Growing up on a llama farm in northern Wisconsin is far from the standard preparation for life in Hollywood. Yet 17-year-old Bridger Zadina, who grew about 20 miles east of Superior, is attracting attention for his work in a film called "Terri," which just opened in the Twin Cities.
"Terri" is the story of an oversized teenage who struggles his way through a wretched high school experience -- a victim of bullies and uncaring teachers.
He's given up. He wears pajamas to school because they are his most comfortable clothes. His life changes when the guidance counselor Mr. Fitzgerald, played by John C. Reilly, takes an interest in him. They go out for lunch with another misfit: a ball of nervous energy named Chad, who is played by Zadina.
Chad later precipitates a crisis in Terri's life.
"You just never know what's on his mind at that moment," said Zadina of his character. "He's kind of got that uncertainty, and he kind of brings that uneasiness to a room."
The young man who sits at his kitchen table in a house a couple of miles down a dirt road in tiny Poplar, Wis., looks like Chad. But Bridger Zadina is very different from his character.
To start, there's the hair. In the film, Chad suffers from an obsessive compulsive disorder where he pulls out his own hair, leaving a prominent bald spot.
"We ended up actually shaving half of my head for the film," Zadina said. "And I wore hats for maybe six months after that, trying to cover it up before it came back in."
Zadina claims in real life he's very normal.
"I think I am average," said Zadina. "I maybe have a few interesting experiences in my life, you know, Civil War re-enacting, llama showing, acting, but I'm still your average kid."
Average is in the eye of the beholder. As a youngster, Zadina traveled the country showing llamas from the family farm.
“I think I am average.”Bridger Zadina
Now he travels the country with a group of Civil War re-enactors. A musket and bayonet he carried at a restaging of the First Battle of Bull Run a week ago lie on the living room floor, close to his parrot's cage.
He might have done all that regardless, but the acting? That's been the surprise.
"I liked acting, I enjoyed it. I did plays at the Duluth Playhouse," he said. "I always enjoyed acting, but I never thought of it as a career, because I was a very realistic kid."
On a whim, he went to a talent search audition in Minneapolis in 2006, and suddenly found himself with a Hollywood agent. Soon he was spending time in California, appearing in shows like CSI and Law and Order. He's played bank robbers, and even a transgendered girl. He's philosophical about the parts he's played.
"I think it helps me grow as a person, to feel more compassion for those who have had those rough experiences growing up," said Zadina.
One day he auditioned for "Terri," which is directed by Azazel Jacobs.
"The first thing thing I was struck with with Bridger was actually his feet size," said Jacobs.
Zadina isn't a big guy, but he has size 13 feet. Jacobs says this produces an elongated effect perfect for a high school misfit. But Zadina then impressed Jacobs with his acting, and his ability to get inside his character's head.
"In a lot of ways, he sometimes felt like he was the most mature person on the set," Jacobs said on the phone from California. "To have him questioning and thinking about these things the way that he is, really made me have to step up my game all the time, and just try to do my best to meet him on the same level."
"Terri" isn't a big film. But it's got great reviews in the national press, some of which highlight Zadina's performance.
While many young people dream of making it in Hollywood, few actually do, said Lucinda Winter, the executive director of the Minnesota Film and Television Board.
"For a young kid in high school in a small town in northern Wisconsin, to have the trajectory that this kid has had is very unusual," she said.
Zadina heads back to Los Angeles later this week to audition for more television roles and begin his senior year in high school. He'll appear Sunday in an episode of "The Glades" on A&E. He said he's got a couple of possible film roles in the works, but doesn't want to jinx anything by talking about them.
Zadina looks forward to continuing an unusual personal tradition. He asks for a specific piece of the costume of every character he plays.
"So I have this collection of all the different shoes I have ever walked in," he said.
Which either shows Bridger Zadina's philosophical depth, or that he is indeed a teenager with size-13 feet.