Madison Pettis will never second-guess her career choice if she keeps new getting acting challenges like the one in Do You Believe?
“When the producers sent me the script with a character who’s 16 years old and who ran away from home and is homeless AND eight months pregnant, I knew I had to do it,” she says. “I thought, ‘Wow, that’s so different from anything I’ve ever done. What a great way to step out of my comfort zone.’”
Pettis, the 16-year-old Arlington native, mostly has portrayed adorable kids and cute teens during the first decade of her career, because that’s precisely what she is: adorably cute.
She is best known for stealing scenes from Duane “The Rock” Johnson in The Game Plan (2007), for starring alongside the Muppets in A Muppets Christmas (2008) and for playing the sassy best friend in TeenNick’s Life With Boys (2012-2014).
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In addition to Do You Believe?, which opens in movie theaters Friday, Pettis also has a recurring role on Disney XD’s Lab Rats and has guest-starred in recent episodes of The Fosters and Parenthood.
Quite frankly, her work ethic at age 16 makes the rest of us look like deadbeats.
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” Pettis says. “But it’s definitely been a busy, busy year.”
Do You Believe? is a faith-based film from the producers and writers of 2014’s God’s Not Dead. The cast includes Mira Sorvino, Sean Astin, Cybill Shepherd, Delroy Lindo and Ted McGinley.
Pettis wore a polyfoam pregnancy belly throughout the production last October in Michigan.
“It was interesting wearing the suit,” she recalls. “It made me take on the physicality of being pregnant. I couldn’t sit down comfortably. I couldn’t bend to tie my shoes. I walked with a bit of a waddle.”
The transformation proved to be so convincing that strangers often stopped her to ask the familiar “how far along are you” question.
There also were a few awkward moments when some young fans visited her on set.
“They were very confused,” Pettis says. “I was like, ‘I’m just letting you guys know: I’m not actually pregnant.’ And when we posed for photos, I was like, ‘Can we take these from the stomach up?’”
The film challenges its characters — and moviegoers as well — to do more than just embrace their Christian beliefs; it urges them to make their faith undeniably evident in day-to-day actions.
“The film definitely makes you examine your behavior,” Pettis says. “One of the quotes in the movie is, ‘If someone were to accuse you of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?’ I thought that was an interesting way to put it.”
Following that experience, Pettis says she had the time of her life acting in the series finale of NBC’s Parenthood and in three recent episodes of ABC Family’s The Fosters.
“They are two of my favorite TV shows,” she says. “I’d been watching them both for years. So going on The Fosters and feeling like I was instantly part of the family was sort of a dream come true.
“And coming in on Parenthood was surreal. My mom and I were freaking out when we first got there. We had seen the set so many times on TV, but all of a sudden we were there in person.”
Even though her show-biz career keeps her busy, Pettis says she still finds time to lead an ordinary teenage life.
“I go to a normal high school in L.A. full-time,” she says. “So when I’m not working, I’m going to school with friends that I’ve known since I was in sixth grade. I like going to football games and basketball games and school dances and all that kind of stuff. I feel like it keeps me balanced.”
She and her mother manage to make it back to Texas once or twice a year to visit family in Dallas-Fort Worth as well as in the Austin and Corpus Christi areas, but it seems like she’s never here as much as she’d like to be.
“The thing I miss most when I’m away is the food: Whataburger, Uncle Julio’s, Pappasito’s,” she says. “I miss Tex-Mex so much. There’s Mexican food in L.A., but it’s not the same.”
Pettis hints that there might be more surprises up her sleeve in the future, but notes that the unexpected role in Do You Believe? will be a tough one to follow.
“It’s been a very busy pilot season, and there are a few things I can’t mention quite yet,” she says. “But I’m still working on The Fosters and Lab Rats, and I can’t wait for everyone to see Do You Believe?”