In January, Eli Baker was a sixth-grader in Glastonbury, playing on soccer and lacrosse teams and auditioning for stage, film and television roles.
Two months later, the 11-year-old was filming a NBC television pilot, "Growing Up Fisher," that will be a midseason series to be launched after the Winter Olympics in February.
This week he meets the press to promote the show, then return for a relative period of calm while adjusting to seventh grade, before heading to Los Angeles Dec. 2 where he will spend four months filming the first season's episodes.
The series has a solid showbiz pedigree: Jason Bateman ("Arrested Development") as executive producer and narrator; David Schwimmer ("Friends") as director and DJ Nash ("Up All Night," "Guys with Kids") as writer of the show, which is based on his youth when he acted as a loving guide for his strong-willed and independent blind father. Eli plays that lead character in the series opposite J.K. Simmons ("The Closer," "Law & Order," "Oz") as his father and Jenna Elfman ("Dharma and Greg") as his mother.
The speediness of events during the past year-and-a-half — and especially the last few months — has stunned his family but they're not surprised that Eli has found himself in the spotlight.
"Since I as 2, I always wanted to sing and dance," says Eli from his family's home where lives with his parents, Jessie and David Baker, and two older sisters Eden, 13 and Bailey, 18, and their labradoodle Hazel. "It was always a big part of my life ."
Now it's a big part of his family's life, too.
"It's almost an out-of-body experience," says mother Jessie Baker of the events of the past few months. "Just earlier this year Eli was singing the national anthem at the XL Center in Hartford and we were thinking, 'This is the biggest deal ever to sing before a hockey game.' Then two months later he is filming a television pilot. It's weird, crazy, surreal."
Agent For Hanukkah
But for Eli, it's part of his own private Hollywood.
"Since I was four on every Hanukkah I asked my parents for an agent," says Eli, a young, thoroughly at-ease charmer looking J. Press-neat in a crisp jean shirt, bright orange belt and khakis.
Eli's first foray in the arts was when he started taking dance lessons at age 3 1/2.
"It was not the cool thing for a little boy to be dancing," says Jessie Baker, "but he told his friends on his soccer and hockey teams that he didn't care, that this is what he liked to do."
When he was 5 years old, Eli became the youngest member to join BackBeat City in Glastonbury, a music and arts training academy for youngsters where he further developed his performing chops. But he got a taste of the larger entertainment world when he spent two summers at Camp Broadway in New York that offers classes and workshiops for kids interested in musical theater.
"From my first day there, I knew this was what I wanted to do when I grow up."
It was there that his mother was urged to audition Eli for Broadway's "Mary Poppins", which was holding casting calls in the same building where Camp Broadway was located.
"But it was Eli," says his mother, "Who said, 'I'm not ready yet. I still want to be a normal kid.' "
His mother also knew Eli needed further professional guidance and through a friend he connected with Michael Lamb of South Windsor, a noted theatrical coach for children. Over the next year Lamb helped train Eli on the art of performing — and auditioning. He also suggested Eli get stage experience and at the end of 2011, Eli joined the cast of Hartford Stage's "A Christmas Carol."
Hartford Stage director Max Williams and Hartt School professor Robert Davis, who was also in the cast, encouraged Eli's mother "to do something with this kid." When she learned of local auditions for Goodspeed's "Mame," the entire family piled in the car and went to East Haddam.