By Emily Feimster
It's rare to see young stars in Hollywood make it through adolescence unscathed, but Hayden Panettiere, who's been working in the biz since she was 11 months old, says she's managed to stay grounded thanks to having the opportunity to act like a typical teenager. And, no, we're not talking about the Paris Hilton
Growing up in front of the camera has "been relatively easy for me because I have an amazing family and group of friends who keep me very down to earth," claims Hayden, who's from Rockland County, New York. "I grew up around normal people and around a normal environment. I would basically do what any normal teenager would do minus going to classes with my friends. I did the high school parties, the football and soccer games, the dances, prom, and homecoming," adds the 17-year-old, who has been home schooled her whole life.
However, compared to most people her age, Hayden's life has been anything but typical. She began appearing in commercials as a baby. Those eventually led to a role on the television show "One Life to Live" when she was four years old. Then it was on to four years on "Guiding Light." Since that time, she has guest starred on such shows as "Ally McBeal" and "Malcolm in the Middle" and has appeared in over a dozen full-length feature films including "Remember the Titans," "Joe Somebody," and "Ice Princess" - not to mention voice work including the role of ant princess Dot in Pixar's "A Bug's Life."
One of her more recent flicks, "Bring It On: All or Nothing," gave Hayden the chance to explore high school life even more as she played a cheerleader alongside Beyonce Knowles
' sister, Solange
. "I had done a few really dramatic, independent films and it was just an opportunity to go have fun with people my age," she notes. "We did everything from crump dancing to regular dancing to cheering. It was awesome."
Although the movie itself didn't score big, Hayden at least walked away with a few more peeps for her personal posse. "They've all become my best friends," she tells us. "We all got along great. It was sad actually after our rehearsals were over and we were filming because the kids weren't there everyday so it was a little more serious." Hey, at least she got to meet Beyonce! "She came by a couple of times with her very large bodyguard and was very nice," adds Hayden.
Now Hayden's about to make an even bigger splash on network television with the highly anticipated show "Heroes" on NBC. She plays, yet again, a high school cheerleader, who has the ability to heal herself, in the show about ordinary people who discover that they have extraordinary abilities. "I think people will really take to it," she says of the show, which premieres in September. "Obviously people can't relate to having super powers, but they can relate to human stories, which is what it's about. They can relate to problems that our world is going through."
Luckily for Hayden, who is accustomed to working a more relaxed movie schedule, the hours on the show aren't too bad. "Because we've got so many main cast members, it winds up being one or two of us for a couple of days straight and then we get off for two weeks. It's the most incredible, lenient work schedule. I could not have asked for anything better."
In the meantime, the young star is focused on getting used to her new digs in Los Angeles where filming takes place. "It's been really good. It was time. It was almost like going away to college," she says of the change. As for how she likes it? "It was a normal transition for me because I've been back and forth here since I was little. I've got people from 'Bring It On' out here who have become my bestest friends. And actually one of my best friends from home is going to LMU [Loyola Marymount University] so she'll be out here with me, which will be awesome."
As for what she hopes to accomplish now that she is entering the more adult-like phase of her career, Hayden responds, "I definitely think I'm going to stick with acting. I hope to go to college and get that experience as well." Not to mention, she's also putting out her own album next year, which she describes as a little bit rock. "I want to enjoy life and enjoy being young and enjoy my friends and family. I just pinch myself being able to do what I love to do." And let's face it, getting paid millions of dollars before the age of 18 doesn't hurt either!