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posted: 1/31/2017 5:30 AM

Lake Zurich teen 'Growing Up' in front of the camera

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  • Video: "Growing Up Smith" trailer

  • Roni Akurati of Lake Zurich and Hoffman Estates goes John Travolta in the 1979-set family comedy "Growing Up Smith."

    Roni Akurati of Lake Zurich and Hoffman Estates goes John Travolta in the 1979-set family comedy "Growing Up Smith."

  • Smith (suburban native Roni Akurati), foreground, copes with the culture clash between Americans and his India-born parents (Poorna Jagannathan and Anjul Nigam) in "Growing Up Smith."

    Smith (suburban native Roni Akurati), foreground, copes with the culture clash between Americans and his India-born parents (Poorna Jagannathan and Anjul Nigam) in "Growing Up Smith."

 

You won't have to look hard to spot Lake Zurich's Roni Akurati in the new family comedy "Growing Up Smith," opening this weekend at the AMC South Barrington 30 theaters.

Akurati plays the main character, 10-year-old Smith Bhatnagar, an Americanized boy in the 1970s at odds with his conservative Indian parents, who have already selected his future job (neurosurgeon) and bride. His father (screenwriter Anjul Nigam) gives him the all-American name "Smith," not realizing it's a popular last name, not first.

"Just getting into the feel of 1979 was the toughest part of making the movie," Akurati, now 14, said. "The only thing I knew about the late 1970s was that 'Star Wars' was huge."

Akurati made the movie in 2014 at 12. Older filmmakers guided him on the finer points of being a cultural product of the post-"Saturday Night Fever" era.

At such a young age, Akurati has already racked up an impressive performance resume. In 2013, he acted in Chicago's Goodman Theatre production of "The Jungle Book," and went with the show for an additional run at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. In 2011, Akurati played Tiny Tim in a production of "A Christmas Carol."

He has appeared in several TV shows, among them "Palo Alto," "Deadtime Stories" and "Another Period."

Two years ago, Akurati branched out into stand-up comedy. (You can see him in stand-up action at youtube.com/watch?v=IiWr7-YH7qo.) He took standup lessons from instructors who showed him how to construct jokes and work a room.

"I said I would do one (stand-up) program," Akurati said, "I was really nervous. I didn't know how good my stand-up would be. But the audience started laughing at my jokes. That felt really good."

He confessed he gets nervous in front of a live audience. "The scariest thing is messing up when there's a lot of people around," he noted.

Akurati was born in Hoffman Estates and moved to Lake Zurich when he was in kindergarten.

His first brush with showbiz came when his mom suggested he take acting classes at a summer program at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights.

"I thought it was pretty cool," Akurati said. "I loved coming to the theater every single day. I found it to be a fun and interesting thing to do."

Akurati moved to Los Angeles in 2012 to build his acting career. He returns to Lake Zurich occasionally. His older brother Rashith still attends 10th grade at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, and his parents take turns flying back and forth.

The actor said his parents are highly supportive of him and his acting career. He loves comedies, but has yet to live his dream job.

"Being in an action movie would be awesome!" he said.

-- Dann Gire

• Jamie Sotonoff and Dann Gire are interested in suburbanites in showbiz for their column. Know any? Contact them at jsotonoff@dailyherald.com and dgire@dailyherald.com.

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