Like most young actors co-starring in a major HBO drama opposite Oscar-nominated actresses, Iain Armitage got his start as a theater critic. Okay, so he’s the only one in that category, but his online video reviews of Broadway and Off Broadway productions (yes, he was totally on top of the Hamilton phenomenon) led to him getting cast in Big Little Lies as Ziggy, the son of Shailene Woodley’s Jane. It is his first major acting job, but it is surely not his last.
The 8-year-old son of Tony Award–nominated actor Euan Morton and theater producer Lee Armitage, Iain has starred in major projects since he shot the HBO drama last year, including the adaptation of The Glass Castle starring Brie Larson and Netflix’s Our Souls at Night with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. (Both are due out later this year.) Earlier this week, CBS announced that he will also star in Young Sheldon, a Big Bang Theory spinoff that will focus on Sheldon Cooper’s wonder years.
Armitage recently spoke to Vulture about how he got into acting, what it was like to work on Big Little Lies, and his recently discovered love of David Bowie. Throughout the conversation, he was unfailingly polite — the word “ma’am” was used, at a conservative estimate, 35 times — and extremely exuberant. “It’s nice to meet you, Miss Jen!” he said at the beginning of our conversation. So, yeah, the kid’s pretty irresistible.
You dad is an actor and your mom is a theater producer. Is that how you got interested in show business and theater reviews?
I started doing theater reviews because I got obsessed with theater at 3, after my first show, Hairspray. Then a couple agents saw my reviews and said, “Oh, do you want to work with us?” My mom didn’t really want to, because some other kids in the movie business have gone a little crazy after and been a little selfish and not as, like, kind and respectful to others. So we didn’t really want to, but then this one agent, Abrams Artists, they said, “Could you just come and tell us why you don’t want to?” So we came in. They had great answers for everything, so then we signed up and I got my first show, Big Little Lies. In a way, it was like the theater did its magic.
You really love the theater, but you didn’t necessarily think, “Gosh, I want to be in a show.”
Well, I wanted to be in a show. I thought it was really cool, but I didn’t ever actually think it would happen. I was like, Yeah, there’s no chance of that.
Tell me about getting cast as Ziggy. Did you have to do a bunch of auditions?
Okay, so, Abrams Artists are based in New York. We live in Virginia, and we go to New York a lot to see shows and to hang out with people there. But it would be kind of annoying if every time I got an audition, we had to drive into New York, or fly in, and then we had to do the audition. They really said, “Hey, you know what you can do? You can do it on video and send it in.” So first for Big Little Lies, we were out in L.A. for something, I can’t remember quite what. But we did it, then we sent it in, and that was it.
A couple of weeks later we got a callback. By this time we had pretty much forgotten about it. [Pauses.] Actually, we hadn’t forgot about it. We still liked it. So we went there and they said, “You did a great job.” And I said, “Thank you.” And then like a week after that, they said, “You got the part for Big Little Lies.” And me and my mom just shared this look of joy. It was like, “Is this really happening?” And I just loved doing it.
You’re working with some really big stars in this: Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon.
They’re very kind. Yes, ma’am. Very kind and very nice.
You work with Shailene Woodley a lot since she plays Ziggy’s mom. Do you remember first meeting her? How did you develop that mother-son relationship?
Yes. So what happened was, when we had heard we got the part we FaceTimed. So we FaceTimed her and we were just, you know, talking and I showed her some of my stuffed animals. I love stuffed animals. I have so many. Then we just kind of talked a little while on FaceTime.
Did you have a favorite day on set?
There were six principal kids on the show: me, Chloe [Coleman, who plays Skye], Ivy [George, who plays Amabella]. Darby [Camp, who plays Chloe], and Nicholas and Cameron [Crovetti, who play twins Josh and Max]. There was [a scene with Darby], we called it the backseat scene. It’s the scene where they’re driving to school. One day Darby said, [singing], “I want to do the backseat scene with Ia-in.” Then we’d go on to the song, so now the song sounds like, [sings], “I want to do the back scene with Iain, and Chloe, and Ivy, and Darby, and Nicholas and Cameron who play twins.” Now that’s the whole thing. That’s our theme tune.
