A few months ago, I had the fun opportunity to interview the cast & creators of Disney Channel’s Descendants 2. The highly-anticipated sequel to Descendants, this movie is premiering on the Disney Channel on July 21. Check out what the cast had to say about making Descendants 2:
While in Los Angeles in April for the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 premiere, we spent half a day learning about the upcoming Disney Channel’s Descendants 2. We saw sneak peaks, heard from the creator, Kenny Ortega, met the costume designer Kera Shan, and met the adorable cast of the sequel: The VK’s – Dove Cameron (“Mal”), Sofia Carson (“Evie”), BooBoo Stewart (“Jay”), Cameron Boyce (“Carlos”), and newcomer China Anne McClain (“Uma”).
They were all so excited to be a part of Descendants 2 and very honored to have been cast in their roles. For most, this opportunity has changed their lives, and they couldn’t be more humble or gracious about it. They were all so excited to meet with us that morning to talk about their experience. Here’s a bit of what we learned:
As Mal the daughter of Malicifant, Dove Cameron takes a confident turn, but in person, Cameron is soft-spoken and a bit shy. I really enjoyed learning how much of herself she puts into her character and why she liked most about this role:
What was it like getting back into the role of Mal? What was different from the first movie?
Cameron: 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. Now she has to start over and find what is [her authentic identity] for the first time in her life.
You talked about your character changing and experiencing different things. Is there anything that you brought from your own self into the film to help you with the changes, and dealing with that?
Cameron: As an actor, I do that 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. 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.
There were parts of the movie that I didn’t realize were CGI, like the pirate ship. I was totally invested in the fact that you were all in water, and they said, “Oh, there was no water there.” How were those moments? How was working with that? Because it was such a bigger and grander set this time around, right?
Cameron: Intoxicating. Because there wasn’t water, but when I watch it back, I think “Was there water?” It was amazing. While we did not have water, the ship was real. I have no idea how [the set decorators] did it. 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.
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. 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.
Sofia Carson plays Evie, the daughter of The Evil Queen. In the first movie, we see Evie caring more about her looks, but get to see her mature a bit more in the sequel:
How was it going back and filming the second “Descendants”?
Carson: It was surreal. The first “Descendants” was my first movie. It changed my life and I fell in love with Evie and loved being able to tell her story. We’ve become such a family and working with Kenny and everyone is just always a dream, so when we found out the sequel was green lit, we were just beyond thrilled. It was surreal to return to the characters and to tell their stories and see how they’ve evolved. The movie is just so much bigger in scope. It’s so epic and beautiful and I can’t wait for everyone to see it.
Will we see more of Evie’s villainous side in the film?
Carson: You’ll see a different side of Evie because in the first film, when we met her, Evie was very much her mother’s daughter. She was very consumed in what she looked like and she was sadly willing to believe that her reflection in the mirror is what defined her as a person. At the end of the movie, she realized that as girls, [our looks do not] define us. That doesn’t make us more important or beautiful or special. It’s who we are in our hearts and to be the fairest of them all is to be fair inside. In the second movie, Evie has really grown into herself. She is strong and independent. She’s smart. She’s a fashion designer. She has made her dream come true without a prince and she’s become a leader. At the same time, her best friend Mal, [who is like] her sister, is lost and really confused. Their relationship is really beautiful and important and it’s a story of girl power, which I love.
Does fashion play a big part in your life?
Carson: Yes! Oh my god, I love fashion. Growing up, I was always in my mom’s closet wearing her heels. All the girls of Descendants 2 wear the same size and we like to borrow each other’s shoes. I love fashion and I always really want it to be a big part of my career. I love that Evie loves fashion and that she is the film’s fashion designer.
I had so much fun with Kenny working on how to create Evie’s wardrobe. In “Descendants 2,” he really wanted to see a lot of me in Evie’s wardrobe because I tend to gravitate towards things that are very feminine and classic, but with an edge, but always very classic. He wanted to see that in Evie and I love that so much.
BooBoo Stewart plays Jay, the son of Jafar. This martial arts trained actor put a lot into his role in Descendants 2, and found it to be more physically demanding than he expected:
Comparing “Descendants 2” to the first movie, how was the difficulty level? Did you find that you had to prepare yourself more?
Stewart: Physically, this movie was more demanding. The first movie was more of a mental challenge because I didn’t know what to expect. On the first movie, it felt like, “Wow! This is really rehearsing here!” And then, in the second one, I went into it knowing we were going to be rehearsing, but it was even more challenging. So it’s very physically demanding, but the preparation was nice. You know who your character is when you’re going into it. There’s a little bit of a change because they’ve matured from the first movie. So, the mental preparation was there, but I didn’t expect the intensity of the physical challenges.
Of all the musical numbers in the film, which one is your favorite?
