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‘Waverly Place’ pair pick up pace

Young actors show maturity, ambition beyond their years

Top-rated “Wizards of Waverly Place” may be a starring vehicle for Disney “It” girl Selena Gomez, but its appeal also rests on the shoulders of actors David Henrie (20) and Jake T. Austin (15), who play her supernatural sibs.

“I’m from a big Italian family, so I could really relate to the family dynamics of ‘Wizards,'” says Henrie, whose first job was on “Providence.” “My sister and I are very combative in the show, which is great to play, as we’re both so different from our characters in real life.”

The accomplished young actor, whose credits include “The Pitts,” “That’s So Raven” and “How I Met Your Mother,” spends his free time learning about production and writing his own scripts (including one for “Wizards” that will air next year).

The equally ambitious Austin, who says he grew up “always wanting to be the center of attention, constantly entertaining and doing funny voices,” got his start modeling. “There’s a lot of me in Max. He’s the wild card, and we’re both very adventurous,” says Austin, who broadened his resume with key roles in “Hotel for Dogs” and Lionsgate’s upcoming “The Perfect Game.” He’s also had a thriving voiceover career, playing the lead in Nickelodeon’s “Go, Diego, Go!” and smaller parts in bigscreen toons “Everyone’s Hero” and “The Ant Bully.”

“David and Jake both bring an acting maturity that’s encouraged the rest of the cast to dig deeper,” says “Wizards” creator Todd Greenwald, who exec produces with Peter Murrieta. “David had a challenge, playing a nerd going head to head with a tough female character, and he just nailed that. And Jake brings a confidence to his character that really clicks with kids. They love his ‘you can try new things and not care what others think’ attitude.”

Impact: Selena Gomez may steal the spotlight, but these guys were crucial in turning the Disney Channel’s most popular series, “Wizards of Waverly Place,” into an Emmy-winning hit for exec producers Peter Murrieta and Todd Greenwald.

Next: David Henrie will play the lead in Platinum Comics’ “The Weapon,” while Jake T. Austin lends hi voice to Fox’s animated, “Rio,” from “Ice Age” director Carlos Saldanha.

Causes: Henrie is writing and directing a short for Code Blue, which helps homeless teens. Austin attends events for the Los Angeles and St. Jude children’s hospitals.

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