BY MELANIE COUGHLIN

Special to The Pilot

Maggie Batson, 9, is adorable. Big, round eyes that sparkle and a delicate mouth that turns up almost constantly make this entrepreneur, philanthropist and athlete endearing by anyone's standards.

Add to that her blonde hair and ever-so-slight lisp, and it is easy to understand why a casting director recently called Batson the next Drew Barrymore.

A straight-A student at Farm Life Elementary School, Batson will likely call movie audiences to make the same comparison when she debuts in her first feature film later this year.

The dark comedy "Killing Winston Jones" stars Richard Dreyfuss and Danny Glover. Batson shines as Dreyfuss' -daughter, whom she plays in -flashbacks throughout the movie.

Though Batson watched movies starring Dreyfuss in preparation for her scenes with him, the -chatty actress did not recognize him when she encountered him on set in Savannah, Ga.

"It was so funny," Batson recalls with a giggle of the moment she and her mother, Rachel, met Dreyfuss. "When we got there, it was lunch, and I saw this man walking down. I said, 'Hey, what's your name?' and he said, 'Richard.' I asked him what he did in the movie."

Dreyfuss described the role he played in the movie, to which Batson responded, "That's silly."

After lunch, Batson's mother clued her in that the Richard with whom she had spoken was THE Richard.

"I didn't really know who he was," Batson says, and the on-set pictures explain why. Dreyfuss, in costume and makeup, did not look like the man Batson had watched in movies.

The transformations that happened during costume and makeup were, in fact, Batson's favorite part of the movie experience.

"I loved the makeup artist. She gave me makeup that Mama never lets me wear. I got to wear eyeliner and mascara," Batson says with sheer enchantment.

Batson came to the movie scene via a circuitous route. Batson runs a business, Twice Loved by Maggie B., making necklaces from recycled hosiery. Two years ago, her necklaces were -featured in a celebrity swag bag, and she flew to Los Angeles for the event.

There she met singer/ actress Zoe Myers, who took Batson under her wing. Myers became one of Batson's cheerleaders, and ultimately, Myers' mother, a talent agent based in Atlanta, signed Batson on as a client.

Batson has acted in short films, was on the PBS show "Biz Kid$," and won the Nickelodeon game show "Figure It Out." Since those jobs, Batson's agent has been actively seeking roles for her.

The audition process for "Killing Winston Jones" was swift. Batson received a call on Thanksgiving asking her to be in Savannah the -following day to meet with the casting director. Auditions took place in a hotel, and Rachel Batson watched from afar as her daughter walked up to the grown-ups and shook their hands.

"I went into the room," says Maggie Batson. "I talked to the guy who made some jokes. They asked me to do some acting, to be happy, to be sad. At the end they asked me for a high-five and I said, 'No, fist bump.'"

Her reaction got a chuckle from the movie heads, including "the guy" Batson mentions; he happened to be director Joel David Moore.

"It was neat for me to see," says Rachel Batson of watching her daughter hold her own with the Hollywood group. "It was nerve-racking, too. There were two other little girls there. On the one hand, you want your child to win, but after you see them (the other children) and meet their parents, you feel bad for them."

The Batsons were driving home from Savannah later that day when they got the call that Batson had won the part. She had little time to revel in the moment; just three days later, she was on location in Savannah filming.

It's heady stuff for a down-to-earth Whispering Pines family. Rachel Batson and her husband, John, are parents to two other children besides Maggie: John, 7, and Bobby, 4. A military family, the Batsons are cemented in Moore County for the foreseeable future while the senior John, a U.S. Army major, completes his oral and maxillofacial surgery residency at Fort Bragg.

That is just fine for Rachel Batson, who had reservations about her daughter acting.

"I didn't know if I wanted her to be an actress. I liked that she was a business- woman," says Rachel Batson, who has warmed to her daughter's acting. "As long as we can be a normal family, then it's really fun."

Other than being particularly self-composed for her age, Maggie Batson certainly seems like an ordinary child. During an interview at Panera Bread, she played with her La Dee Da fashion doll that she bought with her own money. She engaged other children in conversation about favorite movies and hobbies like bicycle riding.

"I can pop a wheelie!" she exclaimed to another girl between bites of her bagel, then asked her, "Do you want to play with my doll?"

At this age, Batson switches easily between demonstrating her acting (she has an impressive sad face and voice) and enthusing about everyday activities such as the traveling soccer team she plays on. That down-to-earth nature is part of Batson's charm. It is a magnetism that everyone who knows her is hoping will come across the big screen this year.

Whatever the outcome, Batson has a good perspective on her movie experience.

"I liked smiling at the camera," she says. "It was just plain old fun."

Contact Melanie Coughlin at coughlin@embarqmail. com.

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