SKY HIGH - Q&A with MICHAEL ANGARANO & DANIELLE PANABAKER
Talented teenagers Michael Angarano and Danielle Panabaker play the super heroes of tomorrow in the new Disney adventure film: SKY HIGH. But they are also set to become the stars of tomorrow. Students at a fantastical, secret school in the clouds for the offspring of super heroes, they deal with crushes, cliques and all the usual peer pressures, while at the same time, they learn to save the world. Kelly Preston and Kurt Russell also star in this funny, gripping and action packed film.
At the imaginary and highly original SKY HIGH, teenagers deal with problems that everyone can identify with - popularity, competition, anxiety and heartache. Life is particularly tough for Will Stronghold, (Michael Angarano) who has more to prove than all his contemporaries. His parents happen to be the most amazing super heroes in the world, The Commander and Jetstream - played by Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston. They expect the very best from their only child, that he will live up to the family name and even surpass them in terms of his superpower potential.
There is just one problem; it appears at the outset of the movie that Will has not been blessed with any special gifts at all. Instead of being an advanced student, he is placed in a low-grade class with the 'Sidekicks' doomed forever to be second-class citizens in the world of super heroes. Facing his family when he comes home from school is not easy.
"It is very tough for Will because his parents expect so much of him, which is a lot of pressure," explains Angarano. "Often kids have to live up to their parents. But for Will it is very different. His mother and father are like Superman and Wonder Woman, they are the greatest superheroes on the planet. And my character does not even have a speck of superhero ability, so it is hard to even imagine the stress that he is going through, it is terrible. If I really did have the choice of a super power, I would fly," says Angarano. "Just to beat the traffic would be great."
Will's best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) actually has an impressive power - she has the ability to control nature, but is also deemed to be a sidekick by staff at the school. Layla is a determined and wise girl who knows her own mind, a great female role model. She also harbors a secret, she is madly in love with Will. "My character has always had a huge crush on Will," says Panabaker, "but he doesn't know that. He likes another girl and I am completely crushed and distraught."
Panabaker, 18, grew up determined to act and along with her sister, persuaded her parents to move from Chicago to Los Angeles, hoping to make it in Hollywood. She worked with Paul Newman and Helen Hunt on the highly praised HBO film, EMPIRE FALLS. Her next film is YOURS MINE AND OURS with Denis Quaid and Rene Russo. If I had a superpower I would love the ability to multiply," she says, "because then I could be in lots of different places at once. One of me could be here and one of me could still be at home in bed."
It is hard to believe that Angarano is only 17. He is self-possessed, confident and has considerable experience in Hollywood. He made his name as Jack's son in the TV hit show, WILL AND GRACE. He appeared in SEABISCUIT and recently starred in LORDS OF DOGTOWN, with Heath Ledger. Angarano was born in New York and started acting at five years old. He now lives in Los Angeles. His next films are ONE LAST THING and BLACK IRISH.
Michael, you star in this film as Will, how do you view the character?
ANGARANO: I love Will because I think he is the 'average Joe' who goes to high school and it was really easy to relate to him. One of the things that was hard to identify with though, was the level of stress he is going through in the film. It is intense because he has no superpowers. But I had some similar experiences to Will when I was in high school. Like Will, I was trying to fit in and did not know anyone. It was tough.
It is hard to imagine that you had a tough time at school; things are going so well in your career?
ANGARANO: Well I was never popular actually. When you go to an all boys' high school, they really don't watch TV. They don't watch too many movies. A lot of people didn't know who I was. My peers had no idea what I was doing as an actor and I was desperately trying to get the other boys to like me for the first month of school.
Danielle what do you like about your character?
PANABAKER: I love Layla, she is such a great character because she doesn't follow the rules, she makes her own rules in life. She is funky and upbeat and marches to the beat of her own drummer. She has such confidence, which is great for any girl who is starting high school, because it can be such a ferocious place. She is very nurturing and she is a shoulder for Will to lean on because she knows what he is going through.
Her style is very distinctive isn't it?
PANABAKER: She has a definite style and opinions. She knows that she is a vegetarian and would never eat meat and she knows that she loves Will. Every character has her own individual color palette and color scheme in the film and mine is green. I thought green was the perfect color for Layla, because she is so earthy and cares so much about everything like the environment and everyone; she has such a huge heart. I loved the clothes on this movie, the wardrobe. We had great fun picking out everything, even down to the little details, like tiny flowers on rings. Layla is a bit of a hippy.
What was it like having Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston as parents?
ANGARANO: Kurt's character is a fantastic superhero, but he is not a great father at all, even though he wants the best for his son. He just does not know how to be a good loving parent. I loved working with Kurt and Kelly. They work so well together and have great chemistry, they gel perfectly. They did not give us advice, but they let us figure things out for ourselves and they never looked down on us just because we are kids. It was a collaborative feeling on the film.
PANABAKER: They are such great people and Kurt is so funny. Kelly is also so sweet and friendly, we learnt such a lot from them.
Can you talk about the stunts you do in this film, Michael?
ANGARANO: I got to go in the harness and throw people 50 feet. There was one stunt I will never forget. I had to wear a special harness that they call 'the iron maiden'. It is a big iron contraption; a belt that goes around the body but it has little nuts and bolts poking out of it, digging into your hip a little bit. I must have squeezed it too much because I felt I could not breathe. It allows you to flip and turn in the air and suddenly you are up in the air and all the weight is lifted and you feel light. I had to do a month of fight training to prepare for that. It was exciting and hard work.
Danielle you moved to LA from Chicago with your family, what was that like?
PANABAKER: Yes, my whole family came out with me, my younger sister and my mom and dad. My sister is also trying to be an actress and we really wanted to make it as actors. Our parents are very supportive. We were given the deadline of one year to try to make it or break it. We kept our house in Chicago because my mom assumed we would move back. But we are still here.
Have you always dreamed of becoming an actress?
PANABAKER: My little sister and I started acting in community theatre and we had a great time, but it took a lot of persuasion to get my parents out here to let us give it a try. It does seem like a fantasy: "move to L.A. and suddenly you are a movie star". We were given a great opportunity though and we have tried to make the best of it.
Did you sell the house in Chicago?
PANABAKER: We did sell the house in Chicago. Yes.
Do you both go to high school?
ANGARANO: I just graduated from high school but I did go to a normal high school in the San Fernando Valley, a Catholic boys school.
PANABAKER: I left high school when I was 14 and started to go to community college, because that was easier for me to work as an actress and study at the same time. I am going to start a degree this fall. I actually didn't like high school much because I was not popular and had very few friends. I always got picked on and teased because I used to wear very big glasses. I was the epitome of a 'nerd'. I was very shy and introverted.
Michael what are your interests?
ANGARANO: I live in The Valley outside LA. I love to stay as far away from the hubbub of Sunset Boulevard as possible. I really don't go out. I just stay in and watch movies and skateboard around the house.
Michael you have already worked with so many stars and you are still so young, is there anybody who you would find intimidating to work with - or are you comfortable with any actor now?
ANGARANO: I am pretty scared of Russell Crowe. I did get to meet him at the premiere of CINDERELLA MAN and I was terrified but it was fantastic. He was really cool. I look up to Al Pacino of course and Robert De Niro - I am in awe of them and would love to work with them. I would love a career like Dustin Hoffman's. He is so versatile.
Clearly you love Pink Floyd from your t-shirt, what other music do you like?
ANGARANO: I get my musical taste from my dad, we are very close. I love Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.
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