By Tammy Scileppi
A multitalented and gifted six-grader from Queens, Fatima Ptacek is an actress and top New York City model. She is also the new voice behind Nickelodeon’s beloved preschool character “Dora the Explorer.” And just like Dora, she speaks English and fluent Spanish.
Dubbed “the princess of New York” at age 9 two years ago, the rising star took time out from her super-busy schedule to say “hello” to TimesLedger’s readers in an after-school interview.
“I think the most important thing is balance,” said the 11-year-old. “My schedule is kind of busy, with acting assignments, but I do lots of different kinds of activities apart from my work, which keeps things interesting in my life.”
Most adults would be totally burnt out, juggling the numerous pursuits and responsibilities on Fatima’s daily agenda. But somehow, the sophisticated little diva manages to do it all — with energy, enthusiasm and flair.
Having accomplished more during her short time on the planet than most people achieve in a lifetime, Fatima is also a United States of America Gymastics Level 7 gymnast. “I train three to four hours a day, four days per week, and have also been studying Mandarin Chinese and taking part in English equestrian riding for years,” she said.
And believe it or not, she actually loves school: “Education is really important to me, and my dream is to attend an Ivy League university, like Harvard or Yale, someday.”
She attends an academy for intellectually gifted children in New York City’s public school system. “Even though I miss school sometimes for work assignments, I receive tutoring on set.”
It’s obvious that Fatima enjoys her work, especially while she’s animatedly performing her Dora voice-over at Nickelodeon Studios in Midtown Manhattan. “I usually go into the studio to record and sing songs for episodes and other ‘Dora the Explorer’ projects, once or twice a week,” she said. “The crew at Nickelodeon is great, and they make my work [on the show] lots of fun. The other stuff I do, like the acting roles for movies and TV shows, modeling assignments, auditions and appearances, are really lots of fun too.”
Wilhelmina — a famed modeling agency — discovered her at age 5, and her whirlwind career suddenly took off.
Fatima has made 50-plus TV commercials, including McDonald’s, Disney, Chase and Bisquick, and even landed a spot on “Saturday Night Live.” On the set of “Sesame Street,” she played opposite Michelle Obama.
Since then, the budding starlet has continued making the rounds — going on lots of auditions, and appearing in films and TV shows like “Body of Proof,” “A Gifted Man,” and “Royal Pains.”
“I meet great people and have wonderful experiences, for which I’m truly grateful. I consider myself very lucky.”
Her pretty face has graced ad campaigns, as well: For Gap, Ralph Lauren, Children’s Place, DKNY and Benetton..
The youngest of five, Fatima said her siblings are her best friends, and her brothers “can be a little over-protective, at times.” She’s the daughter of a retired NYPD detective of Norwegian descent, and a former accountant mom from Ecuador. “My mom really is amazing because she runs around every day, taking me everywhere I have to go: from school to recordings, auditions, gymnastics, and to friends’ houses for get-togethers.”
And she isn’t your typical stage mother either: “I have a manager, an agent, and lots of people at Nickelodeon taking care of my career, so my mom’s job is just being my mom — and she’s really great at that.
“She and my dad work closely with my management team, and give me lots of support and advice. But they’re really like typical parents, in the way they care much more about my grades in school, that I’m polite and respectful, and that I eat healthy food and remember to brush my teeth.”
Teri Weiss, senior vice president of Nickelodeon Preschool said, “In addition to being a terrific actress, Fatima captures the confidence and warmth that we always look for to play Dora. She sounds like a true leader, but at the same time you know she is a true friend, who will always stop and help.”
Dora embarked on a new adventure in “Dora’s Rescue in Mermaid Kingdom.” The new show premiered March 16, on Nickelodeon.
“The thing I love most about Dora is knowing that she puts smiles on millions of kids’ faces every day,” said Fatima “The show teaches valuable lessons, like problem-solving skills, the importance of determination, being loyal to friends, Spanish language and Latino culture.”
“I’m so proud to be a part of “Dora the Explorer,” helping to share that with kids all around the country.”
So, how does she do it all? “I have really great friends, and they help keep me grounded.”