Ladies and Gentlemen, please meet three proud members of the latest graduating class of the New York Academy of Performing Arts: Kay Panabaker, Anna Marie de Tagle and Paul Iacono. They all star in the the new remake of the 1980 dance classic and recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Buzzine's very own Emmanuel Itier...
Kay Panabaker: I love Asher! [Luaghs] I laugh because on screen we have this really cute, sweet little romantic story, but off camera, we’re totally brother and sister… When we had our first kissing scene, Kevin [Tancharoen], the director, is like, “You two should go make out,” and we’re like, “Ha ha, yeah, okay,” and then five minutes before we started filming he’s like, “So have you guys made out yet?” We were like, “No, you were serious?” He’s like, “Yeah, get the first kiss over with.”
So we literally had one of the P.A.s find us a little [area], and we had a P.A. stand watch, and for the first 30 seconds, it was the most awkward thing. I could not stop giggling. I was like, “This is the most awkward kissing situation ever.” But we did it and it was fine and cute and sweet, but… never in real life...
EI: Was your first kiss in Fame?
KP: No, my first kiss was actually with Zac Efron when we were doing a TV show.
EI: Oh, you are a lucky girl. You're going to get hate mail!
KP: Right? It was before High School Musical, but we were doing a TV show together and it was so nerve-wracking because we have a hundred crew members there and it’s my first kiss, and I’m 13 years old, and I’m going, “Oh my goodness!” It’s not a good situation.
EI: How old were you all when you started out?
Paul Iacono: We all started pretty young.
KP: I was 10.
Anna Maria Perez de Tagle: I was 14.
PI: I was five.
EI: But you trained before 14?
AMPT: I was doing musical theater before that. But professionally, my first job was Hannah Montana and I was 14.
EI: But when you started, even when you were young…
AMPT: Actually, I think I was about nine or ten. I started late. [Laughs] Nine — heaven forbid.
EI: Can you each talk about your character…?
AMPT: My character’s name is Joy and she’s very outgoing. She’s an aspiring actress. She’s very outspoken. She’s very social, and what I like is that you see the character development in her, not only in her fashion, but in her attitude and everything.
She goes from what I like to call a spastic puppy, like freshman sophomore year, and then she matures into a young lady junior/senior year. She goes through an obstacle, throughout her high school years, of juggling school and work and what to choose. She has to keep up her grades or she’ll get kicked out.
PI: My character’s name is Neil Baczynsky and I’m the neurotic Jewish aspiring filmmaker. My character is a dreamer. He’s extremely optimistic and naïve about the film industry, and he loves the cinema. He carries the camera with him and captures everyone around him — whether you want to be in his movie or not, you’re going to be.
My character’s real journey throughout the film is I begin to learn the hardship of the actual film industry, and learning that not everyone is as genuine about their craft and their passion as my character is. That’s something I related to because having gone through the performing arts high school here in Manhattan, I definitely came across opportunities where people were trying to exploit situations or whatnot, and that’s part of the business…
KP: I play Jenny. She’s an actress and somewhat singer. Not very good - not supposed to be very good either.
KP: No, I’m not. But she first struggled with being confident not only as a person but also in the performing arts aspect. She sees how many talented kids there are and goes, “I’m clearly not in the same league,” and then, when she accepts that she is in the right place and doing the right thing, she has to realize what boundaries she is willing to cross to become famous, to get success. Is she willing to give up her morals and values? So it’s an interesting predicament she gets herself into.
EI: What kind of relationship did you have with the original movie?
KP: We all watched it in the audition process. I had never seen it before, but everyone I know spoke highly of it. So after watching it, it was kind of like, “Okay, that’s a great film. Now how can we do it differently?” We weren’t trying to blend the two. It was more like, “Okay, you did it your way, we’re gonna do it our way,” and there’s really no correlation.
AMPT: You wouldn’t have had to see the original to see this one because it is very much a stand-alone movie, but you’ll see some of the similarities, like, obviously, the message of having a dream, sticking with that dream, achieving success, and at the same time, trying to find yourself and everyone’s telling you who are, who you should be. That kind of ties in with the original.
PI: We took a lot of the original motifs and themes. Some of the story lines we sort of adapted to a newer generation. Also, one of our larger cases in the reinvention of this film is that, in 1980, there wasn’t such a thing as the Internet and YouTube and that kind of stuff. There wasn’t this sort of instant notoriety that we have become more than accustomed to. It gets rubbed in our faces every day.
