IN CONVERSATION WITH MEG DONNELLY
Actress, producer, singer and mental health advocate Meg Donnelly has steadily become known in the entertainment industry as a multi-hyphenate talent on the rise, bringing characters to life in film and television while releasing hit singles and cultivating her career behind the camera. She will be joining the cast of ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’, which premieres its third season on Disney+ today (27 July). She will also be starring in the CW’s highly anticipated drama series ‘The Winchesters’, a prequel to the long-running series ‘Supernatural’, that will be premiering this fall.
Meg, this summer you are joining the cast of ‘High School Musical: The Musical: The Series’ opposite Joshua Bassett and Olivia Rodrigo, where the Wildcats are leaving East High for a new adventure at Camp Shallow Lake in California. Tell us more about the story of this eight-episode season 3.
It’s really an amazing season and everybody in the cast and everyone who’s involved is just so incredibly welcoming and so supportive of each other. Josh Bassett is actually one of the first friends I ever made in LA when I was 16. He was the first person in LA who was really genuinely nice to me. And I think I did the same for him and we’ve been best friends ever since. So finally working with him was so incredible and I’m so grateful for him in my life. Matt Cornett, who most of my scenes are with on the show, was on ‘Zombies 3’ with me. Working with him again is amazing, because he’s one of my best friends as well.
My character Val is a camp counselor at the camp that they all go to, Camp Shallow Lake, and she stirs a lot of things up, causes a lot of drama, but ultimately wants to help everybody and is a really good sisterly figure for E.J.
What was your favorite Val’s storyline or scene to film?
I think my storyline with Julia Lester is probably my favorite. I think it’s really special, really important. And I’m really excited for people to see their storyline together.
You also reprised your starring role as Addison in the third installment of the hit Disney Channel Original Movie ‘Zombies’, which quickly became a global phenomenon upon its debut in 2018. In this installment, you are at the helm as star and producer. Which role was more exciting for you in this groundbreaking musical, starring in it or producing it?
Reprising the role of Addison every time I get a chance to, is just something so special and I love playing her, but it was really cool to be on the other side this time as well. Me and Milo were both co-producers and we had a lot of creative say in this, which was just really cool and it was awesome to kind of let our inner child shine in knowing that we want to make sure that the fans have the same experiences as we did watching Disney channel growing up. Milo and I were such huge fans of Disney channel, so we thought about what would our six year old self love to see in this movie. It was an incredible experience.
Why do you believe ‘Zombies’ became such a global phenomenon?
I think a lot of it has to do with Zed and Addison’s whole storyline, and I think Milo and I’s chemistry definitely had a lot to play into that and I’m really grateful for that. I also think the musical numbers are so incredible, it’s really vibrant colors, really amazing songs. Threading out through the entire movie is these themes of acceptance and diversity and the message that being different is okay. I think parents want their kids to watch it, because it does such a good job of teaching some really hard hitting themes, but with fun monsters and zombies.
In the fall you’ll be starring in the CW’s highly anticipated drama series ‘The Winchesters’, which is a prequel to the long-running series ‘Supernatural’. Tell us what can we expect from this series?
It’s a prequel to ‘Supernatural’ and it follows the brother’s parents, Mary and John, when they first meet. It takes place in the 1970s, which is so much fun. John and Mary are both 19 and it kind of shows how life up until Sam and Dean are born. We definitely want to make it interesting and new for fans, so we’ve been doing a lot of different twists and turns that I think fans will really love, but still making sure that we keep to the true ‘Supernatural’ storyline as well.
It’s been really interesting playing around with that, but we also know how amazingly committed and passionate the fans are about ‘Supernatural’. So we’re definitely making sure that they come first and foremost. I’m excited for people to see what we’re doing and I’m excited to go to New Orleans and start filming.
Your character in ‘The Winchesters’, Mary, is a hardened hunter who has been fighting the forces of darkness since she was a child. She is considering quitting the family business until John Winchester forces her to lead a new team. What is to you the most fascinating thing about Mary?
