A young Selbyville actress is starting her career with some of the best. At 9, Jillian Lebling has made her feature film debut in Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies,” released Oct. 16 and starring Tom Hanks.
In the film set in the fearfully uncertain Cold War era, Tom Hanks plays a Brooklyn insurance lawyer asked to defend a Soviet spy in court. Later, he must negotiate the trade for an American pilot.
Lebling plays Peggy Donovan, the youngest child of the characters played by Hanks and Amy Ryan. The historical drama thriller also features Alan Alda and Mark Rylance.
The live-action film is based on a true story from the late 1950s, dramatized in a script by Matt Charman and Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. The eponymous bridge refers to Germany’s Glienicke Bridge, where the 1962 trade took place.
When Lebling got the job, she was stunned. But that’s because she was tricked into thinking it was a regular callback.
“I thought this was all a callback. But it wasn’t,” said Lebling in a YouTube video she posted later. She was just reading lines cold from the cue cards. “It said, ‘I booked it.’ I was like, ‘I booked it? I booked it?’ I was totally in shock.
“I always liked acting, ever since I can remember. I liked putting on shows for my family and other people,” Lebling said.
Lebling said the mother of Quinn McColgan (Millsboro actress and fellow Worcester Preparatory School student) once remarked that Lebling looked like a young Quinn and suggested she consider acting on a professional level.
After a New York acting class, Lebling signed with a talent agent and was soon cast as the daughter in the Broadway musical “Once.”
She was 6 years old and worked for more than a year.
Over the past few months, Lebling was proud to see the New York screenings and Ocean City, Md., showings of “Bridge of Spies.”
“Actually, seeing my face in theaters was pretty awesome,” she said.
Lebling liked her character, too, “because she’s kinda like me, a sweet and playful child. She has a brother, which is like me. It’s just really fun to play her.”
So what’s it like working with people who have the phrase “Academy Award” in their bio?
“It was really cool to work them,” Lebling said, having seen a lot of their work. “They were really nice. I joked around with Amy Ryan and Tom Hanks behind the scenes. … We would always goof around backstage.”
She shot the film in Brooklyn for three weeks in October of 2014, catching the subway near her family’s apartment to the filming location.
Several months later, Spielberg sent her a swanky set of headphones.
Lebling has also appeared in two episodes of NBC’s award-winning “The Blacklist,” cast as a young Elizabeth Keen.
Lebling said she prefers moviemaking, noting, “You have a lot of days to do it, and if you mess up, it doesn’t matter,” Lebling said, “but on Broadway you only get only one chance.”
But she said she doesn’t get nervous often, and she wants to continue in the biz.
“But I would also like to explore other parts of the business, like casting and directing. … I kinda want to figure out the other stuff,” she said.
Someday, she hopes to work with director M. Night Shyamalan.
Right now, her next project is a secret, but Lebling said to keep a look out. Outside of school and acting, Lebling enjoys soccer, fishing, reading and performing card tricks.
Movie buffs can join Lebling for a Q&A at the Clayton Theatre on Sunday, Nov. 1. She’ll attend both showings of “Bridge of Spies,” at 2:30 and 7 p.m.
During Halloween weekend and the following week, “Bridge of Spies” will be shown locally at the Clayton Theatre, as well as the Movies at Midway, Fox Sun & Surf Cinema, Fox Gold Coast Theatre and Regal Salisbury Stadium. The film is rated PG-13.