CANNES, France (AP) -- Alden Ehrenreich has a short but impressive resume.

The 19-year-old Ehrenreich's lone big-screen credit: A starring role in Francis Ford Coppola's latest drama, "Tetro."

"It's very unusual, I think, nowadays to get any lead if you haven't done a film before," Ehrenreich said at May's Cannes Film Festival, where "Tetro" premiered ahead of its theatrical release Friday. "Luckily, Francis was brave enough and confident enough to give me that opportunity."

"Tetro" features Ehrenreich as Bennie, a 17-year-old New York City youth who goes to Argentina to reunite with his brother (Vincent Gallo), a writer deliberately exiled from his family and particularly his and Bennie's cruelly overbearing father.

Ehrenreich landed the part with just a couple of TV credits (on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Supernatural") behind him. But it seems fitting he would win a choice role with the director of "Apocalypse Now" and "The Godfather" films, considering Ehrenreich got his professional start with the help of another illustrious filmmaker, Steven Spielberg.

When Ehrenreich was 14, the Los Angeles native and a pal made a bat mitzvah video for a friend whose father worked with Spielberg. Soon after, Ehrenreich got a call from Spielberg, who was impressed with what he had seen.

After some meetings at Spielberg's DreamWorks studio, Ehrenreich had an agent and was out talking with filmmakers. Ehrenreich eventually caught the eye of longtime Coppola colleague Fred Roos, an executive producer on "Tetro."

Casting an unknown was never an issue for Coppola, who financed "Tetro" out of his own pocket and is distributing the movie himself.

Coppola said he was sold on Ehrenreich early on, after having him read a passage from "The Catcher in the Rye." But just to be sure, Coppola put Ehrenreich through months of rigorous screen tests and improvisational trials before deciding he was right for the part.

"We looked at many young actors. I have a thing about youth in movies. I personally never quite got past the fact that James Dean looked about 24 in `Rebel Without a Cause' when he was supposed to be, you know, 16 or 18 or something. High school kids didn't look like handsome, confident men like that," Coppola said. "So I've always been a stickler by trying to get really young people."

Ehrenreich went to Argentina to shoot the film during his last semester of high school, finishing one last required class online.

Recently completing his first year at New York University, Ehrenreich said his top priority will be school, though he's willing to take a semester off here and there if the right acting projects came his way.

Ehrenreich has not yet lined up another role but figures starring in a Coppola film will be a great calling card.

"You have to get vouched for in some way when you're an actor," Ehrenreich said. "Usually, that's a gradual process of working with different people. In this case, Francis is so across-the-board respected and admired, him being able to say that he believed in me to be the lead in this film gives a certain comfort zone to other people. ...

"You sort of know that so many people love Francis' films so much that some great directors are going to be interested in seeing the film. So that's very, very exciting just to be exposed to those types of people."