If the little boy introduced on Monday's episode of Six Feet Under looks familiar, it's because you probably saw him in his very first acting job. His name is C.J. Sanders. And in last year's Oscar-nominated biopic Ray, the then 6-year-old gave a heartbreakingly good performance as the young Ray Charles struggling to cope with sudden blindness.
It was a bit of a struggle for C.J., now 8, as well. "When I had contacts and I had gook in my eyes — that hurt!" It also hurt when he "would fall over the stairs," he says, because he could barely see when he was wearing the contact lenses. Even at his tender age, though, he grasps how his suffering "helped" him play a blind boy realistically. "It was fun for me to feel that experience, what people have gone through in their life."
The only time he wasn't a trouper, admits his mom Sharon, "is a couple of times when he got dust in his eyes. They were huge contacts! I cried every day watching him.
"He relates acting to football," she says of C.J., who quarterbacks for a pee wee football team. "When he comes into a role, he says, 'These are my teammates and I have to come through for them.'"
Fortunately, there are no painful requirements on Six Feet Under, where the young actor plays Anthony, a shy foster child who moves in with the show's gay couple, David and Keith (Michael C. Hall and Mathew St. Patrick).
"My mother went to rehab, that's how I got up for adoption," he says in character, adding that he's "heard about gay dads" before, so he was comfortable with the concept.
C.J., the son of former Tennessee Titan Chris Sanders, says that doing the HBO show is "as much fun as Ray. They're really nice people and I get to have a big brother (Kendre Berry) to play around with. [My character is] shy at first, but I get better and better."
No doubt C.J. will do very well with his next movie. "I'm doing Where God Left His Shoes," he says. "It's about me and my dad. We're a very poor family." Current possibilities to play his dad include Terrence Howard, Morris Chestnut, Jeffrey Wright and Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. Whoever he is, the guy'll be in good company with his little costar.
FYI, due to Six Feet Under's lethally low ratings on Monday nights, the mortuary drama will return to Sunday nights at 9 pm/ET starting this weekend.