Juju Brener has been acting since she was a baby, so it’s no surprise that she took to the craft. With her actor mom Shirly and actor sister Mila, the 10-year-old actor has plenty of support to guide her through Hollywood. However, Juju is stepping out into her own spotlight with her latest role as young Sarah Sanderson in “Hocus Pocus 2” and a recent collaboration with YMI jeans. We spoke with Juju about her journey in the business and how she juggles it all.
Please tell us a little about your role in “Hocus Pocus 2.”
I play Young Sarah Sanderson, the iconic witch created by Sarah Jessica Parker as a child. Playing a witch, it being Disney and Halloween being my favorites made it extra special! Sarah is fun, often silly and sometimes a bit of an airhead, with all kinds of personality, physical, vocal, and even hair characteristics. I watched a lot of SJP as Sarah and listened to New England pilgrim accents. My mom and sister Mila, who are both actors as well, helped me in researching the period, the Salem witch trials, and understanding the script and context.
After I booked the role, my acting teacher Scott Parkin and his daughter Miranda (assisted by our mutual acting friends Michael Reiser and Jeremy Cohenour) cut a back-to-back reel of only Sarah’s parts in the film. I kept watching without sound to incorporate all the specific behavior and body mannerisms. And alternated by listening to her voice without looking at the moving picture. SJP talked in interviews about how she created Sarah’s voice, so it was important for me to stay authentic and match her. As a kid, I had to find that register within my own voice. Then for different moments of the script, I incorporated body mannerisms. SJP had specific movements and I wanted to create my own kid version of what those would be while staying true to her character. I knew the fans and SJP will expect that and wanted to give it all I could. I worked to embody her. Everyone who knows me personally was joking that by the time we wrapped I couldn’t get Sarah Sanderson out of me. I was talking and reacting like Sarah, even off-set.
When did you know you wanted to be an actor? How did you get started?
I have been acting since I was a baby. I shot my first national commercial for Verizon when I was six weeks old! My sister Mila is an actress, so was my mom Shirly Brener and my grandmother Smadar Brener is an icon from Israeli cinema. I was born into it. My sister and I are third generation actors. We both have artistic interests and have been acting, dancing, making art, doing voiceover animation and music since we were teenie. It was natural for us. I used to go to all my sister’s shoots and auditions and was excited when her agents and manager took me on, so I worked hard to book my own jobs. I got inspired and learned a lot and still do from my mom, grandma and Mila.
You’re also a dancer, brand ambassador and budding designer for YMI Jeans Girls. Tell us about your other projects and roles/ how did you get involved with them?
As soon as I could walk, I would groove and try to dance whenever music was played. Mila was already professionally training, so naturally, I joined her. Dancing and music are my passions. Dance is also my sport. I dance as much as I can and take multiple choreography, ballet and freestyle classes weekly. Some of my favorite studios are Eighty-Eight Studios and Playground. I love how music makes me feel and how it’s a way of expression.
Same with fashion, I was drawn to it early on because it’s a way of creative expression. I’ve been expressing my own unique individuality through my outfits for as long as I can remember. My grandmother is crafty and taught me and my sister how to put patches on our jeans from an early age. My sister Mila used to model for them when she was younger, and we stayed in touch over the years. CEO/Founder David Vered is a “Hocus Pocus” fan, so when I wrapped the movie David and my branding agent Yoav Davis of Davis Media NY put their creative ideas together to come up with a project we can collaborate on. The idea was to spotlight their kids’ line. I have been co-designing the line alongside the company’s creative team, which will include jeans, pants and jackets. In addition, I’m also the brand ambassador for YMI Jeans Girls. The brand is awesome because it appeals to girls and women of all ages who are confident, vibrant, fashionable and want to express themselves through what they wear. It was important to all of us to create a capsule collection that reflects the trends of the moment in youth sizes. I can promise that kids, tweens and teens will love the fits.
Having a multi-faceted career, how do you juggle it all?
