By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Olivia Holt is following in the footsteps of another famous perky blond Tennessean, Reese Witherspoon. Not only is Holt a comedic actress with singing chops like the Oscar winner, she also plays an ambitious high schooler who will do almost anything to achieve her academic goals in the comedy “Class Rank.” Though less subversive than Alexander Payne’s “Election,” “Class Rank” covers similar territory.
In it, she plays high-achiever Veronica Krauss, who already has risen to the rank of junior class president. With a 4.2 GPA, she feels she is a shoo-in as the top kid in her grade. So, when she discovers she is “only” number two, Veronica is crushed. Fearing she won’t get into Yale with that penultimate status, she sets out to convince the school’s number one rated junior, an oddball named Bernard (Skyler Gisondo), to run for a seat on the local school board. With Bernie—as she calls him—committed to an elected term, she reasons, she will move to the top of the class ranking and realize her dream. Problem is, Veronica starts to have real feelings for Bernie, as she heads his dark horse campaign to unseat one of the adults on the board of education, and that complicates her scheme.
The coming-of-age comedy is written by Benjamin August (2015’s Christopher Plummer starrer “Remember”) and directed by Eric Stoltz, who also is an executive producer and a frequent director on the CBS series “Madam Secretary.” He also occasionally plays the brother of Tea Leoni’s title character on that show. The film is releasing theatrically and on Digital and TV VOD on Friday May 11, with a DVD release to follow in June and an SVOD premiere later this year.
Kristin Chenoweth plays Holt’s mother in “Class Rank,” and Bruce Dern (Payne’s “Nebraska”) plays Bernie’s grandfather, who is raising the orphaned boy.
Holt is on quite a tear. Not only is “Class Rank” coming out, she also stars in the upcoming Marvel TV series “Cloak & Dagger,” in which she plays a super-powered girl who can emit light daggers. In a phone interview, Holt spoke about her latest projects and fondly recalled her earlier TV series where she got her start.
Q: What were your thoughts on Veronica when you first read the script. What attracted you to the role? Did she remind you of Tracy Flick in “Election?”
Holt: I definitely got Tracy Flick vibe, for sure, and I did base a lot of the tone and the journey of Veronica’s future off of what Tracy Flick is going through and her energy and the way she connects with people. I did my research on the whole political world because I’m not really into politics, so I definitely had to dive in and do my research and understand what a person is like when they’re as passionate about politics as Veronica is.
It was about Veronica’s journey through this story, especially after meeting Bernie.
Q: You said you couldn’t relate to her political ambitious but could you relate as an actor in terms of getting out there and going after what you want?
Holt: Absolutely. I think since I was a kid I had that independence of being driven and being motivated in whatever I did. Whatever I was doing in that moment whether school work or a sport or even a hobby. I feel like that drive has always been in my bones and I’ve always been very ambitious and want to do things to the best of my ability no matter what that may be so I definitely feel like Veronica and I share that similarity.
Q: How did the script come your way and what was it about it that interested you?
Holt: I was sort of in this, I guess still am, transitional phase of my life not just as an actor but as an individual and I’m sort of looking for something that resonated with me in that way and also something that impacted me in a positive way and that not just entertains me but moves me. I got sent the script and I read the script and just fell in love with the coming of age story about these two teenagers who I thought were so intriguing and unique. There was something about Veronica that I felt really attached to. I had a Skype meeting with our director Eric Stoltz and it was a good meeting.
We had some great conversation and talked about the script and Veronica but I remember ending the meeting not really knowing where he stood or how he felt about me potentially playing that role. I called my manager and said, “I don’t know. I’m not really sure if I’m the girl he’s looking for. But I want this so bad. This is something I really want.’ And he was like, ‘So, what do you want to do?’ I was like, “I want to show him that I can do this. I want to put some scenes on tape and send them in to Eric.” And that’s what I did. I found three scenes that showed all the different layers of Veronica and I put them on tape and sent them in to Eric and got a call a couple of weeks later and we left for Louisiana and we shot the movie.
