Thomas Horn is only 13 years old, but he’s already been a Jeopardy! Kids Week champion – and he gets to share his very first big screen with Sandra Bullock and Tom Hanks, playing their son when Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close arrives in theaters on Christmas Day.
Aside from his acting skills displayed in the 2½ minute trailer for the buzz-worthy film, based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 novel, San Francisco-born Horn has many other talents.
Here are five things to know about the up-and-coming teen star and the close bond he shares with his Academy Award-winning costars.
1. He was discovered during his Jeopardy! Kids Week appearance
When Horn won $31,000 during an episode that aired in July 2010, he was noticed by Extremely Loud producer Scott Rudin. On Horn’s first day of eighth grade, his parents received a call from a casting agent asking if their son wanted to audition for the role of Oskar – and the rest is history.
2. Bullock immediately took him under her wing
According to Extremely Loud‘s director Stephen Daldry, when Horn first met Bullock, his reaction was, “Wow, I can’t believe I’m acting with the biggest movie star in the world.” But Daldry tells PEOPLE, “Within 20 minutes, Thomas and Sandy were roaring with laughter [Sandra] made him feel like he was with one of his best friends.”
3. He’s an avid reader
Horn spends most of his time reading novels, as well as non-fiction. National Geographic and atlases are among his favorite materials.
4. He’s worldly
Horn has no shortage of knowledge when it comes to languages from different parts of the world: he is fluent in English and Croatian, he has studied Spanish – and he’s currently learning Mandarin.
5. Bullock acted as a role model to him
“It was a very familial environment on set,” Daldry says. “[Sandra] understood the responsibility with a young actor who had never been in front of a camera before, and handled [the experience] with huge enthusiasm and a sense of humor to relax herself, Thomas and the crew around her.