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Actor Lucas Grabeel MAG
Was “High School Musical” your first big role?
I started acting when I was 12. The first thing I did was a musical called “Secret Garden.” Once I got on stage and saw the audience, I realized this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life so I ended up from then on doing everything I could to get there.
I came [to LA] in 2003. I was extremely fortunate to start working very soon doing some national commercials to start out, and then my first film was “Halloweentown High” for The Disney Channel. I shot that in Salt Lake City as well as “High School Musical,” so I have a nice little family down there now. [Laughs] Obviously “High School Musical” is the biggest thing.
Did you ever attend acting school?
No. I actually never even took a drama class in high school because I didn’t want to. I was in all of the school musicals, but choir was more my thing. It was a better department.
“High School Musical” has gotten so big there’s even going to be a Broadway show. How do you feel about that?
It’s pretty crazy and weird. My drama teacher called my mom and told her that my high school is going to put on “High School Musical” this year, and when I talked to the directors at the two community theaters I went to, they were both doing it too.
Are you going to go back and help or give them some ideas?
I doubt it because honestly I don’t think they should do it. I don’t have anything against my high school or community theaters. I’ve gone back a few times and taught a couple classes for the theater and did some fundraisers for their performing troop there.
What was a typical day like while you were working on “High School Musical”?
When we started, we were in rehearsal so I would roll out of bed, stretch and play with [Director] Kenny Ortega and the choreographers and just have fun all day working really hard. I’ve never sweat so much in my life doing those dance rehearsals. It was hot – we were in a school, in a gym – dancing all day long but at the same time getting to know everybody, which was really nice.
Once we started filming I’d wake up and the driver would take me to the set and we would shoot. There was a lot of waiting around, and we got to learn more about each other and have fun. And afterward I would go back to the hotel and soak my whole body in the bath because I was so sore and then just chill for the rest of the night.
What’s a typical day like when you’re not working?
It’s very weird because my life is either extremely busy or really not. So on the days when I don’t have anything, I wake up late, check my e-mail, and listen to music all day long. If I’m not listening to music I’m playing it, or maybe drawing or painting, stuff like that. Mainly hanging out at my apartment.
Is there a way for your fans to contact you online, like MySpace?
No MySpace. I do have a website. It’s something that my friends and I made as a joke. And then it ended up being a big deal and now there are tons of people on it.
Do you look at blogs like those on IMDB?
I did and that was the main reason I started the website. The forum has 600 users or something like that. Every time I check it I have like 1,162 messages, so it’s hard to check them all.
Is your family supportive of your acting?
Yes, extremely. My mom is an entertainer at heart, even though she didn’t go into it professionally. She’s always been that kind of person.
I’ve been very fortunate to have a whole city supporting me. Everyone was always there wanting to help. I actually had a benefit show for myself before moving out to LA. [Laughs] Everyone showed up and it was great.
Did you film “HSM” in an actual school?
Yeah. We filmed in East High and Murray High. We changed the decor. They had the same school colors but weren’t the Wildcats. They were the Cougars or something. But the mascot on the gym floor is actually their cat, not a Wildcat.
How do you feel watching yourself on TV?
I don’t watch. I hate it.
I know a lot of stars feel that way, but is it to the point where at a premiere you’ll turn away when you appear onscreen?
No. But for me the craft or the art or however you define acting is the job and the process and working on set. No one else but me and people there get to see that. And it’s sad because that’s the most important part for me. And all this other stuff afterward comes with it sometimes.
After wrapping “High School Musical,” I didn’t care if it turned out to be the worst movie in the world. I had an amazing experience shooting it, with all the memories and the experiences.
I just don’t like hearing myself and watching myself and I obviously am my worst critic. [Laughs]
During the filming at the school, were kids lining up at the gate to see what was happening?
No, all they knew was that it was for the Disney Channel. Even we thought we were just filming another Disney Channel original movie, and we were having an awesome time. We never thought that anything like this would happen.
When we were making the first movie, we had no idea there was going to be a sequel. I mean, people were talking, and I was like, “No way – that’s not going to happen.” The last day of shooting we were doing “We’re All in This Together,” and I was thinking, This is the last time I’m going to do this dance and sing this song. Little did I know I would be doing it 100,000 times more. [Laughs]
What type of training did you do for Ryan?
I just thought a lot about my own high school experience. Ryan is a spawn of every horrible theater person I ever met back home. I thought of different movies and put those characters together to make Ryan.
What cast member are you the closest with?
As far as hitting it off, it is Monique Coleman. I think one reason is because we were the oldest. It’s not like everyone else is much younger – it’s just, I’m an old soul and I’ve always grown up with people who are older, so I act like an old man all the time. The funny thing is, I hear that from my friends. [Laughs]
Monique is a really cool girl. And [I’m friends with] Chucky – who was one of the choreographers and also had a small role on the basketball team. He is 25, but he’s just like a kid inside, so we had a lot of fun hanging out.
