Child Star

Brody Bett’s ascent to fame began
— you guessed — in Greensboro

By Billy Eye

In 2016, when Brody Bett accepted the role of the Grand Duke in the Community Theatre of Greensboro’s production of Cinderella Kids, he had no way of knowing it would set him on a path where, a couple of years later at the ripe old age of 8, he would be circling the nation singing and dancing his chili pepper heart out as the star of two big time Broadway-touring musicals. Oh, and he has a supporting role in one of the most highly anticipated motion picture thrillers of the year, at least for moviegoers here in the Gate City.

The film is Tethered, a dark, psychological thriller produced by Greensboro-based 4 Leagues Media, a consortium of local filmmakers, writers and technicians who’ve banded together to produce nine short films since 2014 and, this year, their first full-length feature.

“We always had aspirations to shoot a full-feature film,” producer/writer Jeff Cox says. Tethered is based on 4 Leagues Media’s 2017 short film of the same name. “So, by the time we began shooting Tethered, we had learned a lot about production, funding and all of that kind of thing along the way,” he says.

Directed by 4 Leagues partner Daniel Robinette, Tethered was shot at Red Wing Farm, a 400-acre hunting refuge and equestrian facility outside of Thomasville — where nary a car nor airplane could be heard. “We feel like we’ve created a little world that wasn’t like anything you’ve seen on film,” Cox says, “which is tough to do with a limited budget.” This means they can’t do the sort of computer      generated imagery or special effects available in Hollywood. “We had SAG [the Screen Actors Guild] involved so we had their regulations we had to follow, which was fine.”

The producers sought out advice from other creatives around the country who’d made feature films that ultimately found an audience. “We kept hearing we needed a name actor attached to it before distributors would even look at it,” Cox says. “One of our executive producers knew Alexandra Paul [Lt. Stephanie Holden on Baywatch] and sent her the script. She was game and signed on with us.”

Without having seen the film before press time, I can’t vouch for it, but the poster and the trailer are spot on; they got that right. It’s telling also that North American theatrical and streaming rights were immediately snatched up by Gravitas Ventures, a major distributor whose current release is the Pierce Brosnan film, The King’s Daughter. As a result of that hookup, Tethered debuted in select theaters on March 18 with video on demand via iTunes and Amazon before heading to one of the streaming platforms, according to news sources.

That’s an astonishing feat when you consider this is a low-budget indie shot in pastures and woods. But honestly, nothing terrifies me more than the idea of being isolated in the hinterlands — the trees have eyes!

In the leading role is Walkertown native Jared Laufree, who portrays Solomon, a tormented, sightless youth at the mercy of some mysterious entity lurking beyond the nearby tree line. By all accounts, Laufree’s performance is riveting. “In high school, I joined an acting class called Actors Group in Winston-Salem,” he says of his previous experience. “And I did that for four years. Since then, it’s kind of been snowballing.” Asked to describe his character, “The first word that popped in my head was lonely but then I also wanna say he’s strong too. Very strong, very brave, courageous.”

Jared Laufree also was the lead actor in the short film Tethered. “He did such a great job and got so much praise,” Cox says.  “Alexandra Paul saw the short and suggested that Jared play the lead in the feature. He did an outstanding job.”

It’s a demanding role, “because I’m so angsty myself,” Laufree says. “I liked the opportunity to get all that out.” As for continuing to pursue acting roles, “I really want to be a screenwriter. I feel like that fulfills me more right now, at least in my life, than acting.”

Playing Young Solomon in Tethered is the aforementioned Brody Bett. Thinking back to that initial role in the Community Theatre production of Cinderella as a first grader, “I loved it so much that I actually did six shows in a year,” he says. “I did five more with Community Theatre of Greensboro and one for Triad Stage.”

As an 8 year old, he commandeered one of the leading children roles (Jack/Michael) in the Broadway national tour of Finding Neverland, a high-flying musical attraction whisking him and his mom across 43 states, touching down in 102 cities in a 10-month period. Bett is what they refer to in show business as a “triple-threat” — that rare entertainer who can act, sing and dance
. . . all at once if need be. Come to think of it, considering he’s mastered five instruments — keyboard, ukulele, drums, organ and guitar — Brody’s a quadruple-threat, a potential Sammy Davis Jr., this kid.

“After Finding Neverland I got an agent out of New York, then another Broadway national tour playing the leading role ‘Charlie’ in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory,” Bell tells me. When the shutdown happened in March of 2020, he and his mom were dispatched home.

How to channel all of that energy, enough to light up an audience of thousands of theater-goers night after night? “My agent asked me if I wanted to do voice-over tryouts, so we set up this amazing recording studio in our house.” For the last couple of years, Bett’s been laying down tracks for Disney and Netflix, and he’s the singing voice of Gil in Nickelodeon’s effervescent preschooler Bubble Guppies.

It was during this period that Bett was cast as Young Solomon in Tethered, which began filming in January 2021. “My character is a sweet young boy who always tries to please his mom,” Bett says about his part, the younger version of the lead. He was paired with Alexandra Paul, who played his mother. “I can’t say enough nice things about her. It was such an honor to work with her.”

Stage and film acting are separate crafts, similarities notwithstanding. “I think I enjoyed film acting a little bit more than stage acting,” Bett says. “I got to meet so many new people and be in front of the camera, which is something I always love to do.” Having trod more boards, in short pants mind you, than actors three or four times his age, seeing himself on the big screen, “was pretty surreal, I have to say. Yeah.”

Asked to return to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last year, Bett declined, preferring to remain home, concentrating on his burgeoning voice-over career, which is proving very lucrative for this now 12 year old. “Maybe, if I do anything with film,” Bett imagines, “I’m probably going to be a composer or the score writer.” Nothing’s stoppin’ this kid!

Producer Jeff Cox is optimistic about the future of local filmmaking. “We’re just a little niche company that’s trying, long-term, to bring back filmmaking to North Carolina,” he says. “A lot of that activity moved to the Atlanta area because the state got rid of the [financial] incentives and tax breaks. The more prevalent it is, the more incentive for the state to bring some of that back. We thought this movie turned out really well and obviously Gravitas Ventures thought so too.”  OH

Billy Eye is a former Hollywood movie poster artist. Most recently, he featured prominently in the upcoming 2022 European documentary Devil on Wheels, which chronicles Steven Spielberg’s first motion picture Duel.

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