I’m so excited for Grease: Live! On Snapchat it always looks like you guys are having so much fun rehearsing and such. Did you know any of the cast before you started?
Yeah, actually! I knew a few of the dancers and I knew David Del Rio, who plays Putzie. We actually go back a few years, which is awesome. But yeah, we really all met during a promo shoot in the beginning of November before we started the rehearsal process. Everyone was able to break the ice and become familiar with each other and do that whole thing. It was really nice! It helped make rehearsal easier, which is often like the first day of school. You never really know what the energy or dynamics is going to be. So, that time beforehand to get to know each other is really nice. Going into Grease I didn’t know a ton of people except some of the dancers, but it took like two days for everyone to feel like a family.
Speaking of Snapchat, that one of Vanessa from the other day singing “Say Ok” completely BLEW UP on Twitter. Did you expect that?
(laughs). I don’t even know how that happened really. We’re all super close and we play around and poke fun at each other. My character Doody is constantly walking around with his guitar, so I’m always walking around with my guitar. So I played the intro one day to “Say Ok” like off to the side to Keke [Palmer] and I wanted to see if Vanessa would hear it. (laughs). She immediately started singing and I was like, “ok this is gold!” So we moved past that and then the other day she just sang it for Snapchat! It was insane. Like maybe ten minutes later I started getting texts from different friends telling me it went viral. (laughs). It blew up and I don’t even know how that happens or what’s even considered viral, but it was pretty cool.
It’s so funny! I really don’t know how it happens, but I get it. Vanessa and her whole Disney channel generation is important. Those were my middle school days! That was such a big part of my growing up. High School Musical was actually the film that made me want to pursue TV and film in the first place. So, it’s very cool that Vanessa and I became close during rehearsals.
If you would have told my 12-year-old self that, I would have freaked out. (laughs). It’s cool to me that Teen Beach Movie, or Grease, or my album could potentially spark some idea in a kid to pursue their goals. I come from a small town in Alabama and I fought my way to LA with an amazing support system and training. It would be so cool to be a part of someone’s story like that. To hear someone say, “you were a part of the movie that made me want to do this!” To be able to years later have that conversation as cast mates or friends it’s all very surreal.
High School Musical was such a big deal for me too! I used to always perform the songs for my class, it’s pretty crazy how it affected people like that.
During the audition process for our middle school talent shows, girls were singing all of those songs, like Breaking Free and start of Something New. It was just such a huge part of my middle school years. So, talking to her years later she’s [Vanessa] obviously very happy to be a part of it and everything, but I don’t really think she realizes how much it truly did impact people you know what I mean?
Yeah, and now you’re in Grease alongside her, so congrats on that! What can you tell us about your character Doody? Are we going to get to learn more about him?
Yeah, definitely! We’re doing the stage production of the show. There was originally the Broadway show before it became a film, so that’s what we’re going off of. Obviously, we’re going off of elements of the film that people grew up knowing and loving as well, but where the film is concerned it was very much centered on Danny, Kenickie, the T-Birds, Sandy and Rizzo.
In the Broadway production the T-birds consisted of five very different people with different personalities and stories. We get to see that in our musical, which wasn’t really touched on in the movie. It’s exciting to be able to re-introduce a show that everyone knows and loves so well. But, it’s also like people are seeing Grease for the first time, because they will be seeing it how it was originally conceived. It’s super exciting!
My character sings a song in the show called “Those Magic Changes” and it really breaks down his whole dream of becoming a rock star and going through that whole transformation. Being able to see that from beginning to end is really special. I’m excited to do that and to be able to sing with Aaron Tveit who is a Broadway idol of mine. When I got into theater that’s when “Next to Normal” was getting big and he originated that. It’s crazy looking around and seeing how everyone is connected. It’s odd to me at times, that I get to be a part of this whole thing, it’s so special and I’m really just excited for the night!
How have you made the character your own? Have you put yourself into him at all?