I have a lot of energy and have always been a kid that likes to be busy, but honestly I don’t know how I would do it without my mom and Mila. My mom is very organized and keeps a good schedule to cover it all. All her years in the industry add knowledge and efficiency. Same goes for Mila. She helps coach and prep, and is always there when possible on days of shoots. We’re like our own little production company, the three of us, where we interchange responsibility. Our hours are all over the place but all of us don’t ever stop until it’s finished. Lately, the schedule has been more demanding than ever, juggling so many facets, my mom is saying we need an assistant ;).
We really try to stay grounded and humble. Since my family is very familiar with the industry (my dad is also a former writer/producer) and we all understand how much focus, hard work, and dedication it requires. To be honest, my parents get excited when I clean my room and do my schoolwork.
Did you have a mentor growing up? What role did that person play in your life and your career?
I didn’t have one mentor, but multiple people in my life that have taught and inspired me. I’ve always looked up to Mila who is so multitalented and committed. I learned so much from her and still do. When I worked with Morgan Freeman on “Vanquish” he was very calm and centered, which was inspiring as an actor. It was epic to have that experience at eight years old. I also learned a lot from the directors I worked with, specifically the last couple of years with Anne Fletcher, George Gallo and Jack Henry Robbins. They handle so much responsibility with grace and ease. I’m very grateful I got to learn at a young age from these creative, special humans.
Recently working alongside the amazing, dedicated team at YMI on the fashion biz side. David Vered owner/CEO/founder is an inspiration, from his vision how he built the company from the ground up, to the way he operates. He’s always genuine and treats people with respect and kindness. Maria Munoz, head of marketing has really handheld me through the process. I love how she’s so diligent and always gracious and sweet.
My acting teachers Cynthia Bain, who has taught me how to approach scene study with a strong work ethic in a very professional way, and longtime teacher and friend Scott Parkin is very special to me. His sense of humor and energy are infectious! He has believed in me and pushed me to go out of my comfort zone, be bold in my choices as an actor, and stay true to who I am as a person. My dedicated hard-working agents Pam Fisher and Domina Holbeck at A3 and manager April Mills, are just awesome humans who have believed in me since day one! These sweet and encouraging ladies are helping me aim high and achieve my dreams.
When not acting, where will we find you?
I love traveling; it’s been a big part of my life. Some places I’ve been to are Thailand, Israel, Miami, New York, New England and the South. My dream is to go to Hawaii. I would also say I’m a foodie, especially desserts, so I’m always looking for cool places to eat or coffee shops to get fun drinks and snacks. My family and I are snow skiers, so you can find me on some slopes in the winter. I also love beachy resorts where I can swim and do water sports. I equally like big urban cities with museums, shows and shopping. My dream right now is to travel to Japan and Hawaii. I’ve always been into amusement parks and as soon as I was tall enough to hit the cool rides, I got pretty obsessed with roller coasters. I love Disneyland, Six Flags, and Universal. I also just like to hang out with my friends. We really love sleepovers and some of my friends have pools, so we go swimming. We also just like going to the mall, eating, shopping at stores and grabbing frozen yogurt or boba.
What are some of your favorite spots and activities in and around L.A.?
There is so much I love about L.A.! There is always something either fun, cultural, fashion, culinary or entertainment related to do. Some of my favorites are: Six Flags Magic Mountain, Disneyland, The Americana mall, Will Rogers State Beach, McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams, Lake Hollywood Park, Hollywood Farmers’ Market, Eighty-Eight Dance Studios, Playground L.A. Dance studio, The Getty Museum, The Hollywood Bowl, Brandi Melville, The Palm Coffee Bar, Malibu, Coffee Commissary, Koreatown-area shaved ice and boba, Hummus Bar, The Grove, Universal City Walk and the movie theaters, Sky Zone, Century City mall, Third Street Promenade, Ysabel, Urth Café, Tartonni Café and Din Tai Fung.
It’s super cool that a couple of hours outside L.A. there are awesome nearby awesome cities like Palm Springs, Palm Desert and Big Bear. We often take weekend trips to those places and others to chill and recharge, like a mini vacay.
Where can readers follow you on social media?
FB: @Juju Brener
YouTube: Mila & Juju Brener