Whenever “National Treasure” airs on television, Hunter Gomez’s phone floods with texts, Snapchats and screenshots.
Gomez, a first-year graduate student in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, starred as the young Benjamin Franklin Gates, portrayed by actor Nicolas Cage, in the 2004 action thriller. Since landing the role at 11 years old, Gomez has appeared in 25 films and TV shows and has a few projects in the works now.
The 26-year-old is not pursuing acting as a career and auditions have calmed down for now. But he compared the entertainment industry to the mafia – “once you join, you never fully get out.”
“I’m always going to be involved with some project, but never on a serious level ever again,” he said.
Since returning to the city where his big break role was based, he’s been working on Capitol Hill. He said his goal is to become communications director for a major corporation.
In the film’s opening scene, Gomez’s character explores the attic of his grandfather’s D.C. home and listens with wide eyes as he tells him a story of lost treasure. He tells his grandson that “the secret lies with Charlotte,” which an older Gates later uses to search for the treasure throughout the film.
Gomez shot the scene with actor Christopher Plummer, who played John Adams Gates, but didn’t meet Cage until the film’s premiere in California.
In addition to Cage’s character, Gomez played the younger versions of actors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Justin Timberlake and Luke Wilson growing up. For nine years, Gomez recorded voices for the television series “Family Guy,” imitating well-known personalities like Justin Bieber, Pinocchio and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Gomez has played bigger roles in the past but continues to pick up small parts while taking classes. His most recent work is a live-action “Little Mermaid” film that he shot in Georgia last year and a TV show called “Strange Ones,” both of which will be released this year.
As an 11-year-old, Gomez said he was excited to audition for the part in “National Treasure,” which would be his first big role, but was unaware of its significance at the time. He didn’t think he was cut out for the part – especially because he didn’t have the same color eyes as the actor.
“My mom got me this baby blue shirt that like made my eyes look bluer, went in, auditioned, it was just for casting on film and again, no idea what I was walking into,” Gomez said.
When he tried out for the role, he had only begun acting classes and had one major studio credit under his belt. Growing up, some weeks he had three to five auditions per week.
He continued to audition and land roles in Disney and Nickelodeon television series in high school, like “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and “Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide,” through two talent agencies who still represent him today, Leighton Agency and The Savage Agency.
From Gomez’s first audition, his mother and older sister shielded him from the industry and tried to ensure his childhood was as normal as possible, attending regular school and playing with friends instead of only hanging out on set.
After each audition, Gomez returned to his family home in Scottsdale, Ariz. and resumed a normal upbringing with three sisters and one brother.
Many of Gomez’s friends from projects he worked on through his childhood have become producers. He said he frequently receives calls from his friends to shoot for their films.
He laughs as friends remind him of his time in the spotlight, especially when the film is shown on regular TV around the Fourth of July, but Gomez said he likes to keep a low profile nowadays.
“Every now and then there’s a spike of something,” he said. “I just ride the wave. It’s just kind of funny.”