Daniel DiMaggio was caught off guard when producers of “American Housewife” told him his character was going to pursue ballet.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “I went from a kid playing baseball and basketball, never considering ballet, and now it’s my main sport. It’s a part of my life.”
In two years’ time, DiMaggio has been able to spin with the best of them, working on his technique when he’s not on set.
“My dance teacher has done a great job of getting me to where I need to be,” he says. “It’s like the best investment. I played years of baseball and never got the same workout or conditioning. (It’s a lot of) ab and calf work. You’re contracting every muscle in your body.”
In the series, snarky Oliver Otto chooses ballet because he thinks it will better his chances of getting into Harvard. Occasionally, producers show him in class or performance, but it’s not all camera angles and editing. DiMaggio (who, no, is not related to THAT DiMaggio) says he’s putting in the time, even though he’s hardly a clone of his character.
“I would never dress up in a polo shirt and khakis,” the 15-year-old says. “I wear T-shirts and sweat pants. But we both have a drive for something and we’re both not happy-go-lucky people. We hold a grudge.”
Because Oliver’s family isn’t wealthy, he has to make adjustments to appear like he belongs in those circles. Last season, he befriended a rich senior citizen (played by George Hamilton), who took him under wing and shared his secrets.
DiMaggio, however, didn’t know who Hamilton was, “until I saw him in a couple of KFC commercials.” He did his homework and discovered the actor – who he calls “Hamiltan” – “had a career anyone would die for. It was cool working with him. He gave me a lot of advice I could carry over into my career. He made acting seem like more than just a job.”
Growing up in California (the same community as Leonardo DiCaprio), DiMaggio started in commercials, then found his way into acting. “My manager was a family friend who said, ‘You should consider acting as part of your forte.’”
He listened and went from small parts in other shows to series regular in “American Housewife.”
“Looking back, I could have done them so much better,” DiMaggio says of those first episodes. “I definitely improved because of this show… but I don’t love watching myself on TV. I’m very critical.”
Thankfully, he doesn’t get stopped a lot by viewers. “If I do get recognized, they’ll say, ‘Are you on that show?’ and they could be talking about a ‘Supergirl’ episode I did in 2012.”
DiMaggio doesn’t lead the Hollywood life, either. He doesn’t have an expensive car. “I don’t even have a permit,” he says. “When I do start driving, it’ll probably be my mom’s 1996 Corolla. I’d rather save than spend.”
College is a consideration, but he’s not at that point yet. “I’m going to trailer school – which sounds sketchy – but I go to a campus when I’m not on the set. I definitely miss being around my friends.”
The benefit of an on-set education: “I don’t have to take all those AP classes. It eases off the pain of regular high school. Because I’m working on a show five days a week, the workload is lighter.”
Dancing, though, takes time.
“I shouldn’t be seen in ballet shoes and tights,” DiMaggio admits. “But ballet is definitely a confidence booster.”
A future on “Dancing with the Stars”? No, he cautions. “That has not been an option. I haven’t considered it. Not in the least.”
"American Housewife" airs Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.