WELLS — Rhys Olivia Cote was cautioned not to get her hopes up. Denzel Washington, she was told, does not often pose for photos on set. With anyone.

But the cast and crew of “The Equalizer 2” underestimated the impression 8-year-old Rhys made on Washington when the two acted together, last fall in Boston. During filming, Washington was stoic and focused, as one might expect from a two-time Academy Award winner. But afterward, he was funny and kind to his diminutive fellow actor.

And he quickly agreed to have his picture taken with her.

“He told me it was my movie,” said Rhys, sitting on the couch in the living room of her family’s Wells home. “He said, ‘You know how many auditions I had to go through to be in your movie?’ ”

It was not technically her movie. But Rhys did play a significant role – Anna, a kidnapped girl rescued by Washington. She filmed three scenes and is seen twice in the official video trailer for the film, which opens in theaters nationwide on July 20. Her role was prominent enough to gain her an invitation to the official red-carpet premiere in Los Angeles. Oscar de la Renta is providing her gown.

The film is a sequel to “The Equalizer” (2014), which featured Washington as retired CIA agent Robert McCall, who becomes drawn back into a world of violence to protect people he feels need protecting. The trailer for “The Equalizer 2” sets the tone for the film’s violence and vigilante justice with a quote from Washington’s character: “They killed my friend, so I’m going to kill each and every one of them. And the only disappointment is that I only get to do it once.”

When Rhys saw the trailer for the movie – in which Washington is seen stabbing, strangling and shooting multiple bad guys – she thought it was “cool, but really violent.” She’d really like to make another movie, but next time “a happy movie,” she said.

“I know what happens in the movie, but everyone (on set) was really nice to me. I got to meet a lot of nice people and a famous actor,” Rhys said, referring to Washington. Her mom, Tina Cote, pointed out that Rhys met at least one other pretty famous actor, Academy Award winner Melissa Leo. Rhys didn’t recall meeting Leo until her mom reminded her that Leo had brought her very cute dog on set.


Rhys’s role in “The Equalizer 2” is her first in a film. She got the audition for the part because she models and has since she was about 31/2. She’s worn clothes and played with toys in front of the cameras for such brands as Osh Kosh B’Gosh, Pottery Barn Kids, Hasbro, BJ’s Wholesale, Laura Ashley and Kohl’s. She’s been in magazine and newspaper ads, as well as on the boxes of several styles of “Baby Alive” baby dolls and other products.

The modeling began after Rhys’s parents – Tina and Jeff Cote – sent a picture of Rhys “on a whim” to a cutest kid contest organized by the popular morning TV show “Live with Kelly and Michael.” Out of some 10,000 entrants, Rhys made the top 15. Modeling agents saw Rhys’s picture and reached out to her parents.

Rhys, now a third grader at St. James School in Biddeford, has agents looking for jobs for her in Boston, New York and Los Angeles. She travels to Boston or New York for modeling jobs about once or twice a month, her mom says, adding she doesn’t want Rhys missing too much school.

She has also filmed TV commercials, including local ones for Maine Medical Center and Hannaford supermarkets. She was also on the NBC show “Little Big Shots” hosted by Steve Harvey a few years ago. On the program, she showed Harvey how to hum a snail out of its shell.

Rhys has no problem remembering lines or posing in front of the camera, she says. She says modeling “is fun sometimes,” and she prefers modeling jobs where she works with friends – other models she’s met. When she was younger, she did get a little flustered when doing a shoot for a “Baby Alive” doll that was a little too alive, her mother said.

“There was one doll that pretends to go to the bathroom; you feed it, and the food actually comes out the other end,” Rhys said.

Rhys Olivia Cote, 8, of Wells, with director Antoine Fuqua last fall in Boston on the set of the upcoming film “The Equalizer 2.”

The Cotes found out about the auditions for “The Equalizer 2” last summer. Her mother said they figured they shouldn’t pass up a chance for Rhys to be in a film with someone as well known as Washington. They were told Rhys would be auditioning for the part of a child having a conversation with other children in one scene.

But at the audition in Boston, one of the film’s producers saw Rhys and thought she’d be perfect for the role of Anna, the kidnapped girl. Auditions for that part were being held in Los Angeles, and casting directors were looking for someone 9 or older. But there was something about Rhys’s look and demeanor that convinced the producers she could handle a meatier role.

“We got a call back, and then she got the part, and her agent told us this never happens,” her mother said. “She didn’t even audition for that part.”


The trailer for the film opens with Washington on a train to Turkey, telling some men with heavy foreign accents that he’s looking for a man who kidnapped a little girl. Then there’s a glimpse of Rhys, as Anna, looking scared. She’s wearing a head scarf, lying down, and clutching a stuffed bunny. In the next moment, Washington sets his stop watch and proceeds to kill (or maybe just severely injure) all the men on the train. Then Rhys, as Anna, is seen running through an office to her character’s mother (Tamara Hickey). She jumps and hugs Hickey. The rest of the trailer involves other characters.

Rhys said she wasn’t told much about the scene before she filmed it. Her character has a Turkish father, played by Adam Karst, and a mother played by Hickey. She said she didn’t really think of anything scary, she just “acted it.” But if she needs to act sad – she’s been in plays and attended theater camps – she thinks of her memere, her mother’s great-aunt, who passed away.

Rhys with Denzel Washington last fall in Boston

Between filming sessions, she hung out some with Hickey, her on-screen mom. At one point, while walking in Boston, she grabbed ahold of both her mother’s hand and Hickey’s hand and said, “I’ve got my two moms here.”

Rhys filmed her scenes for three days, and during at least two of those, Washington was on set, too. When they filmed together, Washington improvised lines and actions in surprising, funny ways. At one point, Tina Cote said, Washington’s character blew a kiss to Rhys.

“I hope they don’t cut that,” Rhys told her mother at the time.

Cote said that several people on set were friendly to Rhys, including the producers, the actors who played Rhys’s parents and director Antoine Fuqua. Fuqua directed Washington in the first “Equalizer,” in 2014, as well as in “Training Day,” in 2001. Washington won the best actor Oscar for the latter.

Because of its violence, Rhys has never seen the first “Equalizer.” She figures she can handle the violence of the second one at the premiere, yet to be scheduled, because she knows it’s not real. She was there during filming, after all.

Rhys is the second York County girl to be in a major Hollywood motion picture in the past year. Yamilah Saravong, 11, of York, was in “Daddy’s Home 2” last fall. That film starred Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson. Yamila played a girl whom the son of Wahlberg’s character had a crush on.

That movie was also shot in Massachusetts, as that state’s movie tax incentives have helped attract big Hollywood productions. And like Rhys, Yamilah is a model, and her parents were told about the auditions for the film by her agent.

Rhys says she’s saving the money she makes from modeling, and from the film, for college and to open her own animal shelter. And if any is left over, she’d like a private jet.

Rhys said she’d definitely like to be in another movie. But when asked what she might like to do when she grows up, she didn’t mention acting. She said that when she’s a teenager, she’d really like to work at Big Daddy’s, a “really good ice cream place” near her home in Wells.

“Maybe I’d get to eat a lot of ice cream, it’s soooo good there,” Rhys said.

Follow Rhys’ movie journey, including her trip to the premiere of “The Equalizer 2,” on Instagram: @rhys_ olivia.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @Pressherald.com

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