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Child actor with Albany ties finds success as country icon

Mary Stewart Sullivan, center, is seen in this publicity still from Lifetime Network performing her role as a young June Carter.

Mary Stewart Sullivan, center, is seen in this publicity still from Lifetime Network performing her role as a young June Carter.

ATLANTA — With a stint on Broadway firmly under her belt, a 12-year-old actress with an Albany connection is moving up in the acting world, portraying a feisty young version of country icon June Carter Cash in Lifetime's upcoming biopic, "Ring of Fire."

Mary Stewart Sullivan is no stranger to large audiences. At 8, she landed a role in Broadway's "Enron." Since then, she's done commercials, plays and now finds herself acting alongside a cast that includes four-time Grammy nominee Jewel.

"She was bit by the acting bug at a young age, and she's been fortunate to have found success," her grandmother, Albany's Reba Stewart, said. "It's something she's really come to love, and we couldn't be more proud."

In the movie, Sullivan plays a young June Carter, a member of a talented family who would grow up to outshine her siblings and parents and eventually attract the eye of another rising star in the country music world, Johnny Cash.

Sullivan's mother, Leslie, said that her daughter was excited to audition for the role and has been managing her successes well.

"So far, it's just kind of fallen into place," Leslie Sullivan said. "She ends one role and another just sort of comes along."

Currently, the younger Sullivan is performing a role in British Director Christopher Renshaw's stage adaptation of "Zorro" — a role that required her to speak in a Spanish dialect and to swordfight.

"It's the North American premier of the play that was hugely popular in London," Leslie Sullivan said. "It opened in April, and she's signed on for 38 shows."

As the parent of a child actor, Leslie Sullivan candidly says she's always concerned about the workload her daughter takes on, balancing it with her school work and being ever-mindful of the type of roles that are offered to her still-young daughter.

"We've been fortunate that her school has worked with her to make sure that she gets her assignments and that she does the work," Leslie Sullivan said. "And, as far as her workload goes, we basically let her do what she's comfortable with. She's smart and will tell us when it gets to be too much."

The elder Sullivan says that they've turned down prospective roles for projects that didn't meet the family's moral standards, something she hopes will stick with her daughter as she matures.

Being a child actor is a sacrifice, and for Mary Stewart it's no different.

"There have been things she's missed out on," Lesley Sullivan says. "Birthday parties are often missed. She had to skip soccer season this year because of her work schedule, and she's played soccer since she was 3, so it has been a bit of a sacrifice for her. But she loves doing what she's doing."

"Ring of Fire" will air on the Lifetime Network May 27 at 9 p.m.