Arlington actress Jennifer Stone steps into spotlight in 'Harriet the Spy'

There are times, Jennifer Stone admits, when her life doesn't seem entirely real.

"Like, basically every day," she says. "It still boggles my mind every day when I go to work."

But Stone, a 17-year-old actress from Arlington, isn't dreaming. She really is a co-star on Wizards of Waverly Place, one of Disney Channel's most popular sitcoms.

And she really is playing the title role in Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars, a Disney Channel movie that premieres at 7 p.m. Friday.

"I'm a big fan of Old Hollywood," Stone says. "I think of pictures I've seen of Audrey Hepburn stepping onto a soundstage. And we shoot at the same studio where I Love Lucy was made. Whenever I go onto our soundstage, I often stop and think, 'Oh, my gosh, this is so weird!' Because, in that moment, I'm kind of like one of those actresses from Old Hollywood. I'm actually living that life, and I feel so blessed."

Stone's career is still a work in progress, but it's remarkable how far she has come already.

She first stepped onstage, doing community theater, at age 6. She signed with an agent and started doing commercials and voiceovers by 8. She made her feature film debut at 10 in Secondhand Lions, playing the great-niece of Michael Caine and Robert Duvall. She booked her role on Wizards as Harper Finkle, the flighty best friend to Selena Gomez's Alex Russo, when she was 14.

Now, after years of shuttling back and forth between North Texas and Los Angeles, she lives and works in L.A. full-time.

"Since I was 7, I've always known this is what I want to do for the rest of my life," Stone says. "Sometimes, when things get tough, I step back and I ask: 'Do I really want this? For all the work that I have to do, is it really worth it?' And at the end of the day, I always come to the conclusion that, for me, yes, it is. I just can't exist without acting."

It all started when she saw her older brother play Jem Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird at Theatre Arlington.

"I went to every rehearsal and watched him work," Stone remembers. "That definitely was what triggered my fascination with acting. I was a big attention hog when I was a kid and I thought: 'How great that he can go up onstage and, for that one moment, all the focus is on him. I want to experience that, too.'"

With her knack for comedy, Stone gets plenty of attention-grabbing moments on Wizards of Waverly Place. But as Harriet Welsch in Harriet the Spy, she carries the entire movie.

"I've worked a lot of years, and I've been the supporting role for a long time," she says. "It was a nice change of pace to be the leading lady. Hopefully it will be the beginning of a lot of leading-lady parts."

Stone also savored the added responsibility of being the one who sets the tone every day on the set.

"When you're in so many scenes and you work with the cast and crew so much, if you're in a bad mood, it doesn't really make for a great workday," she says. "So I just had to make a conscious decision to be in a good mood and make everybody's day a little easier."

In Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars, our young hero, an aspiring writer, vies to become the official blogger for her high-school class.

Harriet's initial musings about life turn out to be a big snooze for readers. Then she changes her tack with tabloid-esque, half-truth reporting about a teen heartthrob who happens to be doing a movie for her producer father. Her coverage and her behind-the-scenes meddling are harmless at first. But her high jinks quickly escalate, ruining a big musical production number and jeopardizing the teen star's career.

Stone enjoyed playing the character, and she jokes that, if Harriet promised not to film her secretly on the set and put the video on the Internet, as she does in the movie, she's the kind of girl Stone would want to be friends with.

"Harriet is very confident and completely content with who she is," Stone says. "I love playing women who know who they are."

Stone says she is actually more like Harriet than any character she has ever portrayed, although Stone isn't much of a blogger.

"I don't have the attention span to blog, but I do Twitter, which is like diet-blogging." And she is a bit baffled by Harriet's unique fashion sense. "She's got a lot of red happening, which I enjoyed while we were filming, but afterwards I definitely had to take a break from all that red!"

Although Stone's work keeps her in Los Angeles year-round now, her ties to North Texas remain strong. "Most of my relatives are back there, and my brother is still in college back there, and all my friends from my theater days are back there," she says. "I miss them like crazy, so I try to get back for the holidays to visit. No matter what, I'll be a Texan till I die."