It’s American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, and this and that, and in 1980, the idea of aspiring to a successful occupation in the performing arts took a lot of hard work and dedication and heart and drive. It wasn’t something that you could just take a camera and film yourself rubbing your dog’s tail and become famous over it.
So our film, hopefully, will make people question and make people realize that this whole 15 minutes of fame thing that we have become accustomed to has no substance to it and doesn’t last, and that truly aspiring to an occupation in the performing arts — an actor, a singer, and a dancer — takes so much heart, and that’s the one attribute that the ten very contrasting characters in our film all share.
EI: You’ve had some brushes with fame already. How do you react when the paparazzi come after you or the fans?
AMPT: We haven’t had paparazzi or anything. Personally, because I am friends with the Jonas Brothers, they follow them and I’m always there. It’s nothing too crazy so far, but I do get the little girls fans who love Hannah Montana and love my character or hate my character, but they still see me. [Laughs] But I just have the girl fans. Luckily it’s not some mid-50-year-old men looking down on me, but…I’m happy with my fans. I love my fans, and hopefully they love Fame just as much as my other projects.
KP: I feel like the notoriety that she and I have so far, like with the fans recognizing us, has been so little that it’s actually been nice. You get to experience it, because everybody likes to have their ego fluffed, but at the same time, it’s not so overbearing that it feels like it’s an invasion of privacy. I’ve had one instance with paparazzi, and it was not a good one, and I hope to keep it at bay. Honestly, I don’t think paparazzi will care about us. We’re all very young and our lives are… at least my life is pretty uninteresting. So it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, I don’t think.
PI: They’re modest.
KP: No, I honestly believe that.
PI: Oh yeah. We’ve also been doing this all day. We spoke about the fact that there are some actors who look to be paparazzi targets, who look to be in the tabloids. And then there are other actors who make the conscious decision to have a private personal life. I do not wish to be a tabloid-monger. I have no intentions of that. I love what I do. I love my art. I love the people I work with, and it’s very genuine for me. I don’t want to be famous. I just want to be a successful actor.
EI: The famous ones make a lot more money than the successful actors…
PI: All right, I want to be a little famous… [Laughs]
EI: You’re working a lot and you’re a graduate from UCLA — is that true?
EI: How do you do it? I’m seeing your resumé and it seems like you’ve been acting that whole time…
KP: It was a conscious decision to juggle both. School was always very important, and knowing that I could do it quickly, I didn’t see the reason why not. Sure, I gave up on personal fun stuff, but work, honestly, is my fun-time. I go to work early, I stay longer than I need to…
People are probably trying to get rid of me when I’m on set, but I enjoy it so much that getting able to do that makes the school so much worthwhile. What I would do is go to my classes during the day. I’d do my homework at night. If I had an audition, I’d have friends take notes for me or I’d work it around the school schedule. There were some projects that I couldn’t do because it interfered with school.
At first, I was going to graduate by 18, but when I figured out that I could actually do it by 17, I was like, “I’m graduating come heck or high water,” even if it meant giving up jobs, giving up a paycheck, it’s so worth it, ’cause it’s also sets a good example ’cause there are so many teenagers and actors in L.A. who are like, “Oh, I’ll finish high school by 16, and do a lame little whatever. I can’t do both. It’s impossible to do school and work.”
It’s really not. You just have to have the right mind frame to go about it, I think. I try and be a good role model on that, just ’cause you have all these people that are famous for doing absolutely nothing, and they’ve achieved nothing in their lives. They haven’t gone to college. Like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton — they are simply famous because they have sex tapes. I don’t even know if either of them have a college education. It’s like, what are you doing with your life? Now, if acting doesn’t work out or in five years I’m sick and tired of it, I’m jaded for whatever reason, I’ve got something else to do with my life.
PI: Not to invalidate anyone who hasn’t graduated high school or has chosen to work for a career or whatnot, but more girls should follow Kay’s path because she’s the real deal. She loves what she does and…
KP: I do. Seriously, on set, I think I annoy people with how much I enjoy being on set. It’s kind of amusing.
PI: We share that.
KP: I think all of us get that.
PI: I feel most myself when I’m doing my job.
EI: Do you have any other hobbies, besides performing?
PI: I just turned 21 last night, so… I’ve done a lot of drinking. [Laughs] But I write as well. I’ve written a play that I’m currently revising and hopefully mounting a small production of in the next year or so. We’ll see what happens. It’s a process.
