It didn't take long for Trophy Wife star Michaela Watkins to figure out her TV son Albert Tsai was a breakout star.
"Everybody asks if they can have Bert and put him in their pocket and take him away," Watkins tells TVGuide.com. "I think that kid has just really blown everyone's mind, and the fact is that they don't even know the half of it."
However, it sounds like fans are about to get a little more clued in. Tuesday's episode (9:30/8:30c, ABC), aptly titled "Happy Bert Day," will celebrate Bert's ninth birthday in a big way. Not only will Tsai be dressed in his Arabian Nights finest for the Aladdin-themed bash, but he will perform a choreographed number in the special episode. "I actually love dancing in real life, so I got to do what I really love," Tsai says.
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Although Tsai lists dancing as one of his hobbies, the writers were unaware of his impressive moves when they wrote the sequence. Tsai rehearsed with a choreographer the entire day prior to shooting to get ready for the big scene. "It was one of the most highly anticipated scenes we've filmed this season," co-creator and executive producer Sarah Haskins. "In the writer's room, there's a special channel where we can turn on a feed to the stage to watch, and work ground to a halt."
After he stole scenes all season, producers said it only seemed natural to dedicate an episode to Tsai's character. "Bert's birthday came from us recognizing that he's so talented and really he can shoulder a lot," co-creator and executive producer Emily Halpern says of Tsai. "It was clear to us at that point that he could commandeer his own story."
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Tuesday's episode is sure to add to Tsai's already long list of GIF-worthy moments. In addition to spouting out classic lines such as "Ow, my uterus" and demonstrating his impressive command of Yiddish, Bert has dressed up as everything from Iron Man to Indiana Jones. "He's been game for everything we've thrown at him. He's never come back and been like, 'I've got to what?!'" Haskins says. "At most is when he comes in and asks you questions like, 'What's Magic Mike about? What does this sex word mean?'"
Even more impressive than Tsai's range is the short amount of time he's been in the business. At 9 years old, Tsai can only count Trophy Wife as his second acting gig ever after an appearance last year on How I Met Your Mother. Although the role of Bert was not originally written as an adopted child from China, producers knew immediately that Tsai was the right pick. "In the audition, it was just like, 'What? How did this drop into our laps?' So we changed the character to fit Albert," recalls executive producer Gene Stupnitsky.
Watkins said she immediately sensed Tsai was going to be a star. "I'm just so thankful because there was nothing in the pilot episode that suggested that my son was adopted or from China," Watkins says. "I walked in and they were like, 'Albert's playing your son,' and I was like, 'OK, so Lucy Liu is going to be in my makeup chair because he's not going anywhere.'"
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Over the course of the first season, Tsai's personality has influenced Bert in several ways. Just like Bert, Tsai is an avid reader (He loves non-fiction history books, but co-star Marcia Gay Harden recently got him started on the Harry Potter series). Also just like Bert, who started karate in the most recent episode, Tsai lists kung fu as one of his hobbies. Tsai even ended up using the same Iron Man costume his character wore for the Halloween episode to go trick or treating last year. "With Albert, we liked the fact that he wasn't 'polished' in a way that a lot of child actors can be," Haskins says. "We figured his energy and his personality would carry the day."
Haskins and Halpern credit a lot of Bert's popularity to what Tsai has brought to the role. "We just let [the actors] bring things to their respective roles and elements of their personalities or their skills and it was the same with Albert," Halpern says.
But has the breakout status gotten to his head? Not at all, according to the cast and crew. "I don't think fame and fancy things is what really drives this kid," Watkins says. Adds Haskins with a laugh: "From the first day on, he walked into scenes reminding actors with 50 more years of experience what their lines were and that hasn't changed either. He'll be like, 'Uh that's not your line, Malin.'"
Trophy Wife airs Tuesdays at 9:30/8:30c on ABC.