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Joseph Allen McCaughtry can trace his love of acting back to games of “pretend” he would play with his cousin when they were kids.

They would imagine they were knights or characters from a video game and act out scenarios, a rough form of improv.

“I’m not going to lie, I still play pretend with my little sister,” admitted McCaughtry, who lives in Bryans Road with parents, Kevin and Jenifer, and sister, Keira, 6. “It keeps the imagination alive.”

Fantasy met reality when McCaughtry was cast in “Ping Pong Summer,” a coming-of-age tale set in the summer of 1985 in Ocean City.

Starring Oscar winner Susan Sarandon, Lea Thompson, Amy Sedaris and John Hannah, the movie focuses on Rad, a new kid who must take on the spoiled, entitled Lyle, in pingpong.

McCaughtry plays Lyle, a snot who might be the best table tennis player at the rec center but isn’t winning anyone over, aside from his toady, Dale, with his personality.

McCaughtry got his start acting as a freshman at Henry E. Lackey High School.

“I never thought about acting,” he said. But at the suggestion of a friend, he joined theater.

“I loved it the first day,” he said.

During high school, McCaughtry played Doctor Posner in “Wit,” Cogsworth in “Beauty in the Beast,” Kenickie in “Grease,” Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet” and other roles.

“He looked like he was meant to be on stage,” said David Duckett, a friend and fellow Lackey graduate who was involved in theater.

“I gave it my all,” McCaughtry said.

Cynthia LeDoux, theater teacher at Lackey, said that once she got him to memorize his lines, McCaughtry developed into a good actor.

“I’ve known since he was a freshman that he was going to be an actor,” she said. “He took direction very well and worked on developing his characters.”

However, LeDoux does wish that her former student would study the craft on the college level like many of his peers.

“I wish he were going to school to study more,” she said, adding that college classes give budding actors additional training.

McCaughtry is not certain what the future holds. He wants to get a job and book more roles, but that might mean moving to a city that is more of an entertainment hub, like Los Angeles.

“I just want to act,” he said. McCaughtry said he enjoys theater because of the interaction with the audience, but he likes acting on film because it allows him the opportunity to be quiet and add subtle touches that might not be picked up on stage.

He is looking forward to “Ping Pong Summer” being released. It was a fun gig; he and the other kids attended pingpong “boot camp” in Rockville to master the sport, and they got to wear ’80s fashions, which meant corduroy short shorts and polo shirts for the preppy Lyle, and drive a red Camaro IROC-Z.

McCaughtry said he and his castmates bonded and that he finally learned to play and love pingpong.

“It’s addicting, I can’t stop now. … I have a regulation Olympic table in my basement,” he said. “[The movie] shows the true passion and love for the sport.”

staylor@somdnews.com