AMPT: I love to sing. When I was younger, I didn’t even want to be an actress — I wanted to be a singer, and it all kind of fell into acting.
KP: Talented as all get-out.
AMPT: Oh stop. [Laughs]
KP: It’s true, though.
AMPT: Thank you. So I’ve been songwriting and working with some songwriters, collaborating with some producers, and I can’t say necessarily how my music career will take off, but I do have some interesting news that I will announce in the next couple weeks, once it’s all finalized. I’ve been getting some songs together for the right sound and feel for my first album, hopefully.
EI: But that’s still related…
AMPT: Kind of relates to show business and everything.
EI: For you too, but…I was wondering, like…needlework? [Laughs] Totally unrelated.
KP: I do arts and crafts. On set, I make domino racks, I make scarves…I do that kind of thing. He and I differ on this mentality: I have a back-up plan. I want to be a teacher or an animal trainer. His thing is act or bust…
KP: To perform.
AMPT: For you to have a creative outlet. Sorry. I don’t mean to speak for you.
PI: No, you’re not. I just need, like, eight different creative outlets at the same time. You were asking about hobbies, and everything that’s going through my Rolodex at the moment is something creative. I have a lot of creative friends — just hanging out and playing music with them. Or going to a live music concert. I love live music shows. Going to one Friday night. Stuff like that. Music festivals. I love music a lot.
EI: How did you like working with Kevin?
KP: I was actually really impressed with him. I was the first one cast, so he and I sat down for lunch and talked about my character, talked about his thoughts about everybody else, and his idea for the film. Before the meeting, I was like, “Well, he’s 24; he’s going to have something to prove, he’s going to be a bit of a jerk, just pompous,” trying to prove something. But he was so down-to-earth. He was so well-prepared. I have never spoken with other directors when they’re in their creative pre-production process, but I was amazed and shocked, and I was like, “You could take on the world if you wanted to.” Then working with him, he was so great because we would do drama rehearsals and we would work our scenes with him, and he would always have great ideas, and that was sort of our playtime, and then when we were on set, we really buckled down.
AMPT: Me too. I was kind of nervous at first, when I found out he was 24. But again, like Kay said, going into rehearsals and everything, he had some ideas that worked perfectly that I didn’t even think of — none of us thought of. And he knows what he wants. He has a strong vision of what he wants, which he put into this film and what you see, and judging from the 20 minutes that you saw it, it’s not even enough. I hope people will take away from this that he is an amazing director.
PI: That’s one thing for sure - that people will walk out of this thinking that Kevin Tancharoen is one of the next great directors. The film is shot beautifully. Cinematographer: Scott Kevan. Awesome…amazing…beautifully shot. Marguerite Derricks did our choreography…
KP: ...yeah, especially the dance numbers...
PI: Out of control. Fame is really a film that has music in it as opposed to a musical, because it’s not spontaneous singing and dancing like High School Musical. Each song is a performance, so to speak, or each dance is a form of art too. I, personally, would love to see more films that have music influences in them. Much like her, I grew up doing musical theatre. I’m a huge musical theatre geek. All my friends are geeking out about this film. Everyone is so excited, and having gone to the actual performing arts high school where we shot the movie, it’s pretty awesome.
EI: Who has been a role model for you?
PI: I don’t know about role model… like somebody whose morals I follow?
EI: Whatever, or actors…
PI: Okay, career-wise…
EI: Morals also…
AMPT: Growing up, I absolutely loved Reese Witherspoon and Drew Barrymore - two of my favorite actresses. Each and every one of the characters they portray is so compelling. You relate to every character that they play, and they’re both beautiful… They do drama, comedy, everything. And as a singer, Christina Aguilera is one of my favorites. Growing up, she was my first CD. She has an endless range. She has a unique voice that you know right away, once you hear her. They’re all so talented, and that’s what I look up to.
KP: I don’t know if I really look up to any actresses. He’s a musical theatre geek, I’m a history geek, and whenever I had to do a biography paper, I’d always do it on Clara Barton or Amelia Earhart, or Eleanor Roosevelt because they were such strong women and they did something with their lives. They broke barriers and they were very impressive - each for different reasons. I look up to them and the strength that they had and the things they went through. And it’s like, well, if they can do that, I can clearly do anything.
EI: Your sister is also an actress, right? How does that work for you?
