Zach Attack

by Jesse Florea

Six actors sit behind microphones in a small gray sound studio outside Hollywood, California. Light glints off of chrome microphone stands. 

Suddenly, the director walks into the room.

“OK, in this scene, Matthew, you’re very suspicious of Buck and the fact that Emily is spending so much time with him. But Emily thinks that Matthew is just jealous.”

When the director leaves, the youngest actor puts on his headphones and goes over the script one last time.
And we’re rolling!

Zach Callison waits for his character’s turn to speak. “What tasks, Mr. Whittaker?”

“Oh, good morning, Matthew. . . .”

Zach AttackFor the past two years, Zach has played the character of Matthew Parker on Adventures in Odyssey—Focus on the Family’s popular children’s radio series. But this 13-year-old has also appeared on the Disney channel, 55 episodes of “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and other TV shows and commercials.

From the start, Zach has been a natural at bringing Matthew to life. The Parkers came to Odyssey in album 51, Take It From the Top, and Matthew quickly became a fan favorite. He is the quizzical middle child in the Parker family who enjoys solving mysteries with his friend Emily Jones and helping Mr. Whittaker with his inventions at Whit’s End.

“Zach is a wonder,” Adventures in Odyssey creator Paul McCusker says. “He’s astounded me from the very beginning. He hits lines like even adult actors don’t hit lines.”
Clubhouse caught up with this talented actor at the recording of Odyssey album 53, The Green Ring Conspiracy.

Clubhouse: When did you first start acting?

Zach: I was 7, back in St. Louis, Missouri. I did the musical “The Music Man” and played Winthrop. I got to spit, because I had a lisp. I really enjoyed that. Then I did more and more theater. Finally, I did a commercial and had a small role in a movie in St. Louis. That’s when I realized this is what I want to do.

When did your family move to Los Angeles?

In January 2007, we came out for two weeks. The next time we came out we stayed longer and longer. Now we’re out here 90 percent of the year. We still go back to St. Louis for Christmas and sometimes in the middle of the summer. But otherwise L.A. is pretty much home. 

Zach AttackWas there a lot of pressure to be smart when you were on “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”

You feel pressure to help the [contestants]. If you can’t, you feel terrible. I answered a couple questions wrong, and you get a terrible feeling in your gut.

What questions did you miss?

I try not to remember those. Some math questions—that’s not my best subject—left me saying, What? I just put down a wild guess. 

If math isn’t your favorite subject, what is?

It’s kind of bouncing around lately. I like history a lot and geography. Those are probably my two favorites. 

Where do you go to school?

I’m home-schooled. My mom helps me; she’s my teacher. The school day is a lot shorter, and it’s a lot more flexible—that’s why I do it. In this business, I kind of have to. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to do Adventures in Odyssey because right now I’d be at school. 

How did you get the part on Adventures in Odyssey?

I went into a studio and did the lines for Matthew. A couple of days later they called to say, “We want you to do a callback over the phone.” We were driving down the highway and didn’t have great phone service, so my mom pulled over and I did the callback. A few days later they told me they wanted me to do Matthew.

Are you similar to Matthew?

We are similar. Personality-wise, we love to look at stuff and figure it out. He loves to tinker, and I think we have that in common. I like the shows on educational channels where they cut stuff in half and look inside of it. 

Which do you like better: voice work or being on TV?

There’s a lot more pressure when you’re on camera because you have to worry about everything—your entire body. I can usually play younger when it’s just audio because I can pitch up my voice. On camera, I don’t really pass for a 7-year-old. 

Are you amazed when you think about all the shows you’ve been on? 

I’ve been really blessed by God to be on Adventures in Odyssey, on the Disney channel, in “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” and other great programs. Just to be here in L.A. is an opportunity not many people get to have. I’m thankful every day for my parents and for what God’s given me. 

But you don’t make every show that you audition for, right?

Probably about 80 percent, I don’t get. You just have to move on if you don’t book an audition. There have been a couple of auditions where I was really bummed because I didn’t get them. My mom always reminds me that God has a plan. For “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”, I didn’t get on the show the first time. But then I got another audition and found out I booked it. 

What’s the best part of playing Matthew Parker?

On some other auditions I go on, I have to say mean things. That’s why Odyssey is so great. It’s always Christian-based. The other actors are awesome, so I can count on having a good time every time I come to the set. 

Zach AttackStar Qualities

Check out some of Zach’s favorite things.

Favorite cereal: Lucky Charms; I pick out the marshmallows. 

Favorite animal: Blue whale. 

Favorite place to visit: I got to go on a student ambassador trip to Australia for two weeks. That was the best trip ever.

Favorite sport: Baseball. I’m a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan. I used to play second base, and now I play outfield.

Favorite instrument: Guitar and piano. I play piano.

Favorite vegetable: Steamed broccoli.

Favorite dessert: Frozen yogurt, especially red velvet cake flavor.

Favorite Bible character: Jonah, because I’m an ocean enthusiast.

Favorite Bible verse: John 3:16. In private school, we recited it a lot.

This article first appeared in the April 2011 issue of Focus on the Family Clubhouse magazine. Copyright © 2011 by Focus on the Family. Used by permission. Photos © Jesse Florea/Courtesy Callison Family. Illustration © Gary Locke.