Eris Baker might only be 12, but she has known the screen life was for her since age seven. And if her latest role as Tess Pearson in NBC’s hit drama This Is Us is any indication, the budding actress knows what she’s talking about.
“I knew I wanted to be an actor because I loved to reenact characters from Disney shows and Marvel,” she tells ESSENCE in an exclusive interview. “My parents always supported me through my journey, so when I told them I wanted to be an actor they were like, ‘Yeah, you’re ready.’”
Baker has come a long way since her first gig — a Target commercial — and is learning quite a bit as Tess, the precocious oldest daughter of Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth (Susan Kelechi Watson) Pearson in the popular NBC series. Though her character has become a fan favorite over the course of the show’s two seasons, Baker thought she completely bombed her audition.
“For my callback there were like a million people there and when I was in there I messed up on one of my lines and I thought I ruined my whole audition. I was tearing up because they made me do it again and again,” she recalls. “At the end of the day I got the part and I was so surprised.”
Turns out, the show’s producers weren’t asking Baker to try again because she was messing up. “It was actually because they wanted to see how many ways I could do the role,” she says.
The choice was perfect, and Baker says she and her character have a lot in common, especially when it comes to family.
“We have a similar connection. Her and her dad have a great relationship and they always talk it out. That’s the same way with me and my dad,” Baker says. “Also, she has a little sister just like me.”
Like her on-screen alter ego, Baker comes from a close knit family. And just like her real parents, who are there for her every step of the way, the preteen has learned a lot from her costars.
“I feel like it’s an amazing experience and I feel so blessed to be working with them because they’re such talented actors. Like, every time I act with them I learn something new to help me with future projects,” she says. Baker also gave Brown and Watson props for telling her to “never give up on your dreams and work hard every time you come on set it. If she follows her passion, they say, she “won’t feel like a job because you’re doing what you love.”
Since starring on This Is Us, Baker has gone on to add even more acting credits to her resume. In just five years in the business, the young thespian has appeared on Disney Channel’s K.C. Undercover, Netflix’s Alexa & Katie, and Comedy Central’s Drunk History. Each experience has made the 12-year-old want to build a long-lasting career, both in front of and behind the camera.
“I, of course, want to continue acting, but I also want to do lots of behind the scenes work,” she says. “In this business, there’s so much to do. I want to be a scriptwriter one day and direct and maybe become an executive producer. I feel like I can do a lot of shadowing on this show, especially with the amazing writers and directors. I feel like I can learn a lot.”
When she isn’t working, Baker is just like any normal kid who attends public school, loves fashion and tennis, and enjoys hanging out with her family. Still, the eldest of four girls has some advice for young people who may want to follow in her footsteps and break into acting.
“I would say what my parents tell me every single day: let your light shine,” she says. “If you be you and if you’re always nice and respectful then nothing will get in your way.”