KP: I love it. She’s somebody that I look up to just because she’s my best friend. We talk about everything; we go on double dates together. I talk to her about anything and everything. It’s nice because she and I can talk about the business without it being weird; without it being like, “Oh, you’re competition. I can’t talk to you about certain things.” I’m sure when we’re older, we’ll go up against each other, but we’re such different people. Our personalities are different. Our acting styles are so different that it’s like, “Well, if they’re looking at the older sister, they clearly really don’t like me.” It’s such a dichotomy.
EI: What message would you send to girls that end up competing with their sisters somehow, like how to avoid that, how to deal with it?
KP: Don’t take it personally. Know that you are two completely different people, and regardless whether it’s acting, whatever it is that you guys are competing against each other, you’re very different people. Have different skill-sets. My sister and I always did stuff together simply because it was easier on my parents and we enjoyed it, but sometimes siblings want to do entirely different things, and I’m all for that as well. Find what you love and enjoy, and then you can talk about it afterwards. It doesn’t have to be the same thing.
EI: How much longer will you be on Hannah Montana?
AMPT: Actually, we’re on hiatus, and the last season I was on was season three. Now they’re renewing it for season four. I’m not so sure yet. But I’d love to go back as a mean girl. It’s been a little while. But I am currently filming Camp Rock II, the sequel. I play Ella. I’m still a gypsy mean girl, but this time around, it’s more of a musical, like breaking out into song, which is fine. I think this time around, it’s bigger and better. Bigger dance numbers, better dance numbers, and some amazing music by the Jonas Brothers, by Demi. There’s already a little bit of hype, and so it’s crazy ’cause we still have almost a year till it comes out. I think it’ll come out next summer.
EI: What do you listen on your iPod?
KP: Oh, lord. I hate this question.
PI: I’m currently obsessed with Little Jackie. Do you guys know her? She’s not that well-known. She’s like the black Amy Winehouse from Brooklyn, so very poignant lyrics, very original melodies.
EI: And a heroin addict?
PI: No, actually she has a song making fun of Amy Winehouse…
AMPT: Right now, honestly, I love Demi Lovato’s new soundtrack. Her CD is amazing. She wrote all her songs and got to write with John Mayer and some amazing artists. Also, I honestly love Lady Gaga. I still am a huge fan of Whitney Houston. Big, big voices… I still love Celine Dion and Christina Aguilera.
KP: I literally listen to anything and everything, and I go from Queen to… he introduced me to the Bird and the Bee, Billy Joel, Elton John, to anything hip hop. I really like anything I can dance to. When we were on set, my trailer was known as the dance trailer. I’d have music blasting. If I was changing, the door was closed, but if I was just in there hanging out, my door was open. People would like walk by, do a little dance, and continue on down the path. So anything that’s is good vibe, good energy, I’m happy with.
PI: Good energy, positive energy.
EI: Do you have time to read?
KP: Yes. I have so many history books. The really weird thing is I have this obsession with World War II, and especially the holocaust. Not in a creepy, like, oh it was great, no, no, no, no, I don’t like it — that’s not what I’m saying. It’s more… Hitler was such a compelling person, and he got an entire country to follow him, and it’s an interesting person to study. Not to fantasize him at all, but how did all of that happen and the world just kind of stood by? So I’ve got history books on Hitler. What I’m currently reading is Ender’s Game. There’s Ender’s Game and then there are three sequels, and there’s a parallel book series called Ender’s Shadow about another character named Bean. hat’s four books. I’m like rereading them for the second or third time. I am such a nerd.
PI: Yeah, I was gonna say I feel like you told me that a year ago…
KP: Oh yeah. I’m probably reading it, then, for like the tenth time.
PI: Fair enough.
AMPT: I was currently reading New Moon because I have no time during filming, but I stopped for a little bit. I don’t know if I should wait for the movie or not. Maybe I should finish it.
KP: I don’t know, it got busy.
PI: Yeah, we saw the movie.
KP: I loved it.
PI: I almost walked out.
KP: I know, really? I’m opposite. I absolutely loved it. I love Robert Pattinson. [Laughs]
EI: Did you meet him already?
PI: I love comic books and I love plays. Those are my two things. Tony Kushner is one of my favorite authors. Tony Kushner, David Rabe, John Guare are probably some of my favorite playwrights. And then comic book-wise, Grant Morrison is an amazing writer. You guys know The Watchmen — have you ever read the actual graphic novel? Amazing. Those are my two literature mediums.
MGM's remake of 'Fame' is in theaters nationwide now.