Heart’s in Newry, job’s in Hollywood

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If Noah Gray-Cabey held a contest between Newry and Hollywood, Newry would win.

Sure, in California the 11-year-old’s got a starring role on the hit NBC show “Heroes.” He’s joked around with famed writer/director M. Night Shyamalan and has chatted with Oprah Winfrey. When he goes out, fans get excited and ask for his autograph.

In Newry, where Noah was born and raised, the cool stuff is more ordinary: He gets to play with his grandparents’ poodle. Sometimes there’s enough snow for sledding.

“And there are more trees here,” he said while on Christmas vacation in Maine.

Still, three years after his family moved from rural Maine to a Los Angeles suburb so he could act, Noah’s not ready to leave Hollywood. At least not yet.

“To land the part is crazy. To have (“Heroes”) picked up is crazier,” he said. “For it to do so well is even crazier.”

It was the piano that first called to Noah.

He was 4 years old, the youngest of four children living in Newry, when he begged his father, musician Shawn Cabey, to teach him to play. One quick lesson revealed talent. A few more showed he was a prodigy.

By age 5, Noah was performing benefit concerts with his family. He became the youngest soloist to perform with an orchestra at Australia’s Sydney Opera House.

For the precocious little boy with an infectious grin, local attention quickly led to national attention, including appearances on “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “48 Hours.”

It was Noah’s “The Oprah Winfrey Show” interview that caught the attention of writers on “My Wife and Kids,” a half-hour comedy created by and starring Damon Wayans. Noah was invited to appear in an episode.

His mother said no. Noah thought it sounded like fun.

When the writers called again, his parents reluctantly agreed to a cameo. He played the sitcom family’s genius neighbor.

Noah’s brief appearance won raves. He was asked back for a second appearance. And a third.

By the time the show started its second season, producers had offered him a contract.

Noah and his mother commuted between Maine and California when his sitcom appearances were infrequent. In 2003, the entire family moved west.

“My Wife and Kids” ended in 2005. But Noah, with his distinctive black curls and charm, kept getting work. Last year, he landed a part in a Shyamalan movie, “Lady in the Water.”

“He was super nice,” Noah said of the director. “We joked around a lot. He threatened to throw me in the pool.”

Between 2004 and 2006 Noah appeared in episodes of “CSI: Miami,” “Grey’s Anatomy” (starring Maine native Patrick Dempsey) and “Ghost Whisperer.” During a pause in shooting “Ghost Whisperer,” Noah dashed next door for a last-minute audition for the new NBC drama “Heroes.”

He was up for the role of Micah Sanders, a brilliant, soulful kid whose mother is an online stripper and whose father is serving life in prison. Like most of the characters, Micah’s parents have extraordinary powers. At times, Micah seems to, too.

“But I can’t talk about that,” Noah said.

“Heroes” premiered in the fall. Ratings went from good to very good to spectacular. Noah, the down-to-earth type, didn’t get excited.

“I don’t get my hopes up, ever, ever, ever,” he said.

By November, “Heroes” was the highest-rated new show on network TV. It got two Golden Globe nominations and was picked up for a full season.

Micah is one of the most demanding parts Noah’s ever had. Although the genius-level dialogue on “My Wife and Kids” was more difficult to learn, he said, the drama on “Heroes” is harder to play. In one recent episode, Noah’s character had to deal with his father being shot.

“It’s lots of fun. It’s scary, too. You’re thinking, ‘I’m not going to pull that off. Oh, jeez,'” he said.

Noah’s mother, Whitney Gray, used to serve as his acting coach. Now he often gets help from other actors and the director. He’s also assertive enough and confident enough to speak up when a line doesn’t feel right.

At least once, the director changed a scene for him.

“They don’t treat him like a little kid,” his mother said.

At 11, Noah isn’t little anymore. But he is still a kid.

Home-schooled even before he started acting, Noah divides his time among his online studies (he’s in the eighth grade) and the set, a local arcade and a new go-cart. He dabbles in magic tricks and, after begging his parents for six months, recently started to play the saxophone.

The instrument complements his jazz-blues phase, he said.

Noah also still plays the piano and, with his family’s help, has formed his own foundation. Action in Music takes disadvantaged but gifted young musicians to Africa to help AIDS orphans.

Because Noah is eager to do everything, “The hardest thing for both of us really is to keep it balanced,” his mother said.

Noah has a plan for his grown-up years, ranked in the order they should happen: Become a doctor, become a lawyer, become a pilot, go into politics. Music will be a hobby.

Acting is fun now, he said, but it won’t even factor in.

Instead, he said, “I want to be president.”

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