Rising Star
Ariana Greenblatt is already one of Hollywood’s most promising young performers, with several more highly visible performances yet to come.
by Brittany Ann Morrisey

Whether she’s on the silver screen performing next to bright-green CGI stand-ins or in the sound booth voicing an animated character, 13-year-old Ariana Greenblatt displays the exuberance of someone who’s very happy to be where she is. 
Greenblatt was born in New York but raised in Florida. In 2019, The Hollywood Reporter named her one of Young Hollywood’s upcoming talents, and she’s living up to that forecast with roles in a slew of upcoming features: the Netflix sci-fi thriller Awake and the film adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical In the Heights, among others. (You might also recognize her voice from Scoob!, the May 2020 animated film in which she played a young Velma.)
In August, she starred in The One and Only Ivan, a film adaptation of the beloved children’s novel by K.A. Applegate. The movie was set for a worldwide theatrical release, but the pandemic isolated distributed to the streaming service Disney+. The family-friendly feature tells the story of an artistic silverback gorilla named Ivan who begins to question his life in captivity. Greenblatt plays a live-action role alongside actors Bryan Cranston and Ramón Rodríguez, whole heavyweights such as Sam Rockwell, Angelina Jolie, Danny DeVito, and Helen Mirren voice the movie’s CGI animals.
We spoke to her about working with CGI characters, what she enjoys most about her craft, and the person she hopes to be when she grows up.

Tell me about your experience on The One and Only Ivan set. 
I got to film in London for three months, which had been a dream of mine. I’ve always wanted to go to London, so that was amazing. … I got to work with Bryan Cranston, which was incredible. I learned so much from him. He is such an amazing person to work with. 
My character, Julia, is Ivan’s best friend and she’s also like the voice for Ivan. She inspires him to get into art and to kind of paint his way out to the life that he deserves. And Julia is a caring, sweet, introverted girl. She’s so smart and she’s so nice and she loves art, just like me, so I thought that was pretty cool.
We should clarify that Ivan is a gorilla and CGI was used to depict the character in the movie. Was it hard for you to act alongside a stand-in? 
I didn’t actually get to work with a gorilla or an elephant, but fortunately I had the experience of working with green screens and CGI while I was filming [Avengers:] Infinity War. … It definitely helped with the filming of The One and Only Ivan. Ben Bishop played Ivan, so he had a motion-capture suit on and he would do all the movements and body language and little sounds like a gorilla would do, which I thought was so intriguing. And he also had these crutches that he would walk on to really mimic how gorillas walk. And regarding the elephants, there were two green-screen elephants. … It was super cool to just see bright-green elephants walking around, but you definitely have to use your imagination while working with things like that.
What do you like about acting?
There’s so much that goes into acting that I love, but probably the story that I get to tell. I’m the voice for whatever character I’m playing. So, I find that really cool that I can just embody whoever I’m playing and I just completely transform into another person.
You’re doing so much now and you’re only 13 years old. What are some of the things that you’d like to do when you grow up?
I want to go to college, and I also want to do a lot of charity and inspire people when I’m older. Obviously with The One and Only Ivan, I want to have my own charity to help animals and stuff, because that’s a big passion of mine. … I really want to travel the world and film in all the different places, and hopefully be an award-winning actress. … And hopefully I can be a very inspiring and powerful woman to other young girls in the future.

Photograph by Tiziano Lugli

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, December 2020