One thing that had not changed was the success of Home Improvement and its star. Even with its rocky start, the show finished the third season as the number one prime-time series, Tim Allen was the most popular male star on TV, and Jonathan had become the top teen star.
As the summer hiatus was nearing, everyone wanted to know what the most popular teenager on the number one show was going to do with his time off. When Jonathan was queried about his future plans, he told a reporter, "I'd love to do a movie. That would be great. It depends upon the timing, because we have a very short amount of time when the show is on hiatus, but if the dates work out, then great, but if they don't, then no. But I'd love to do a movie."
Of course, if a movie didn't come along, JTT was prepared. "I'll probably just hang out with my friends, do some fishing and hopefully do some traveling."
Actually the possibility of a film for the summer was pretty good. During the past several seasons, movie scripts had been sent JTT's way, but aside from The Lion King, he hadn't been able to accept any others because of the timing involved.
However, at this point there were two movies on top of the pile - each was possible, each was his for the asking. Jonathan had gotten so popular, he didn't even have to audition.
One of the movies was Little Giants. It was the comedic tale of a small Ohio town's Pop Warner football league. Jonathan was interested in Little Giants for several reasons: it was a Steven Spielberg Amblin Entertainment production and was being filmed in Los Angeles. He would be able to stay at home and work if he signed on for this flick. The downside was that the film had an ensemble cast and the role he was up for - Nubie, the Giants' gridiron whiz kid and assistant coach - was fairly small. Jonathan turned down the role, and it eventually went to Matthew McCurley, who costarred in North. Now, the other movie on JTT's plate, that was something else....
It was a Disney production - a feature film then called Man-2-Man. It was to star Chevy Chase and Farrah Fawcett, and Jonathan was up for the role of Farrah's son, Ben.
Though the timing was perfect to do during summer hiatus, Man-2-Man was scheduled to film in Vancouver, Canada, which meant that Jonathan would have to spend the summer away from home. If he accepted the role, it would affect not only Jonathan but also his family.
Still, when Jonathan looked over the script, he couldn't help feeling this was the one to do. Chevy Chase and Farrah Fawcett were big stars and the script was good. "There's a lot of laughs, but there are a lot of dramatic, real-life issues, too," Jonathan revealed to the L.A. Daily News when asked why he picked this film over Little Giants. "It'll make you laugh, and hopefully it'll make you cry."
Once the decision was made, Jonathan really got excited. He had never been to Vancouver but heard it was beautiful. And, as an extra added attraction, there was great fishing up there!
Shortly after Home Improvement ended its 1993-94 season, Jonathan and Claudine headed up to Vancouver. He immediately hit it off with Chevy Chase and the rest of the cast and crew. As usual, everyone was amazed at how professional this twelve-year-old actor was.
The director, James Orr, raved to a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, "Jonathan radiates this intelligence and dimension, and not only does he have this great comic timing but he has this depth of emotions. He's comfortable in his own skin."
In the film's official production notes, Orr stated, "I wanted a young actor who had the soul of a poet, because everything Ben does comes from vulnerability, fear, and insecurity, not from any meanness or inherent negative qualities. Jonathan is very threedimensional. He's an extraordinary person and very talented. I've rarely met a twelve-year-old who impresses me as much as he does."
During the production, the name of the film changed a number of times. At one point it was Man-2-Man, then (as related in Disney Adventures magazine) Pals Forever, then Hit the Road Jack, and eventually Man of the House. But one thing that didn't change was Jonathan's enthusiasm and comfortable adaptability as Ben. "I kept waiting to see the flaw," director Orr said of Jonathan's interpretation of his character. "I kept looking for it, and I swear I couldn't find it in ten weeks of shooting."
