Is there a place, in your eyes, that is totally Chicago?
“I do remember Navy Pier and all of the museums — the Museum of Science and Industry is my favorite — I went to with my brothers all the time. I love the big-city life, so to be able to go to all the public parks is great. I could stay there for hours.”
Do you feel your role in Annie, which you starred in at the ripe-old age of eight, was a springboard into your acting/modeling career?
“Yes, of course. I really didn’t have an interest in acting when I was really young — I’m super shy. But, I fell in love with it, so ever since Annie, I’ve been obsessed with musical theater, Broadway, and the craft of acting. When I was nine, 42nd Street came to town, and I remember being mesmerized with all the top hats and dancing. It was then that I realized that’s what I wanted to do.”
Of all the directors you have worked with, who has inspired you the most?
“I’ve been really, really lucky to have worked with some pretty awesome people. Rob Reiner is such an icon; it was really wonderful working with him on my first feature film, Flipped. Also, our director for Jem and the Holograms, Jon Chu, is the coolest dude — he was just one of us. And, when you’re working really late nights, you kind of have to have a really good relationship with everyone. He was hilarious and crazy! Every morning at 4 a.m., when we were still shooting, he would get on the microphone and let the extras come on stage and dance to help keep their energy up. He was just awesome, not to mention his vision to bring Jem and the Holograms to life. Yes, it’s ‘80s and fun, but it’s also so bright and out there. To turn all of that into a modern-day coming-of-age story is hard to do.”
We read that you hope to come back to Chicago to attend Northwestern (Go Wildcats!). What are your plans?
“I’m almost 18, and I’m just finishing high school now. I’m in a weird point in my career in that I’m working a lot, but I want to study filmmaking, so I can write and direct one day. Nothing is for sure right now, but I love learning and would hope to go to film school one day.”
You've been on the set of everything from Chuck to Law and Order to A.N.T. Farm. Have you ever been starstruck? If so, who was it?
“It’s funny, because I think before I moved to L.A., and I was younger, something like that would have had an affect on me. But, now being part of the industry, everyone is just another human being. I don’t get starstruck, but other people do inspire me. Natalie Portman inspires me. And, I love Lady Antebellum. I just met them in person, and they were so kind and so dapper. Whenever I meet someone who has so much success, I geek out if they are really nice — you don’t always see that. It's a superficial business, and if you don’t handle it the right way, it can go to your head.”
Considering there were fans of Jem before you were even born, how did you get into character for the role of Kimber — keyboard player, maneater.
“She is so fun and feisty! I think it was something I just adapted to the more I went through rehearsal. We had two weeks of rehearsal and band practice before we started shooting — I had to learn the keyboard. We were all really nervous on the first day of band practice because we never performed in front of so many people before. Also, we didn’t want to disappoint all of the Jem fans, so it was nerve-wracking. But, after the first day of rehearsal, our choreographer had us stay an extra hour and go crazy by running around the room and doing a bunch of hair flips. Ever since then, I think it was a lot easier for us.”
You play Jem's younger sister. Do you identify with this sisterly role in real life?
“I have older brothers, so I’ve always been around guys. I’ve known Aubrey [Peeples] (who plays Jem) since I was 10 and she was 13. We did the production of the Sound of Music together, where we also played sisters — we hadn’t seen each other since. But, all of us have a really special bond, and I say that as genuinely as possible. I feel like we really became a big family.”
Mary Katrantzou dress, Pluma necklace, MCL ring, Jimmy Choo shoes.
How similar is the movie to the original '80s cartoon series?
“The show itself is so out there, so to adapt a cartoon into a live-action film is quite a challenging task. So, the way we transformed it into the present day is that we really stayed true to the characters. I’m really impressed with how Jon [the director] made it work. I’ve seen clips of it, and it’s so awesome; I’m really proud of it. I would say this movie is more of a prequel to the show — it shows how we became Jem and the Holograms.”
So, the hair-color situation. Are you sporting a wig, or did you really have to dye your tresses? If it’s the later, how did you take care of your hair through all the wear and tear?
“I actually colored my hair! I had brunette hair with pink streaks, then red hair with orange extensions, then it was blonde, and now I’m about to dye it brown. I use a heat protector, and coconut and argan oil work really well with my hair. I just try not to put too much heat on it when I’m not working so it doesn’t get overly damaged.”
Considering you play a rock star in the movie, what bands inspire you most?
“Right now, I love The 1975, One Public, and Lady Antebellum. I’m really into indie acoustic stuff, but I love country, too.”
You've played so many different characters already, and you're still so young. What is your dream role at this juncture?
“I just love doing such crazy different things, so I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to play such diverse characters, which is an actor’s dream. But, I’d like to do Broadway, something a little bit darker, and maybe something funny with Seth Rogan.”
How do you stay balanced as a young adult in Hollywood?
“I don’t know if it’s difficult, but I really think it depends on who you surround yourself with. My brothers are a big part of my life, so they’d probably smack me if I ever became snotty. It’s my hobby and my job, but I don’t let it take over my life. I still have a personal life that doesn’t revolve around Hollywood parties. Sometimes I would rather go home and hang out with my best friends than getting dressed up in a minidress to socialize.”
Who are some of you favorite designers and/or places to shop?
“I would say for daily, I’m into Topshop, Free People, Guess Jeans — I love high-waisted jeans. I'm getting more into designers. Just the other day I wore a pair of Jimmy Choo shoes; I wish I could have kept them. They were yellow, and I was obsessed with them. I also love shopping vintage.”
Who is really killing it/inspiring you on the red carpet right now?
“I love Lily Collins and Emma Watson. I like the edgy but classy look."