Katherine and Ellie Blake are mother and daughter. They don’t exactly see eye to eye. Ellie seems to have a bad attitude and she isn’t neat enough for her super-organized mom; Katherine just doesn’t understand how tough it is to be a teenager these days. During a rather heated argument, each unconsciously grabs hold of a magic hourglass and both proclaim in unison, “How I wish you’d understand and see the world my way!” During a blinding swirl of pink energy, the two switch bodies. Amidst the confusion, the magic hourglass falls to the floor and shatters!
This highly anticipated update of the beloved Freaky Friday is Disney Channel’s newest original movie. It premieres on Friday, August 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT and stars Heidi Blickenstaff (The Little Mermaid on Broadway, Something Rotten! on Broadway) and Cozi Zuehlsdorff (Dolphin Tale, Liv and Maddie). Like the stage version of Mary Rodgers’ celebrated novel, this newest film adaptation of Freaky Friday is a musical.
“I am absolutely beyond excited!” Heidi expressed. “I’ve never had an experience like this. Every day is a new adventure. I’ve been doing theater for over 20 years – and loving every second of it – but by some miracle, I got to do this movie for Disney Channel. From the first time I flew out to test with Cozi and auditioned the lovely man, Alex Désert (Boy Meets World, The Flash), who plays my fiancé, Mike Harper, it has been nonstop smiles and pinch-me moments. It is such a thrill to get to make a movie at all, but to get to make it with Disney Channel?! I am very, very lucky!”
Heidi’s radiant positive energy was incredibly contagious as she talked about how grateful she was to take what she’s been doing on the stage and bring it to film.
“I’ve been working in theater for such a long time – that’s my home and I love it there – but I had told myself a story that I guess wasn’t true,” she confessed. “I had told myself that I wasn’t going to have a film experience. I auditioned for a lot of roles, and for whatever reason – you never really know why – it just never clicked. When this happened, I felt like a kid having a dream come true. Every day that I got to be on set, every day that they flew me from New York to LA to do some fancy thing… all this stuff just kept happening. And then I think, ‘I get paid, too?!’ I feel like I just won the lottery.”
Although working on stage and in film are similar, Heidi told Entertaining Options that the two are actually very different from each other.
“Obviously, in theater, we are still acting,” she acknowledged. “We are still creating characters and building them and sharing them with an audience. But such different techniques are involved. Broadway actors and dancers are such different animals. On Broadway, you’re running a marathon every day. You do eight shows a week, so you have to be in a very different kind of physical, emotional, and mental shape to be able to handle that life. Broadway actors are workhorses that are built to last. We have to take care of ourselves in a very specific way.”
“Doing a movie, you have to be just as sharp… but it’s different,” she continued. “Here I am with over 20 years acting experience, but Cozi has been in films and on TV since she was maybe 7 years old, so I looked to her to help me figure out how to do this for the camera. I had to constantly adjust what I was doing so it translated for this movie. But it’s been so much fun getting to paint with a different set of paints.”
Besides Cozi’s help, Heidi reached out to some of her friends who work in both television and theater to get some tips. Two of the people she talked to were Cheyenne Jackson (Xanadu on Broadway, American Horror Story, 30 Rock) and Laura Benanti (The Sound of Music on Broadway, Supergirl, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert).
“Laura had a great tip,” Heidi recalled. “In theater, you have to get it all the way to the back row, the last person in the balcony, but in film and TV, a lot of times you can just think it and it will have the same emotional impact. It took a minute for me to figure out how to do less while still being completely invested, but I got better and better.”
“I was so grateful for our director Steve Carr (Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Daddy Day Care). We developed a really great trust between us. In the beginning, I think he might have been a little bit scared of me because I come from the theater and I’m a weirdo like that,” she laughed. “I’m a big theater nerd and that’s how I do it because that’s my experience. We had several conversations where I was absolutely sure I was going to be fired. But he was like, ‘No, I love all of that about you. I want all the same energy and all the same intensity, but I need finer points.’ He taught me so much. I’ll never stop learning, but I feel like I cracked the code a little bit. After our conversations, I wasn’t afraid of it anymore, and I got much more courageous as the filming went on.”
However Steve did it, it worked! Heidi is as fearless as Cozi is confident, and that translates brilliantly to the screen, making for some of the best mother/daughter scenes in the many incarnations of this story.
“I didn’t have to go very far to play Katherine. She is wound really tight. She is anal-retentive. She is organized within an inch of her life. She is a people pleaser and a multitasker. And sometimes, she is so busy that she can’t see the important thing that is right in front of her. I would say that is also a description of me.”
When she played 16-year-old Ellie, it was a little bit tougher. Katherine payed attention to the younger actresses on set for cues on how to convincingly play a teen. Additionally, the vocabulary was consistent between her and Cozi, so it helped maintain continuity between characters.
“But my greatest resources were my teenage stepsons who are 14 and 17,” Heidi revealed. “I don’t think they knew how much I was studying them – like I was on safari watching animals in the wild. I stole a lot of their quirks and behaviors and mannerisms. What’s so great about my kids – who are very much like Ellie Blake – is that they are very unselfconscious and they are very free. I hope they can stay free forever.”
Freaky Friday, a new Disney Channel Original Movie, premieres Friday, August 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel and will be available earlier (12:01 a.m. PT) on DisneyNOW (to verified users) and (12:01 a.m. ET/PT) on Disney Channel VOD.
Featured image: Heidi Blickenstaff as Katherine Blake (Disney Channel/Ed Herrera).