He couldn't get a job pushing supermarket trolleys, but he's now managed to land a lead role in a Hollywood movie.

KJ Apa is best known to Kiwis as Shortland Street's Kane Jenkins, but the 18-year-old is being hailed as the next Tom Cruise after winning over American movie executives.

He has a lead role starring as Ethan in the DreamWorks production A Dog's Purpose, with co-stars Dennis Quaid (Vantage Point, Movie 43) and Britt Robertson (Tomorrowland, Vantage Point).

He flew out yesterday to Winnipeg, Canada, to begin filming.

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His New Zealand agent, Mandy Jacobsen of Red 11 Management, can't believe how quickly he's hit the big time.

"No one from New Zealand has ever gone up and landed a leading role as quickly as this kid ... His first audition was for A Dog's Purpose and he nailed the lead role and [executives] said it had never happened to anyone ever before in their 20 years in the industry.

"They said he's like a young Tom Cruise, they think he's going to be massive, they think he's going to be the biggest thing to ever come from New Zealand."

Ms Jacobsen said Apa had had a dream sweep of nailing his auditions, a stark turnaround from when she was first introduced to him five years ago by his mother, Tessa, who is a model and on Ms Jacobsen's books.

"We made him - basically kicking and screaming - do a teen acting workshop. And one of the guys here put him forward for Shortland Street. It was his first audition and he got the role."

Apa stuck with Shortland Street for 18 months, went to America and has just finished filming the sci-fi series, The Cul-de-sac, which will screen on TV2.

At the audition, Apa shared a story from years ago. "He's like, 'You want to know something funny? Before I got Shortland Street I applied to be a trolley pusher at New World and they turned me down'," Ms Jacobsen said.

A Dog's Purpose is an adaptation of W. Bruce Cameron's book of the same name which centres on a devoted dog that is reincarnated several times and - even as it helps its many owners - always has the aim of being reunited with its original owner and best friend.

Besides Dennis Quaid, Apa's co-stars also include Juliet Rylance (Sinister, Sinister 2) and Peggy Lipton (Twin Peaks, The Postman).