When Sami Gayle was in fifth grade and cast as the lead in a school play, her fellow students signed a petition against her, saying a different girl deserved the part. Five years later, the Florida-bred actress has two Broadway shows (Gypsy and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!) and the TV series Blue Bloods, in its second season, under her belt. This spring, Gayle makes her big-screen debut as a runaway-teen-turned-prostitute taken in by a substitute teacher (Adrien Brody) in Tony Kaye’s Detachment, set in the trenches of the education system.
Gayle, 16, approached the role with the maturity of a veteran. “People say, ‘Oh, you played the prostitute.’ And I say, ‘No, I played a girl who was troubled and shown a better way of living,’ ” she says. “Obviously, I couldn’t go on the streets and Method act!”
But she did test out the trunk of a friend’s Audi for the upcoming Stolen, in which, as Nicolas Cage’s kidnapped daughter, she spends much of the movie in the trunk of a taxi. Next up, she’ll appear in The Congress, a dystopian futuristic tale, for which director Ari Folman is animating an older version of Gayle’s character. It’s not too much of a stretch for the actress, who exudes a wisdom way beyond her years. “I do tend to hang out with people who are 18 and up,” she says. “And up, up, up.”