PHILADELPHIA — For Kaitlyn Dever, time is passing too quickly. She turned 17 last month, for Pete’s sake.
“I’m the opposite of all my friends,” says the little scene stealer from Tim Allen’s comedy Last Man Standing (8 p.m. Fridays on ABC). “They can’t wait to be 18 and driving and heading off to college. I’m kind of panicking. I wanted to be 16 a little longer.”
If your career were booming like hers, you might want to stop and smell the residuals, too.
In addition to Last Man Standing, on which she plays flinty youngest daughter Eve, she reprised her role as the dangerously resourceful Kentucky teen Loretta McCready on Justified. Loretta is the firecracker who dared shoot Mags Bennet (Margo Martindale), the kid who keeps drawing the protective instinct out of Raylan (Timothy Olyphant).
At the moment, Dever is backstage on the Last Man soundstage, waiting for a table read. She’s sitting in what serves as the classroom for her and Flynn Morrison, 8, who plays Boyd on the show.
Lately, she has been playing hooky a lot. But she has a note from her agent.
Dever has been splitting her time between the sitcom and the set of Men, Women & Children, an Ivan Reitman comedy with Emma Thompson, Adam Sandler, and Jennifer Garner.
It’s one of five films she has done in the last two years, including the forthcoming Laggies with Keira Knightley.
It’s unusual for a network to give a series contract player so much latitude, but ABC realizes what they have in Dever and makes every effort to accommodate her.
“She’s a massively skilled actress,” says Last Man’s executive producer Tim Boyle. “It may get to the point where she’s at a Jennifer Lawrence level, where we can’t hold onto her, but we want it to last as long as possible.”
The fact that Last Man Standing runs with clockwork efficiency affords Dever more away time. The lead, Allen, brought over an old hand from Home Improvement, director John Pasquin, who stresses rehearsal. The result is quick tapings.
It would be easy to call Kaitlyn precocious, except she has had her eyes on this particular prize since she was a child in Dallas.
“I’ve always been good at doing impersonations,” she says. “When I see a person on TV, within three minutes, I can do all their mannerisms and their voice. Acting has always come naturally to me.
“I kept begging my parents to let me take acting classes,” she says. “I came home from the first day of classes and said, ‘Mom, that was the best day of my life!’”
Dever was spotted by a talent agent who was convinced the kid would take Hollywood by storm. Thus started another long siege campaign of her parents.
The Devers were ice skating coaches in Phoenix until Kaitlyn’s father, Tim, won a nationwide cattlecall to become the voice of Barney, the purple dinosaur. (He would later go on to voice another popular children’s character, Bob the Builder.) Tim’s voice work took the Devers to Dallas.
But uprooting the whole family (Kaitlyn is the oldest of three sisters) for something as iffy as a child actor’s chances? On the other hand, Kaitlyn was incredibly persistent.
So they compromised: Mom Kathy would take Kaitlyn out to Los Angeles so the 9-year-old could see what a discouraging job acting was. Then duly chastened, Kaitlyn would buckle down in Dallas. That was the idea anyway.
“I booked the first thing my agent sent me out on,” says Dever. “For a while, we’d go back to Dallas every summer. But I kept booking more and more things, so three years ago, we all moved out.”
Before we lose you to the table read, Kaitlyn, what would you say is your best impersonation?
“I got it from The Best of Will Ferrell collection. I put on a wig and giant glasses and act like Harry Caray.” OK, did not see that one coming.