Taken from the Winter Issue of Wonderland.
With an all-new UK cast, Disney welcomes us to their latest addictive teen series “The Lodge”, where the guests are likely to break into song at any moment.
OH, TEENDOM. The halcyon years that fly by all too quickly. Where I had do-gooder presenters of old school Blue Peter and the makeshift glamour of Top of The Pops to feed my imagination, the last few generations of tweens have had the full-blown cinematic productions of the Disney Channel.
Sprouting international sensations like High School Musical (grown-ups, don’t protest — you know you’ve watched all three of the films — and know the soundtrack by heart) and propelling mini-thespians like Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus and the Sprouse twins onto the global radar as multi-talented powerhouses, it’s hard to remember life before Disney fever took hold.
The latest show storming screens is The Lodge. An infectious, music-laden drama filmed in Northern Ireland, the series boasts an all new UK cast who encounter trials, tribulations and… a reality TV crew. All set to a soundtrack that will carry you across the spectrum of wholehearted teenage emotion, sit down, settle in and prepare for your next obsession.
We meet three of The Lodge’s future stars: Sophie Simnett, Luke Newton and Thomas Doherty.
LUKE NEWTON and THOMAS DOHERTY, Ben and Sean respectively, are the two lead boys in The Lodge. Although they both play characters who are 15, they are both actually 24 and 21, again respectively, and they are both absolute heart-throbs in the making, with all due respect.
They’re obviously friends in real life: both musical theatre school graduates who now grace the screens of thousands of obsessed teens the world over, in the all-singing-all-dancing millennial answer to High School Musical. They are both gaining a swift following from smoulderingboy-obsessed-Twitter-teens, and Wonderland sat down with them to talk about playing the evil villain, social media, and male privilege.
Tom or Thomas?
TD: Thomas. I just have loads of friends called Tom, my uncle’s called Tom. I like Thomas, it makes me stand out.
So Thomas, you are in Descendants 2 and The Lodge right? You play the villainous character of Harry Hook, Captain Hook’s son in the former?
TD: I do indeed. I arguably play the most evil character of them all.
Do you enjoy playing the villain?
TD: Well that’s a weird question, but yes I do! It’s just that you get to bring such a different energy to set, because the character is so different from yourself. So when you get on set and get in costume you really can immerse yourself.
Do you ever scare yourself, and actually recognise similar traits between yourself and the characters you play?
TD: Well I guess you are drawing from real experiences.
LN: It’s just about finding events in your life that are relatable to the character, the most extreme thing you’ve done, and relating it.
TD: You take loads of different parts of your personality and expand them, put a hook on the end of your hand, and then you’re good to go. I have that, it’s kind of a weapon, an accessory.
So, from the villain to The Lodge. How is it?
TD: Well it’s been amazing. For us all it’s been the first step in our careers, apart from other little small bits, and it’s really exciting. It’s incredible: the whole experience, being on set, filming, the reaction on social media.
You’re both in your twenties, but how old do you play in The Lodge?
LN: 15… It works really well though, there’s a huge age range of people in the cast. We get to work with younger people — the youngest person in the cast was 14 — so it actually helped because we got to hang out with someone who is actually that age.
Do you find you change a lot? Because the difference in people, politics, knowledge between being 15 and 24 for example, is so vast.
TD: Even though we are both still very young, I think 15 when we were 15 is different to 15 now. It’s a lot easier to play 15 now because they are so much more mature, because of social media and the internet.
LN: But it’s like playing the villain again: you relate adult stuff to relate to 15-year-old stuff. Like the stress of struggling to make rent might translate into not knowing how to make a move on a girl, you know?
How does it feel to be a part of the Disney dynasty? Knowing that following is growing? And potentially graduating into global stardom?
TD: It’s great, we are definitely in a position where we can help, and influence young people positively to be active, for example.
You’re able to recommend things: try dancing, try singing, try sport, or something. When you take on these jobs it’s important to be aware that you are taking on more than just a role: you’re taking on a responsibility to the fans. Do you feel a responsibility?
TD: I think when you get the job you accept that as fact, that you are going to perhaps be young people’s role models now.
LN: And it sort of grows. We didn’t really know initially, how popular the show would be, how it would translate to fans, but everything is a great surprise. It’s quite nice to see the journey, watching the Disney kids grow up and seeing the choices they’re making now and the careers they have now. Look at Zac Efron: the stuff he’s gone into now is totally different!
Do you feel a particular responsibility to share your viewpoints, to be a political? I recently asked what Nick Jonas thought about Donald Trump, and he couldn’t comment. Are you allowed to? Do you want to?
