When Owen Vaccaro, star of “The House With a Clock in Its Walls,” thinks about the start of his acting career, he thinks about his first-grade teacher and his dislike of the sports and other activities that many elementary-schoolers enjoy.
“She knew we had tried every single sport and activity for me: lacrosse, swimming, everything,” the 12-year-old actor said about his teacher. “Nothing really worked. So she said we should try out a theater company called MZ Stageworks. I went into it with really low hopes, because I didn’t think I was going to like it any more than I had liked anything else.”
Now a seventh-grader, Owen still remembers the excitement of discovering those early theater classes in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. “I loved it and couldn’t wait until the next class and the one after that.”
Soon, the theater classes led to his first auditions, which eventually landed him his first film gig, “A Product of Me,” at age 7. In the years since, Owen has been in eight more movies, most notably acting opposite A-list stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in the comedies “Daddy’s Home” and “Daddy’s Home 2.”
In “The House With a Clock in Its Walls,” an adaptation of a 1973 children’s mystery book by John Bellairs, Owen plays Lewis Barnavelt, the lead character. Lewis is a shy orphan sent to live with his mysterious and eccentric Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in what looks like a haunted house. Lewis quickly discovers that Jonathan and his best friend and neighbor, Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), are actually a warlock and witch, and there’s something seriously creepy going on in Lewis’s new house.
As the title suggests, there’s a clock hidden in the house’s walls, and it’s ominously counting down to something. Director Eli Roth is famous for horror and action movies aimed at adults, but Owen says “The House With a Clock in Its Walls” is a “starter” horror movie for tweens and older.
“It’s a family film about magic and family and fighting evil with the people you love,” Owen said. “As Eli explained it, if you want your kids to love horror movies, this is how you open the door.”
Unlike Roth, Black is a veteran of kid-friendly movies, and Owen was already a big fan of his adult co-stars.
“I love Jack in ‘School of Rock,’ ‘Goosebumps,’ the ‘Kung Fu Panda’ movies and more,” Owen said. “And I love Cate in the live-action ‘Cinderella.’ ”
Working with Black and Blanchett, who are both parents, “was amazing,” Owen said. He even got to know their families. “It was 10 out of 10. I love them. Cate brought her kids to set. One of them, Iggy, and I would play the game ‘Clue’ in her trailer,” he recalled. “And as for Jack, I went to Six Flags with his kids, and it was a ton of fun. We all bonded.”
Another highlight of his time on the movie set: pulling a farewell prank on Black.
“There are a couple of scenes with animals in them, so we asked the animal trainers if we could put a goat in his trailer,” Owen recalled. “On Jack’s last day of shooting, we tricked him into going into his trailer one last time, and there was the goat standing on the PS4 in his trailer. It was so funny.”
Siblings: Sister Tatum is 15. Brother Reid is 7.
Pets: A lizard and a dog. “My lizard is Lewis, named after my character in the movie, and my dog is named Dempsey.”
Schooling: A private school in Atlanta.
Favorite book: “Crenshaw” by Katherine Applegate. “I just really love cats and pets.”
Favorite movie: “It’s got to be ‘Kinky Boots.’ I love the musical so much, and I didn’t know it was also a movie. Then I watched it, and I loved it just as much.”
Favorite superhero: “Spider-Man, 100 percent, because he’s so funny. Tom Holland is the best one.”
Favorite scene in the movie: “All the scenes in Lewis’s bedroom, because his bedroom looked so cool and the bed was super comfy.”
Actor he’d most like to work with: Brendon Urie, lead singer of Panic! at the Disco who made his Broadway debut in “Kinky Boots.” “He is my favorite person ever, and I’d love to do any project with him.”
Hobbies: Gymnastics and singing. “I used to do gymnastics all the time, but now I keep up with my skills on my own. And I love singing.”
Upcoming projects: The lead role in a movie called “Team Marco,” about a boy who bonds with his grandfather while learning a new sport. “It’s all about bocce, and it’s such a cute story.”