Sitting at a local coffeehouse with Caden Michael Gray, it would be easy to think you're conversing with a seasoned showbiz veteran as opposed to an on-the-rise actor.
Then again, both impressions may be accurate.
After all, the recent Huntington Beach High School graduate (last June) who starred in the school's noted Academy for the Performing Arts (APA) program did start his professional career at the age of 12 with the national tour of "The Full Monty," including a nine-month, 42-state trek. He's appeared in numerous other productions, "Hannah Montana," "Out of Jimmy's Head" and countless school musicals.
As a result of all that, Gray speaks with a wise and worldly view of the industry for someone who's just 19.
But then there was his wonderfully electric appearance recently on the season premiere of the pop culture juggernaut, "Glee."
In the season three opener, "The Purple Piano Project," Gray portrayed Gavroche, a high school student in a rival show choir. It may just have been one scene, but oh what a scene it was. Gray knocked it out of the park.
"Having lines that good just served up on a platter like that was amazing," he said. "It was just a fantastic experience."
He moved here from Fresno in his sophomore year of high school. His mom grew up in the area and had attended Fountain Valley High School. Home schooled up until that point, attending the APA program was a chance for Gray to get into a more regular school routine while also being part of a renowned creative program. He'd still travel to Los Angeles frequently for auditions, and got the call for "Glee" last July.
"I went in and sang 'Anything Goes' and had to learn a tap dance. All they told me is that the kid's character is really enthusiastic and really into music theater. I know that world — I did it for so long. I didn't get a call back for a while so I thought, that's OK, I didn't get it. You just move on."
Then a week later, the call back came. He did the full scene. After another week, the money call came — he had gotten the part and was to report to the set almost immediately.
"We spent one day of intense tap rehearsal — had a day off — then went back and filmed the entire sequence from 8 a.m. 'til about 8 p.m. It was an incredible production day."
Interestingly, Gray grew up with "Glee" star Chris Colfer, who portrays Kurt Hummel, and the two got to share the scene.
"Chris is great in the show, as is Lindsay Pearce, who I also did my scene with. She was the winner on the show 'The Glee Project' and she's an a amazing performer so it was great to have a chance to work with her."
Pearce also made sure that Gray got a lot of texts and emails the night of the show by posting on Twitter about him.
"My phone just blew up," Gray said. "That night the show aired was so special. Some friends and I got together, when my name came up in the credits everyone cheered, and then Lindsay went and wrote about me, which created this insane situation that led to tons of people contacting me."
Such is what happens when you enter the realm of a show like "Glee," which more and more seems less like a show and more like a cultural phenomenon.
But the local actor is taking it all in stride. He's enrolled at Orange Coast College, taking some courses to fortify his other industry interests, like screenwriting, directing, and music (he sings and plays bass and is interested in getting a band together).
Despite his breakout performance on "Glee," he's back to his routine now, auditioning, going to school, making personal appearances and preparing for whatever his next close-up may be. It's easy to think there will be many more — this is an extremely talented, disciplined performer that no doubt will get his calls. It doesn't hurt that he's a genuinely nice young man that you can't help but root for.
Who knows, maybe the producers will reprise the role of Gavroche (named, as Gray explained on the show, in honor of a "Les Miserables" character). No doubt the legions of "Glee" devotees would be thrilled – including our daughter, Claire, a musical theater student at Orange County High School for the Arts, and her friends who all closely follow Gray's career.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.