Sammy Voit is just your average teenager, studying hard in his eighth-grade classes and hanging out with friends. But then again, Sammy isn’t just your average teenager.
He’s already had some television work under his belt — primarily through cooking shows like “Food Network Star Kids” and “MasterChef Junior.” But Sammy has already made a big leap to scripted fare like “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” on NBC and Showtime’s “Homeland.”
Now he’s making appearance in feature films, like last year’s “To Dust” starring Géza Röhrig and Matthew Broderick. Sammy plays Naftali, one of the sons of Röhrig’s Shmuel, a Hasidic cantor who loses his wife and becomes friends with a local community college biology professor played by Broderick.
It had actually been a while since Sammy and the rest of the cast were together filming under director Shawn Snyder, so a recent premiere at the Marlene Meyerson Jewish Community Center Manhattan was a bit of a family reunion.
“At the premiere, we were saying hi to all our cast members,” Sammy said. “And all the cast went to dinner and talked because we hadn’t seen each other in like a year and a half.”
The role was different for Sammy, who tends to pop up in smaller parts, usually as some couple’s son. But in “To Dust,” Sammy’s Naftali is not alone, this time dealing with a brother dynamic with Leo Heller’s Noam.
“Naftali is kind of the sweeter kid, who basically when his mom dies, really cares about his dad and what he’s feeling,” Sammy said. “I’m like constantly trying to keep his spirits up and make sure everyone’s OK.”
For the role, Sammy had to shave his natural curls to match the Hassidic style portrayed in the film.
“I’m a Conservative Jew, and it’s definitely different kind of transforming into this kind of person because I used to have my hair (down) to my shoulders,” he said.
During shooting breaks, Sammy would still attend school, shaved head and all. But sporting a different do wasn’t the hardest part. Instead, becoming Naftali proved a little challenging at times, especially on set when he had to balance camera time with school work.
“I’m thinking, ‘What’s one plus one?’” Sammy said. “I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, I hope my dad isn’t feeling sad right now.’ And doing that shift and changing my emotions can be a little hard.”
Sometimes Sammy is working nine-hour days, but that doesn’t stop the youngster. In fact, he turns a lot to some of his other acting inspirations, including Taraji P. Henson’s work in 2016’s “Hidden Figures.” Henson — probably best known for her Emmy-nominated role as Cookie Lyon in Fox’s “Empire” — portrayed Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who played a key role during NASA’s Project Mercury missions in the 1960s.
“I think a good actor has the skills to play any role,” Sammy said. “I really liked that movie, but mainly her. I really liked her character and I think she played it so well.”
Sammy’s real love is cooking. He made some local news just last year after directing his kitchen energy into catering his own bar mitzvah. He may have never won any of the cooking competition shows he took part in, but Sammy did win the hearts of film students who wanted him to appear in their work.
“They said, ‘Hey, I saw you on that cooking show and we want you to audition,’” Sammy said. “And so I started with student films and I kept going to more auditions. And then I got an agent and then a manager. Then I did extra work and now I’ve moved away from that and now I’m doing real roles.”
That’s included a number of appearances — some uncredited — in shows like “The Tick,” “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” and “Blindspot.” But Sammy also has found room in films like “This is the Year,” “Uncut Gems” with Adam Sandler and Judd Hirsch, and “The Greatest Showman.”
Sammy balances school, family, friends and his job. But if there’s anything this juggling act has taught him, it’s communication. With the help of his set tutor, Sammy gets his work done and also makes a point to keep his teachers updated.
And when he’s not meeting celebrities like Emily Blunt, Zac Efron or Zendaya, Sammy’s playing sports, video games and hanging out with his friends and family.
At some point he will think about his future, but not yet. Sammy has a deep love for acting, but also has ferocious skills when it comes to computer science. When he’s not acting, he’s building computers — for fun.
“To me, it’s like adult Legos,” he said.
Depending on how successful his future on the big screen is, he’s also interested in pursuing a degree in computer engineering.
“I was just trying out on a food competition, but now I’m, like, acting,” Sammy said. “It’s definitely crazy. I met a ton of people on the way, and that’s definitely changed the way I act.
“I think the main reason why I’m here today (is) because I started with the smallest thing, like student films. And then I was an extra in a lot of stuff. But even though I was just an extra and probably on TV for like five seconds, I learned what it meant to be on set, and everything that I need to know to be here today.”