Definitely! Doody is a little different from what everyone knows him as, I think. His family isn’t really touched on that much, but you know he’s very comfortable with his parents. He gets an allowance and that’s how he’s able to buy a guitar. He has a caterpillar to butterfly story in that anybody can have a dream and achieve it. So, for me, that really hit close to home.
I came from a small city outside of Birmingham Alabama. Where the only things you did were play football, and if you didn’t play football, you played baseball. (laughs). That’s it! You went to the college probably your parents went to and majored in something your parents wanted you to major in. You lived a pretty cookie cutter lifestyle.
I’m fortunate to have grown up in a community of artists in Birmingham and with a family that supported everything I ever did. A family that allowed me to be able to truly achieve my dreams. I’m so grateful for it. I mean everyday I get to wake up and do what I love. I think ultimately that’s what Doody wants.
Do you still get nervous doing live shows?
(laughs). I get excited! I don’t know if nervous is the word I would use. There’s definitely an apprehensive aspect where like anything could go wrong, but you really have to stick to the “the show must go on” mentality. You have to know that there’s a beginning, middle and end to the show. As long as you take the audience along for the ride with you and allow them into your work and have fun with it, it’ll be ok. That’s the mentality I’ve stuck to my whole life doing live shows in theater and Good Morning America and Dancing With the Stars. It’s the mentality that you must have.
Were you a big fan of the original movie?
I grew up watching the movie like 90% of the world with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. It was definitely a movie I grew up knowing and loving, it’s hard to not be a fan of it.
I know you from Teen Beach, but you also played a role in my favorite show, Teen Wolf, in the future do you want to gear more towards musicals, or do you want to venture into more drama?
I grew up around musicals and in that community, which is awesome, but my kind of bread and butter is the other. My first non- theatrical job was a role on the ABC Family show; The Secret Life of the American Teenager. That was really the role that helped launch my career. Drama is something that I really love, there’s just something about breaking down characters and breaking down scripts that I really love. There’s a very real, organic aspect about bringing a story to life in a drama that is really appealing to me. Honestly, I want to do everything. I want to make films, I want to tour, I want to do it all! I just love all of it equally, which can be kind of difficult in terms of time management (laughs). But they’re all definitely things I love and I don’t think I’ll ever stop.
Speaking of doing everything, I know you’re a part of GenerationOn and you helped build a school in a remote village in Ecuador. How do you find the time to give back and how do you suggest youths get more involved?
Giving is the best gift you can receive in my opinion! That was an opportunity that was presented to me from Disney Channel, thankfully! It was an experience that I would 500% do again in two seconds if I was presented with the opportunity. There’s something necessary about taking a step back and living in those environments.
It’s crazy to try to wrap your mind around these kid’s lifestyles and what we have and what they have. We really struggle in our society with the minimalistic things, because everything is so tangible to us. So it’s good to see things from a different perspective. It’s like you can never be fully happy. There’s always something more you want, or something bigger and better. We don’t really take the time to appreciate the things we have, and we should.
For example, the kids I met in Ecuador based their being on a term that means loving each other and working together. I find that in our society we value stuff (instead of people) that we don’t necessarily need . We should focus on the things that these kids do.
That opportunity to strip yourself down is enlightening and I learned so much from it. I can’t wait to have another experience like it. For kids, teens, young adults, anyone that hasn’t experienced anything like that, I encourage everyone to try to see something from a different perspective. Whether it be working in an orphanage, or feeding the homeless, just any way to help other people I think keeps our world spinning and it’s something that needs to be done. I think that when you finally have that experience you’ll never regret it.
Earlier you mentioned your album coming out in the summer, what can we expect from that?
The album should be released this summer! Maybe a little somethin’ somethin’ much sooner than that, aka pretty shortly. That’s pretty much all I can say without getting an earful from my label. (laughs).
Don’t miss Grease: Live Sunday, January 21 on FOX.