Watch Now: What don't fans understand about the life of an actor? Bruce Miller finds out from Niles Fitch and Peyton Elizabeth Lee in an exclusive video.
What’s better: Disney royalty or superhero?
In “Secret Society of Second-Born Royals,” a new Disney+ film, five actors get to straddle both worlds as a way to show there’s merit in emphasizing their differences.
“The superpowers that we all have are very symbolic about what’s unique about each of us,” says Peyton Elizabeth Lee during a conference call. “Using them for good and sort of channeling them into something that’s positive is super-important.”
Lee, who plays Sam, the second-born princess in Illyria, doesn’t see the value in a monarchy. She rails against the system and, just as her sister is about to be crowned queen, she’s sent to a summer boarding school which is really a training ground for superheroes charged with keeping peace.
There, she meets four others in similar situations. They go through a boot camp which helps them fight the forces of evil.
Directed by Anna Mastro, the film gave the five actors a crash course in everything from music to flight.
“There are a couple of scenes where they’re all in these obstacle courses,” Lee says. “So we did training to learn those skills.”
Faly Rakotohavana, who plays Matteo, threw himself into the stunts.
“I am very scared of hurting myself,” says Niles Fitch, who plays Prince Tuma, “but Faly is not. We would be doing stunts and Faly’s jumping over things where he could fall and hurt himself. He was going crazy.”
Isabella Blake-Thomas, who plays January, had to hold her breath underwater “for a really long time,” then transition to trapeze work.
The stunt coordinator, she says, “made it a very safe environment. I felt I could try anything and I wasn’t hurting myself or risking anything.”
In one scene, the characters were supposed to fall down stairs. Both Blake-Thomas and Rakotohavana were curious, particularly since producers wouldn’t let them do the stunt.
“I remember looking at it and being like, ‘That’s really sharp. How are they doing that?’” Rakotohavana says. “Then I saw it was padding and I was like, ‘Hey can I do it?’ And everybody was like, ‘No.’”
The five (including Olivia Deeble as Roxana) bonded off set, as well, going to parties, sharing classes and, as Lee says, “getting in trouble.”
“We were being school kids, which, I think, is the beauty of the film,” Deeble adds. “We want kids to identify with this."
All five discovered just how important teamwork is – on a set and in the superhero world.
“Working together can take you very far,” Rakotohavana says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you think you are, everybody plays an important role in life.”
Figuring out that role, Mastro says, is important. “Not everybody can relate to having powers or being royalty but they can relate to that feeling of being different.”
In the film, Deeble says, viewers will see each of the five has distinct personality traits. “We’re not only working together with our superpowers, we’re also working together with our personality traits.”
The five are “learning and growing together,” Lee says. “Sam’s not wanting to be a part of the team because she’s not a great team player. By the end of it, we see her pull the group together and come out as a leader and motivator.”
In most Disney princess films, there’s only one royal. “If you don’t relate to that character, you have to go on to another movie,” says Blake-Thomas. “But here there’s something in everyone that’s relatable.”
If there’s a moral to the story, she says, it’s “create your own box, make your own space and be happy with just being.”