While watching any weekend football game makes it obvious that there are cheerleaders present in the United States, our Jim Halterman decided to venture all the way up to Canada to chat face to face with some actors who are spending their days in front of the camera portraying cheerleaders in the new CW television series, "Hellcats." As episode three readies to air tonight, the young cast told Halterman how they've gotten used to the cheerleading choreography, how one character's religious beliefs play a big role in the show and how complicated all the romantic entanglements will becoming in upcoming episodes.
If you have yet to check out the series, "Hellcats" starts with financially strapped Marti (Aly Michalka of Aly & AJ pop song fame) joining the Lancer College cheerleading squad on scholarship so she can continue her law studies. This being the CW, however, we won't be stuck in the classroom for long as intense rivalries romantic complications come into the mix almost immediately. For example, Marti's roommate/fellow cheerleader Savannah ("High School Musical's Ashley Tisdale) beginning to date Marti's best friend (Matt Barr) while Marti's new beau (Robbie Jones) just happens to be the ex of the venomous Alice (Heather Hemmens). Add Gale Harold to the series for those wanting a more adult hunk (he plays Marti's law professor) and you have quite a tangled chain of events stirring within "Hellcats."
First of all, the series is truly showing some impressive cheerleading moves along with serious choreography. How are the actors holding up? "Ally and I are in here every single day," said Tisdale, "so sometimes it's hard to find time just to rehearse a number for the one coming up. Last week we had an hour and a half to learn a number for the next day, which is pretty insane because with the pilot we had two weeks to rehearse, with the second episode it was a week and now it's an hour and a half! It's crazy! But it also shows what we've accomplished. We can actually pick up dances now in an hour and a half, which is really great."
Jones is playing one of the male cheerleaders on the squad and perhaps he experienced the same feelings that his character did upon his oft-ridiculed position. When he landed the role, Jones said to his friends, "'I'm going to be a male cheerleader!' They said 'What!? What did you say?'" [Laughs.] It's a funny response. I was playing a drug dealer in a show before this but this was actually very exciting."
While Michalka is contending with the physical demands of the role, she's more than pleased with the fact that Marti has more going for her than just wanting to make it to the top of the cheerleading pyramid. "I love that Marti is a smart character," she said. "I love that she's intelligent and she wants something big for her career. She's not going to dream small, she's going to dream big. The fact that she has to overcome so many obstacles makes her story even more exciting because the stakes are really high for her."
With the addition of Gale Harold in tonight's episode as Marti's law professor, Julian, viewers won't see he and Marti cross the line between student/teacher (yet) but Michalka said that Marti's interaction with Julian challenges cheerleading for which is going to be tougher on Marti. "I love that Gale's character really pushes Marti to be a better student and to really step it up when it comes to her commitment to the classes," she said. "She starts to get involved in a case that Julian is involved in and she becomes really immersed in it and becomes a personal thing for her instead of just wanting to prove that she could be a good lawyer."
And what would a young cast be without one of the characters falling into category of troublemaker? The honors go to Heather Hemmens as the injured cheerleader Alice, who is equally pissed that Marti is now dating her ex as well as taking her spot as a flyer on the Hellcats squad. Hemmens, for one, clearly loves being the character whose job is to stir the pot. "She just doesn't know how to be nice and I've always excited to open up the new scripts and see what vicious activity or vicious thing I could say to someone," Hemmens explained. "I am willing to take it as far as they will go; I'm willing to push the envelope. Of course, she's a regular character on the show so we can't hate her too much but she always has something up her sleeve."
One way to redeem a villain, though, is to have the character go down a dark path and gain some sympathy, a storyline that begins tonight as Alice attempts to speed up her recovery and reclaim her spot with the Hellcats. "Alice is someone who will go to the extreme to get what she needs in her life. For her, this was the last resort. She's an intelligent person but she's willing to go there."
Also tonight viewers will see the romantic lives of the regular characters get more complex as Marti gets closer to Louis while Savannah and Dan have their first official date. Since Marti and Dan have been BFFs since before they were teenagers, there may be some feelings beneath the surface that the two are not aware of... or ignoring. "As Marti starts to drift more towards Louis," Barr explains, "he's threatened a bit and he's always looking out the corner of his eye." While Dan is referred to as a player, he is in for a rude awakening when dating Savannah, who is deeply religious. "Savannah is still taking baby steps towards the living in the moment per se. She's receiving a lot of ridicule for being a goody two shoes and Dan is stuck in the middle of wanting to support her but... he's a guy... he's 21 and I think he wants to bunk up, too."
Tisdale said she's excited that the show is not shying away from exploring the religious convictions of Savannah. In fact, the actress feels that her character is "someone who is very strong about her religious beliefs but she does think you can go outside and not be so much like her family wants her to be." As the series progresses, storylines will open up to continue to explore Savannah's devout family. "To [Savannah's] family she's rebellious so it's this weird dynamic [but] Savannah wants to make decision on her own and be able to live her life."
With all the attention put upon the sexy new series, Michalka said she received advice from someone who knows the ropes about being front and center in a series - Tom Welling, who is juggling Executive Producer duties on "Hellcats" while filming the final season of the decade-long hit "Smallville." Michalka said that Welling "definitely has an insight when it comes to the kind of pressure you have in being the lead of the show. We've talked at length about being open and always communicating with your fellow actors and the rest of the crew... but he definitely said he's learned from his experiences and being on 'Smallville' for 10 seasons has really given him an amazing amount of knowledge not only as an actor but as a producer. He's not just putting his name on our project. He's here. He's in the production meetings, he's on the set watching us film routines and stunts and I love that about Tom."
Besides Michalka's busy acting career - she can currently be seen in the hit movie "Easy A" as well as the upcoming thriller "Roommates" - her music career is set to cross over into "Hellcats" when Marti sings in next week's episode. "Marti does sing in a very organic, cool setting that I really love because it shows that [she] is really a creative person. You see her in this setting at the Pub and she plays a Sting cover ['Brand New Day'] that her Mom begs her to play for open mic night. I like incorporating music into the show that isn't obvious but very relaxed and normal." Michalka and her sister AJ are also singing the new theme song for the show, which will debut on the show in the next few weeks.
One thing is certain for these young actors, they have already been coached in the art of not giving too much away about their characters or storylines during interviews. Barr contends that it's usually because they aren't told very much by the writers and producers. When curious about the background for his character, Barr said "They did give some insight but they're also purposely keeping it a secret. They like how we play it when we're a bit na�ve. At least the audience can experience it as a mystery."
"Hellcats" airs Wednesdays at 9:00/8:00c on The CW.