Jonathan seemed to immediately understand and know who Ben was and what this eleven-year-old was going through. Ben lives with his mom, Sandy (Farrah Fawcett); his dad had left them and run off with another woman. At first Ben was sad and upset by his dad's abandonment, but after five years of being the "man of the house," he had actually grown to like it. Then Sandy's new boyfriend, Jack (Chevy Chase), arrived on the scene with the intention of marrying her. That threatened Ben's position in the family. Jack, who was an attorney, had no idea of what it meant to be a father - or even a stepfather. When it became obvious that his mom was serious about Jack, Ben had to fly into action to drive him away. But no matter what Ben put Jack through, Jack was determined to get the youngster to like him. When Ben suggested Jack join him in the YMCA Indian Guides program and participate in a camp-out and games weekend, it seemed things might be working out. In reality, it was a plot hatched by Ben and his friend Monroe to humiliate Jack and make him look pathetic in the eyes of Sandy. However, in a twist of fate, man and boy were thrown together to fight a mutual enemy when mobsters invaded the camp-out to get Jack for real. Ben and Jack learned a valuable lesson and found out they had more in common than just loving Sandy.
Jonathan's initial take on Ben was right on the mark. In an interview with Teen Beat magazine, Jonathan explained his character. "Ben's parents separated when he was very little. So, as Ben, I'm very protective of my mother. I don't really know Jack well, so in the beginning I really don't like him. It's not so much I don't like him - it's just that I don't know what he's about. I don't have a clue about who this guy really is. And when he moves in with us, I just draw the line right there. I feel he's totally taking over. I figure I've got to act fast. I see Jack is a sort of ick! He's a district attorney, he's got allergies, he's basically a wimpy guy.... I figure if I can get him out in the wilderness, I'll scare him off."
Actually, Ben wasn't so alien to Jonathan's real life. After JTT's parents split up, although he didn't have to be the "man of the house" because of older brother, Joel, he could relate to Ben's predicament. Jonathan discussed Ben's motivation with a reporter from the L.A. Daily News. "It's not him being a bad kid," JTT explained. "He's protecting the most important thing in his life. Everything he does is out of vulnerability." And in an even closer-to-home interview with Kidsday, Jonathan confided, "Ben came from a single-parent home and I grew up in a singleparent home. I think that in itself was dramatic. Kids have to take on a whole new role, and parents have to do a lot more also. But I think everyone has had their feelings hurt deeply at some point in their lives."
Making Man of the House was quite different from Jonathan's Lion King work and his Home Improvement schedule. Indeed, JTT's whole life changed. He and his mom "lived" in a Vancouver hotel for the ten-week shoot. They had a six-day-a-week schedule and put in nine and a half hours of work a day. Since Man of the House filmed between June and August, it overlapped some of Jonathan's regular school year, so once again he had to work with a set tutor. For the camping and games sequences, the cast had to do a lot of preparation. They had to learn an authentic Indian rain dance and how to shoot a bow and arrow. Jonathan even had to take lessons on how to flip a tomahawk. He was pretty good in the end, but he did admit that while he was learning, "The crew had to duck a few times."
It wasn't all problematic, though. As a matter of fact, Jonathan had a lot of fun, especially with Chevy Chase. When they first met, Jonathan was amazed. He turned to his mom and said, "He's huge! Six feet six!" Once Jonathan got over the height factor, he really warmed up to Chevy and announced to friends and family, "He's very nice, very funny. He's kind of flip the way comedians are - I know how to deal with them!"
It was obvious Jonathan had made new friends. He couldn't stop talking about Chevy. On the Regis and Kathy Lee show, he said, "He's hilarious, especially with the physical stuff. He's quick like Tim Allen. I haven't stopped laughing all summer."
And then there was Farrah. Jonathan fell under her spell, too, and enthused in an interview with USA Today, "She was great, professional, one of the nicest people to work with. My mom told me what a huge celebrity she was." In Kidsday, he added to his praises, "Chevy was a cool guy. He is a veteran actor and getting to work with him was a good thing. Both he and Farrah were good to me. Just being around them and getting to work with two talented actors was cool."
