Four years ago, Soleil Moon Frye set out to make a documentary about the last days of privacy. Instead, she ended up revealing some of her deepest secrets.
In Kid90, Frye, who soared to stardom at the age of 7 as the lead in NBC’s Punky Brewster (and now stars in and executive produces the Peacock reboot), revisits her Hollywood teen years through never-before-seen footage, recorded voicemails, diary entries, and new interviews with old friends and fellow child stars like Brian Austin Green, David Arquette, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, and Jenny Lewis.
“Since I was 5 years old, I carried a diary with me everywhere,” Frye told Refinery29 over the phone a few days after the film’s Hulu release. “I carried an audio recorder at 12, and then a video camera as a teenager.”
Hollywood circa the 1990s, she says, still had an expectation of privacy. So, no one in her circle batted an eyelash when she showed up with a camcorder, filming their zany afternoons tripping on mushrooms by the beach, or hangouts punctuated with raucous laughter and underage drinking. For years, Frye documented every moment of her everyday life, from industry parties with then-heartthrobs Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio, to quiet introspective moments alone. She saved her voicemails from Charlie Sheen, and filmed her painful recovery from breast reduction surgery at 16; she wrote about the ups and downs of an intense relationship with House of Pain rapper Daniel “Danny Boy” O’Connor, and emotions too big to fully process. Accompanied by Frye’s own narration, these primary sources are rare nuggets of raw, unfiltered access to her teenage thoughts, locked away undisturbed for roughly two decades.
“About four years ago, I started to wonder if things had happened the way I remembered them,” Frye said. “So much of what I remember is the joy and the bliss and the love of all of us living and being. And yet I had lost some of my closest friends so early on. So I started to unlock this vault. That became an incredibly cathartic experience.”
Kid90 is undeniably filled with nostalgia and even pain — many of those who flit in and out of Frye’s lens, like model and actor Jonathan Brandis or Kids star Justin Pierce, have since died by suicide, and the film exposes the often brutal expectations and responsibilities placed on child stars. But, just as Frye herself recalled, it’s also filled with moments of uncomplicated delights and real intimacy. The juicy nuggets of gossip — like that Frye had sex for the first time at 18 with 29-year-old Sheen, whom she called her “Mr. Big” — feel like secrets you’d whisper over the pillow to your best friend at a slumber party rather than leering tabloid exposes. So many documentaries claim to know their subject’s motivations. With Kid90, Frye lays herself bare, inviting the audience into a full, vibrant world.
Refinery29: You talk a lot in the film about finding out whether your memories matched the truth. Was there a specific moment that felt really disconnected?
Soleil Moon Frye: At one point I was watching videos of Danny [O’Connor] and I, and I had watched the same shot 179 times, just replaying it over and over. It was the 180th time, or 181 time that I actually could see that there was this mutual look [of love] in both of our eyes. In that moment, the blinders came off and it made me realise: If I was looking at the world with one perspective for so long, what else had I not seen around me? It really changed my entire outlook on the world. Our memories are the stories that we tell ourselves.”
Was there anything in there that you didn’t remember at all?
“Yes, in the tapes, finding Jonathan [Brandis]’ beautiful messages. In the last 10 seconds he would say his innermost thoughts and feelings. I would sit there just in tears for hours. There were these treasures really throughout — everything from really fun moments with one of my lifelong best friends, Jenny Lewis. We don't always have these memories fresh in our mind, but then after watching it, it's like, Oh, that memory is so clear.”
Was it difficult to hear those messages knowing that he died just a few years later?
“I had a great deal of guilt that I had to work through feeling like I hadn’t been listening at the time or seeing what was going on around me. When I found the tape of my dear childhood friend talking about how he was having suicidal thoughts, [knowing that ] he ended up [dying by] suicide a few years later, some years later….I didn’t hear it at the time. That’s a discussion that I'm so grateful we're having around listening more and trying to be more present. I had to work through a lot of that grief.”
There’s a particularly harrowing moment where you describe being sexually assaulted, even if you didn't call it that at the time. Were you nervous about revisiting that memory?
“I had a few painful experiences that I really am still trying to wrap my head around. For years I could not remember certain parts of what had happened. So finding the tape in which I'm trying to piece it together as a teenager and finding diary entries, it was painful. But it also was so cathartic in the sense that I was able to forgive the little girl inside, and to wrap my arms around her. I just want to say to her: Everything that you go through, the pain, the love, the heartbreak and messiness — everything is going to lead you to the woman that you will become. I really believe that the combination of my life experiences brought me to this moment, and I'm really grateful that I was able to take that pain and turn it into art and to really connect with that inner child.”
You speak very candidly about being objectified by the media once you hit puberty. What do you think about the conversations that are happening about the way we talk about young women in the aftermath of the Britney Spears documentary?
“I am so grateful that we're having these conversations. It makes me incredibly emotional as someone who went through my own personal experiences of development, and going through those awkward stages in which I had no control over what was happening in my body. We have to have to really think about what the long-term mental health repercussions are on young people growing up. I think it's more important now than ever.”
Do you think we need to reassess the way we treat child stars more specifically?
“My perspective is that it’s a universal conversation. Most young people [now] have access to a camera in their hand every day. So many young people are going through these struggles, magnified times a gazillion.”
How did you decide what footage to use and what narrative to focus on? I imagine that there's so much we didn’t get to see.
“I turned in cut after cut, and my producer was great about pushing me to find the glue that holds it all together. For years, I wasn't planning on doing an interview myself, I was trying to make it about everyone else. Eventually, as I peeled back the onion more and more and started breaking down these walls and trying to really discover my truth, it became such a personal journey. And then also the journey of the world around me, and what my friends were going through. These were really authentic, real friendships. [It was important to allow] us to be ourselves and show the moments where you're just going to an amusement park, experiencing the innocence of life at that time. There are so many hundreds of amazing hours of footage — I want to keep making more movies!”
This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.