Q: You have a natural chemistry with Skyler Gisondo on camera. Did you audition with him or were you cast separately and then met each other when you got to Louisiana?
Holt: Yeah, we were both cast and met each other in Louisiana and luckily, we had awesome chemistry. We got along really well and he’s so talented and I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to work with him because we had such great banter on and off set. It was like we were two people meeting for the first time just like Veronica and Bernard and having this awesome connection that you don’t share with very many people. I loved having him around and being able to tell this story with him.
Q: You also get to work with Kristin Chenoweth. What was it like working with her. I really liked that one scene where you are talking and she’s combing your hair. Did you have some favorite moments with her?
Holt: Kristin is an amazing woman. She’s not just this sweet, fragile human being but she’s also a boss lady. I loved working with her and getting to know her. We are very similar so I feel like playing mother and daughter was easy for us even though our characters are polar opposites. She’s just a really loving, kind-hearted woman. I learned a lot from her just by watching her and observing. I hope to work with her again. She really brought a warm tone to the set.
Q: You are originally from Tennessee. Do you ever get to go back there? What do you miss about it?
Holt: I do get to go back as often as I’d like, but it’s where I grew up. It’s where I formed myself into the individual that I am today. The friends that I made and the family that I still have there, they are all so supportive. Home is that place where you can go back and re-set, remember who you are and where you come from. Luckily, I had an incredible childhood with great friends and family around me and have a good memory of that.
Q: You are now joining the Marvel Universe with your role on Freeform’s “Cloak & Dagger.” What can you tell me about the show and your character?
Holt: I’m really excited about it. I’m very proud of that project and confident that people will feel connected to it in some way or another. It’s surreal. I’ve been a fan of all things Marvel since I was a kid so now, working with the company and playing a superhero on screen is pretty cool. My character equally as well. She’s one of the very few women on television that I’ve seen who is not just bold and powerful but complicated and resilient and she’s her own woman. She beats her own drum and she is very strong in her opinions and using her voice and I love all of those aspects about her and I’m excited for everybody to meet her.
Q: Is there a lot of physicality to the role?
Holt: There is a lot of physicality, more running than anything but I absolutely got my steps in. What I love about this first season is you really see these characters cope with the powers first before becoming these kick-ass characters, these kick-ass superheroes from the get-go. They have to figure it out. They’re trying to learn to use their powers and fight off the things they’re fighting off versus already having that ability.
Q: Will there be a romantic connection between your character, Tandy/Dagger, and Aubrey Joseph’s Tyrone/Cloak? Are they friends? What’s their relationship?
Holt: We’re really going to see these characters connect more on a human level than a superhero level and watch how their relationship forms as two people who are constantly being put in the same scenario. We really see a friendship form before we see anything else.
Q: There are 10 episodes in the first season, which premieres June 7. Have you wrapped production?
Holt: Yes. We shot them all. We’re finished.
Q: What about your years on Disney XD’s “Kickin’ It?” What was your favorite memory from that series and do you still stay in touch with your cast mates?
Holt: I spent four years of my childhood on that show. It was the first show I’d ever worked on. That was home away from home for me. That was my family for four years of my life. Being able to create a show based around camaraderie and loyalty and friendship, towards the end not only our characters went through that but I went through it as well. Working with them was, hands down, one of the best experiences of my life. We all do still stay in touch. We catch up every now and then and everybody’s doing well. Every time we get together we always reminisce on the good times we had on that set.
Q: Are you recording any new music?
Holt: I have. I’ve been in the studio writing and recording almost every single day this year which has been great. I’ve never really had the opportunity to prioritize music like this. It’s always a balance of both acting and music so the fact that I’ve been able to really hone in on this category of my career and make it a priority but also have fun with it and not take it too seriously and not rush it or force anything has been pretty special so I’m excited for everybody to hear what I’ve been working on.
Q: You should do a duet with Kristin Chenoweth.
Holt: Oh right. I’d love to do that.