You had a scene in a recent episode where Ziggy has to draw a family tree and he gets really angry with Jane because she doesn’t know his dad’s name. How was it to play such an emotional scene?
Me and my mom and my dad, we all get along very well. We all play with each other, we all hug. We’re like a hugging, lovey, never fight family. Also, if we fight, it always ends in a hug and I love you.
It didn’t really come naturally because I’m not used to fighting with my parents. But it was kinda fun. I’ve got to admit, one person said to me, “Was it hard to throw down the chair? You must have felt so bad.” I was like, “No, I didn’t. No, I didn’t. I loved it. It was fun.”
How many takes of that scene did you have to do?
We did like four takes and I was like, “Can we do more?” They were like, “I think we’ve dented up the floor enough.”
Music plays such a big part of this show. Darby’s character, in particular, has always got her earbuds in. What kind of music do you like to listen to?
Well, I do a lot of show tunes because you know [starts singing again], “Come on along and listen to, the lullabies of Broadway.” Literally, that’s what I do. I come along and listen to the lullabies of Broadway. And then this show got me into David Bowie and now I know virtually all of his songs. I can literally right now, on the spot, you can choose from 15 songs and I can sing any one. I love, love, love, love David Bowie. I have a record player and I have most of his records and I play them a lot.
What do you like about David Bowie?
In an interview, someone asked him what’s his favorite thing to dress as? He had a lot of different costumes and cool stuff. He said — I’m not quoting him, though — he said something like, well, I don’t really know how I’m going to dress next month. In a month, I may be dressing like an alien and the month after that, I may be dressing as Superman. He could be dressing as anyone and it would just depend on the day. He could dress as a variety street performer, he could be dressing as a king, he could be dressing as a knight, he could be dressing as an alien, he could be dressing as a monster. Just that change and that amazing voice of his. He just seemed magical.
He was. It’s interesting: When I interviewed Millie Bobby Brown, who plays Eleven on Stranger Things, she also said that has a record player. I thought that kids didn’t listen to records anymore, but I guess you guys do.
We do, we do. About five out of every ten kids has a record player. A lot of children like to listen to music, yeah. You want to know something funny?
To go further into the root of David Bowie, me, and BLL, there’s kind of a triangle there. Monsieur Jean-Marc [Valée], our director — our amazing, fantastical director — I have a fun fact about him. I had a birthday and I was in Montreal, where he lives, and so we said, “Oh, do you want to come to my birthday party?” Even though I was just planning, like, cake with my friends. He said, “Oh, you know, it might be better if you come here. I would like to show you Fake Studios where I work.” So we came there. Instead of seeing just a boring office, we saw this elaborate, beautiful place. Better yet, he had set up his own party for me. There was a beautiful cake. There were streamers. There was confetti. It was crazy amazing! He is the best. He gave me the record player along with a record of David Bowie. So he was really the one who got me into it.
He basically threw you a surprise party.
Yes, ma’am. I was obviously planning a little party. Like, I wasn’t planning to have all my friends and everyone there. He was like, “No, welcome to Fake Studios.” Then he threw this amazing party and I was dumbfounded.
You’ve got a lot of projects on your plate. You just signed up to play Sheldon in this Big Bang Theory spinoff. That’s exciting.
Yes, ma’am. Thank you.
Were you familiar with The Big Bang Theory? Had you watched that show before?
Can you tell me what that show’s going to be like?
I haven’t really read the script. I read a teeny bit, so not really. I read the first two paragraphs.
Are you going to have to move to L.A. to do the show?
We don’t think so. We don’t really know. We just started, so we’re still figuring it out.
Do you eventually want to make acting your full-time job?
Well, maybe. I’m sitting here in an apartment right now because we’re out in L.A. doing the Young Sheldon, Big Bang Theory thing. Literally, I’m not kidding, I have a tablet filled with magic tricks, to the very brim. I love magic. I think I want to be a magician in Las Vegas when I grow up.
So I have seen all of Big Little Lies except for the last episode. I don’t want to know what happens, but can you tell me something about the last episode? Will I be shocked by how it all turns out?
Yes, ma’am. Definitely, ma’am.
This interview has been edited and condensed.