I’m really excited to dive deep into her backstory and kind of figure out why she is who she is. She cares so deeply for people and she wants to protect everybody, but in doing that she needs to protect herself. So she kind of pushes people away as well. She’s a very dark character and I know that she’s been through a lot and she’s seen a lot, because she’s been hunting since she was born. So I understand why she wants to quit the family business. She just wants to be a normal kid because she didn’t ask for any of this darkness. I think that’s the most fascinating thing about her, how she balances light and dark all the time. At heart, she’s an amazing person. It’s just that she comes across very cold, because she’s trying to protect others and protect herself.
You were named one of Radio Disney’s NBT (Next Big Thing) and released your debut album ‘Trust’ at the end of 2019. What made you pursue music?
I grew up as a theater kid, singing and performing all the time. I was always writing my own music as a kid, but I just didn’t realize that I could make my own beats or record my own vocals. I didn’t even think that was a possibility. So when I realized that, I started working with some music people at Disney and started creating my own sound. Even more so now, music is kind of therapy for me. Any chance I get to record, I love to experiment and I’ve been experimenting a lot recently. Hopefully there’ll be new music out at the end of this year.
You’ve performed on stage alongside quite some big names from the music industry, including The Jonas Brothers, Steve Aoki and Avril Lavigne. Who would be your biggest dream to collaborate with?
Most of my inspirations are not here with us right now. Bob Marley is one of my big inspirations, so to have been able to do anything with him would be unreal.
I really love Quest as well. But currently I feel like Bruno Mars would be really awesome.
You’re currently working on new music. When can we expect to hear it and what can we expect from your upcoming album?
I’ve been experimenting a lot, because most of the lyrics I write are kind of darker, but then I also really wanna create music where people can dance too. I always like listening to upbeat songs, so I’m trying to find a hybrid between those two.
You are very passionate about mental health awareness. As someone who has experienced anxiety from a young age, you’ve partnered with various non-profit organizations and hospitals, including the Children’s Health Fund and Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals as an Ambassador. Why do you think young people are facing mental health issues more and more nowadays?
I feel like nowadays the pandemic had a lot to do with it, the fact that we had to be inside for so long and kind of taught to not communicate withpeople in person. So now when you’re out in public, in social dynamics, it’s kind of hard to communicate like we used to. I go through the same thing now, where when I’m with people, it’s kind of hard to navigate that.
And also social media. Our generation is on social media now more than ever. It’s really hard to maneuver that, because there’s just so much content that you’re constantly overstimulated by what you’re seeing and that can be very overwhelming.
How do you believe they can be supported and helped?
I think just talking about it more. I feel like when you’re going through a lot of mental challenges, at least in my experience, it can be very isolating. It’s so in your head and you are kind of talking to yourself, and that feels like you’re alone. You can look at someone and think that person seems fine, but they just look like it on the outside.
Talking about it with your peers and family, it helps me so much to have a good support system of people to talk through my issues with, or things that I’m struggling with. It makes you feel less alone. Just talking about it out loud or writing it down helps me a lot too, because once you see it or you talk it out loud, you’re like “Oh, maybe that’s not as bad as I thought it was”.
In the future of your career, would you like to focus more on music or acting?
I definitely think music, because I haven’t really explored that space as much as I have with acting.
How can the perfect balance between these two passions of yours be achieved?
I haven’t really figured it out yet, but in the free time that I have from filming, I go to the studio as much as possible. And in between breaks of filming, just performing and doing what I love to do. I feel like there’s definitely time for both.
What are some of your other future projects that are coming up, besides ‘The Winchesters’ and your new album?
Besides going to New Orleans and starting ‘The Winchesters’, working on music, we’re doing a ‘Zombies’ animated series, which will be awesome. I want to make sure that I still can do anything with the ‘Zombies’ franchise, because it means so much to me. So anything in that capacity, I would love to do. And hopefully there’s more things to come.
Interview by JANA LETONJA
Photography TIMOTHY FERNANDEZ