Carly Rae Jepsen grew up in love with musical theatre and jumped at the opportunity to play Frenchy in Fox’s Grease: Live. Frenchy is one of the Pink Ladies and for the first time the character will have her own song and won’t just be part of the ensemble. The live musical event will air on January 31, 2016 at 7pm ET/PT (taped delayed on the West Coast) and at the Television Critics Association’s press day, Jepsen talked about what it means to be a part of this Fox musical special, what she admires about Frenchy, and the new song that Grease fans will have to add to their repertoire following the broadcast.
Carly Rae Jepsen Interview:
Can you talk about the song they’ve written for you? What’s the vibe?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “I mean, Tom Kitt wrote a song called ‘Angel.’ It’s right before Boyz II Men come down from heaven. Basically, it’s a prayer. Beauty school hasn’t worked out too hot for me; I’ve dyed my hair pink accidentally. Also, I’ve dropped out of high school and I’ve lost my way. And the one thing I really admire about Frenchy, wrong or right, is her innocence and optimism in life, of feeling everything’s gone wrong and maybe an angel will come and tell me what to do. And this is her really having that moment of reflection, of saying, ‘If only I had that,’ and lo and behold magic happens.”
Do you relate to that innocence and optimism? Do you tend to be an optimist?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “I think that I try very hard to let optimism and that side of my brain lead me through my career in music, especially. I think there’s an easy way to look at everything as this lucky, wonderful adventure. And it’s also flip-side easy to fall into that tunnel where you can feel very hard done by and the world’s against you. And with the family that I have and the people that are around me, I try to think with positivity.”
Did they approach you to write the song for Frenchy?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “No. I actually essentially came in a week or two later than the rest of the cast. I was doing some of my own tours in London and I rolled in the first day and they’re like, ‘Surprise! We’ve written a song for Frenchy.’ I was like, ‘Wow!’ I was expecting to be off for two months, but I’m actually looking forward to getting to give a voice to this character because I do think she’s interesting in her own right. She is generally wanting to make everyone love each other, whether it’s Sandy like Rizzo and Rizzo like Sandy, and to have a very personal moment I think was really cool. And to transition into the Boyz II Men and make that a more amplified moment I think will be really special.”
Do you feel any pressure singing a new song in Grease?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “I think if you look at the history of Grease, whether it’s the movies or the musical, there’s always been additional songs, and they haven’t even been era appropriate. Like, if you think about ‘Grease is the Word’ almost being a little ’70s in this ’40s and ’50s time, I think it’s cool to have that tradition continued in a way. So, it feels a little less intimidating and more appropriate to be adding something from our generation and then as we pass it forward hopefully that gets continued.”
Was acting part of your dream all along?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “You know, musical theatre was my first passion. It wasn’t until I was 17 and I was gifted a guitar that I realized songwriting was in my blood, too. I actually went to a performing arts college very much geared at Broadway. I thought that was always going to be the path for me until I strummed my first ever tune.”
Is acting in a musical similar to doing a music video?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “No, I wouldn’t compare them. I also wouldn’t compare Broadway to this. They’re completely different experiences. I think there’s a presence that you’re needing to have readily available to you day one; it can’t be like the Broadway performance where you get all of your nerves out on the opening night and then day two you start to realize what you want to rework and get better at. This is a one-time offer so you have to bring everything you’ve got to the table right away.”
Will you be DVRing Grease and saving it?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “I’m sure that my grandmother will. She’s already promised to do as much, yes.”
When did you see Grease for the first time and what did you think about it?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “I join Vanessa [Hudgens] in saying I don’t remember a first time. I grew up in a family who was very much engaged in music and musical theatre; it was celebrated in my house. My stepmother was the first to show me Grease, I can tell you that. She was the type to, whether it was Paula Abdul, Grease, whatever, we would have costumes. We would have the ponytail on top of our head and we would dance and sing it out from beginning to end. I can remember loving it and I think, as every little girl did, relating to Sandy very much. But as an adult it’s very fun to take on a character with a little bit more ditziness and some sass and a little bit of a vanilla quality than I’m used to playing. I’m looking forward to that.”
So you saw the movie first before the play?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “I saw the movie first and then I was a part of the musical in high school myself where I did play Sandy and it was very fun. It was my first time ever walking in high heels or showing anything ever so scandalous as a black leotard. My father was the principal so he was not too keen on the whole idea.”
Was getting a part in that play a turning point for you?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “My first ever high school production was Little Orphan Annie when I was in grade eight. I do believe that that was a turning point for me. It was my first time ever embracing an acting, dancing, and singing role, even in a small community level. I fell immediately in love with it. I felt like I had never had such a big rush in all of my life.”
Was it an automatic yes for you to play in a live version of Grease on national television?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “There’s certain moments in my career where I really weigh both sides of things, whether timing or conflict or if it will get in the middle of promoting my album, Emotion. I really weigh it. And then there’s other moments where it’s just an instant yes and this was that for me.”
Are you going to pursue an acting career?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “I think it’s really lovely to be in a place where I don’t feel pigeonholed by having only one passion and one passion alone. I think my first and foremost will always be songwriting. I’m really enjoying exploring a new world and with such supportive people that make you feel more confident stepping forward in it.”
You’re coming into a cast that’s known for acting and TV work. Did you ever feel like an outsider?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “No, there was no need to because no one put out that energy. I think that’s the most attractive part of this process is rather than it feel like a competition or anything strange or awkward, it feels like a lovefest. I arrived day one and everyone was itching to know you. They had researched things. Aaron [Tveit] made a point of saying, ‘Emotions is what I exercise to when I go to the gym.’ I just thought, ‘Wow, I’m so beyond flattered.’ And then getting to know these people, not even for their history of what they’ve done, but just on a personal level has been such a gift because they all are wise beyond their years. They’re all talented in multiple aspects and they’ve all taken time out of their own projects to come and focus on this together. That feels really special.”
Would you like to act in something where you don’t sing?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “You know, I wouldn’t rule it out. I do find the more that I allow myself into this world, the more challenging and sort of gratifying I find that challenge. My first experience really in a professional light was Cinderella on Broadway. It was a scary jump from community theatre in Canada to New York City, which I’d always dreamed about. I was guided by people who had more faith in me than I probably had in myself at the time and it really led me through opening night into the rest of the week and beyond. I think I learned a lot not just about stage but about myself and sort of what courage can do for you.”
Can you talk about the Full House theme? How did you get involved with that and how is it different than the first time around?
Carly Rae Jepsen: “Very same as sort of the Boyz II Men. I just got a call one day, sort of saying Butch Walker’s producing the song. I’m obviously a huge admirer of his catalogue and work. He said, ‘I’m producing the song. Do you want to sing it?’ I said, ‘Are we remaking it or is it the original?’ He said it was the original and I said, ‘I’m in.’ I’m a true blue Full House fan. I can remember being so young that I didn’t understand how to tell time and my parents actually said to me one time on a camping trip when I asked, ‘How long until we’re there?’ and they said, ‘Three more Full Houses,’ and I knew exactly what they meant.”
The cast of Grease: Live includes Julianne Hough (Sandy), Aaron Tveit (Danny Zuko), Vanessa Hudgens (Rizzo), Keke Palmer (Marty), Carlos PenaVega (Kenickie), and Carly Rae Jepsen (Frenchy).