Ten Questions: AJ Tecce
AJ Tecce is the voice behind the beloved Peanuts character
By Terri Akman

Outgoing and funny, 13-year-old AJ Tecce loves travel soccer and science, and he insists he’s a regular kid. Appearing in “The Peanuts Movie” as lovable Pigpen – he beat out more than 1,000 kids for the role – the middle schooler’s experiences have been anything but regular. Last Thanksgiving he joined in a cast reveal on “The Today Show,” recently jetted to L.A. for a red-carpet premiere and also helped the cast accept a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Maybe not regular, but definitely awesome.

Unknown-4How did you land the Pigpen role?
The first audition was in June 2013. At first, all the boys read for the part of Charlie Brown and the girls read for Lucy. We made a recording on my mom’s phone about five minutes before the deadline and sent it in. Then we forgot about it. A few months later I got a callback to come to New York. After about three callbacks they asked me if I wanted to read for Pigpen. I was just happy to be in it no matter which character I got, but that character was pretty high up on my list. He’s recognizable and people relate to him in a lot of ways. We found out I got the part in November.

You almost lost the role. How did that happen?
It was confidential, so I couldn’t tell anybody. Luckily I didn’t, because what we didn’t know at the time was they had fielded two separate casts, one out of New York and one out of Los Angeles. The Schulz family reviewed the scratch tests that each of the kids did in each role and picked who would be in the ultimate cast. I found out I got the role in August 2014, and we still had to stay quiet until this Thanksgiving’s launch on The Today Show. So it wasn’t official for almost an entire year. Not being able to tell anybody I got the part was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Are you like Pigpen? How did you get into character?
My mom would say I am! I don’t think I’m that much like him. I dress nicely for school, but my room’s kind of a mess. My family always sat down and watched the specials every season so I watched them again but I didn’t really have to get into character because I used my own voice. I think the producers liked that I was confident, because Pigpen’s always really confident.

How did you prepare for your Pigpen audition?
At the callback when they asked if I wanted to try out for Pigpen, my mom and I went outside and sat down on a park bench because there was no point in going home and coming all the way back to New York. My mom pulled up a YouTube video, and we went over what Pigpen did before.

How did you get started in acting?
I started a long time ago, when I was 3 years old. We went to an agent, and they started sending me out for jobs in Philadelphia. It was a cool thing for my mom and me to do. We’d drive to Philadelphia or New York, and it was fun quality time. The first job I got was a political ad for a guy running for senate. It was right after Hurricane Katrina, and I was a homeless child in a window. I don’t remember much about that one but I do remember the commercials I did for Sesame Place, getting to go on rides and run around with Elmo all day.

What’s the trick to voiceover work?
You have to be comfortable trying different ways to say different things. You can’t be afraid to try a lot of things to see what works. The director would tell me what was going on in the scene, so it was easier to get a visual of it. Toward the end, once they had some of the animation done, there were TV screens in the booth and the director would tell me when to start talking, when to stop and how fast to go. Sometimes they wanted me to start ad-libbing. It was really cool how they let me go off script. It gave me more freedom. My favorite scene in the movie is the ice skating scene, because I got to make a lot of sound effects.

A.J. Tecce with castmate Francesca Capaldi, who plays the Little Red-Haired Girl

A.J. Tecce with castmate Francesca Capaldi, who plays the Little Red-Haired Girl

What’s the best part about being in the movies?
Getting to see the finished product, that what you’ve been working so hard for actually comes together. The entire experience has been awesome. The cast and the director Steve Martino were all really nice. Even though some of the kids were from New York and some from Los Angeles, we had two days together in New York when we did The Today Show. We exchanged phone numbers and set up a big group chat and have been in contact since then. We got to know the Schulz family too.

Did you miss a lot of time in school for acting?
It seems to come in waves where there’s nothing for two or three weeks, and then I need to go to New York for two or three days in one week. And it’s really short notice. You never know when you’re going to have an audition. For this movie I did a lot of recording in the summer. They were really flexible. They worked around my schedule, so some days I went after school.

When you do miss school, how do you keep up with your studies?
I usually have a lot of time to do work in the car. All my teachers are really good about giving me work, and some days I stay after school for extra help. I get good grades, A’s and B’s.

What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t acting?
I like hanging out with my friends, playing soccer, flag football and basketball, and hanging with my brother and my puppy.

December 2015
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