Playing it old school

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Brittany Snow, 16, plays a '60s student on 'American Dreams'

By Frazier Moore ~ The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Few things can give you a holiday lift like the sight of Brittany Snow's smile.

The 16-year-old star of NBC's family drama "American Dreams" refreshes that tired cliche "lights up the screen." As Meg Pryor, an all-American girl growing up in the early 1960s, she shines.

"I use a special kind of 'shimmer powder' to glow on the screen," says Snow, parrying a reporter's compliment. She giggles. "No, I'm just kidding."

"Maybe it's just because I'm so really happy doing the show," she ventures. "If Meg is really happy about something, I bubble up inside with everything I love. I love my character. I love the scripts. I love going to work every day."

("American Dreams" airs 7 p.m. Sundays on NBC.)

But besides the natural light emitted by Snow portraying a teen who lives her dream (Meg is a featured dancer on "American Bandstand"), there's another thing worth noting about the actress: a singular blemish, a tiny scar on her forehead.

"I've never been asked about that," she says before eagerly explaining how she got it. "We had a front walk of bricks, and when I was 2, I tripped and fell. I cracked my head open, if you want to know the gory details. I got 14 stitches.

"I was teased about the scar, and I had an acting teacher who said I'd never work because it was too distracting. We looked into plastic surgery. But I couldn't.

"Now I love it," she says. "I've grown so accustomed to it."

Growing up in Tampa

The mishap occurred in Tampa, where Brittany grew up and where, by the time she was 5, she had found her passion: acting.

"I would make my friends put on a show that I directed, produced and starred in," she says. "And if they didn't get their lines right, I would yell at them: 'It's not just a line -- this is SERIOUS!'"

At 6, she was traveling to Orlando to appear in commercials. After landing a New York agent, she joined the CBS daytime drama "Guiding Light" when she was 12. She reveled in her role as Susan Lemay, a brat who once tried to kill herself by downing a bottle of cough syrup.

"But there was no tutor on the set in New York," Snow recalls, "so I would have to teach myself. Then my mother and I would fly home and I would go to school to take my tests and get my assignments for the next week. Then we would fly back up here and I had to memorize 30 to 40 pages of lines.

"It was totally fine," she says. "I guess I didn't know better at the time."

Even so, after three years she was ready for a breather.

"I took a year off, just to do the normal high school things," she says. "But I went out for several pilots and got the script for 'American Dreams,' which was called 'Miss American Pie' then. It took my breath away."

All about nostalgia

The series, set in Philadelphia in 1963, operates on a dual track of nostalgia. Pop culture is framed for Meg by the hometown "American Bandstand," a daily dance show serving the nation's kids as MTV does now.

Meanwhile, beyond the studio and back in her loving but strict Irish-Catholic home, Meg confronts other forces at work: civil rights and women's movements, a war heating up, a slain president mourned, and moral codes shifting.

"She is discovering herself in a world where everything was evolving," Snow says. "She's trying to find out what she loved and what was going to make her happy. I felt really connected to the character.

"Besides, it was a period show! The '60s! How cool was THAT?!"

The times they were a-changing, but most men still had Trent Lott hair and made all the big decisions. Good girls wore bulky cardigan sweaters, below-the-knee skirts and oppressive undergarments.

"This has been an unbelievable history lesson for me," says Snow, dressed much more today in her jeans and suede jacket. "At first, I didn't really know a lot about that time period because in history class you only go up to World War II.

"But people say to me, 'Well, what did you have to do to prepare? How do you get into the mind-set of the '60s?' What are you talking about? With the clothes and the makeup and the hair, you just fall into it!"

And as for the songs, it turns out Snow was already versed in golden oldies.

"When I was little, my mom was always having me listen to music from that period, because it was her favorite. The Four Seasons. The Temptations. My favorite song was 'Runaround Sue.'

"So now I'll be listening to the music on the show, and I'll know all the words, even though I won't remember ever hearing the songs. That's kind of freaky, but I guess I just grew up with it."

The charm of "American Dreams" is that, one way or another, so did everybody else.


On the Net:

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