On Saturday, the Mental Health Association of Santa Barbara will present its inaugural Heroes of Hope Award to star/producer Joe Pantoliano and writer/director Joseph Greco for their feature film Canvas. The awards presentation, at 7 p.m. at The Granada Theatre, will be followed by a special movie screening of the film.

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Devon Gearhart

Here, child actor Devon Gearhart sits down for a Q&A about the film and how he juggles his career with other responsibilities.

Question: How did you learn about the role of Chris Marino in Canvas?

Answer: I was called and asked to audition for Canvas, but I was shooting another movie and couldn’t. Then, I was in Los Angeles shooting something a couple of weeks later and the producer for Canvas called me and said they hadn’t casted it yet and could I come in. So, luckily I was able to the second time.

Question: Why were you interested in playing the part?

Answer: It was a challenging role, which I loved. Then, once I read the script it had such a special message it made me want to do it even more. When I found out it was Joe Greco’s (the screenwriter and director) own story of his childhood and his mom has schizophrenia, I really felt lucky to be part of his story.  Canvas is all about a family dealing with a mental illness, and the way the story is told I felt everyone could identify with it in some way.

Question: What have you learned about families who have to deal with mental illness?

Answer: I realized very quickly that it not only affects the person who has a mental illness but the whole family. The whole family has to work together to help each other. That we need to let people know that it is not something to be ashamed of or hide. It is no different that any other illness or disease. That if people are more aware of mental illness we can help to break the stigma of it so no one has to feel ashamed or embarrassed so they might get help sooner and feel better faster.

Question: How was it working with the acclaimed actors Joey Pantoliano and Marcia Gay Harden?

Answer: Joey always was making me laugh. He’s so funny! (He calls me L’il Pants, and I call him Papa Pants.) But as soon as they yelled action, he was immediately in character. It always amazed me how he could do that. I learned a lot about just saying what I felt when we were shooting a scene from Joey, and not just the lines that were on paper. That has helped me so much in my other projects. It’s one of the best things I have ever learned from an actor. I was just amazed watching Marcia do her scenes. She was so convincing that it made it so easy for me to really feel what was happening. I really felt this was happening to me because of how Marcia was portraying her role. It was just so real.

Question: You are in the upcoming movie The Changeling with Angelina Jolie. What role do you play in that film, and did you enjoy it?

Answer: I play Jeffrey. I play one of the victims who gets kidnapped, and I loved it because it was challenging. The best part of it though was being able to work with Clint Eastwood. He is an amazing director and a very nice person. He came up to me and said, “Devon, forget the lines. Just say what you feel.”

Question: How do you juggle school work, your friends and your movie career?

Answer: Well, my mom and dad always said school comes first, so it does. I work very hard to keep up with my academics. You just have to be focused and just do it. My friends who I have known for a long time just treat me like Devon, just the same. They never change and neither do I. We just pick up where we left off.

As far as my movie career. This is what I love to do. I always had imaginary friends and creatures when I was younger, so I was always pretending. I love to always be someone different. That’s what’s so great about acting. You get to be all kinds of things you never would ordinarily be. I guess I don’t really look at it as a career. I just look at it as the thing I love to do. Just like baseball or basketball or anything else that someone has a passion for. When I wanted to start acting, my mom and dad said only if I had fun with it and did it from my heart. They said if it ever gets stressful or seems like work to take a break or do something different. Right now, I still get excited for everything I get the opportunity to do and are lucky enough to be a part of.

Question:What is next for Devon Gearhart?

Answer: I just played a bully in a movie called Shorts and loved it. It is so far from my personality, so it was so much fun. I have blonde hair and they dyed my hair black to make me look meaner, and it worked. Robert Rodriquez is the director, and I loved working with him. I learned a lot from him, and it’s my first comedy. Shorts is a Warner Bros. movie and will be in theaters around Aug. 7.

Christopher Davis is a public relations representative.