TD: I think if we want to we can, we aren’t told what to say and what not to say but as actors starting we do want to be careful. We want to stay on task and focus on acting.
But does that not come with territory of being global?
TD: Yes. But when you have an 8 -12 year old age range, it’s about knowing your audience.
Fair. Can I ask about the pressures you might feel as young men in the industry? The world of entertainment is such a deeply problematic one when it comes to racial diversity and sexism, for example women having to look certain ways. Do you feel that?
LN: I don’t feel like I’ve felt any sort of pressures rather than from just myself. I think I wanted to get in shape before the show, but I didn’t feel any major pressure.
TD: We have a slight advantage too. Luke’s 24 and I’m 21, so we have had a little bit of time to mature and come into the industry a little more secure. I think we had time to establish what we want so that makes different types of rejections easier, for example.
Do you think that’s your male privilege? Do you think it’s harder for young women in the industry?
TD: Film and TV are definitely kind of an enhanced society, it’s an “escapism” from reality, and I guess certain parts of industry do conform to that idea.
LN: What I think is difficult: when you do watch a series or a show and there’s a really diverse cast, and that feels new? Why is that? Why is that diversity a shock? When I see it, I’m like, ‘This is amazing, I should feel more like this is the norm.’
TD: And up and comers can really work on that, and push for that diversity.
LN: You know when people have been in industry and they say, ‘Ah, back in my day!’ It’ll be so exciting to look back, in the future, and say, ‘Thank goodness that’s over, that that progress has happened!’
SOPHIE SIMNETT is one of Disney’s rising stars. Her character Skye is in charge. The Lodge depicts Skye, and her new found rural friends, working tirelessly to keep her dad’s hotel open. After the loss of her mother in the series, she moves from the big city to a tiny village, becomes the star of her own reality TV show, and makes a ton of all-singing all-dancing friends along the way.
In real life, Simnett is equally as approachable and kind as her character would appear. Much cooler than me, her references include Roald Dahl and Etta James, and she tells me about managing to film the show, record an album and and tutor herself for her A Levels. An 18-year-old polymath indeed. The next Miley Cyrus? Who knows.
So how did you start singing? Do you sing in a band?
No, when I was younger I sang in a barbershop quartet at school, but that’s about it. I did singing lessons with a teacher, but that was classical. And when I auditioned for The Lodge they were like, ‘Do you do pop?’. There were 13 auditions, and I was doing my A-Levels at the time. But I was busy at the time, so you don’t really think about it, and you just do the pop!
You must have been good at the pop then. How did you hear about getting the part?
I actually heard on my 18th. I was off to meet a group of my friends — all who were auditioning for the show — and I couldn’t tell anyone.
How it does it feel to play a character that is in a show specifically for teenagers? I mean, teens have changed so much!
Well, the show has all the classic aspects of Disney in it. And it’s a really local show, and engages with local issues. You have the musical aspect of it, too, which is really wonderful and always engaging. But my character goes through a lot: she’s dealing with the death of a mother, with the massive adjustment from moving from a big city to the countryside — a lot of aspects other teen shows don’t necessarily confront. There’s more to it.
Is there any use of new technologies in it?
Yeah, there’s a whole character — Josh, my character’s best friend — who still lives in the city and their relationship is literally over video messaging. It’s a great way of showing how technology can be used positively to connect people, rather than teens being told to stay off their phones all the time. Within the show there’s a reality show being made about Skye’s life running the Lodge too. A show within a show.
Yeah — A Midsummer Night’s Dream, right?
Well speaking of reality: how does it feel to be following in the footsteps of all of the Disney graduates before you: Britney, Miley, Zac? They are some of the most famous people in the world, and now you’re perhaps on that trajectory?
I mean it’s great. If you look at all of those people’s careers individually they’ve all been totally different. They are in the entertainment industry but in different ways. It’s amazing that Disney has given them that platform that I can perhaps use, and any of those careers would be great. I think it’s important for everyone to be inspired, but not idolise necessarily.
What do you think you want to use that platform for? Do you want to be one of those outspoken celebrities?
I don’t know really. I’m just taking it a step at a time, but I guess I hope to do more film work. It’s interesting. It’s all really new at the moment: this opportunity, this platform. Our audience is really impressionable — young teen girls and boys — and it’s important to use our platforms to educate, but it doesn’t mean shoving our political viewpoints down people’s throats.
What about being a female lead?
Well Skye is incredibly strong. I think my peers and I are very aware of feminism, it’s a very important topic. I mean, feminism defined is believing in equality in both genders, why isn’t that inherent? We have to embrace it and go with it. There’s such a massive group of supporters for these equal rights, you would hope people who didn’t believe it would see that and be like, ‘Oh, wait’.