Sammi Hanratty has seen and done more than most 16-year-olds.
The young actress began advancing her career with a series of guest roles on dramas like "Passions," "Charmed" and "House." By 2006, she dove into the popular Disney series "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody" and never looked back. Now reeling in lead roles, she plays the title character in "The Greening of Whitney Brown," a family comedy opening nationwide Friday.
The film tells the story of Whitney Brown, a spoiled Philadelphia tween forced into the farming lifestyle and changed for the better because of it. In an interview with The Christian Post, Hanratty talked about hanging out with horses on set and staying focused on her family despite success.
CP: You’ve performed in both television and movie roles. Which do you prefer, and why?
Hanratty: Both are very different.
Some of my television roles were recurring and thus I wasn't tied down to any one show. If you're doing television, you get to be a character for a long time and the cast around you becomes like family. You get attached to playing that one character and it's hard leaving them behind.
With movies, you can do a lot more roles a lot faster. My favorite thing about acting is taking on new characters. It's fun switching it up at times.
No matter what, I feel so honored and blessed to be 16 and already living my dream. It's really special.
CP: You play the title role in "The Greening of Whitney Brown," a movie opening Friday about a spoiled girl who matures when she's forced to move to her family's old farm. What did you like about playing Whitney?
Hanratty: My character had such a big arc in the film. It was sweet and a lot of fun working towards this character's transformation, seeing it coming and then watching it occur.
CP: Your character in "Whitney Brown" forms a friendship with a horse her family inherits. How was it acting with an animal?
Hanratty: Odd Job Bob was a very, very smart horse. It was so much fun working with him as he's very cute and so funny. We were doing some pretty crazy tricks together like me standing on him or riding backwards. It was cool and I never thought I'd be working with such a huge animal, never mind as a co-star.
Before that, I hadn't ridden a horse since I was six. The executive producers of the film actually got me a horse named Jack after the movie shoot ended. He's the same breed as Bob, and it was very nice.
CP: Your character is trapped between two worlds in "Whitney Brown" when she's forced to leave the city life behind for the countryside. Do you like city or country life better? Why?
Hanratty: I like being in the country more. The air is so much fresher and you get to know your neighbors better. It really forces you to focus on your family too.
People get so trapped by their technology now. Real life is so much better. I love talking with my mother and father. We really enjoy staying in and making a meal together. I'm very close with all four of my older sisters as well.
CP: How do you differ from Whitney in real life? Are you similar in any way?
Hanratty: I would say I wasn't anything like Whitney as she is the start of the movie. Towards the end, she became more like me as a person.
I think every teenage girl goes through trying to figure things out. I know I've tried learning about who I am and deciding what's important in life.
CP: What message do you hope viewers take from "The Greening of Whitney Brown?"
Hanratty: Family is extremely important and home is wherever they're waiting for you. No matter where you are, if you have great support, that's all that matters.
CP: You worked with some talented actors on "Whitney Brown," most notably Emmy-nominee Aidan Quinn and Brooke Shields. How did interacting with them improve your acting ability?
Hanratty: I was so excited getting to work with such accomplished actors. Even if I didn’t realize it, I was learning something every day.
Brooke was a child star, for example, and has gone to college and gotten a degree and raised a family. She's someone I look up to. Kris Kristofferson, meanwhile, was so sweet. It was really like he was my grandpa rather than just playing him. I thought it was hilarious because Aidan looks like my real dad. When we were at the premier together it was like "here's my real dad meeting my fake one."
CP: What's next for you?
Hanratty: I'm finishing "Amazing Love," a film due out in 2012. It's a Christian film and it was amazing working on something that was close to my heart like that. I even got to work with some people my age.
I've also been working with an organization called the Starlight Children's Foundation and will hopefully go to Peru soon to volunteer at hospitals there for them. They help children with cleft palates in third world countries get corrective surgery. In a lot of these nations, people ignore these children and treat them as if they're cursed. I'm passionate about going there and taking real action soon. Between that and some more acting roles, I'm very excited for 2012.