When five-year-old Asher Blinkoff strode off into the audition room, his father, Saul, was a little nervous.
An old pro of the movie industry, Saul has directed several films himself and worked for Walt Disney Animation Studios before that. He knew what to expect, but to leave his son in a room full of strangers is daunting for any parent.
“Many, many talented kids live in Los Angeles,” said Saul told the Forward over the phone. “You never really know what they’re looking for.”
But in this case, Asher had exactly what director Genndy Tartakovsky wanted for Dennis, the half-vampire toddler grandson of Dracula in “Hotel Transylvania 2.”
In the original film, “Hotel Transylvania,” Dracula runs a hotel for monsters, and tries to keep his daughter away from its first human visitor. He fails. They get married and have kid, Dennis. In the sequel, Dracula tries to bring out baby Dennis’ vampire side to keep his daughter at the hotel. (Dennis, an adorable boy with giant ginger curls, clearly takes after his human father.)
Orthodox Jewish Asher, with his yarmulke, fits right in with the rest of his “Drac” family: which includes famous Jewish comedians like Mel Brooks, who plays Dennis’s great-grandfather, Adam Sandler, who plays Dennis’s grandfather, and Andy Samberg who plays Dennis’s father.
“[Asher] has such a great ear, a great personality, a great confidence, and that was the triple threat that made them chose him,” Saul said.
Asher’s mother, Marion, added: “He has an actual sound like an actual kid.” She thought he brought “that charm of being very genuine and sincere.”
This is Asher’s first role, and right now he treats acting as a hobby, rather than a prospective career. He still attends Torah day school at Yeshiva, and has the same friends. Overall, his parents have tried to keep him from the limelight.
“We don’t want him to become too boastful about it,” Marion said. “[Hollywood] can be all consuming.”
“We kind of downplay it a little,” Saul said. “His grandparents are really excited, but his friends don’t really know. He’s just like a normal kid.”
Asher doesn’t even get star struck around his famous colleagues. He knows who Adam Sandler is, but no much more than that. When Saul, Marion, and Asher got their VIP invitations to Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah party last year, they had to leave early to make Asher’s bedtime.
Once Asher got the role of Dennis, the road leading up to the premiere was still a little bumpy, although both Marion and Saul agreed that the studio was more than accommodating of Asher’s position as an Orthodox Jew in Hollywood.
When Asher’s family realized that they wouldn’t be able to attend the film premiere, which falls on Friday September 25 — Shabbat — the rap party for the cast and crew on Friday night, or the friends and family screening on Saturday, they contacted the head of publicity who told Marion: “We’re going to lend you your own screening room.” All Marion had to do was tell them how many people were coming.
What’s more, the studio always asked about Asher’s kosher diet whenever they provided food for the cast and crew in the recording booth.
“Nothing but positive all the way,” Marion said of the experience with Sony.
So, what’s Asher’s secret to childhood fame?
“There are a lot of people who ask us, ‘how do I get my kid in that?’ First of all, your kid needs to be able to step into a room full of people he doesn’t know,” Saul said, “to be confident and share their personality.”
More importantly, raising a child who acts requires patience and dedicated time from parents to drive them to auditions, wait for him/her to be called in – which can take a couple of hours depending on whether the casting times remain on schedule — and then get them to the studio and back if they actually get a part.
When Asher had to rerecord some lines during the school year, his parents would drive him to the Sony lot after a full day of lessons, sometimes literally splash water on his face to wake him, and hustle him into the recording booth to act.
Marion should know how it works by now. After leaving her career at Disney to become a full time mom, she’s now raising three children who dabble in the film business. While Asher is the only one so far to be featured as a main character in a Hollywood film, his oldest sister, Meira, coincidentally voiced some of the werewolf puppies in the first “Hotel Transylvania” film and has provided additional voices for the second. His other older sister, Lielle, has also done voice work in the past.
“It’s very involved to keep up with their own individual auditions. It’s a big investment. They love it. We love it,” Marion said.
However, despite the distractions of Hollywood, Blinkoffs always strive to live by the Torah as Orthodox Jews. When they first became observant themselves in their 20s, they did not television, despite working in the entertainment business. Now, Marion and Saul closely monitor what their children watch and make sure it supports with their values. “If you find something appropriate… it can be very powerful,” Saul said. “The Torah fills our lives with stories.”
“It’s not easy to live as an observant Jew in a secular world,” Saul added. “I think Asher’s performance and the fact that he went in there and had his Kippah and went in there as a Jew, it was a testament to all of us… you can live in the world and live the Torah life.”
Marion said, “He’s out there and he’s getting the opportunity to set a good example and be a positive role model for other Jewish kids.”
Hotel Transylvania comes out September 25. Check out one of the trailers for the film below.
This story "How an Orthodox 6-Year-Old Became the Star of 'Hotel Transylvania 2'" was written by Rachel X. Landes.