- - Thursday, December 29, 2016

What do you get when child stars Rico Rodriguez (“Modern Family”) and his sister Raini Rodriguez (“Austin & Ally”), former child star Malcolm-Jamal Warner (“Cosby Show,” “Suits”) and legendary Olympic swimmer Greg Louganis get together for a good cause? You get the annual “Kids in the Spotlight” event.

The charitable organization takes children from foster homes and helps make their dreams of working in Hollywood come true. The intensive 10-week program gives these would-be directors, writers and actors a chance to learn the business from the inside out. It all culminates with a film festival and award show on the 20th Century Fox lot. 

Question: What got you involved in the”Kids in the Spotlight?

Raini Rodriguez: Just a lot of awesome, really. We heard about the event and the prime word is “kids.” That is something we feel really passionate about.

Inspiring a young generation to express themselves through art is so important. To let these kids, who come from troubled pasts and hard times, express themselves on screen is amazing.

Rico Rodriguez: The fact that we got to be a part of it is awesome and really inspiring.

Malcolm-Jamal Warner: I came last year and was one of the presenters. I was so touched and moved by the kids, their stories [and] seeing them come to fruition on the big scenes.

As empowering as the process was for them, there was something empowering and enriching for us to be on this side.

Greg Louganis: It’s such a great organization, especially because they give foster kids a chance to learn life skills and communication and film and editing. It’s just really incredible to see a project through.

Everybody has a story, and it’s great these kids are given this opportunity and support.

Q: What advice do you is give the kids who want to be like you?

Rico Rodriguez: Hard work pays off. This business is crazy. The littlest things can —

Raini Rodriguez: — set you back. As long as you have a clear mindset of hard work and determination, then you can make it. We always tell them go for it. Don’t be afraid. Don’t take no for an answer. Find what you love and just jump in it.

MJW: Because of my experience, it makes me proud in a different way to see young people telling their stories. When I was their age, I was just “the actor.” They are writers and creators. It’s very cool to see. Just follow it and do the work.

GL: Believe in yourself. That is something that is really important. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are people out there who want to help. I want to help. And when people ask me for help, I am getting so much more back than I give by helping out and being part of the solution.

Q: How old were you guys when you knew this was what you wanted to do?

Rico Rodriguez: I was about 8 years old.

Raini Rodriguez: I was 8 or 9 years old as well, but I didn’t officially start acting till I was 11. I’ve been acting for almost 12 years now.

Q: Has there ever been an competition of sibling rivalry between the two of you?

Rico Rodriguez: No. You know why? Because she’s a girl and I’m a boy, so we’ll never go out for the same role.

Raini Rodriguez: That’s a good thing.

Rico Rodriguez: It’s more we’re encouraging each other.

Raini Rodriguez: Absolutely.

Rico Rodriguez: [We try] to make each other a better person by helping each other with lines or suggestions and stuff like that to make us better.

Q: Greg, is this charity close to your heart because you were a foster kid?

GL: Yeah, it is. I was in the foster care system for the first nine months of my life. Although I obviously can’t remember that.

Fortunately, I was adopted at 9 months by Peter and Francis, and that gave me tremendous opportunities. For kids that are in the foster care system, I feel this gives them so much hope, to have an opportunity to create. It doesn’t matter what they create. That they can express themselves teaches them that they do have value.

Q: Malcolm-Jamal, a lot of child actors went bad. What kept you from not going that way?

MJW: I would say there are several reasons, but the top two would be my mother and my father. They were very instrumental and very clear on parenting. They parented. [laughs]

Q: What are you guys working on?

Raini Rodriguez: I’m currently on a show called “Mutt & Stuff” on Nickelodeon. Sid and Marty Krofft. I love H.R. Pufnstuf. He came on set, and I flipped out because I used to watch reruns with my dad. That was exciting.

Rico and I also started our own production company. So we are doing the same things behind the scenes.

Rico Rodriguez: “Modern Family” rolls on. We’re halfway through season 8. It’s crazy but we’re enjoying it.

MJW: I just did a spot on “Lethal Weapon,” and I have my recurring role on “Major Crimes,” and I have recurring role on “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce” on Bravo and the Amazon series “Sneaky Pete” with Bryan Cranston and Giovanni Ribisi.

For more info on Kids in the Spotlight check out, KITSinc.org.

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