Our day at the Disney Channel started with an interview with Descendants resident evil teenager, Mal, also knows as Dove Cameron. She walked into the room genuinely surprised to see a room full of Moms eager to ask her all about her time on set.
Playing Mal for the Second Time
Everything that Mal was in the first one, we all are as a team, because a movie is such a collective experience. Kenny, the writers, and myself all threw strict notions of Mal’s character out the window because she, as a human does, goes through life changes and experiences. She never had anyone growing up and she couldn’t ever really find her footing with the one person that she did have to rely on her mother, Malificent. So she learned to rely on herself.
In the second movie when we pick back up, she now knows what it feels like to be authentically loved and to have a space held for her to be supported. Just like any other human, you gravitate towards whatever you’re used to, and so she has no idea how to deal with that. It’s almost impacting her negatively, because she’s thinking, “Oh, I only know how to build up my walls. I don’t even know how to function without my walls.” Now she has to start over and find what is her authentic identity for the first time in her life. Throughout the movie she goes through a lot of incarnations of what she thinks Mal is, and doesn’t really find herself until the end. That was a weird experience for me as an actress, to feel like I knew the character really well, and then to lose her as she’s losing herself, and then to find her as she finds herself.
As an actor, I do that (pull from personal experiences) as much as I can in every role, but Mal is my ride or die. I fell in love with her when I read the “Descendants” script back in 2013. Disney Channel didn’t tell me anything. They didn’t say, “We’re going to set up an audition.” It was more like, “Will you read this and tell us what you think?” I had an emotional, visceral response. I said, “She’s my girl!” because I related to her so much.
Even though all of the characters and Mal are in fantastical circumstances, their experiences are very relatable. A lot of people – a lot of kids and a lot of adults who were once kids – don’t always have an easy home situation. They don’t always have all the support that they deserve. I think all of us in this room can relate to feeling like we lacked something there that we now have to deal with as we’ve gotten older. That was something that I had such a lovely time with, for myself psychologically and also as an actor, to inject pain into an experience that we all share.
This is a movie for children, and so we have to ride that line between communicating really helpful and relatable messages, but still keeping it light. That was challenging and interesting for me, and I did bring a lot of things I felt like I lacked from my own childhood. It definitely helped keep Mal real. It also helped me as a human to explore somebody else’s issues, and to fix my own at the same time.
Descendants 2 Message
What’s beautiful about having such a broad cast of characters is that we all have our really unique storylines. One of my favorite storylines actually isn’t my own, it’s Lonnie’s, and you’ll see that when the movie comes. She has this beautiful, empowering message for girls that gets me every time I see the movie. I want to say, “Yes! Lonnie!” I’m being serious. I’m being campy, but it’s so real.
In terms of the whole movie, there’s a beautiful synergy between the fact that the whole cast has been having this yearlong love affair with each other. We’re so there for each other in a sibling-like, familial way and it translates to the film. It projects a message of togetherness, of banding together, of supporting people that you love. That sounds like such a simple concept, but when you’re absorbing things as a kid, separatism is such a thing. We’re encouraged to be our own island. Especially with things like social media, we all have our own brand and image, and that’s what’s taught. I think that it’s so beautiful to rely on and trust people. If you hand someone your whole heart, they’re much more delicate with it. So I do believe in trusting the world around you, and I do believe in kids learning to rely on each other and their surroundings and the world in general. It’s just a really empowering story. There’s not one character that doesn’t go through some weird arc where they’re much more fully formed and healthy. So the overarching messages would be the importance of help, togetherness, support and trust.
The Set was….
Intoxicating. Our set decorators turned out for this one. I remember seeing the concept and thinking, “There’s no way it’s going to look like that.” And they outdid themselves. Being on the actual set was safe, but it didn’t look safe. And we were all sword fighting. Nobody would ever notice, but I’m a pipsqueak. I’m so tall and in the film, I am wearing shoes that are one inch short of being stilts. There are stairs and wood and railings, and everybody’s different.
It helped me so much because it’s so fun being physical. As an actor, it’s exactly what you want. You want to feel lost in it. It’s like opening up your favorite book and then being able to jump into it. People are saying, “Oh, be careful.” You’re thinking, “I know. Let me do my thing.” So yeah, it was an amazing thing. It definitely helps. All of the sets were real minus things like the water and some special effects.
Descendants 2 movie premieres simultaneously on 5 Networks on Friday, July 21 (8:00 P.M EDT): Disney Channel, ABC, Disney XD, Freeform and Lifetime, plus on each Network’s branded digital platform.
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