'Goldbergs' co-star splits time between Park Ridge, Hollywood
Sean Giambrone is a 15-year-old suburban kid with a double life.
For half of his year, he's a normal Maine South High School sophomore, playing soccer and video games with his friends in Park Ridge.
The rest of the time, he's a Hollywood star.
Giambrone co-stars on the hit ABC series "The Goldbergs" as Adam, the geeky, camera-toting youngest son of Jeff Garlin and Wendi McLendon-Covey. Giambrone lives in Los Angeles when they're shooting the show and spends his days acting, mingling with celebrities (he recently tweeted a photo of himself with Charlie Sheen), studying the Maine South curriculum with an on-set tutor and playing on the beach in his free time.
"It's a best-of-both-worlds sort of scenario," Giambrone said while home for the holidays last week. "I love Chicago and I still think it's the best city there is. Most of my family and all of my friends are here. The weather out (in Los Angeles) is great, but I have my life out here, too. It's pretty cool to be able to have both."
When asked if fame has changed him, Giambrone is stumped. He moves his phone aside and asks his brother Luke. After a short consultation, neither can come up with any way Giambrone has changed since his career took off.
"I feel like a normal kid, still," he said. "I just get recognized in public now. People usually just want a picture. They'll say, 'Great job, love the show,' and are super sweet about it, which is great."
Giambrone was an instant hit when, at age 9, he started auditioning for commercials. With a big head of hair, large glasses, a high-pitched perky voice and a sweet smile, he was immediately cast in ads for McDonald's and Friendly's restaurants, as well as a national commercial for Sea World -- one parodied on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" after Osama bin Laden's burial at sea.
"I was like, hey, this (commercial work) is pretty fun. And I just kept movin' on," he said.
The Cartoon Network hired him to voice the character of Jeff on the show "Clarence." While in Los Angeles recording that, Giambrone was asked to audition for "The Goldbergs." He auditioned on a Wednesday, got the job on Friday and reported to work Monday to shoot the pilot.
"It happened so fast. Isn't that crazy?" he said. "I was so blessed to work with all these great people."
He admits it was a difficult transition, to suddenly leave his home and friends in the suburbs for half the year. But his family -- including his older brother and grandmother -- joined him in Los Angeles and he quickly made new friends. They all move with him, dividing their time between Chicago and Los Angeles.
When he's done filming season two of "The Goldbergs" in February or March, Giambrone plans to finish the school year at Maine South.
"The Goldbergs" is set in the 1980s, so Giambrone studied up on the era by playing Super Nintendo video games and watching old John Hughes movies like "Sixteen Candles," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "The Breakfast Club," as well as others like "License to Drive."
"The '80s were wild. The hair, the clothes ..." he said.
Giambrone's not the only one in the "Goldbergs" cast with suburban roots. Garlin grew up in Morton Grove. As a treat for the cast and crew, Garlin brought in Vienna Beef hot dogs ("with no ketchup!") and deep-dish Lou Malnati's pizza.
"Everyone loved it," Giambrone said. "They didn't think the pizza looked pretty, but they ate it."
Looking forward, Giambrone plans to continue acting in movies, working with the Ronald McDonald House charity (his aunt works there, so he's been involved his entire life) and keep cheering for his favorite team, the University of Michigan Wolverines.
In the movie "Russell Madness," which opens in February, he'll be the voice of the lead character -- a dog that can wrestle.
"I love my job," Giambrone said.
• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of anyone who would make an interesting feature, email them at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.