Dusan Brown played Young Simba in the North American Touring Company Production of the musical The Lion King and voices the character of AJ in Nickelodeon’s Blaze and the Monster Machines.
Just how far are you and your family willing to go to see your child’s dream come true? That’s a tough question, especially if siblings are involved.
When you have a young performer in the business, there’s always a chance you may have to be away for days, weeks or months at a time. The hard choice is making up your mind whether to do it or not. We’re told, as talent, to just go on the audition and see what happens. The chance of getting the job is slim, but there’s always that chance.
Even if you don’t get the part, auditioning is great practice and an experience that most children will remember forever. I’ve even heard that auditioning is great practice to get you ready for job interviews later in life because you’re already used to rejection.
Well, I went off topic but I really wanted to say that last paragraph about practice!
Which brings us to 13 year old Dusan Brown. This guy speaks with such authority and determination, it was hard to remember he’s just 13. Dusan’s career is packed with different acting platforms, from theater to voice overs to television and films such as 42, which starred Harrison Ford. (And yes, Alan Tudyk was also in 42!)
Dusan, tell us about your audition for Young Simba in the North American Touring Company production of the musical The Lion King. Who told you that you got the part? What was your initial reaction?
Well my mom took my brother and me to see The Lion King on Broadway around Thanksgiving 2009 — my brother and I had seen the movie before and loved it! So when we went to see the play, it was so awesome that we were completely inspired. Later that night, or maybe right after the play ended, I told my mom I wanted to do that… to be Young Simba. To our surprise about a few months later, after seeing our YouTube videos, The Lion King casting contacted our Chicago agent and asked us to submit an audition tape – we did, but there weren’t any openings immediately available, so we didn’t hear anything until after we had left Chicago and headed to Los Angeles. We arrived in LA in August 2010 and in November, The Lion King casting contacted our Chicago agent asking if we could come in directly for a work session! Turns out they LOVED our video auditions. Well, the only problem was we were now in LA. Anyhow, of course we didn’t pass up the opportunity, immediately started refreshing ourselves with the audition materials, flew home to Chicago to audition. When the work session finally came, we were more ready than a microwaved dinner. We went in and DESTROYED the audition… it was great! We were asked to come back the next day for Part 2 of the auditions. We went in the next day, did the same thing, learned some choreography and went away feeling very excited, knowing that we had given 110%. About a week later, they sent over the offer contract for me. No one really told me… I actually found out I got the part, by accident, myself. My Mom and Dad were on the phone trying to figure out how they would tell me and my brother that I got the part, without completely upsetting my big brother. Anyhow, my mom was reviewing the contract, and had it hidden under the laptop while she was talking to my dad… in code, as I lingered around. I had a feeling I booked it! I caught a glimpse of the paperwork under the laptop and saw my name, so I started jumping up and down! My brother ran into the room and I said I booked The Lion King and we both started celebrating by jumping around and I’m not sure where the tears came from but both of us started crying happy and sad tears… mixed emotions that I booked and my brother didn’t, because there was only one role… a very bittersweet moment in our house. My reaction was shocked – that was my main reaction.
You play Nickelodeon’s newest character, 8 year-old ‘AJ’ in the highly anticipated first of its kind, animated series, Nickelodeon’s “Blaze and the Monster Machines” airing Mondays at 12p/ 11c. Tell us how voice over roles work.
Voice over is very different from live action in that I don’t have to memorize my lines, but I do like to get very familiar with them so that when I am reading and recording in the booth, the lines just roll off my tongue with ease and I’m able to apply the right inflections and give life to the character as needed, based upon what’s taking place in the scenes. Also I did not read off a board, I just read from the script and the characters were animated overseas and in Burbank at the Nickelodeon Animation Studios. The entire process from when I booked it, to the show actually aired was almost two years. For Blaze I never did any ensemble cast readings, however, the current project I’m working on, which I can’t name at the time, we do ensemble recordings, frequently.
How did you juggle school while being on tour?
I was on The Lion King Broadway Production, North American Touring Company and they have two care takers: one is for the weekend and one is the school teacher during the weekdays. The way it works is that each morning you do your school hours and you report in the evening for your calltime for the performance. Before I booked The Lion King, I was in regular school, but because I would be gone for 6-9 months or more, I was switched to a homeschooling program – we used the K12 program and the teacher worked with us individually, based upon where we were with our various curriculums, since there were two Young Simbas and two Young Nalas, different ages and grades, for the most part.
What do your friends think of you being in show business?
I attend regular school and love sports, so I have and meet new friends, often… in school, in sports… old friends from back in Chicago… kids in the business that often go out for the same roles that I audition for… kids that are in my class at school, etc. As for my schoolmates and friends that I meet that are not in the industry, I never really tell my friends that I’m in the business. They normally just find out, either by seeing me on TV or they’ll hear about it from another schoolmate or maybe from a post on my Instagram or something. But when they do, the majority of them treat me the same way they were treating before they knew I was an actor. There might be a couple of kids here and there that won’t like me because I’m an actor or will treat me, differently, but I don’t really pay them any attention if their reaction is negative, as I’ve learned in life, you’ll always have those that appreciate you for just being you, but there will always be those that don’t like you for just being you, and that’s okay… but that’s their issue, not mine.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned on set?