Another way cool aspect of Man of the House was filming the "Bee Scene." In this scene Jonathan was required to carry a beehive with ten thousand live bees inside. "They were all over my hands, in my ears, on my nose," he told Disney Adventures magazine. "I wasn't scared. I met with the world's foremost bee expert before I did it. He told me everything I needed to know, so I was comfortable going into it. Ten thousand bees, and I didn't get stung one time!"
Though Jonathan spent most of his days during his "summer vacation" working on Man of the House, he did get a chance to enjoy the natural beauty and environment of Vancouver. Every chance he got, Jonathan went fishing. "The movie crew flew us over to Vancouver Island to go fishing," he recalled. "We went salmon fishing five times. I caught fifteen fish - but I tried to throw them back, if possible." So it wasn't all work and no play - indeed, Jonathan always found time to play soccer, even joining some Vancouver kids at their school for a quick kick'em-up. JTT also made good friends with the rest of the cast, especially Nicholas Garrett, who played his buddy Monroe.
After director Orr called "Cut and wrap" on the final day of shooting, Jonathan returned to his normal routine in Los Angeles. He enjoyed the last days of his summer hiatus and then went back to work on Home Improvement. It wasn't until the next spring, March 3, 1995 to be exact, that Man of the House hit the movie theaters. March 3 was also the day The Lion King video was released - so Jonathan made all sorts of headlines. The funny thing is that Jonathan didn't expect Man of the House to be a major box-office hit, so he was incredibly surprised when it was the top grosser of all films the first week it was out. The following weeks, Man of the House maintained a steady pace and was quickly considered a hit. It eventually earned close to $40 million.
"I was very surprised that the film came in number one," Jonathan told veteran Hollywood gossip columnist Marilyn Beck. "When I did Lion King, I had some idea it would be successful because of Disney's long-term success with animated pictures. But this movie was a shot in the dark."
Jonathan was also surprised that when Disney began the advertising campaign for Man of the House, he was the central focus. The posters featured a huge JTT sitting in a chair, dangling Chevy Chase from strings like a puppet - which made it clear that Jonathan, not Chevy, was the star of the film. And though the reviews for the film were somewhat mixed, there was one unanimous observation: Jonathan Taylor Thomas was an actor to watch!
One reviewer (Variety) wrote: "Thomas appears destined for better things, and Disney should corner a share of the youth market with this inoffensive, if seldom funny comedy." Entertainment Weekly observed: "Who gets the credit for Man of the House's posting a solid 9.5 million to become the weekend's first place finisher? As with the stepfather/son relationship in the film, the edge goes to Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Following the lead of his Home Improvement dad, Tim Allen, Thomas could parlay his sitcom role into a big screen career." The New York Post agreed that JTT found the heart of his character. "Jonathan Taylor Thomas makes an effective foil, taking his scheming kid character right up to the edge of the obnoxiousness without altogether sacrificing the affection of the audience." Daily Variety commented: "Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the man of the box office as Disney's Man of the House led the weekend with an estimated $9.2 million. Chevy Chase and Farrah Fawcett may be back in the Man of the House, but it's the young Home Improvement costar who's receiving credit for the comedy's opening momentum."
And the Hollywood Reporter stated: "The surprising strength in House comes from the teenage corner. What is essentially a family film that has Chase trying to bond with his girlfriend's son, played by Thomas, has somehow caught the fancy of fickle teens, who normally would not be caught dead at something their younger brothers or sisters might want to see. The probable catalyst is Thomas, who is a hit young to be accorded full-blown heartthrob status but whose TV series is the No. 1 show among adolescents. Whatever their motivation, these most frequent of filmgoers can make or break a movie."
There it was - in black and white - the official acknowledgment that JTT was a major Hollywood power to reckon with!
Part of The Jonathan Taylor Thomas Archive - JTTArchive.Net
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