Bindi Irwin making film acting debut

'Crocodile Hunter's' daughter appears in latest 'Free Willy'

She's the spitting image of her late father and has inherited his passion for wildlife, and now 11-year-old Bindi Irwin is following "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin's footsteps into Hollywood-style movies.

Bindi makes her feature film acting debut in "Free Willy: Escape From Pirates Cove," being released Tuesday on DVD as the fourth movie based on the 1990s franchise about a boy helping free an Orca trapped in captivity.

"Pirates Cove," however, is a new story about an Australian girl (Irwin) helping a baby Orca trapped at her grandfather's theme park on the shores of South Africa.

Growing up with a larger-than-life personality like Australian adventurer Steve Irwin, who died in 2006 after a stingray attack, acting seems like a natural evolution for Bindi.

She came into this world camera-ready when her father filmed her birth. Growing up, she often was featured on his shows including "The Crocodile Hunter" and "The Croc Files" on Animal Planet. For a while, Bindi even had her own kids documentary series, "Bindi the Jungle Girl."

At his funeral, in front of a crowd of 5,000 and 300 million TV viewers worldwide, Bindi, then 8, delivered an impassioned speech about the daddy she called "my hero."

"He's still my hero," Bindi told Reuters. "He taught me about documentary filming and to be comfortable around cameras. I used that during the filming of this movie because I wasn't scared to be around cameras."

While her late father's early instructions helped her feel at ease, it was her "Pirate's Cove" co-star Beau Bridges -- who plays her grandfather, Gus -- who helped Bindi to begin laying the foundation for the building blocks of acting.

"I was a bit nervous about learning the lines, but Beau taught me how to make them into a conversation," Bindi said. "He gave me 'Acting: The First Six Lessons' on audiotape and a book I'm reading right now."

Her character, Kirra, is the daughter of a zoo veterinarian (as was Steve Irwin) who interacts with all sorts of exotic animals. Kirra also lost a parent at young age.

Bindi said her experience filming "Pirate's Cove" has left her wanting to do more acting, but she would like her next project to include "a lot more wildlife."

Her dad "taught me to love and respect animals and treat them how you would like to be treated," Bindi said. "I really want to carry on in his footsteps."

Zorianna Kit is a freelance writer for Reuters and a contributor to THR.