On big screen, Superman saves local student

Photo Courtesy of Alexa Gengelbach
Alexa Gengelbach of New Boston, 15, posed for a photograph with the star of the new Superman movie, "Man of Steel," actor Henry Cavill.

Herald Staff Writer

NEW BOSTON — On the big screen at movie theaters across the country, Alexa Gengelbach screams in terror. But in real life, she’s smiling.

The 15-year-old Heritage Hills High School sophomore now has a blockbuster movie acting credit to her name. She finished filming her small role as a frightened victim in the new Superman movie, “Man of Steel,” nearly two years ago and just recently saw herself in the film for the first time. The movie opened Friday.

“It wasn’t a big part, but I was glad to be a part of it,” Alexa, the daughter of Dean and Debbie Gengelbach of New Boston, said.

Her career began when she was just 4 years old and began modeling outfits and poses for a dance catalog. She got the job after taking classes at Elaine’s School of Dance in Chrisney, which she continued for several years. Soon, her talents for dancing led her to the world of pageants. It was there that she was discovered by an agent from New York who later set her up with two other agencies, one in Louisville and the other, D.C. Talent, in Los Angeles and Chicago.

“I got a lot of auditions, and obviously you’re not going to get some and some of them you are,” she said.

Her big movie break came in 2011 when she was contacted to attend a Chicago audition for a mystery movie called “Autumn Frost.”

“I didn’t know it was the Superman movie. (”˜Autumn Frost’) is its stage name so no one knew what it was,” she said. “I had to do dialogue for the first audition. I had a cold read. They only gave me 20 or 30 minutes to learn it. Once I got through that level, I got a call back and then I had to do a swimming audition.”

The good news came only a few days later when Alexa was told to travel with her mother to Chicago for a 10-day block of filming followed by another five-day stretch in Vancouver. It was there that she first learned she would appear in a scene for a big-name studio movie.

“I never had seen a Superman movie. I knew he saved people and saved the world, but I didn’t know the whole gist. I didn’t know about Krypton and his father and all of that,” she said. “It was cool just to know you were in a big Warner Brothers movie.”

Alexa’s scene is a flashback for the hero, Clark Kent, who remembers saving a group of children from drowning in a river when their driver lost control of a bus. Working with water meant that Alexa and her new friends from the scene had to learn some new tricks.

“The first couple of days we did scuba diving training. We had to swim through hoops, and we had wetsuits made for our bodies. We had to put weights in our pockets so we wouldn’t rise up,” she explained. “In Vancouver, it was in a big tank and then they’d lower the bus in and raise it up. They’d keep doing that over and over again with tons of different shots and angles.”

Even though the work could be tedious and tiring — in between shooting times, Alexa received school lessons from an on-set teacher to make up for the 15 days she missed at Heritage Hills — she said it was fun to hang out with her castmates, many of whom she keeps in touch with during her family’s annual trips to Los Angeles.

“We were like just a group of friends together, so it wasn’t bad,” she said, adding that the best part of filming was “getting to know everyone better and getting lifelong friends from it.”

After two long years of waiting as the film crew edited the shots to prepare the movie for release, Alexa was finally able to see the finished product. She and her family traveled to LA for a screening for the cast and crew June 4. She wasn’t sure if she had made it into the film after editing, but as she watched the movie she was excited to see herself shown in three shots.

“It was weird watching it the first time, because I was like, ”˜Oh, I didn’t know that’s how it was going to turn out,’” she said. “Once the camera’s in a certain direction, you don’t realize what it’s actually going to look like. I think that was cool.”

A couple of weeks later, family and friends gathered in Tell City for a local premiere party. Alexa’s older brother, Brandon, brought his girlfriend, Alyssa Hoffman of Santa Claus, who has become like a sister to Alexa. Alyssa said she is proud of her friend for all of her acting and modeling accomplishments, and although she had never seen a Superman film before, she loved watching for Alexa in the bus scene.

“It was awesome,” she said. “It’s very action-packed. You can tell (her family members) are very proud.”

Alexa plans to continue acting. Thus far, she has appeared in print advertisements for Dollar General, Under Armour and Escalade Sports, among others. She also has starred in several television commercials, including spots for the NCAA Hall of Champions, Doritos and Indiana State Museum. She also has been in independent movies, including one based on the Carrollton, Ky., bus crash that killed 27 people in 1988.

As her résumé grows, she isn’t sure if she’s ready to be a superstar just yet.

“I was very honored to be a part of (”˜Man of Steel’),” she said. “I think it would be cool to still be in tons of movies but not have the huge name so everyone’s not bothering you.”

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.

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