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Hamilton's Tutor to the Stars

Jeff Mahoney
The Spectator

What? Did you think Brandy just picked up what she knows about particle physics on the street?
And Kirsten Dunst. She didn't learn about the difference between acids and bases at Frederick's of Hollywood, you know.
No. They have credits you've never seen. Not the kind that roll out at the end of their movies, but the kind that will ultimately scroll out in the form of a high school diploma -- credits in science, math, English.
Give partial credit for those credits to Hamiltonian Angelo Maniccia. And not just Brandy and Kirsten. He is rapidly building a substantial alumni of child actors.
Gema Zamprogna is one. Ready Or Not stars Lani Billard and Laura Bertram are others.
Maniccia's life as "tutor to the stars" began after he graduated from McMaster University with a degree in mathematics and music.
"I was supply teaching for the boards in Halton and Hamilton when a friend told me about students in need," says Maniccia, 29.
He says he sent in his resumй to what turned out to be a film production company, and the so-called students in need were young actors whose careers prevent them from attending regular school.
(It's not something viewers think about much, but the education laws apply to child actors every bit as much to your daughters and sons. If they are not being properly educated, they can be pulled off sets and the production companies charged.)
It took Maniccia a couple of months to get his first job. He was interviewed extensively. But his background in math (a subject many students need extra tutoring in) and music (a subject many young actors will need for their careers) was a winning combination.
His first student was Hamilton's Gema Zamprogna, one of the stars of Road To Avonlea and part of the city's first family of show business.
"She was a very good student," says Maniccia. "Working with her was a very good start."
From there word got around. Before long, he got a call from New York City. A production company that was shooting a movie there interviewed him.
"They wanted to know if I'd be willing to work with a student who was very strong in music."
Well, he got the job and it turned out that the student was Brandy (Norwood), Grammy-winning singer and star of the sitcom Moesha. Her latest album is Never Say Never.
"She needed instruction in the sciences. I was teaching her about protons, neutrons and electrons. I try to get things across by relating them to real-life situations for the students."
In Brandy's case, she has a song called Friends. It's about sticking together, and Maniccia used the analogy to explain bonding in chemistry.
They would work three or four hours a day, taking breaks every now and then, during which Brandy would get on the piano and ask Maniccia what he thought of a song she was working on.
He even got to ask her what she thought of some of the music he was writing. Not bad, getting feedback from the singer who shared a Grammy Award last February with Monica for their R & B duet The Boy Is Mine.
"We connected because of our mutual interest in music," he explains.
A short time after his stint with Brandy, he worked with Dunst while she was shooting a movie in Toronto.
"She is very quick," he says of Dunst's learning abilities.
Dunst, 17, is the star of several movies, most recently Drop Dead Gorgeous. She made her breakthrough with 1994's Interview With A Vampire and has also appeared in Wag The Dog, Small Soldiers and Dick (about Richard Nixon).
"She's very personable and easy to talk to," says Maniccia of Dunst.
"They (the actors he tutors) are just regular teenagers to me," says Maniccia. "That's how you've got to approach it."
Like any students, he adds, they sometimes don't feel like doing the work.
But, at the same time, being professionals in an often pressure-filled career, they tend to be highly motivated.
"You don't lecture them, or at least you try not to. You just remind them that they have to complete so much work towards their credits."
Jacqui Warden says parents of young actors have a real struggle finding good tutors for their children while they're working on a set.
Maniccia taught her son, Ben Cook, during the shooting of the film Dead Aviators last fall.
"We'd had some bad experiences with tutors in the past," says Warden.
"Sometimes the production company will just hire a kindergarten teacher who doesn't know Grade 11 math.
"As a mother, I learned that I can make demands and how to speak up, and I decided on Dead Aviators I was going to insist on a tutor who could do Grade 11 math."
Lo and behold, they flew Maniccia in.
"He's certainly the best tutor Ben has ever had," says Warden.
"Ben calls him some kind of math genius. He has a good sense of humour and he wouldn't just disappear at lunch. He played soccer with the kids -- he even got me to play. And he showed up at the wrap party.
"But he takes the teaching very seriously. There's no fooling around. You've got to get the work done."
He still keeps in touch with her son, who is now 17, says Warden.
There's a great deal of interaction with the actors' parents, with the production companies and with the schools.
Most of the students are enrolled in particular schools, even though they may rarely be there.
The schools will send Maniccia study materials, tests and so on.
The parents, says Maniccia, tend to be very supportive.
"I've never known the parents to push their kids too hard.
"I think there may be some truth to what you read (about stage parents) but it's misconstrued."
Maniccia often has to teach on the fly, grabbing his students in half-hour chunks because of the vagaries of movie shoots. And generally he will be assigned to a student for several months, or the duration of a particular project.
Often he has several actors/students on the go at any given time.
He has taught everywhere from hotel rooms to movie sets and trailers. But regardless of where he does it, and for how long, whether in the freezing cold or in a posh hotel suite, if he's teaching, Maniccia is happy.
"I'm having an awful lot of fun," says Maniccia. "I love soccer, and at lunch we'll kick off some time and play a little soccer. All those things you can incorporate into the teaching later."
Nickolas Swan appreciated that approach. He was one of Maniccia's students from the movie Dead Aviators.
"He was always joking around with us," says Swan, 10, from Chatham.
"We'd have a lot of work to do, but when we were done he'd take us out for a break and we'd play.
Brandy, Dunst and Zamprogna are perhaps the most famous students Maniccia has tutored. But he has also taught:
* Dylan Provencher, Tyrone Savage, Bradie Whetham, Gabrielle Boni, Natasha LaForce, Dalene Irvine in the TV series Wind At My Back, featuring Shirley Douglas;
* Chris Liscio, Michael Bellissimo, and JoJo Bojanowski in the movie Finding Buck McHenry, featuring Ossie Davis;
* Jena Malone, Anna Raj, and Dominik Podbielski in the movie Cheaters, featuring Jeff Daniels;
* Lee Young, Ryan Baum and Kerry Duff in the TV series The Famous Jett Jackson, featuring Britney Spears and Eartha Kitt;
* Kirsten Dunst, David Felton and Abigail Plener in the movie The Devil's Arithmetic, featuring Mimi Rogers;
* Julianna Wimbles, Ben Cook and Nickolas Swan in the movie Dead Aviators, featuring Marsha Mason;
* Brooke Nevin in the TV series Animorphs;
* Meredith Henderson and John White in the TV series The Adventures of Shrley Holmes;
* Padraig Murphy in the movie Black Jack, featuring Dolph Lundgren;
* Bobby Moat in the movie A Cool Dry Place;
* Gil Filar in the movie "G" Man, featuring Tony Danza;
* Noah Fleiss and Chelsea Russo in the movie Bad Day on the Block, featuring Charlie Sheen and Mare Winningham;
* Gema Zamprogna and Zachary Bennet in the TV series Road to Avonlea;
* Katie Oliveira, Joshua McFarlane and Tom Hanham in the TV series The Dan Jansen Story, featuring Matt Keeslar.
And there have been many others
















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