Stewart: I have to say “Chillin’ Like a Villain.” It’s just really great. We had a great time shooting it. It was a beautiful disaster! We were filming outside and it was not supposed to be a tsunami. Along with the wind and the rain, it was brutal, but you can’t tell when you’re watching it. I can’t help but smile watching, not just because of the song, but because of the energy that’s given to the performance.
“Ways to Be Wicked” was actually hard to film because we didn’t use real apples to rehearse. What a waste. We just used tennis balls and things like that. That was one of the trickier challenges because you have this army of dancers, and if one person drops the ball then you have the tennis ball rolling around while everyone else dances.
What would you like young boys to take away from your “Descendants” world?
Stewart: I feel like this lesson is touched upon the first film, but even more so in this film. Young boys are very competitive and they want to be the best. And Jay, in the first film, is a typical guy. He wants to be the best. Just having an open mind is such a different, rare thing for a young boy to have. So I’d like it to not even be a question that young people should have an open mind. It just should be how it is. Jay’s opening the door for the people to follow. I want to make sure young boys come out of it with more of an open mind.
Cameron Boyce plays Carlos de Vil, the son of Cruella de Vil. A lovable character in the first movie, Boyce was glad to be able to expand his character a bit more in the sequel:
You have that quick “Hamilton” reference. Are there other musical feels that you guys reference?
Boyce: Sure. Kenny is a real student of entertainment in general. I remember on the first movie, he showed us clips from 10 different musicals to get a feel for what he was going to draw inspiration from. There’s a little bit of everything really. He showed us everything from “West Side Story” to “Newsies.” And that was for the first “Descendants”. For the second one, he kept up with that theme. Just having Kenny on set, you know that you’ve got to put your best foot forward and really bring it, but it’s so fun.
Of all the dance sequences that you guys had to do, which one was the hardest and longest for you guys to film?
Boyce: I would say the finale probably. There were a lot of variables that we had to take into account. That probably took over four or five really long days. It was intense honestly because there were some elements that we added that made it a little difficult and that were not a part of how we rehearsed it. It was challenging, but we got through it and it looks amazing. The finale is probably my favorite number.
What do you hope to see come out for your character’s role?
Boyce: People are really excited to see what happened to these kids in the second movie. When you leave them, they just left this horrible, desolate place to go somewhere that’s this beautiful new world and they’re still getting used to it at the end of the first movie. The world in Auradon is really important, and then some other stuff happens where we have to return to our roots. That is hard for us too because we’re getting used to this newer place and we’re still fighting with that. That doesn’t stop.
For Carlos specifically, in the first movie he was like the younger brother, a little bit of the comic relief. He was just the guy who was not really helpful to the group and they were sort of dragging Carlos along. In the second movie he finds out how he can bring something to the table for the team, and it’s different than everybody else. Obviously Jay’s the muscle and Mal is the brains, and Carlos figures out that he’s a sensitive guy. He realizes that he can use that sensitivity to bring the whole group together and it’s pretty cool.
The newest member of the cast is China Anne McClain, who plays Uma, daughter of Ursula, and chief nemesis of Mal. She originally voiced Freddie on the Descendants spinoff series Descendants: Wicked World. And was so excited to be asked to play Uma in Descendants 2:
What is it like joining the cast of “Descendants?”
McClain: Joining the cast of “Descendants” was surreal for me. It was an honor because everyone loved the first film and I was a fan of the first film. I thought it was beautifully put together. And Kenny Ortega is just great. I really wanted to work on it so when I got the call saying I got the role, I said, “Yes!”
How did you feel about being Ursula’s daughter?
McClain: She is one of my favorite movie villains ever. She has so much attitude. In preparation, I watched “The Little Mermaid” about 20 times before I went to Vancouver to shoot. I was looking at her mannerisms, how she talked and everything that she said, and that helped me a lot on set.
What was it like working in those awesome, crazy costumes?
McClain: It was difficult working in the costumes because I had a skirt and heels on, not to mention the heavy braids and the leather jacket I could barely move my arms in. I had to do a dance number in all of that, and part of the process is just getting adjusted to the costume. We did three weeks of rehearsing before we started shooting, and part of the rehearsal was that I had the wig on. I thought, “I’m going to wear this so I can get used to doing the dance numbers in it.” So, after I got adjusted to it, it was pretty much cake.
What was the biggest challenge playing her?
McClain: I think the biggest challenge playing Uma was probably making her relatable and trying to make her likable because you can’t mess with the VKs. The fans love the VKs and I see why because in the first film they are really, really good and they connected with a lot of kids. So, just making kids not dislike her and helping them be able to understand her was probably the biggest challenge.
Watch The Descendants 2 on Friday, July 21, 2017
The Disney Channel movie will premiere on Friday, July 21, on five networks: Disney Channel, ABC, Disney XD, Freeform, and Lifetime.
Disclaimer: Disney sent me to Los Angeles on an all-expenses paid press trip, in exchange for my coverage of Descendants 2. All opinions are my own.