Despite Julie and the Phantoms being a TV show about rock ‘n’ roll ghosts, the Netflix comedy’s most pleasant surprise is neither musical nor supernatural.
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It’s the relationship between drummer Alex (played by Knight Squad‘s Owen Joyner), who is revealed to be openly gay in Episode 2, and fellow ghost Willie (played by Descendants‘ Booboo Stewart).
Without spoiling their entire journey over the show’s nine-episode first season, the pair’s connection is not only respected but celebrated, resulting in the kind of refreshingly positive representation of a same-sex relationship that you don’t often see in programming targeted at a younger audience.
“The way that Alex deals with his issues — including finding acceptance from his chosen family, instead of his given family — is a cool thing for kids to see,” Joyner tells couchsurfingcook.com. “You’ve got your friends, too, and you can lean on them,”
Read on for our full Q&A with Joyner about bringing Alex (back) to life, fanboying over Cheyenne Jackson and developing an on-screen relationship with Stewart:
couchsurfingcook.com | I have to say, this was one of the most bingeable shows I’ve watched in a minute. This must have been a dream project for you.Oh, I was excited as soon as I first read the breakdown for the show and the characters. I’d been with Nickelodeon for six years, where I did two shows and one pilot, but I never got to bring that musical side of myself into any of my projects. And I’ve been doing musical theater since I was 10, so singing, playing the drums and acting are the three things I love to do. I also hate to dance, and I figured that I wouldn’t have to dance as the drummer. I was wrong.
couchsurfingcook.com | Uh-oh, what happened?I think it was on the first day of rehearsals. Kenny came in and said, “Owen, I’ve got the perfect thing for you — a dance number with Carrie!”I was like, “What do you have in mind?” And he was like, “Oh, something small.” The way Kenny works is that he’ll pitch something to you that he knows you’re nervous about, but he’ll make it seem like nothing. And then you end up doing an entire choreographed dance in front of, like, 70 background and crew members. It was actually a lot of fun.
couchsurfingcook.com | Well, I’m now a Sunset Curve fan. You guys really do have great chemistry as bandmates.We had a big six-week rehearsal process before we started shooting. When we started it, we figured that they just want us to learn the songs and instruments, but it actually went way past that.
couchsurfingcook.com | Let’s talk about Alex. I won’t lie, when I heard there was an openly gay character on this show, I thought, “Cool, he’ll have two lines and no love interests.” I was wrong.<Laughs> No! You should have faith in Kenny Ortega.
couchsurfingcook.com | I really should. How does it feel to play an openly character on a show directed at a slightly younger audience? It’s kind of a rarity.At first, I was very excited because I thought it was a story that the younger generation could benefit greatly from seeing. And the way that Alex deals with his issues — including finding acceptance from his chosen family, instead of his given family — is a cool thing for kids to see. You’ve got your friends, too, and you can lean on them. I just wanted to play Alex honestly and respectfully. I wanted to do something that people would be proud of, and I hope they are. I just trusted Kenny when he said he wanted me to play it, and I gave it my best shot.
couchsurfingcook.com | And I’m not sure kids can appreciate how much courage it must have taken Alex to come out back in 1995.Yes! He’s been himself since ’95. And that’s another thing that was so important for Kenny. Alex never really had a big coming-out episode. Kenny and the writers knew that this kid has always been proud to be himself. And I think it’s cool to make it a normal thing within television. His struggles are less about “How am I going to come out?” and more just about acceptance.
couchsurfingcook.com | Well, I’m pretty sure that Alex is TV’s first openly gay drummer — definitely the first openly gay ghost drummer.<Laughs> I’m hoping he’s a first in something.
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