Cale Ferrin’s Career Takes Off: Playing in a More Beautiful World
Apr 20, 2020 12:18PM
By Kara Schweiss
Cale Ferrin may not be a household name—yet—but if his face looks familiar, it’s because in a little over five years since his 2014 debut at a local talent competition, the 13-year-old’s entertainment career is blossoming.
He modeled for Nike and Target campaigns, and Parents magazine. He guest-starred in episodes of the TV shows Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn, Teachers, and Speechless. He appeared in two short films and a music video. He appeared on several local TV talk shows, emceed a couple of area events, and even narrated “Meet the Bluejays” videos for Creighton University.
It gets better. Cale not only played the role of “Freddie” in the 2019 feature film More Beautiful for Having Been Broken, he’s a season regular on TV, having acted in a starring role for two seasons of a Canadian sci-fi series called Endlings.
“[My career] is going better than expected,” Cale said. “I never thought I would be in the second year of a TV series.”
His career success would be remarkable for any young teen, but Cale stands out in another way: he was diagnosed as a newborn with Fanconi anemia, a genetic disorder so uncommon that he’s likely the only person in the state of Nebraska who has the condition. He needed a host of surgeries as a youngster and manages some ongoing symptoms along with effects on his balance and coordination. His parents—Britteny and Justin Ferrin—and his medical team also must keep careful watch for other complications that could still develop.
Cale said despite the challenges his condition presents, he’s proud that his success is helping create opportunities for other performers.
“The percentage of special-needs actors in a leading role is like zero-point-two percent. Less than one percent,” he said. “I want to give a shout-out to any special-needs actor that’s out there: Just go for it! Do what you love…Let’s try to get that percentage higher.”
In his More Beautiful role, Cale’s condition, and his unique abilities, are embraced.
“‘Freddie’ is a special-needs kid who has Fanconi anemia…I think it’s a very empowering movie because it helps people to maybe understand Fanconi anemia a little bit,” he said.
“The director originally didn’t quite pin down the disability of the character, and then when she cast Cale she agreed to have it be Fanconi anemia,” Britteny said. “It’s amazing just to bring light to what life with a special-needs child is.”
“Casting the role of Freddie was the most critical aspect of this film. I would not cast anyone who did not have special needs,” producer Nicole Conn said. “When we first read Cale in 2015, he was only 8. The minute he came into the room, he owned it. His energy was palpably loving. When I picked him up at the end and hugged him, I felt like I was hugging God, and that’s how that line ended up in the film—no joke.”
Conn said she would like to see more inclusivity in general.
“Actors with special needs bring an authenticity to their condition and perspective that you simply can’t pretend,” she said. “More and more folks are speaking out and pushing this door open for those who have special needs to be more in control of their stories. And it’s important for the viewers to see these authentic representations.”
In Endlings—available to U.S. viewers on Hulu—Cale’s character, Finn, did not call for a special-needs actor.
“They don’t highlight the disability. In Endlings, it never comes up,” Britteny said. “That’s empowering for Cale as an actor.”
“Endlings is about four foster kids who find out that they’re not alone in the universe. They pretty much save animals who have gone extinct. Finn is a kid who had a tragedy happen when he was younger; his mother abandoned him,” Cale said. “He doesn’t talk at all in season one.”
Portraying a person with selective mutism doesn’t exactly come naturally for the self-described “chatty” teen, but communicating Finn’s emotions through body language, facial expressions, and other nonverbal means has broadened his acting skills, Cale said.
The role also stretches his imagination. Because “endlings” are creatures representing the last of their species, not to mention the otherworldly nature of the series and the fact that it’s set 20 years in the future, Cale has both human and computer-generated castmates. “You have to react to things that aren’t there,” he explained.
Filming Endlings on location in Canada has necessitated adjustments for the whole family, which includes his older brother J.J. and younger sister Anna. The family has needed to split into essentially two single-parent households—Britteny and Cale head north and Justin oversees the homefront—but everyone is on board.
“This is something we’ve agreed upon as a family,” Britteny said. “It’s hard, but we schedule visits and FaceTime.”
Being small for his age and appearing younger is advantageous for Cale as a child actor. This not only can prolong his career, but having greater maturity than a child of a character’s age he may be portraying creates the potential for larger roles. However, timing is everything, Britteny said. “You never know when an opportunity is going to come, and you really just have to jump on it.”
As long as the work is still fun, Cale—with the support of his family—will continue to seek opportunities on both the big screen and small screen.
“You get less of your dose of Cale in a guest-star role than you do in a feature film,” Cale said, adding with a laugh: “Or as my mom might say, ‘It’s a Cale overload!’”
This article was printed in the May 2020 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.