Time was running out.
Preston Oliver hadn’t given acting much thought, but he was getting older, about to move on to a new stage in his life, and he didn’t want to live with regret.
“In fifth grade, it was my last year at that school, so I figured, ‘Hey, why not? Might as well try out for it.’ ”
The Las Vegas native won a small role as a pirate in the Calvary Chapel Christian School production of “Peter Pan.”
Now 14, Oliver stars in the new time-travel mystery series “Secrets of Sulphur Springs” (8 p.m. Friday, Disney Channel).
If that seems like an abrupt transition, it was.
Roles in sixth and seventh grade class plays followed, and his mother, Jen, signed him up for acting classes. Representatives from Coast to Coast Talent Group attended one of those sessions, liked what they saw and eventually began sending him on auditions.
How much time transpired between that and his landing a guest role on two episodes of “Chicago Fire,” which aired in January 2019?
“I believe three auditions,” Oliver says. And, yes, he’s well aware that sort of thing rarely happens.
Oliver was visiting his mom’s family in Ohio when that “Chicago Fire” opportunity came along. It turns out it’s his Aunt Sandy’s favorite show. “She sat me down, and she begged me to get the role,” he recalls. “So I guess that was a little bit of my inspiration.”
He’s popped up on “This Is Us” a few times in flash-forwards as Kevin’s (Justin Hartley’s) future son, but he’s still waiting to hear if they’ll need him for more episodes this season.
In “Secrets of Sulphur Springs,” Oliver portrays Griffin Campbell, a 12-year-old whose life is uprooted when his father quits his job and moves the family from Chicago to Sulphur Springs, Louisiana, to fix up the Tremont, the long-shuttered hotel that was a big part of his childhood. Thirty years ago, young Savannah Dillon disappeared from town and supposedly haunts the Tremont. If you look her in the eye, the legend goes, you’ll never be seen again.
The series films in Louisiana, so Oliver was accompanied by Jen, who left her corporate events job at Encore Productions to be with her youngest son full time. Oliver’s dad, Brandon, remained in Las Vegas with their 17-year-old son, Jordan.
If Oliver and his character look different as the series progresses, it isn’t a result of the time-travel element Disney is hoping to keep under wraps. It’s because of the six-month break the production took during the pandemic.
Sadly, Oliver says, he didn’t grow much during the time away. He’s still 5 feet, 3 inches tall. “My face changed more than anything, so I might look older. My voice hasn’t changed much.”
The “Secrets of Sulphur Springs” set may have changed more than anything.
Grabbing a snack off the craft services table became more complicated once he returned. The tire swing the young cast members once jumped on between scenes was off-limits. There were fewer distractions when they weren’t working. “We kind of just had to wait around, be on our phones, do school,” Oliver says.
Then there were the many COVID-19 tests.
“The first few times, they went way too far up and, like, burned my nose,” he says. “But after two months of it, three times a week, you kind of get used to it.”
Oliver says he’s enjoying learning about some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the production, and he already has his sights set on future projects.
“I would love to do, like, an action movie or a horror movie. That’s something I would really like. Like ‘Stranger Things’ or ‘Outer Banks,’ or something like that where it’s got all the elements of comedy, drama, romance. That’s something I really want to do.
“But,” he concludes, “starting Disney at 14, that’s not a bad start.”
Contact Christopher Lawrence at email@example.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.