Taylor Paige Henderson is casting a spell on Hollywood
AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - She’s only 15, but when she talks about her work, actress Taylor Paige Henderson speaks like a seasoned professional who’s prepared to cast a spell on the industry.
“Hard work beats talent,” she says very plainly. “Let’s say you just did a job, and a producer of another project reaches out to the director of the project that you just worked on to ask what your work ethic is like. If the director responds ‘Oh, she’s talented, but her focus isn’t very great,’ then they’ll move on.”
Henderson has starred in stage productions for the Actor’s Equity Association, the first ever computer-generated animation film by famed anime studio Studio Ghibli, and now, the sequel to Disney’s cult classic Hocus Pocus.
She has the poise of a seasoned performer, but the energy and youthfulness of a child. She sits with classy posture, her straight hair perfectly combed, wearing a red and white turtleneck sweater. She’s timid at times, but talks about her goals with a strong confidence. Henderson isn’t going to be the kid that the director moves on from. She comes from Amarillo, Texas, and starred in her first production at Amarillo Little Theatre when she was just seven. Even then, she was a standout.
Before long, she was starring in professional theatre productions of Fun Home and Matilda in San Antonio. Later, she headlined her first film, Earwig and the Witch, for Studio Ghibli, before landing the opportunity of a lifetime to star in Disney’s upcoming Hocus Pocus 2 as the young Winnifred Sanderson, a character originated by Bette Midler in 1993. Her dreams are so much larger than her roots, and she knew from a young age.
“There was definitely a moment,” her mother Melissa Henderson says. “She was about nine years old doing community theatre and she just innately knew she wanted to do more. We figured out pretty quickly that her path may look a little different than everybody else’s.”
Her earliest mentor, Jason Crespin, directed her very first shows at Amarillo Little Theatre. Even before she knew about the “hard work beats talent” mantra, he recalls her exemplifying it. From day one, she was casting her spell.
“She was just a determined kid,” Crespin said. “You could always see that she was thinking. Other kids might be playing around, but she was by herself thinking about things like certain emotions and characteristics for her scenes. She would always ask really smart questions, too, that surprised me, for a kid her age.”
Henderson’s path to success hasn’t come without its fair share of obstacles, though. She was poised to make her off-Broadway debut in a 2020 production of Bedwetter before the COVID-19 crisis struck, dealing the entire theatre industry a huge blow. Broadway theaters finally reopened their doors in summer of 2021, but many smaller theaters weren’t so lucky. Henderson, on the brink of a career breakthrough, was forced to retreat.
“The day I left New York City was the day I was scheduled to start rehearsals,” Henderson said. Like millions of others, she only anticipated a two-week shutdown. But as the virus dragged on, she began to send out remote auditions, known as “self tapes.” Henderson says she sent out over 250 self tapes over time, with her only audience being a camera.
“Every single audition I got, I was like ‘Oh my God, I’m going to book this one,’ and then I didn’t,” she said. “When you submit an audition and don’t get it, you don’t hear anything. They don’t email you. No, you have to wait months and months, and then a Deadline article comes out and you see who did get it. That was difficult.”
Still, Henderson didn’t want to be the kid to move on from. Out of the millions of young actors who dream of a career in showbiz, Henderson is as determined as any of them to make it. Her dream was more than a dream, it was a goal. But no goal comes easily, and a pandemic striking in the middle of such a developmental stage is an unprecedented roadblock.
The process wore on the rest of the family as well. You need technical expertise to make a self-tape look good, and Henderson didn’t have that. So it fell to her mom, Melissa.
“They’re a lot of work for her, but they’re a lot of work for me, because somebody has to edit them,” Melissa said. “That takes a lot of time and she’s just not savvy at it. There were definitely times that I looked at it and said ‘This is not worth it at all.’”
Through it all, though, young Henderson - and her parents - stuck to it. After all, hard work beats talent. Eventually, after hundreds of submissions with not a word in return, in December 2020, she was cast as the titular role in Studio Ghibli’s first venture into the world of computer generated animation: Earwig and the Witch. After keeping her focus on Broadway for so long, jumping to film was a shift in priorities, but a welcome one nonetheless.
And that shift might’ve been a blessing in disguise, as her success in Earwig led to Hocus Pocus 2. The film is available to stream now on Disney+, releasing nearly 30 years after its predecessor. For fans, it’s a long-awaited return to the spooky world of the Sanderson sisters. For Henderson, it could just be her ticket to fame.
However, portraying the iconic Winnifred Sanderson is no easy task. In the original 1993 film, Bette Midler’s Winnie is a driving force throughout the film, receiving the most screen time and creating what would eventually become a cult classic. Henderson knew the gravity of the role immediately upon meeting Midler.
“I got to watch her do her character work, she calls them ‘Winnie-isms,’ so I call them that too, naturally,” Henderson says. Her eyes grow wide with enchantment as she remembers the first time she witnessed the Hollywood legend at work. “The minute she stepped in front of the camera in her costume, it was just on. She was Winnie. It was insane.”
Henderson will join the likes of Zendaya, Selena Gomez, and Miley Cyrus in the club of teenagers who found their big breaks at Disney. Whether or not she ascends to their level of stardom is yet to be seen, but with the professionalism of a seasoned actress, an iconic character in a trending new film, and the lovable enthusiasm of any 15-year-old girl, she may have the perfect recipe to cast a spell on the entire industry.
“There’s always going to be someone who’s better than me. I know that,” she says. She has a confident smirk that soon transitions into concentrated determination. “So, I’m always training, because… that person who’s better than me? Soon, I don’t want them to be. I want to be better than them.”
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