Erik Per Sullivan
With his quirky, yet naturalistic performances on the hit comedy series "Malcolm in the Middle" (Fox, 2000-06) and in several films, child actor Erik Per Sullivan shone alongside many of Hollywood's greatest talents before he had even reached his teens. After appearing as an extra ate age five in the sci-fi blockbuster "Armageddon" (1998), Sullivan won an open audition for a speaking role in the Academy Award-winning drama "Cider House Rules" (1999). His touching death scene, opposite film legend Michael Caine, ensured that there was not a dry eye in the theater. It was, however, his role as the oddball youngest brother on the rambunctious family comedy "Malcolm in the Middle" that would earn the young actor a place in the hearts of TV fans for years to come. During the course of the show, his Dewey transform from being the perpetual target of his older brothers' shenanigans, to a master manipulator, whose intelligence rivaled that of his brainy sibling, Malcolm (Frankie Muniz). Sullivan kept busy throughout his tenure on the show with work on projects that included the films "Joe Dirt" (2001), "Unfaithful" (2002), and the beloved animated family adventure "Finding Nemo" (2003). Even after the inevitable end of "Malcolm," Sullivan positioned himself for future success when he enrolled as a theater student at the University of Southern California in 2009.
Sullivan was born on July 12, 1991 in Worchester, MA to parents Fred, a restaurateur, and Ann, a Swedish immigrant who helped teach her son to speak fluent Swedish at a young age. Other early interests for the only child included studying the piano and saxophone, as well as earning a first-degree black belt in tae kwon do while growing up in the Massachusetts town of Milford. After graduating from Milford Catholic Elementary School, Sullivan attended the private Catholic boarding school, Mount Saint Charles Academy in Woonsocket, RI, before transferring to New Hampshire's renowned Phillips Exeter Academy for his junior year. By this time, however, the talented youngster had already begun his notable acting career. At the age of five, Sullivan's dad took him to an open casting call for a film in preproduction. This led to his feature debut with an uncredited appearance as a little tike holding a toy rocket ship in the Michael Bay-directed disaster epic "Armageddon" (1998), starring Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck.
Clearly enjoying the experience, the Sullivans answered another open casting call and managed to secure the then-seven-year-old a speaking part in the film adaptation of John Irving's best-selling novel "Cider House Rules" (1999). Preternaturally devoid of the self-conscious precociousness so common among his contemporaries, the neophyte child actor greatly impressed audiences with his performance as the sickly orphan, Fuzzy. Also impressed was author and screenwriter Irving, who described Sullivan's turn as "a gift to the film," in which the innocent, bright-eyed youth, suffering from under-developed lungs, tragically passes away, despite the ministrations of his guardian, Dr. Larch (Michael Caine). While it was Caine who won an Oscar (his second) for his supporting role in the film, many felt he had ample competition from the diminutive Sullivan each time they shared the screen.
More auditions for Sullivan followed, and with only his third acting credit, he would land the role for which he would be forever connected in the dysfunctional family sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle" (Fox, 2000-06). Cast as Dewey, the youngest son of the Wilkersons - although their surname was never actually spoken during the series run - Sullivan's character was initially on the receiving end of his older brothers' (Frankie Muniz and Justin Berfield) nasty pranks. That began to change in later seasons, when it gradually became clearer that Dewey was not an introverted oddball, but rather, a highly-intelligent iconoclast, who eventually began to outwit his genius sibling, Malcolm. Getting its start as a mid-season replacement, "Malcolm" became a ratings hit for much of its seven-year run, making a star of titular lead Muniz, but also opening doors for most of its core cast members. Just as that long-running series was hitting the air, Sullivan also made another small appearance in the pilot episode of the medical drama "Wonderland" (ABC, 2000), as the child of psychiatrist Dr. Robert Banger (Ted Levine). However, in stark contrast "Malcolm," the reception to "Wonderland" was dismal enough to earn it cancellation after a mere eight episodes.
With his comedy series enjoying ratings success on the small screen, Sullivan took on a much darker project with a role in the psychological horror film "Wendigo" (2001). Written and directed by low-budget horror auteur Larry Fessenden, the movie was seen through the eyes of Miles (Sullivan), a young boy shaken by the increasing instability of his parents' (Jake Weber and Patricia Clarkson) marriage, and an ill-defined terror lurking in the woods outside the family's remote cabin. That same year, on the opposite side of the cinematic coin, was the low-brow David Spade comedy "Joe Dirt" (2001), in which Sullivan portrayed a youthful version of the titular trailer trash protagonist. Repeating the trick, he played another younger iteration of a character - this time Jerry Stiller's Arthur, the eccentric dad of Carrie Heffernan (Leah Remini) in a 2002 episode of the Kevin James sitcom "King of Queens" (CBS, 1998-2007). Exceptionally busy for a preteen juggling both school and a hit series, Sullivan managed to fit in a performance as a son caught in the crossfire of his parents' (Richard Gere and Diane Lane) dangerously disintegrating marriage in "Unfaithful" (2002).
Next, Sullivan had the privilege of working on one of the most beloved animated films when he voiced Sheldon the seahorse in the Disney/Pixar Studios undersea classic, "Finding Nemo" (2003). The following year, he played Dan Aykroyd's son in the holiday family comedy "Christmas with the Kranks" (2004), starring Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple whose plans to skip the yuletide festivities go horribly awry. With work on his successful weekly series winding down, Sullivan lent his voice to director Luc Besson's live-action/animation hybrid fantasy "Arthur and the Invisibles" (2006). After "Malcolm" had wrapped for good, his schedule was freed up enough to accommodate a starring role as the title character in the biopic "Mo" (2007), an independent drama about a boy determined not to let his life-threatening disability get in the way of living as so-called normal life. A few years later, the 19-year-old Sullivan was enjoying his theater studies at the University of Southern California and still managing to make brief appearances in productions such as the little-seen Joel Schumacher crime drama "Twelve" (2010).