High School Musical 3: InterviewBy Kim Francis
October 22, 2008
Corbin Bleu reclines on the bed, arms behind his head, legs crossed at the ankle, shoes kicked off.
And who can blame him for wanting to have a lie down?
He has just come to the end of a whirlwind promotional tour that has taken in numerous European cities in the weeks leading up to the theatrical release of the Disney Channel-bred phenomenon that is High School Musical 3.
As I walk into the plush suite at London’s Dorchester Hotel, I ask him where he wants me and he invites me to lounge next to him on the bed.
He asks me if I’d like a cup of tea and lets me put in my order to the room service guy (just a splash of milk) before asking politely for his own cup with a pot of honey for him to drizzle in slowly.
So far, so chivalrous. He’s even got the grace to extend some compliments, admiring both my bracelet and watch before telling me he ‘digs’ my accent later on and checking out my mobile.
You may not have heard of Corbin Bleu but millions of teenagers and tweenagers the world over adore him.
He plays Chad Danforth, the wild-haired basketball-playing best friend of heart-throb Zac Efron’s character Troy Bolton in the massively popular High School Musical films – but his star is about to go stratospheric, not only because this is the first of the High School Musical films to be released on the big screen but also because he is now grown up, multi-talented and so very determined.
If anyone’s going to graduate from High School Musical with any longevity, you get the feeling that it’s going to be this charismatic young man lying on the bed next to me.
With his muscular physique and a new goatee beard, Corbin Bleu looks older than his 19 years.
A deliberate attempt perhaps to try to reinvent himself, he says that as his stint playing Chad comes to an end he is keen to move on to other projects.
“If they come my way, maybe down the line [I’ll appear in more musicals],” he says.
“I think at the moment I would like to focus on some other projects. I love doing musicals. I’ve grown up with them but that’s just one genre.
“There are so many to be a part of. I’d really like to get into more of a serious drama and really get into a much more in-depth character.”
And he’s not hanging about. He’s just produced his first feature film alongside his father, who’s also in the business. It’s called Free Style and is set in the world of motocross.
“It was the first time I really got to work behind the camera,” Corbin says. “I do star in it as well but it was my first time that I got a chance to build a project from the ground up and was a part of the ideas for the film and casting it.”
Understandably excited and proud of his achievement, Corbin adds: “My father and I and our partner Michael Emanuel received the script, we got the funding, we did everything.”
Taking on more control and more responsibility wasn’t easy, however, as he explains: “There are a lot of battles that go on, of course, because you have a business end and you have an artistic end. You have both sides and they clash.
“You have one side that has to focus on money and you have to focus on marketing and what kind of a movie it should be to actually be successful.
At the same time you have to focus on the characters and you have to focus on the story and it’s finding a balance between not making a film that’s just going to the radar but also making something that’s going to definitely relate to an audience.”
Oh yes, Corbin Bleu possesses a maturity and an insight that belie his youth and although he expresses a desire to move on from High School Musical, it’s still clearly something he loves being a part of.
He speaks enthusiastically about the film’s London premiere which took place the night before our chat.
“Last night was fantastic. Huge. It was the first time seeing the movie with an audience. I’ve seen it three times but that was my first time getting to hear the responses from everyone,” he says.
“They laughed when they were supposed to. Hearing all the ahhs, you know, the girls swooning at the kiss.
Hearing the clapping at the end of all the numbers. That’s what’s wonderful about a musical movie.
“You almost feel like you’re in the theatre at the end of a musical production number and everybody’s clapping.
“Or even, during one of the scenes everybody starts clapping in time to the music and, I mean, that’s a wonderful sign. That’s just such a great confirmation.”
The High School Musical films have been embraced by young people in a way that nothing else has ever been. It’s truly a phenomenon, with youngsters of all ages and both sexes lapping up everything about the music and dance spectacle. Corbin muses on just what it is that appeals about the movie marvel.
He says: “This film is all about its audience. The people that watch this film are all kids that are dealing with pressure from their peers and their parents and dealing
with people telling them what they should be doing in their futures and in their lives and this film, I think, is inspirational for them.
“The fact that they can sing, they can dance, they can play basketball, they can do sports, they can do whatever they want to do – whatever their own choice is.”
With the success of television shows like How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? and Any Dream Will Do, along with the continuing popularity of stage and screen musicals like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins among even very young children, it’s clear that this audience has been crying out for a contemporary musical of their own to grab on to for some time.
Corbin agrees: “[High School Musical] is for this generation. Throughout the Eighties especially there was such a great wave of musicals and I know I grew up with them.
“I grew up with Grease and Fame and loving them. But this is their generation’s musical. It’s original; it’s not a remake.
“It’s been a long time since you’ve seen a musical that a younger audience can actually watch and enjoy.
I think that’s also why they latch on to it so much – this is the only one that’s for them that they can truly enjoy.”
I couldn’t interview Corbin Bleu without going armed with some questions from the films’ fans so my nieces did the honours, providing me with a couple of questions to fire at him.
Six-year-old Emily wanted to know what he does when he’s not at High School Musical.
His reply? “At High School Musical? At High School Musical? That’s awesome! I love it because it’s as though it’s a real school. That’s so funny!”
He laughs before continuing: “Obviously when I’m not working on the project of High School Musical – either touring, or doing press for it or events I’m also working on the other project and my music.
“In my free time I just try to relax however I can. I keep myself busy so usually the moments that I do get to relax, I really just relax. I’m sleeping, I’m eating, I’m watching television. I spend time a lot with my family.”
Eight-year-old Sophie wants to know if he has a girlfriend. So I ask him. He doesn’t. Would he go out with a British girl?
“Of course!” he says. “If I found the right one…”
The subject of girls leads to talk of screaming fans and how he deals with them. “It’s surreal,” he says. “You honestly have to kind of just take it for what it is.
“You just have to enjoy it, know that they’re your fans and that they support you and you love them and you give it back. But for the most part, you just have to stay calm with it all. Always know where it comes from and know it can be taken away at any moment in time.”
What about any particularly strange encounters with fans or gifts he’s been sent?
“Most things are usually pretty normal,” he says.
“I haven’t received any strange pieces of hair or somebody sending, like, a fingernail… as long as we’re not to that point I think all should be OK.
The strangest encounters to me are the more surreal ones. There’s screaming or they’re literally right in your face.
“You walk up and shake their hand and they start screaming and I just couldn’t imagine… those are incredible. Or people follow you.
Literally get in their car and follow for miles and miles and miles. At a point you’re just, like: ‘No, it’s OK, it’s OK, it’s just me.’ But still it’s wonderful. It’s wonderful.”
You can’t help wondering if he’ll still feel that way as his star rises.
With a burgeoning singing career (he has a second album due out next year), his pet project Free Style getting off the ground and, with his ambitions to work with his favourite actor Johnny Depp, it won’t be long before Corbin is so much more than just Troy’s best friend from High School Musical.
In the light of the news that Zac Efron has reportedly just accepted a role in the new Pirates of the Caribbean film, I suggest Corbin would be ideal for a role in it too.
“That’d be awesome!” he says. “I hear Johnny’s daughter is a fan…”
High School Musical is now on release