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Kaitlyn Dever getting notice for 'Short Term 12'

Posted 8:40am on Sunday, Sep. 01, 2013

The sweet irony was never lost on Kaitlyn Dever while filming Short Term 12, a gem of an independent feature that opens in theaters Friday.

If the 16-year-old North Texan didn’t have such supportive parents, she wouldn’t have been in the position to play the showcase role of a sullen, sarcastic teen with a deeply dysfunctional family life.

“I thought about it every day,” Dever says. “My character, Jayden, has so many bad things going on. Her dad abuses her, her mom is not in the picture, she cuts herself and she has to go live in this foster-care facility that she doesn’t want to be at. She’s dealing with a lot things.

“And here I am, blessed with two amazing parents. They moved from Texas to L.A. just so I could pursue my dream. They didn’t have to. I’m very, very lucky.”

Dever is also very, very gifted.

The actress, who also plays Tim Allen’s youngest daughter in the ABC sitcom Last Man Standing, seems to be able to handle any acting challenge that’s thrown at her, comedic or dramatic.

The year before landing the role of Eve on Last Man Standing, which begins its third season Sept. 20, she played a pot-growing orphan on Justified. Her range and natural delivery is why Dever hasn’t lacked for work since moving from The Colony to Los Angeles six years ago.

“I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than what I’m doing right now,” she says. “I just love acting so much.”

Hard audition

Short Term 12, a Grand Jury Award and Audience Award winner at South by Southwest 2013, is told from the perspective of Grace (Brie Larson), a supervisor at a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers.

Grace is good at what she does, but she still carries physical and emotional wounds from her own difficult past. After Jayden’s arrival, the two bond and help one another heal their scarred psyches.

Dever says her audition for Short Term 12 was the hardest of her still-brief career.

Her three audition scenes were the most volatile ones she would do in the movie. Yet any pressure she felt was self-imposed.

“I was desperate to play this part, because I love digging in deep to research and find out about a character,” Dever says. “Jayden has such depth to her, and I love tackling her emotions. I love being able to go all-out and putting my heart and soul into it.”

Suffice it to say that she stuck the landing. “It was one of my most standout auditions,” she says. “Right after I did my big freakout scene, I felt so empowered and accomplished.”

“She was one of the few girls who came in and just read the scene so naturally — actually underplayed, but real,” writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton says. “She’s one of the most talented actors I’ve ever worked with.”

Shattering glass

That’s especially high praise, given that she was 15 at the time.

As a performer, Dever already has the innate ability to tap into complex emotions at a moment’s notice. “We’d do a take and I’d yell, ‘Cut!’ and she would turn back into her normal 15-year-old goofball self,” Cretton says. “Then she could just drop back in as soon as I’d say, ‘Action.’”

Adds Larson: “She can fully commit to a character, really understanding who this person is, but then, when the cameras are off, she is herself, cracking jokes, running around. She’s a remarkable actress and I learned so much from her.”

Dever says her only disappointment from this filmmaking experience was when a stand-in took over in the scene in which her character hoists a baseball bat and smashes a car’s windows.

“I was dying to do that myself,” she says. “But they were like, ‘You’re still a minor, Kaitlyn, so we can’t have you breaking glass.’ I was like, ‘But why?’ I was so bummed.”

Dever hopes viewers go to the trouble to seek out Short Term 12, which will play at the Angelika in Dallas starting Friday.

“Everyone who sees the film, it’s definitely affecting them in a powerful way,” she says. “When I watched the final product for the first time, I thought it was going to make me all sad and depressed.

“But there were so many funny and beautiful moments, I was like, ‘My God, this is so great.’ It can make people laugh and it can make people cry. I think it teaches people something about themselves.

“I couldn’t be prouder of this movie.”

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