By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Dove Cameron is calling from the set of her popular Disney Channel series “Liv and Maddie,” in which she plays identical twins with completely different personalities. Though it’s only July, the episode she is filming is the Halloween episode, scheduled to air on the kid-oriented cable channel this fall. The 19-year-old says she is stoked about it, but doesn’t want to reveal too much about what happens in the episode.
“I’m speaking to you in wardrobe,” she says from outside the sound stage, where the fifth episode of the third season is filming.
The Seattle native is a Disney Channel mainstay, having started her career there in 2012. The show initially was called “Bits and Pieces,” but later renamed “Liv and Maddie.” The sitcom has afforded the talented young actress an opportunity to showcase her singing skills from time to time. Her 2013 cover of Imagine Dragons’ “On Top of the World” spent three weeks on the Billboard Kid Songs chart. Her second single “Better in Stereo” reached No. 21 on the chart.
She now stars in an all-new original movie musical called “Descendants,” which is available on WATCH Disney Channel and Comcast’s Xfinity, and will make its cable debut Friday, July 31 on the Disney Channel.
Cameron plays Mal, the teenage daughter of uber-evil Disney villain Maleficent (played by Tony award-winning actress Kristin Chenoweth of “Wicked” and “Glee” fame). Kenny Ortega, who choreographed and helmed the highly successful “High School Musical” trilogy and Michael Jackson’s “This is It” concert movie, directs the musical.
Working with such respected stars of the musical world was a dream come true for the young performer. Cameron grew up performing in musical theater, and nearly headed for New York to pursue a career on stage before Hollywood came calling.
The live-action “Descendants” explores the lives of several youngsters who are the offspring of some of Disney’s greatest villains. They live on a gloomy and impoverished island just off the coast of where the heroes live, the idyllic kingdom of Auradon. When Auradon’s newly elevated prince (Mitchell Hope) decides to allow the villains’ children to attend prep school in the kingdom alongside the sons and daughters of notable heroes including Belle and the Beast, Cinderella and Prince Charming and other happily-ever-after couples, not everyone is pleased.
Having grown up on the Isle of Lost Souls raised by a woman intent on retribution, Mal (Cameron) is sent to the school by her evil mother to steal the fairy godmother’s magic wand, the key to getting her evil power back. Mal initially goes along with the ruse, but once she gets to know some of her new classmates, she is conflicted about whether she wants to follow in her mother’s evil footsteps. The TV musical is jam-packed with seven numbers, plus a song by popular Vine music artist Shawn Mendez.
Cameron said she has long desired to play a villain, and taking on the role of Mal, and working alongside Chenoweth and Ortega, is a dream come true.
Q: What attracted you to the role? Was it the opportunity to work with Kristin?
Cameron: Mal was the first character they wanted to cast, so I didn’t find out that Kristin was a part of it until weeks after I had the part. The thing that got me was just the incredible storyline. When I read the script, it read like a feature film. I just thought that was so amazing. I loved the character. I felt like I knew this girl. I knew how to play her. When Disney had me read the script, they didn’t said, “Read this, and let us what you think of Mal.” They simply said, “Hey, read this script.” They didn’t tell me anything about it. They didn’t say they were definitely doing it. They didn’t say that I was going to audition. So I just fell in love with Mal from the very start. At that time, it wasn’t a musical. They didn’t tell me Kenny Ortega was going to direct. The film, alone, was enough for me to lose my mind.
Q: When you found out that it was going to be a musical and there would be singing and choreography and Kristin was going to be on the cast, how did you feel?
Cameron: I found out all of those things in different times. I found out it was going to be Kenny after I read the script. I walked into the audition with all my lines memorized and knew what I was doing. I wore a wig. I literally was so desperate for this role that I dressed up as the character to audition for Disney Channel. And Kenny Ortega is sitting at this table with a fedora on. And I was like, “Why is Kenny Ortega here?” They told me he was directing it. And I (gasping) flipped out because I love him. He has directed some of my absolute favorite movies. It totally threw me off. I felt scared and that I didn’t deserve to be there. I was like, “You know my name?” Kenny knows my name. And then when I found out it was going to be a musical I flipped out and cried. I sort of had a hunch because it’s in line with some of the other stuff that the Disney Channel has done, but they’re also known for bringing cartoons to life. All of the previous cartoons had music so I sort of had a hunch.
