2020 may very well be making its grand landfall in less than two months, but who cares? The year 2006 has never been quite more alive.
Although bedazzled flip phones and flamboyant red carpet fashion ranging from ‘Thou Shalt Spend’ tees and glittery skirts over denim jeans — with a carefully paired neck-tie — have all (thankfully) fallen out of existence, one of the era’s most-defining franchises has ever so boldly re-emerged from its 00’s grave re-commencing all of the howls and chants for a school none of us has ever even attended.
East High Wildcats, are you ready?
Refitting the number-fourteen jersey and vocal range of the ‘bowl cut’ dream boy — Bieber later copied — in whose face was taped onto the walls and backdoors of millions of original fans, comes Joshua Bassett, the 2019 version of Troy Bolton had he skated instead of dribbled within sweaty gymnasiums — and went by the name Ricky, instead.
Here, Bassett takes us through the trials of getting B-minuses and nabbing the part of ‘Jock No.2’ in his first play, such events accumulating to eventually guide him onto the road of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.
Your character Ricky is described as — verbatim — ‘A snarky sweetheart, B-minus student whose class-clowning covers a deep fear that he’s not actually great at anything, except coasting by on charm.’ Tell me, how big (or little) of a stretch was this from you in real life during your high school days?
It is exactly me in real life. When I read that description, I was kind of concerned that someone had been stalking me, writing a character based on my life. So I was like ‘Oh, boy’. But yeah, going into it, it was a pretty smooth transition to the character just because I can relate to him so much.
Even the B-minus part as well?
Yeaaah, I wasn’t really the best student, but it’s so hard for me to focus on anything that doesn’t really drive me or excite me. And I think that’s something where Ricky in the show — as the season progresses and he finds that he actually does love theatre — he gives it his all and he actually works hard to prove himself. And I think that’s something I can relate to for sure.
Now, lots of fans of the original HSM are pretty on the fence about this show premiering, being that it’s been well over a decade since the ‘Start of Something New’ duet and Troy choosing Berkeley over Juilliard. While I know it isn’t necessarily a reboot, what do you think it is about this show that makes it worthwhile to entertain, even if you’re a complete diehard for the original?
So I grew up watching the movies and when I heard they were making a series, I was very apprehensive and I thought, ‘Oh, boy. I don’t know what the heck they’re doing.’ I was very concerned. And then they sent me the script and the minute I read that script; I was absolutely sold. But I think the show aside from High School Musical is absolutely brilliant. It’s hilarious, the writing is genius, and then you get that awesome aspect as well, that it is High School Musical. And I think diehard fans of HSM will appreciate the nostalgia while also because they like that genre, they’ll find something that they love in it for themselves.
And then the people who don’t even like HSM will find something that they love, whether it’s the music, the acting, the comedic writing, the drama. Or even the fact that it’s so authentic in the way they did it, and I think the characters are so grounded and real. And I think people are gonna gravitate towards the storylines and they’re gonna find a bit of themselves in the characters, so I think it is the best of both worlds, speaking of Disney and Hannah Montana. But yeah [laughs]. It’s great.
You actually got cast for the lead before anyone else within the show had, in fact — but how did it all come together? Why did you want to go into acting?
So, I’ve been doing musical theatre since I was eight and I have five sisters who kind of did it when I was younger so I wanted to give it a try. My first show ever was High School Musical, doing ‘Jock No. 2’. So, you know, I peaked there clearly. And then when I was about sixteen, my oldest sister’s friend from college ended up reaching out to me via Facebook Messenger because she’d heard me sing when I was younger. And long story short, they asked me to come to their offices and I ended up taking a few meetings and things started working out. And so, I decided ‘Well, this is fine, might as well give it a go.’ And then I started coming up and back from San Diego to LA, and then a couple of years later — I’m eighteen now — this show just kind of came about and it just happened like magic, in a way. So yeah, it’s been an interesting ride, but it’s great. I’m here for it.
Speaking of magic, this one kind of just came out of the blue. But when you were younger, did you ever wanna do that Disney intro where you get like the wand and you draw that shape?
The Mickey? Yeah, I don’t know a single kid in my generation who did not want to do that.
Yeah, I believe it’s everyone’s dream. I haven’t gone to do it yet, but who knows, because it’s Disney+. I don’t know. But we’ll see. Maybe they’ll have a Disney+ wand thing [laughs]. We’ll see.
There are some new songs within the show here and there, but did you have to go back and memorize any of the original songs or were they all just kind of ready to go, waiting for their moment?
It’s funny. There were certain songs they told us we were gonna do and they’d send us the tracks and stuff, and I would be like, ‘Okay, I don’t really remember this song very much.’ And I’d listen to it and find that I knew every word, and I’d be like, ‘Maybe I knew this a little more than I thought I did.’ So it was easier than I expected. And it’s crazy how you know, growing up with music like that kind of sticks in your head forever. So, it ended up pretty painless.
Speaking of new music within the show, tell me a little about the songs you co-wrote with Olivia Rodrigo [who plays Nini]?
Yeah, so about halfway through the process — maybe a little older than that — the showrunner, Tim, came up to me and Olivia and said, ‘Look, you know. There’s a chance you might be able to write a song. No promises or anything, but I figure I’ll give you guys a go, and I wanna see what you guys come up with.’ So they sent us the breakdown, and what happens is they have a bunch of songwriters submit songs, blindly. So, Disney gets the songs and they don’t know who wrote them. They just listen to them. And then everybody votes on their favorite song. And so, it was a unanimous vote for Olivia and I’s song, which is pretty astounding.
Yeah, it was very neat to know that they weren’t doing it as a favor to us. They genuinely loved the song, and they picked it based on that. And then later found out that it was us who wrote it, so it was a very neat experience. And it was also very cool to write from our character’s perspective because we obviously know it very well — we’re doing it every day. So, it was a really neat experience for sure.
And I’ve seen on your Instagram, do you make your own songs outside of the show as well?
I do, yeah. I’ve been writing music for a handful of years now — I think right around when I started acting, I started exploring the world of songwriting. So yeah. Olivia Rodrigo also writes her own music, so that’s kind of what inspired [Tim] to give us a chance, once he saw that we both write music and once he liked it…So yeah, we both write on our own and that’s why I think it worked so well.
Here’s a relatively challenging question: If you only had four hours to watch two out of the three movies within the HSM series, which ones are you picking?
Okay, that’s tricky. In terms of nostalgia, I’d watch the first and second. But I think I’d watch the second and the third, because the second is my favorite, and I don’t remember the third one too well. And I’ve seen the first one a lot. So, I think I’d say the second and the third if I had to pick. Those would be the two.
And the scene that should’ve won an Oscar?
Oh, gee. I might have to come back to that one…They were all amazing. I’ll never forget the song that they sing on the rooftop when it’s raining, and I think it’s in the third one?
Yeah, if I had to pick one it’d be that one.
My final question for you, what’s one thing about the actual East High School that people would never know just from watching the movies?
Oh, wow. That’s a great question. Man, I can’t — I know there’s something there but I can’t…[pauses]. Well, okay. The rooftop that I just mentioned isn’t real, there’s not a real garden on the roof, unfortunately, to break people’s hearts. But it’s funny; people still to this day — hundreds of people, maybe even thousands, tour that school every year. They just come and take a tour because they know it’s a High School Musical thing, and they have like a High School Musical shrine basically in the lobby of the high school. So yeah, it’s pretty fun.