Iain Armitage is only ten years old, but he’s becoming one of the most recognizable actors on television. Armitage stars as the titular character on Big Bang Theory-spinoff Young Sheldon, and he also appears as Ziggy Chapman on summer smash Big Little Lies, holding his own alongside stars like Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Meryl Streep (one of his longtime heroes). He’s a precocious kid who delivers a deeply sensitive performance as Ziggy, giving life to material centered around themes that are far beyond his years.
While his character mostly comes across as quiet and serious, Armitage is bubbly, chatty, and endearingly polite (to him, all adults are “Mrs., “Ms.,” or “Mr.”). He loves reading and listening to music (especially Ziggy’s namesake, David Bowie); but he really goes crazy for theater. It’s in his blood: Both of his parents work in the industry, and he was even named for Sir Ian McKellen.
Armitage got his start by filming theater reviews for YouTube—in the first one he’s just three years old, gurgling in the bath about how much he loves Hairspray. The videos quickly garnered attention in the theater community, and at just six years old the burgeoning Ben Brantley (though it’s important to note that Iain only gives positive reviews) was working as a correspondent at the Tony Awards, posing for photos alongside the likes of Mr. Lin-Manuel Miranda. At the last ceremony he was even referenced in the opening number.
Armitage says he spends half his life on airplanes, and we caught him just before a long-haul flight to Australia. We spoke about plays he likes, “Mrs. Meryl, “Ms. Shailene,” and the curse of Beetlejuice.
It was so cool that you got out a shoutout at the Tonys! How did that feel?
That was pretty amazing. I’ve loved the Tonys since I was little. I still have a diary from when I was like four, and I wrote in it “I wish that I was on the red carpet with my mama.” And then a couple of years later I was reporting to Mr. Perez Hilton on the red carpet. So that came true!
You were so young! Only six, right?
Yeah I think I was like five or six, yes ma’am.
You started posting theater video reviews online at a really young age, and they quickly got super popular. How and why did you start recording them?
Well, my babysitter was in Hairspray at the Signature Theater, which I’d say is in my backyard, it’s so close to us. And I’ve been going there for a while. I saw it when I was three, and mom thought it was a pretty good pattern. It was dance, sing, and sing. And the stuff that only older people could get would fly over my head. And I would love the songs and the dance, and we had seats close to an end [of the aisle] just in case. But I loved it.
Afterwards I did — I don’t even think it should be called a review, it was just like — a little thank you to the cast. And you know my dog was barking in the background, so it was very professional [laughs]. But I was only three, so I was just saying, “It was amazing, I love the cast, thank you so much.” That lasted five seconds, and then I just kind of started doing it. I kept doing more thank-you’s to the cast. And eventually I did my first review for Waiting for Godot, which was kind of my first real review review.
You recently saw Oklahoma and What the Constitution Means to Me. What were those plays like?
Yes, I did. And they were both amazing. Well, there were so many good shows this season. I actually saw Beetlejuice when it was in D.C., too. So, it was amazing, and I knew it was such a wonderful show and there were already people there that had seen it two or three times, and when it came to Broadway I was very excited. And I want to go back and see it. But, let me think. There’s so many amazing shows.
The Prom, incredible. Oh my goodness I loved the story. It was amazing. And Be More Chill, that was so good. So, we haven’t hit many plays while we were there but To Kill A Mockingbird was incredible. If you go to Europe sometime soon or you are in New York a lot, you should definitely go see To Kill A Mockingbird.
The second season of Big Little Lies is airing now, and of course they added Meryl Streep to the cast. In a previous interview you said that Meryl is one of your heroes! So, what was it like to meet her?
She is amazing. You know, even like when you’re four, you just hear people talking about amazing people like that. And she is, oh my goodness, she is amazing. The great thing about people like her is that she is such a wonderful actress and she raises people to her level. So, you really feel so good. And she gives us fun little acting tips kind of! But she’s just so nice. And we have so many scenes with Nicholas and Cameron [Crovetti] who play Mac and Josh, and it is very fun.