The way I found out Kristin was going to play my mom is that I got a phone call and they said they had good news for me. They had cast my mother. And I just knew that it was her. I knew it was Kristin Chenoweth. Anybody who’s ever worked with me knows exactly how much I love Kristin. So when they told me it was her, I just started sobbing because she means so much to me. Really, truly I’m one of her biggest fans in the world. She has really inspired a lot of my career. She is just an incredible woman so I was simply in tears and overjoyed. I was definitely ugly crying; it was very embarrassing.
Q: How did you like playing the daughter of an infamous Disney character?
Cameron: Obviously getting a chance to play the descendant of the character that’s widely considered to be the most evil is kind of magical and brilliant for an actress. Also, Descendants is a really different thing. Obviously, there are shows like “Once Upon a Time,” and other things like that, but this is the first time that Disney has signed off on this is the next generation. The story continues and that hasn’t really been done before, with a few exceptions. But I think we really do it differently than other adaptations, so it was a seriously huge opportunity for us to create completely new characters. No one can judge us for not doing it right. With this, we could take all sort of creative license, but there also is something you can build on, which really worked with Kristin, in terms of her interpretation of the character, and how my character related to her, Maleficent. There have been other interpretations of the adult main characters but not a lot of new ones. So it was really a rare opportunity as well as an incredible experience.
Q: Do you have a favorite song in the film?
Cameron: My No. 1 favorite is “Rotten to the Core,” because it’s got a Dove step breakdown that we use in the show and I think that’s so fabulous. But I also really love “Did I Mention?” in which my close friend Mitchell Hope, who plays Prince Ben. That’s the song that he sings to Mal when she’s just losing her mind of embarrassment when they’re out on the tournament field. I just think that’s one of the cutest songs in the world. It makes me blush and laugh every time I hear it. I guess it’s because I’m kind of biased, my favorite song is “If Only,” because it’s a really angsty song. In the movie, you don’t get to hear the full version but on the soundtrack you do. It’s when Mal is debating who she really wants to be. I just think it’s a sad, vulnerable song for Mal. It marks a big turning point for my character. So even though I’m a little biased, I’m going to have to go for that.
Q: Speaking of music, you released an album earlier this year in connection with “Liv & Maddie.” Do you want to continue singing and recording as well as acting? Would you like to perform on Broadway one day?
Cameron: Definitely. I almost went to New York instead of L.A. to pursue Broadway because when I was starting out I actually started out on stage. One of my biggest dreams in the world, which is why I fell in love with Kristin, is because I always wanted to play Glinda (in “Wicked”). She was one of the first characters I ever felt passionate about and wanted to play. I hear they’re adapting the musical into a movie, and I really really want to play Glinda.
I just had a concert in Denver the day before yesterday with my band. So we’re starting to put music out there and we have a video coming out later this year that we’ve already shot. We have a bunch of new singles happening. “Liv & Maddie” has more music coming and, of course, “Descendants.” So there’s a lot of music stuff happening now and I hope it continues because music is just as much a part of my life as acting is, if not more.
Q: What keeps you grounded? Who do you go to and ask, “Am I doing this right?” Am I okay?”
Cameron: Obviously my mother, my sister and my whole family keep me grounded. But, honestly, not to get too dark, but to give you a complete honest answer, my father passed away when I was 15. So sometimes when I’m in a situation where I don’t know what to do, I just kind of imagine him looking down on me, observing what I’m doing. It’s so important for me to make him proud wherever he is. So that really does keep me in check. You’re almost harsher on yourself when a person’s not here. Sometimes I just try to imagine what I can do to make him the most proud or consider what he wouldn’t approve of me doing, and that really does keep me grounded. I want to make my whole family proud.