I Babysat the 'Moonrise Kingdom' Kid

Hovering adults, bug repellent, canoeing lessons: For Jared Gilman, starring in Wes Anderson's acclaimed new film about summer camp was kind of like, well, being at summer camp.

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Focus Features

Thursday, June 14, Maplewood, New Jersey. Tomorrow, Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson's tale of star-crossed, runaway love, will begin its run, but tonight dozens are gathered outside the Maplewood Movie Theater with cell-phone cameras ready for the arrival of the film's star, 14-year old Jared Gilman, for a special screening. Jared grew up in Maplewood's sister town of South Orange, and his mother is a close friend of the theater's manager, Susan Rinaldi.

Zach Braff, Frank Langella, Kevin Spacey (who moved away when he was Jared's age), Anne Hathaway, and Kirsten Dunst, to name just a few, grew up in the area, and Andre Braugher, Christine Ebersole, James Rebhorn, and Tony-winner Norbert Leo Butz live within a short distance. But, as Rinaldi puts it, "This is different. This is the first time I've seen anyone on the screen who calls me Aunt Susan."

The Jared I knew had thick curly dark hair and wore goggle-like glasses—the same ones that helped catch Wes Anderson's attention.

I know how she feels. A few years ago, I was Jared's babysitter. He talked me into watching Be Kind, Rewind with Jack Black as a video store clerk; Jared was right, it was good. He loved Ripley's Believe It or Not and provided commentary on each episode. The Jared I knew had thick curly dark hair and wore goggle-like glasses that wrapped around his head. I was amused to hear he wore similar glasses when he auditioned for Wes Anderson and that they helped catch the director's attention.

Moonrise Kingdom is the story of two preteens, played by Jared and 13-year-old Kara Hayward, who live in a remote New England coastal town. They fall in love and run away to be together. Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, and Jason Schwartzman play the police, parents, guardians, and "Khaki Scouts" who search for them. However the film does at the box office ($7.5 million so far), it's already a critical hit. Here at The Atlantic, reviewer Chris Orr called it "touching, bittersweet, and very, very funny."

The crowd for the Maplewood premiere includes excited moviegoers and curious locals, as well as some of Jared's friends and classmates from his school, Newark Academy. There are seven more of the young stars of Moonrise Kingdom, including five-year-old Wyatt Ralf, who is also a resident of Maplewood. With the young actors came their mothers, who played a significant part in the production.

"The Moms," as they were called on the Rhode Island set, were required by regulations regarding minors to be on set everyday and stay within sight of their child at all times. They made sure each of the 13 young actors had sunscreen, bug repellant, and water. That meant things occasionally got hectic. One mom tells me, "You have 13 parents there all the time with a lot on their minds, like 'Is my kid going to be safe?'" Another smiles and says, "It's easier when there's just one kid and one mom on set."

Bug repellant was a big issue. The location reportedly had Rhode Island's highest concentration of mosquitoes and ticks, which was a little scary given the proliferation of Lyme Disease. The set and production designer took precautions, lining the woodland paths with green tarp to protect the actors from ticks and poison ivy. Despite those efforts, Kara Hayward's tights ended up getting exposed to poison ivy, which plagued her for a week.

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Margaret Barra is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared in Salon, American Heritage, and True West Magazine.

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