Sundance: Nick Robinson plays around in ‘Toy’s House’

Young actor makes first appearance at fest in coming-of-age pic

Who: Nick Robinson, actor
What: “Toy’s House”
Where: Monday at 11:30 a.m. at Prospector Square

Nick Robinson is a Sundance virgin. The 17 year-old thesp is in Park City for the first time to promote Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ feature directorial debut “Toy’s House,” a coming-of-age tale in which he plays the title character, Joe Toy.

“Basically, me and two friends decide to run away from home and build a house in the woods, but our illusion of grandeur falls apart when a girl comes into the mix. It’s just about growing up,” says Robinson, who describes the film as a cross between “My Side of the Mountain” and “Stand By Me.” “It’s a dark comedy, so while it has its light moments, it does get very dark.”

Robinson found himself in the center of an agency frenzy last week prior to Sundance, eventually signing with Theresa Peters at UTA, which now co-reps him with the Savage Agency and manager Nils Larsen of Principato-Young Entertainment.

Thesp’s longtime reps sent him the script by Chris Galletta and he immediately fell in love with it. “It was fantastic writing. There was just something about it,” said Robinson. “Chris was influenced by his own childhood growing up on Long Island and movies like ‘E.T.’ and ‘The Goonies.’ All of the characters were really distinct and well developed. I was laughing out loud, and that’s rare. But I played in the woods when I was 14, so I could really relate to it.”

Robinson was a series regular on ABC Family’s “Melissa & Joey,” but just because he was on a popular TV show didn’t mean he didn’t have to prove his commitment to winning the coveted lead role.

“I met with the director and didn’t hear anything at first, but kept going back for call backs and when I found out I got the part, it was surreal. We filmed in rural Ohio and the locations were mind-blowingly beautiful. It was a tight shoot and required long hours,” recalled Robinson, who clearly felt the project was worth the extra effort.

Robinson saw the film in its entirety for the first time on Saturday night, as Vogt-Roberts wanted to surprise him and have him view it with an audience.

Robinson, who had a memorable guest spot on an episode of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” last year, said he’d like to do more features in the future. “There’s more freedom and you really get a chance to get to know people and develop camaraderie over the course of the shoot. The great thing about acting is you can step into somebody else’s shoes without suffering the consequences, so as a young adult I can carry on that childhood imagination. It’s fun to be somebody else for the day,” explained Robinson, who was particularly excited to come to Sundance as a “big fan” of Robert Redford and his movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

“Toy’s House” screens as part of the U.S. Dramatic Competition lineup on Tuesday (Press & Industry screening at 3:30 p.m. at Holiday 3), Thursday (3:00 p.m. at Eccles), Friday (9:00 p.m. at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City) and Saturday (11:30 a.m. at Prospector Square).

One in a series of profiles on filmmakers and talent from the Sundance Film Festival 2013.