LAPORTE | A storm of attention is brewing, but two days before the release of director Darren Aronofsky's biblical tale of Noah's ark, one young cast member remains calm and unassuming.
The 13-year-old kid who is about to be introduced to the movie-going public as Noah's son Japheth blends into the woodwork with every other eighth-grader at LaPorte's Renaissance Academy.
Leo McHugh Carroll describes his typical school day — writing essays, learning Spanish and algebra. Then it's off to shoot hoops with buddies, or play tennis, or work on his chess skills as a member of Renaissance Academy's chess team.
But he missed the chess team's state tournament to be on the red carpet for the "Noah" premiere last Friday in New York City.
"It's not that difficult," Leo says of juggling normal teen life with the tsunami of media attention surrounding the next big Hollywood epic.
"Of course, people are gonna ask 'What's that like?'" he tells the South Bend Tribune. "But it's never that difficult to juggle both."
"To me, it's important that they maintain their whole lives," Leo's mother, Vicki McHugh, says of both her 13-year-old fraternal twin sons, Leo and Lucas McHugh Carroll. Lucas also has a small part in "Noah."
There were five kids born to Vicki McHugh and Pete Carroll in Chicago: Vincent, now 20, is recovering from a serious car crash. Xavier is 18. Tori, 16, also appears in a bit part in "Noah" as a young maiden walking in the woods. And there are the twins, Lucas and Leo.
Divorce left Vicki McHugh to raise her kids on her own in Grand Beach, a small town across the Michigan state line from Michigan City.
When she founded the Renaissance Academy in LaPorte with her sister Kieran McHugh, each of her kids had a school to attend instead of being home-schooled. And Vicki McHugh had the flexibility to take time off to drive her kids to an audition if needed.
By the time Leo and Lucas turned 6, their older brothers and sister were already bitten by the acting bug, performing in local theater productions and the local kids group, Yogakids.
It was Lucas who landed the family's first onscreen acting gig playing the role of Matt Damon's son in the 2009 thriller "The Informant."
Two years earlier, Leo had a small part in the 2007 Vince Vaughn comedy "Fred Claus." But all he wound up with was a paycheck.
"His part got cut from ('Fred Claus'), but we didn't know that until the movie came out," Vicki McHugh says.
Both brothers got called to audition for "Noah" in the summer of 2012.
Lucas was called back for the part of Noah's young son Shem, but the producers settled on another teen who more closely resembled actor Douglas Booth, who portrayed an older Shem. Lucas stayed on in a bit part credited as "refugee."
Leo was called back as Japheth, Noah's young son. Playing such a central character guaranteed Leo would not wind up on the cutting room floor this time.
And he gained valuable acting experience, as well as an education about the story of Noah.
"Mostly you talked to Darren (Aronofsky) about that," Leo says about going over Old Testament knowledge he needed to portray Japheth. "And he kept it very close to the biblical story, but he added in his own vision of how it should be shot."
Leo chuckles at the suggestion he spent time on the set working with actual pairs of lions, tigers and giraffes.
"Doves," Leo says. "I was just supposed to chase the doves and they fly away."
Most other animals were computer-generated, he says.
Friends and other kids are "unfazed" by the Carroll boys' fame, Vicki McHugh says. That doesn't keep inquiring minds from asking Leo about Russell Crowe.
The iconic actor with the reputation for being temperamental was nothing short of "amazing" to fellow actors on the set, Leo says. Especially with the kids, even if it meant putting his money where his foul mouth was.
"All of the kids on the set said that, because he was swearing so much, he had to put money in a jar," Leo says.
Crowe, the teen noted, was happy to oblige "as long as it went to charity," dropping a $50 or $100 bill in the jar in the morning and saying, "'That should take care of me for the rest of the day.'"
"Russell was great, great to Leo, friendly and nice during the entire filming," McHugh says. "He was always thinking of little entertaining things to do for the kids. ... He couldn't have been any nicer.
"And Emma Watson," she adds, "oh my gosh!"
The Harry Potter book series was Leo's favorite. When he met Emma Watson, who played Hermione in the Harry Potter movies and is cast as Ila in "Noah," Leo acknowledges being awe struck.
"It was really amazing because I had never thought I would meet a person like that," he says.
"Mostly," he adds, "we would talk about this movie, or I would be asking her, like, how they did things in "Harry Potter." And she's just a totally, friendly, nice person."
The world is debating "Noah" with a polarizing pre-release buzz reminiscent of that for "Passion of the Christ."
Early screenings reportedly left some religious-minded viewers disappointed, including conservative radio host Glenn Beck, who called the film the "Babylonian Chainsaw Massacre." This week, Indonesia banned any showing of the film in the predominantly Muslim nation, citing "Noah" as a "violation of Islamic law."
But according to Time magazine, prominent Christian leaders say the retelling stays true to the Bible, with Focus on the Family President Jim Daly saying the film "gives Christians a great opportunity to engage our culture with the biblical Noah."
And last week, during a private meeting in Rome, Crowe and "Noah" reportedly received Pope Francis' personal blessing.
Around the McHugh Carroll home in Grand Beach, there is no controversy.
"For them," Vicki McHugh says of her boys, "when they go and do something like this, they're aware of how incredibly special this is."