To always listen and make sure I understand what’s being asked of me and that I’m focused and doing what I’m supposed to be doing, so that I’m not distracted and wasting the production’s time. This lesson was taught to me by my mom… to be professional and attentive at all times. She told me before I went on set, “Listen to the Director and if you don’t understand something or need clarification regarding their notes, communicate by reiterating what they said, making sure I know what they mean. It always helps to clarify that you comprehend, by repeating the line back how you think the Director wants it to be said, if given notes.
You’ve been on several prime time shows such as How I Met Your Mother, Criminal Minds, The Big Bang Theory and Community. What’s it like working on such popular shows? Describe the differences on set between the above mentioned shows.
It’s really a blessing to work on such hit shows. The experience is unforgettable! The way the set are decorated, look so real… I’m always fascinated seeing each set. All the sets were great and because my dad’s in Chicago, still, most times my mom takes me to set, unless my brother has a booking or audition, then one of her Momager friends that she really trusts will take me, but that’s only happened maybe 2-3 times in five years. If my dad’s in town, then he’ll take me to set. But it’s hard to believe that I actually get paid to do what I love so much. The people… the energy… the craft services… they were all great. My agent or attorney negotiates the details of my contract, so if it’s a movie and not on a studio lot, yes, I’ll have a trailer… those things are really cool. The one I had for 42 was super awesome… it was really spacious and had cherry wood on the inside… really soft leather, too and the works… TV, refrigerator, bathroom… it was cool! But if I’m shooting a TV show, I’ll either have a nice trailer if it’s on-location or a dressing room, if it’s on a studio lot. The food is always great on each of the sets… so good that my mom will often take juices if I’m gonna be on set for an extended period of time, like a few weeks at a time, so she doesn’t gain weight and get tempted by all the yummy food. LOL My favorite snack, though, from craft services is Red Vines – I love those things!
Did you ever have braces or a palette expander?
No I’ve never had braces, but look forward to hopefully getting Invisalign at some point in the near future. I really want braces, but my Mom said Invisalign might be better, considering the on-camera work we go out for as actors. I went for a consultation, a while ago, so hopefully it won’t be long. I think braces are pretty cool, though… I like the nerdy look they give you… to me, it’s funny. I even have a pic on my Instagram with braces – it was an app I used. *laughs*
You’re from Chicago. Where do you currently live and who do you live with?
I’m currently living in California with my mom and brother. My dad’s still working back home in Chicago, holding down the fort, affording my brother and I the opportunity to continue pursuing our dreams. He recently put in for a transfer with his job and hopefully he’ll be out here with us, soon. When shooting 42, though, I got to travel to Chattanooga, Macon, Atlanta… and on my off days, my teacher and mom took me to the many of the historical spots like the Harriet Tubman Museum in Macon… I was fascinated by her handwriting and Fredrick Douglass’ handwriting. I learned so much about her by seeing first hand what she wore, her actual pictures and paintings, how she lived. I also went to the famous Ruby Falls in Chattanooga – those are some amazing caves and the light show, was SPECTACULAR. I got to tour The King Center in Atlanta, just a phenomenal, informative place. It was so cool seeing his cuff link collection and just so many of the other details about how he lived and the contribution he made to our country. I also went to the fascinating Museum of Arts & Sciences in Macon, where the historical animals, many of them now extinct, were mechanical, so we got to see how they moved and lived back then. I learned so much, way more than I’d probably learn just from reading a book or being lectured in school.
Do you do any activities outside of show business?
I play sports at my school and sometimes take parkour at a place not too far from my home. I’m a very active person. My parents say I was born that way and always have been, very active. I’ve been on the track team, football team, wrestling team, gymnastics with the famous Jessie White Tumblers back home in Chicago. Oh yeah, I was also ranked #1 in the nation in wrestling just before we came out here to California. I wrestled with the Harvey Twisters Wrestling Club… an amazing program that produces the most Olympic wrestlers than any other club in the U.S. I also used to sing and perform with The Chicago Soul Children back home in Chicago. I like doing a lot of things, outside of acting and performing, and my parents find things to keep me busy, but my favorite is football. I’m also a gamer and I like to write stories.
Tell us about your name “Dusan” and your family history. Do some people incorrectly pronounce your name?
My name means “God is my judge,” and its origin is Swahili. My mom has always been into researching and wanted to have her kids’ names have meaning, and she also knew she wanted my name to start with a D. She came across my name and bestowed it unto me. My name is mispronounced a lot, so much to the point that if someone gets it right the first time, I would think they have telekinesis.
What advice do you have for young performers just starting in the business?
KEEP FOCUSED, ALWAYS EXERCISE AND WORK HARD TO IMPROVE YOUR TALENT, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, REMAIN PRAYERFUL.