What advice would you give to aspiring actors and actresses?
If you’re young, start five minutes ago and do as much as you can to get yourself prepared. Take an acting class or a dance class. Get involved and experience life. Travel. Do different things and try different hobbies. As an actor you’ll have so many things as possibilities to do as a job.
Working at Blockbuster when I was younger helped me before I became an actor. I can’t complain about Blockbuster … it’s retail. I’m sure you’ve heard Ashley [Tisdale] say she worked in retail too. I’m glad, though, that my first job was at a restaurant so every time I go to one I know how to treat the server and respect everyone who works there because I know what it’s like. I know every time I walk into a retail store that I’m not going to mess stuff up on the shelves because that was my biggest pet peeve.
Things like that are what make you a better person. So I’m glad that I got to work at that kind of job for a long time. It builds character.
How do you feel being in the spotlight all the time now?
I don’t like it. Here’s the thing … I try to make the most of it and all situations that I’m dealt because my number-one goal in life above career, family, and spirituality/religion is happiness. That’s all I want.
I’m thrown in a situation where I am in the spotlight. I’m going to make it good and I’m going to make myself happy from it. I’m different in the fact that I don’t look for things like that.
I don’t walk around malls looking to be recognized. It’s just not important to me. What is important is my art and my happiness and my family and my friends – those things that aren’t tangible. I don’t need free stuff, big cars or expensive houses. None of that matters to me. I want to do my art, I want to be an actor, and I want to have people around me who support me.
So fame is something you have to deal with that comes with the job of being an actor in Hollywood. It’s dealing with people talking your picture and asking you silly questions, but that’s all part of it. You’ve got to make the most of it and try to have fun. You have to put on a smiley face, shake hands, and do your little two-minute interviews.
Last night was a perfect example of a bad situation, and you try to make some good come out of it. There were screaming girls all around, I couldn’t hear a word anyone was saying onstage, and I was just kind of like “Aaah!” I would never choose to do that, but I had fun because I was hanging out with cool people like you, Zac, Ashley, Vanessa, and the rest of the guys. I made the best of it.
Do you have a favorite TV show?
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I rent episodes. My favorite drama of all time is “Six Feet Under.” And the show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” is really great.
What was the hardest thing for you in “High School Musical”?
The hardest thing was figuring out what character I wanted to mold Ryan into, simply because I’m new to the business. It was making sure what I have going on in my head was what was going on screen.
Do you think because you are so down to earth it will be harder for you to deal with all the fakes and phonies out there?
No. I’ve learned a lot in the last three years about people and business and the whole industry. It’s basically like a roller coaster that goes up and down. I just have to stay laid-back and chill. But there does come a point when you have to be tough and do things that you don’t want to do. But you go in with a smile and it’s over before you know it.
My goal or dream right now is to slip under the radar and do independent films that are cool and interesting and different. Disney has been an amazing platform to start from, and they have been so good to me. I can’t complain. But I also don’t want to be making kids’ movies for the rest of my life. I am so much older than I look, so I want to push that along.
Was it hard to memorize your lines?
No, I’ve been memorizing lines since I was 12, doing theater where you have to remember two and a half hours of lines. Yeah, when I first started it was hard, but the more you practice, the faster you become at it. Now I can memorize a 10-page script in 15 minutes. I don’t know how it happens, but after you look at the format of a script for memorization purposes only, you start picking it up.
What’s your reaction when people come up to you on the street?
The first time, I didn’t realize they were coming up to me. I was like, what’s going on? People would turn and do that whole face and I was like, “What famous person is here? Who are they looking at? Oh me!” [Laughs] But the fact that it’s kids makes it all the better. If a young person is going to come up to me and be excited and want a picture or an autograph, I’m more than happy to do it.
After filming a movie, does it come out differently than you expect?
Oh, yeah, completely. “High School Musical” is a prime example. We had so much footage of those dance numbers, you never knew which they would pick. We spent two and a half days shooting “Stick to the Status Quo” and two and a half days shooting “We’re All in This Together,” and they’re 14-hour days. I think we shot 8,000 feet of film before lunch one day. It was insane because we had three cameras going and tons of people everywhere.
What was it like working with Kenny Ortega?
Kenny is one of those brilliant artists whose mind is always moving. To the normal person he would seem scatterbrained and crazy, but that’s because he has so much stuff going on in his head. It’s a dream to work with someone like that. We were so lucky to have him direct our little film, and he turned it into what it became today.
What’s it like working with such a great cast and crew?
It’s a gift. I’ve worked on some bad sets, though I have been fortunate to work on mostly good sets. “Return to Halloweentown” we shot this past summer also in Salt Lake City and also for the Disney Channel, so I’m three for three in both. [Laughs] Going back there and everyone knowing who you are and what you’re like and accepting you with open arms was great because you work so much quicker, better, and you’re happier the whole time. If you’re happy on set you will make a good product; if you’re not, it’s up in the air.