(Featured image courtesy of Noah Asanias)
In a stunning turn of events in April 2016, an eight-year-old journalist named Hilde Lysiak became the exclusive reporter on a violent murder story in her hometown of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. She broke the story on her website and filmed a video, including interviews with police and neighbors, all hours before her competitors reached the scene. Her Orange Street News (which proudly advertised itself as The Only Newspaper Devoted to Selinsgrove) attracted a lot of attention, both positive and negative, but Lysiak made it clear that she had one goal and one goal only: to tell the news. She was only to be taken seriously. Since then, the young reporter has been featured in National Geographic, interviewed Malala Yousafzai, and given a college commencement speech on the future of journalism.
When Apple first began announcing projects for its streaming platform, a lot of buzz began swarming around a then-untitled series loosely based on the life of Hilde Lysiak. That project eventually became Home Before Dark, starring critical darling Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project) as Hilde Lysiak, a young girl who returns to the hometown her father grew up in and discovers an old mystery just begging to be solved. At the same time, her father, Matt, confronts his own past. That past appears in the form of Dean Petriw, who plays the younger version of Jim Sturgess’ character.
TV Wasteland talked with Petriw about the career of a young actor, life on set, and the inspiration that young people can find in Home Before Dark.
One of the unique things about Home Before Dark was that it had a large cast of younger actors. Petriw is no stranger to working with other performers his age, noting his involvement in Kindergarten Cop 2, “but now that I’m older… the experience did change.” He found it wonderful to have a group of people around him who he could really relate to, and he called that ensemble “one of the greatest casts I have worked with.”
In fact, Dean created a special bond with Kiefer O’Reilly and Nicholas Holmes, who play the younger versions of Richie and Frank. As they played in the arcade that’s featured in the later stages of the series, they gave each other nicknames based on those games. O’Reilly became Pac-Man “since he was the best at that no doubt,” Holmes’ skills at Tapper gave him that bartender-inspired nickname, and even though Petriw admitted that “we were all pretty bad at Centipede,” that became his namesake because he was the only one who could make it to stage two.
The storyline of the series is very dark, especially for such a kids- and teen-focused show, but Petriw has nothing but extreme respect for the writers who came up such a great script, saying that he simply “tried to make [his] performance of living through a life-changing traumatizing event good enough for how great the storyline is.” While there are definitely some differences between him and his character (“I would actually watch the Super Bowl, unlike Matt who went biking with Richie and Frank”), he connected with Matt’s dedication to the important people in his life, “the fact that we would both go out of our way to help our friends.”
Realizing that he was depicting part of a true story definitely upped the ante and “kicked some of the pressure up by a little notch… [and] the mentality of knowing all of this came to mind in quite a few scenes.” However, like many young people who have been compelled to follow their dreams as Hilde Lysiak has, Dean primarily finds a lot of inspiration in the story of Home Before Dark. “I think it is extremely inspiring to see a nine-year-old girl solve a murder, track down and almost entirely solve a cold case… It shows how anyone can do anything, even though those with more experience think you are incapable of doing so.”
Petriw has also worked on a few animated series, most notably Netflix’s StarBeam. He sees voice acting as “much shorter and less complex. All you have to do is arrive on time, go into the studio… and you could finish two whole thirty-minute episodes in a day.” Physically being on a set is a lot more demanding, requiring much more time preparing in the wardrobe or makeup departments, and much of that can happen late at night or very early in the morning. However, Dean loves being on set, and he sees “the long process as a plus, since it means that I get to enjoy even more time on set!” Working with Apple added an extra level of excitement, as “working with big companies is so enjoyable because they have the materials to make things work.”
Having been involved in the industry for many years now, the rigor and unconventional schedule of a young actor has become like second nature to Petriw. He was only ten years old when he filmed Home Before Dark, and while being in and out of school so often that year was admittedly strange, “it became pretty normal for me to leave school on Tuesday and then not show up until Monday next week.” But it sounds like Dean has struck a solid balance between work life and ‘normal kid’ life, finding the time for both worlds in his busy schedule. “It can take up a large portion of my life sometimes, but somehow I still find a way to be able to play soccer on the weekends.”
He’s also able to find some common ground with his uncle, Adrian Petriw (best known for voicing Tony Stark in Iron Man: Armored Adventures), who has been in the industry for decades. “The ability to have someone with experience to talk to does come as an absolute plus!” Adrian’s own experience with a rising career during his young teens gives him basis for a lot of advice on being a child actor. Dean’s younger brother Chase has also begun to break out as well and can currently be seen as Christopher on Netflix’s Virgin River.
If Petriw could guest star on any TV show, he “would probably pick something that most of my friends watch so that they actually see my performances,” joking that “right now they kind of just have to take my word that I’m a good actor.” Stranger Things is the first show that comes to mind, and having loved the comedy and plot of The Last Kids on Earth, he would likely choose that as well.
When asked about his upcoming projects, Dean teased: “If I do have anything, I’d have to keep it under wraps. For now…”
Even as his career grows and shifts, Petriw ultimately always sees his career as a positive thing. “It has definitely changed my perspective of how the world is,” and he finds himself lucky to have learned so much about the acting business from such a young age. He hopes “that we can work together to make even more great projects for you to enjoy!”
The entirety of Home Before Dark season one is currently streaming on Apple TV+. A second season has started production and will continue as soon as COVID-19 restrictions allow.