Most of the names of the 1,802 students at Andover High School are unknown beyond our community. As you move farther and farther away from town, almost all names lose their faces, except for one: Kara Hayward, star of Wes Anderson’s award-winning film Moonrise Kingdom. She walks the halls just as any other freshman, noticed by her friends and peers. She travels without a spotlight shining on her. To most, she is just another freshman. Few are aware of her “other life.”

Kara Hayward, freshman, played Suzy Bishop in the movie "Moonrise Kingdom."
Kara Hayward, freshman, played Suzy Bishop in the movie “Moonrise Kingdom.”

At 12 years old, Kara’s life was changed forever when she was cast almost out of the blue to co-star in Moonrise Kingdom, which premiered in 2012.

The film tells the tale of two misunderstood 12-year-olds who fall in love and run away together on a remote island off the coast of New England in 1965. Anderson wore two hats for the film, not only directing but co-writing alongside Roman Coppola.  Along with Hayward and another young newcomer, Jared Gilman, the film starred Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Jason Shwartzman.

One would think earning a role of such stature must take years and years of hard work, assistance of an agent, or at least some previous experience within the field of acting. But in Hayward’s case, all she needed was a little bit of luck. “I had no idea I wanted to be an actress until I went to work on Moonrise Kingdom,” said Hayward. “The audition happened to be an accident.” Hayward learned of the open call in Boston from a dance teacher. “I figured I had nothing to do that weekend,” said Hayward, of her choice to attend the audition.

Most young hopefuls spend weeks preparing and rehearsing for such opportunities, constantly running lines, practicing interacting with casting directors. Hayward came to the audition with an alternative approach. “I had no idea what to expect for [the casting call]. I didn’t know what those were like. I walked in and they handed me a scene and said, ‘Here, you’re going to go in, there is going to be a woman in there and you are going to read this with her,’” said Hayward.  “I literally had the scene five minutes before I walked in.”

Most surprisingly, Hayward lacked a feature that one would assume to be paramount in earning any role: previous acting experience. Besides “those mandatory elementary school plays” and a weeklong summer camp, Hayward was new to acting.

From then on, it was smooth sailing for Hayward. About a week after the audition, she received a call letting her know the director wanted to meet with her in New York City. “They brought me down to New York, I met him, and about a week later they said I had it,” remembered Hayward. It was quite the Cinderella story for a girl who three weeks earlier was unaware of this possibility existing. The Wood Hill Middle School student’s life was about to change forever.  “It was insane,” recalled Hayward.

As any sixth-grader would, she told her friends at lunch. “They wouldn’t stop screaming, they would not stop screaming…. My family was just over the moon, they were so excited. They knew what a great opportunity it was and they were just thrilled for me.”

And so, the journey began. Hayward uprooted her life in Andover to begin her portrayal of the role of Suzy Bishop. To prepare, Anderson had Hayward watch a film called Melody, to “draw inspiration for my character and the story from, because that’s part of where he drew his inspiration from,” said Hayward. Hayward also had to write letters back and forth to her co-star, Jared Gilman, who portrayed the role of Sam Shakusky, according to Hayward.  Their characters do the same in the film.

Though living the life of a movie star, Hayward could not forget she was still a 12-year-old girl. “My mom would always come with me,” said Hayward, of her travels for the film during and after production. Hayward also had to keep up with her schoolwork during production. “You have a tutor on set. What they do is they email your teachers, they send you all your school work to your teacher, and they give you the work…. School was very accommodating.”

Not only did Hayward have to hold her own amongst professionals, she also had to become a highly troubled character, fit in to a time completely different to her own, and portray a heart-wrenching love story, all at the age of twelve. Hayward speaks with the wisdom of the ages as she describes her time spent filming.

To connect with her character, Hayward found small connections between herself and Suzy Bishop, as they are very different people, according to Hayward. “It was being able to put myself in that mindset,” said Hayward.

She stresses how easy it was to be part of the time and the story, due to Anderson’s method of work. “He builds the sets like a dollhouse. Everything is perfectly placed, and you’re like a doll in the doll house. You fit perfectly. He makes sure that everything is very smooth, and it all works together,” said Hayward. “He’s amazing at what he does. You’re also surrounded by a great cast and a great crew who makes you feel very comfortable. It doesn’t feel like work.”

Hayward’s life has not returned to normal since the premiere of the film. Moonrise Kingdom was shown at France’s Cannes Film Festival, which the entire cast attended. Hayward said she still misses school from time to time, for award shows or filming.

Unfortunately, fame does not come without a price. Hayward has noticed that people do treat her differently because of the movie. “Sometimes I meet people who act just like I’m a different person, like I’m something to be looked at, like I’m sort of an object, something different. It happens, it’s curiosity, I completely understand it,” said Hayward. “The people who I try to surround myself with are the ones who treat me the exact same way [they always have].” Hayward surrounds herself with people who keep her grounded, she said.

Hayward has adjusted to her new life, balancing acting and being a high school student. She doesn’t plan on quitting either any time soon.  “Absolutely, it’s what I love to do,” said Hayward, on continuing her acting career. “I’m so lucky I got to be there for Moonrise, because I’ve found what I think is my purpose. So yeah, absolutely.”

By Marisa Dellatto