Other People, the opening movie at the Sundance Film Festival about a family dealing with their mother’s cancer in hilarious and heartbreaking ways, starred famous faces like Molly Shannon and Bradley Whitford, as well as famous offspring, like Maude Apatow, daughter of Judd. But at the Q&A following the screening, all of them were completely upstaged by their 14-year-old relatively unknown co-star, J.J. Totah.
The petite kid—who's previously appeared on New Girl, 2 Broke Girls, and four episodes of Glee—had only two scenes in the film, but both of them were comedically epic. He plays Justin, the younger brother of the main character David's (Jesse Plemons) BFF, Gabe (John Early). We meet Totah’s character first when he’s showing David his “re-dec” of his room featuring Carrara marble, and second, when he’s giving a pop performance, complete with gold sequin shorts and two wig changes, for his father’s 60th birthday. Justin’s alter ego performance name is Justina Carrara—after the marble he’s obsessing over, of course. The scene had the audience of 1,270 at the theater absolutely cheering. “I had just finished filming Glee when I had this audition, so I was already in the twerking mode,” Totah said with a smile.
In the film, his on-screen older brother commented that no one will have as much confidence as “that kid does.” Indeed, it was palpable. It was wonderful to watch a character who so fully embraced his sexuality and emanated such self-assurance at such a young age. “My character is someone who is very unique and a boy who’s really trying to find himself and is very comfortable with himself,” Totah said after the screening. “And a lot of people haven’t seen it before.”
At one point during the Q&A, a theatergoer asked him: Do you think you’re a role model for other kids? His reply was a passionate one: “It’s really important for kids out there, no matter who you are—boy, girl, undetermined yet—[to know] that you can do whatever you want to do,” he said. “If you’re a girl, you get on the football team, OK? If you identify as a boy you put on some makeup, and you work that stage. This character really shows that. All the children need to know—all the kiddies and the fetuses out there, even when they’re not even out of the womb—that it’s OK to be whoever the heck you are.” Insane cheering followed.
It’s refreshing to see a young person who is totally unapologetic about who he is and what he believes in. We hope we see much more of him to come. (In fact, we hear he might be booking a Disney show in the near future.) In the meantime, follow him on Twitter @jjtotah and Instagram @thejjtotah. Anyone, at any age, could use an ounce of this kid’s positivity and confidence.