Now you’ve gotten to know her, do you think there’s anything about Meryl Streep that might sort of surprise people, or that people may not realize about her?
I’m not actually sure, I mean she’s such a wonderful lady. Oh, this was a fun story! So, one time on the set there was a piano, and I asked my mom if I could go over and play it. And she said, “Oh no, not right now, I think they’re busy.” And then Mrs. Meryl came up and said “Oh they would like to hear him play, is it alright if he does it?” And mom was like “Yes.” So, she took me over to the piano and I played a bit and she played a bit and it was awesome.
At the Big Little Lies premiere party you were dancing a lot with your TV mom, Shailene Woodley. What’s it like to film with her? Do you guys have fun?
Oh my goodness, she is so wonderful. She was one of my favorite first people I had ever met that did acting on a TV show kind of, and I don’t even have words. She was so amazing! We FaceTimed her before we filmed the first Big Little Lies, and she said that acting is like being on a giant playground, it’s so fun, you’re going to have so much fun, and from the very start she was like my real mom.
The music on the show is so great, and there are a lot of scenes with you and Darby Camp [who plays Chloe Mackenzie] that show you selecting some pretty sophisticated music choices. What do you like to listen to in your regular life?
Oh my goodness. Well, I’m actually very excited because I have a long flight coming up tonight to Australia, so I get to listen to a lot of music. My favorite is actually just like Ziggy, David Bowie, a lot of David Bowie and Freddy Mercury and all of Queen. I love their songs. Actually right now I was just listening to Diamond Dogs by David Bowie.
You’re on two huge, hit TV shows. But besides your own shows, what do you like to watch?
I don’t actually watch a lot of TV.
Oh man, good for you!
When we’re on a long flight–and we do fly a lot. You know, like half of my life is spent on airplanes. And I love airplanes, they’re like my second home! Like, when we go to an airport in California I’m just like, “Mom, I’m going to go on over to the bookstore, see you soon.” It’s definitely like an indoor neighborhood. But I think I watch things on long flights. Oh, Mysteries at the Museum, I love that show.
It’s great that you love to go to the bookstore and read. Are you reading anything good right now?
Oh, it’s my favorite. And yes! Well, Mr. Bruce Coville is pretty much my all time favorite author. He’s amazing, and he’s written so, so, so many books. He does a lot of illustrations for his books, and he is amazing. I got the great honor and pleasure of meeting him. He’s so funny and so nice and I know every one of his books by heart.
But right now I’m actually reading a book series, it’s the Samurai Detective book series. It’s set in Imperial Japan. Well, for me it’s pretty interesting. It’s set in the early 1700s, and it’s about this judge who is one of the Shogun’s officials, and his adopted son, and they kind of solve crimes. And that’s really fun! It is a wonderful series.
On Young Sheldon your character loves math, but what’s your favorite subject in school?
I think definitely history. Actually funny story! My teacher Mrs. Laura, she is amazing. Oh she’s so fun, she’s one of my favorite teachers that I’ve ever had. And sometimes on set she’ll say we’ll have 20 minute blocks for school. She’ll say “Okay, let’s go do school” and I’m like “Yay!” and then she says “Now we’re going to math” and I’m like “No,” because math is not my favorite subject.
Obviously you’re a Broadway expert. If you could be in any Broadway show, what would it be?
Oh you are asking a hard question there. Oh my goodness. Maybe I’d be Mr. Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird, or maybe Bill or Jim or maybe Scout. But oh my, I can’t choose! Maybe Hamilton in Hamilton. Probably like Jim or Dale in To Kill A Mockingbird and maybe the Phantom of the Opera. Oh my goodness, this is so hard.
Too tough, I think.
It actually is. Oh, and Beetlejuice!
Have you ever said “Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice,” just to see what happens?
Why would you do it? He’s now crawling around the premises.
He didn’t show up!
Oh, you’ve cursed us.