At 17, Johnson County native Alex Neustaedter is already a veteran of the ups and downs of showbiz.
Right now he’s in an up phase with his first regular role in a TV series on USA Network’s “Colony” (9 p.m. Thursday). He also has two big-screen movies waiting in the wings.
It wasn’t always this way.
Neustaedter got his start at age 5 or 6, he said, when his mother, Teri Neustaedter, took him to audition at a talent agency.
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“My mom worked at Hallmark Cards, and everyone she showed my picture to said I was photogenic and they recommended she go to this agency,” Neustaedter said. “I didn’t know what it was at first, but when they told me it was a competition kind of thing and when they related it to sports, I was really stoked about it.”
That led to a talent competition that took Neustaedter to Los Angeles for four months to give professional acting a try.
“I don’t remember too much, but I got a couple of commercials and was close on movies but it didn’t happen and I wanted to go back to Kansas City and play baseball and football,” said Neustaedter, an avid athlete. “But after that experience I just got into theater and did plays at my schools.”
Neustaedter, who grew up in Prairie Village, Overland Park and Mission Hills but considers Prairie Village home, took classes with the Kansas City Ballet, which led to roles in the company’s annual “Nutcracker” production. He also landed parts in two low-budget horror movies shot in the Kansas City area, 2009’s “Albino Farm” and 2010’s “Last Breath.”
At age 11, he attended a seminar about Hollywood casting held locally.
“As I was heading home, a manager stopped me in the hall and said, ‘Are you going to my seminar?’ I wasn’t but she said to come,” Neustaedter recalled. “I did a cold read with a scene and she really liked it and now she’s my manager.”
Neustaedter’s last year of school in Kansas City came when he was in seventh grade at Pembroke Hill School. By the time he was 14, his whole family, including health care consultant dad Jeff Neustaedter and the family dogs, had relocated to Los Angeles.
“I don’t really care about the fame at all,” Neustaedter said. “Growing up in a family-oriented place like Kansas City helped me get my priorities straight in terms of what I wanted to do and who matters most to me. … People out here are at times the complete opposite, so I definitely give a lot of credit to my parents and growing up in Kansas City.”
When Neustaedter returned to Los Angeles midway through seventh grade he went out on auditions but wasn’t landing roles. That changed in his sophomore year of high school when parts started to come his way, including a guest spot on ABC’s “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” By his junior year he stopped attending high school in favor of an independent study high school program that better fit his “Colony” shooting schedule.
On “Colony,” Neustaedter plays Bram Bowman, son of lead characters Will (Josh Holloway, “Lost”) and Katie (Sarah Wayne Callies, “The Walking Dead”). The family lives in Los Angeles in the near future when an apparent alien force has occupied the city and split it into different colonies.
Will has been pressed into service by the invaders’ human collaborators while trying to find the family’s missing son, Bram’s younger brother; Katie secretly works with the resistance. Neustaedter describes Bram as adventurous but secretive.
“He loves his parents and will do anything for his parents but in the situation we’re in, we’re kind of hiding everything from each other,” Neustaedter said. “I don’t know much about what my parents are doing and my parents don’t know much about what I’m doing. There are a lot of lies going on for one general cause: our family.”
“Colony” co-creator Ryan Condal described Neustaedter as a natural actor.
“He has this great way of internalizing his conflict where you can see it all happening on his face,” Condal said. “We loved the way he would process a line reading as if his character was thinking of the exact right thing to say. In that way, we thought it was a unique take on a teenager. … Writing the role is really writing for Alex and then seeing how he brings the work to life as Bram.”
Prior to landing his part on “Colony,” Neustaedter was cast in a lead role in the Meg Ryan-directed film “Ithaca,” which is still seeking distribution. In the film, based on the William Saroyan novel “The Human Comedy” and set in the 1940s, Neustaedter stars as Homer, a 14-year-old telegram messenger whose family is strained by the passing of his father and the drafting of his older brother in World War II.
Ryan plays his mother, and Tom Hanks appears as Homer’s late father.
“That happened my sophomore year after I didn’t get anything for three years essentially,” Neustaedter recalled of landing his first major role. “It’s a project I’m extremely proud to be a part of. It gave me my break.”
Working with big stars on the film, which was shot in summer 2014 in Richmond and Petersburg, Va., wasn’t daunting, Neustaedter said.
“I don’t know if it was just that I was hyper-focused or because they’re such nice and genuine people and they really took me under their wing,” he said. “It’s like I found my passion when I did that movie. I figured out this is really what I need to do and what I love to do.”
Late last month, Neustaedter was slated to film re-shoots for “Shovel Buddies,” the story of a group of friends who try to fulfill the last wishes of a recently deceased friend. The film does not have a release date.
“I’m carrying the (friend’s) body the majority of the time,” Neustaedter said. “And half the time I’m in my underwear because I gave my pants to the friend who passed away.”
Neustaedter would like to go to college and study marine biology, but he has deferred for a year. Last week USA renewed “Colony” for a second season and production is expected to coincide with the time Neustaedter would be starting college. In the meantime, he’s adapting to his suddenly busy life as a working actor.
“(In retrospect), I enjoyed not having any sort of success right away or getting parts right away,” he said. “It’s better because it makes you more hungry and you appreciate it more.”
Freelance writer Rob Owen: RobOwenTV@gmail.com or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.
Where to watch
“Colony” airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on USA Network.