said. "The first time she got offstage (at age 7), she told me, 'Mom, this is where I want to be. I was scared, but everyone we met kept telling me that she had talent."
Los Angeles-based acting coach John D'Aquino said Celesta is a willing and talented student.
"Celesta is one of those organically funny kids. She's got a lot of natural gifts that would take a lot of time to teach another kid," said D'Aquino, who's been teaching for about 15 years and studied under the late Charles Nelson Reilly.
Only time can tell whether Celesta will make it big in Hollywood, D'Aquino said.
"In my opinion, Celesta loves this profession. She loves acting and is perfectly suited for it. That's the first part. The second part is that you must risk everything to achieve the prize. I'm talking about intelligent risk, of course. It is difficult but not impossible. You have to do the work. She has the skill set, and we're about to find out if she's got the heart."
Celesta said her role in "A.N.T. Farm" gave her a real boost of confidence, what with having her own dressing room, plus hair and makeup services. But she said she knows perfectly well the road ahead will be long, and likely arduous.
"You have to keep going and keep getting noticed," she said, adding she believes her faith in God will help her through the journey. "If it doesn't work out, I want to teach kids, and I hope that I can inspire them with what I have already done."
• Elena Ferrarin wrote today's column. She and Kimberly Pohl always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.