On Lifetime’s highest-rated show, “Army Wives,” T.J. LeBlanc is a smart-mouthed teenager on a rebellious streak, or as Connor Christie, the Winter Park teen who portrays him, said, “He’s a brat.”
The easy laughter and smile of the 13-year-old following his answer starkly contrast the quick one-word answers and well-rehearsed eye roll typical of his television persona.
Connor, like many actors, tries to keep his work and home life separate, checking the attitude in Charleston, S.C., where he travels regularly to film his first recurring TV role.
“It’s not like I wake up every morning and go to a job and I’m pouting about it,” he said. “It’s exciting to me; I like it.”
Getting the gig
In December, the eighth-grader at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Orlando landed his gig on “Army Wives” as the new “grown-up” T.J. for the show’s fifth season, which premiered March 6, after spending nearly half his young life acting and modeling in commercials, print advertorials and amateur films.
“When I heard I got the part, it was just crazy. I was just so happy at the time and just looking back at it makes me smile,” he said, with his TV-perfect yet genuine grin. “My mom was like freaking out. There was a lot of screaming going on.”
Connor now balances going to school full-time and working full-time two states away — a seven-hour drive. How he manages, he’s not sure, but much of his success may have to do with the help of his mom and manager, Stephanie Christie, who drives Connor every other week up to Charleston for tapings.
“When we got into this, it’s kind of like as a mom you have to be a manager to keep a lookout,” she said. “But I think we’re a good team.”
“Yeah,” Connor said, “It’s not like I could be like, ‘Hey manager! Can you drive me to Starbucks?’”
“Actually they would probably be more likely to do that for you than I would,” his mom said with a laugh.
“But, you see, managers wouldn’t help you with your research paper,” Connor replied.
Keeping up with school
Though he may leave his character in Charleston, schoolwork is one thing that always follows Connor. E-mailed assignments, PowerPoints and readings, along with an on-set tutor, he said, help keep him up to speed.
He may miss many days of school, but his classmates do not forget his presence.
“They all watched my season premiere, because I guess it went over announcements, which is kind of embarrassing, but it was cool to get their feedback on it,” he said.
Although it is a job, Connor said he doesn’t really see acting on the show as work.
“Acting is like a sport because you have to practice your lines and how you’re going to react to stuff that happens.”
Sports happen to be the one thing Connor said he and his character on “Army Wives” have in common. Somewhere in between time on set and school, Connor plays baseball for the Winter Park Tigers, as well as backyard football and golf with his friends.
One of the things he and his character don’t have in common: his bleach-blond locks. “If you couldn’t tell, this isn’t my real hair color,” he said, again with a laugh. He dyes his naturally brown hair nearly once a week to match his on-screen mother, Roxy LeBlanc, played by Sally Pressman.
“First, seeing myself in the mirror when I was blond I was like, ‘Whoa that’s me!’” he said. “And that’s been pretty much everyone else’s reaction too.”
Now that the fifth season of “Army Wives” has begun, Connor — along with the 4.2 million viewers that tuned in for the show’s premiere on March 6 — can see himself on TV when new episodes air every Sunday on Lifetime.
“Army Wives” airs at 9 p.m. every Sunday on Lifetime.