Hometown: Laguna Beach, California
Currently: Making his Broadway debut as leading soon-to-be-man Evan Goldman in composer Jason Robert Brown’s teen tuner, 13.
The O.C.: When you discover that Phillips—who’s not yet old enough to apply for his learner’s permit—has already taken center stage at the New York City Opera and the Met, graced the silver screen opposite Steve Carell in Evan Almighty and played to thousands at Madison Square Garden, you might assume that he sprang from the womb singing and dancing. However, the young star assures us he’s a regular guy from Orange County. “I just did normal stuff [growing up]. I mean, when I was four I wanted to be a tree trimmer! I thought, ‘That guy climbs trees for a living? That’s awesome.’ Thankfully I’ve matured a little,” he says with a laugh. The youngest of three, Graham made his stage debut in kindergarten as “Star-To-Be” in Annie. “I get cards now from people who have known me [since that show] that say: ‘From Star-To-Be’ to Star-On-Broadway!’ It’s cute.”
Alexander The Great: One school show led to another, and Phillips eventually landed the title role in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day at a favorite local theater, the Laguna Playhouse. “I loved how the pace was a lot quicker [in professional theater],” he says. “After the last performance, I was backstage crying because I was so sad it was over. I’m not going to say I knew it was what I wanted to do because I was nine at the time, but I definitely knew that I enjoyed it.” Though his lawyer parents were initially skeptical about his desire to pursue performing seriously, they used their connections to find a trustworthy manager, agent and acting coach for their son, a move that paid off—big time.
Going Pro: Five years ago, Phillips scored the role of Tiny Tim in Madison Square Garden’s A Christmas Carol opposite Jim Dale as Scrooge. “It was such a spectacle,” he recalls. “You’ve got a wrangler to take you to every single cue. I had a blast.” Appearances on TV’s King of Queens, Judging Amy and Crossing Jordan followed, along with the title role in The Little Prince at New York City Opera, directed by Francesca Zambello. “The music wasn’t too demanding,” the confident young actor says, “but it was definitely the most difficult thing I had done acting-wise. If you want to be good, you have to find the symbolism and understand it.” Phillips must have succeeded: The New York Times called his performance “smashing,” and Prince led to the role of Young Clyde in the Metropolitan Opera’s An American Tragedy, further bolstering his career.
Lucky 13: Phillips joined the all-teenage cast of 13 after its initial run in Los Angeles and was part of the show’s development during its pre-Broadway run at the Goodspeed Opera House. “It’s been really cool to see all the changes,” he says. Cast as a boy who moves from the Upper West Side of Manhattan to a small town in Indiana on the eve of his bar mitzvah, Phillips is the show’s odd man out—but not backstage at the Jacobs Theatre, where the young cast has bonded: “One thing I’m really happy about is there aren’t any cliques. We are our own clique!” As for Jason Robert Brown’s score, Phillips notes, “You can tell it’s his writing, but not totally—this is like a rock score, and that’s not what he [usually] writes. So that’s been fun.”
Stage & School: Having moved into a New York apartment with his mother Dad visits as often as possible, Phillips enjoys exploring what he calls “my golden zone,” the Upper West Side. “If I had to choose someplace to live other than overlooking a beach or in Orange County, it would be here.” Tutors from the School for Young Performers will guide this savvy young pro through freshman year, then he’ll likely return to California for 10th grade and possibly film school at U.S.C. And don’t be surprised if you see his name again in the future, though not necessarily on the marquee. “Eventually I’d love to be able to direct,” he says. “Once I’m older maybe [people] will consider me for that stuff. With the beard comes respect.” He shrugs. “But what do I know? I’m 15!”