Christy Carlson Romano Looks Back on 20 Years of ‘Cadet Kelly’ (Q&A)
Ten-hut! Disney Channel Original Movie Cadet Kelly turns 20 this year (March 8, 2022), and we can't believe it's been two whole decades since Christy Carlson Romano and Hilary Duff drill routined their way onto our TV screens — and into our ever-nostalgic hearts.
In the early 2000s, Disney Channel put two of its biggest stars together, creating in the process a coming-of-age cult classic that to this day still brims with comedy, romance, military themes, unlikely friendships, ribbon dances and more than a few Y2K-era outfits and hairstyles.
What '90s or 2000s kid could ever forget the Even Stevens and Lizzie McGuire stars doing a drill routine and ribbon dance set to Superchick's “One Girl Revolution”? We certainly can't, but as it turns out, the cast filmed way more dances and drills that never saw the light of day.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Cadet Kelly, which premiered on the Disney Channel March 8, 2002, PopCrush caught up with Christy Carlson Romano to chat about the cult TV flick's big milestone and its lasting legacy; her former co-stars; the film's queer undertones, according to fans; and where her uptight character Jennifer Stone would be today.
It’s been 20 years since Cadet Kelly aired on Disney Channel. Can you believe it?
I'm really confused by how that happened but I guess I'm not because I was 16. You could probably [make] a meme of this, but time escapes me … From the time I was 16 I thought of Cadet Kelly as being one thing that I did; that it wasn't going to make any kind of real splash because there were just so many DCOMs every month that were coming out. When we look back, it's got this legacy and whatnot. It's quite nice to know that it affected that many people and it still does to this day.
How did the audition process work?
I think Hilary was already signed on but they knew they wanted to package this [with another Disney Channel star]. I would imagine the way that Disney Channel works is that it holds its scripts in development for at least a year and they probably were working with the producers who had ties to Private Benjamin, which was an '80s hit cult classic movie with I believe Goldie Hawn. So Hilary Duff was very much the Goldie Hawn — fun, pretty, glamorous and funny.
It made a lot of sense now for me. I was Ren [Stevens] on Even Stevens and was pretty type A and kind of the strict older sister. I tried to approach it from the get-go as, "Okay, I don't feel comfortable playing the villain. How do I actually inject this character with some dimension and some humanity?" — so that by the end, it really paid off, when they became friends. It was really wonderful to be a part of that storytelling process at such a young age.
You said in a YouTube video that you actually approached the director [Larry Shaw] about how you wanted to humanize Jennifer and make her someone likeable and relatable. Were there any updates made to the script?
I want to say that there may have been a few changes. Maybe I suggested some ways of not being so evil, but none that come to mind. [Laughs] I just remember doing the read-throughs once we got to Canada, with Hilary sitting there and then feeling really bad because Hilary and I would be able to hang out and have coffee and lunch. She is such a sweet girl, like how am I going to approach this?
But honestly, it was really wonderful to grow that character. In the time that we were doing the rehearsals in Canada and in boot camp learning how to hold our rifles, something that people might not know was there was quite a bit more of the gun throwing. We had filmed a lot more drills and exercises. They took a lot of it out because I think either maybe Disney had a thing about showing rifles, or it just wasn't tight enough. Maybe it just didn't get filmed in a way that looked like it would impress the kids. So I don't know exactly why they cut out the extra rifle pieces but we definitely had more of that.
Were there any other deleted scenes that didn't make the cut?
Not that I can think of. I think Hilary had a couple with her girlfriend and those might have been cut for time.
At the time, Even Stevens was already a household name with one season under its belt, while Lizzie McGuire was finishing up its first season. Did you meet Hilary on set for the first time or was it at a Disney event prior to that?
I don't exactly recall meeting her for the first time. I do remember in general she was always with Troy, who was her bodyguard and her acting coach. He was such a sweet guy and super protective, as he should be. As a parent now I realize that if my child was in the business I would want them to have safe adults around them. Her mom was so amazing and such a hands-on manager, and then her sister too. I met her sister for the first time and she was really great because she was right around my age too. Now Haylie lives in Austin; I’ve seen her a couple times since we've both lived here, and it's really great to reconnect in that way.
Have you reconnected with any of the cast recently?
I ran into Shawn Ashmore a few times in my 20s and he was always busy working. He dated Michelle Trachtenberg for a long time and so I think that's when our roads crossed. He's always just been such a professional and a hard worker.
Do you remember any of your boot camp skills?
The thing is, I wanted to learn how to scream, but what we realized — me and the director — was that my character didn't need to scream. Jennifer Stone had her assistant... Oh my gosh, that is not the correct military jargon and since I'm married to a marine I’d get hazed for that! Aimee Garcia [who played Gloria] was my second in command in the movie so she was the one that screamed. When I was learning how to be scary for the character, where Jennifer Stone got her strength [from] was not screaming, because she could get people to execute whatever she wanted to be done to them. So there's a few times in the movie that I screamed but, if you notice, what I chose at a young age was to make her not have to move.
When filming the final scene where you and Hilary perform a drill and ribbon dance set to “One Girl Revolution,” did you know how iconic the scene would become for Disney fans?
Honestly, not at all. I thought that the DCOM was just going to be one of many, and the fact that it was the highest-rated DCOM up until Cheetah Girls and High School Musical ... I was shocked. I think the reason it worked so well is because [it had] the synergy of Shawn, me, Hilary and even Gary Cole to some degree, who played Kim’s father on Kim Possible. So there was just a synergy there with that movie that I think really spoke volumes to the world of Disney.
The dance was something we had to take time away from our boot camp training to rehearse, and it was something that Hilary and I had to work with an actual choreographer [for]. She was very excellent and very sweet, so it was so nice to not have our drill sergeant be rough on us; we were able to enjoy the dance rehearsals. It was like a totally different side of our brains. At one point my back started hurting and production had to give me a massage because the boots that we had to train in were real combat boots that had really bad support, and we would be standing still and learning how to fake it and look like we knew what we were doing. The moment that we learned about the part of the dance where we actually throw the ribbon baton I was like, "Oh, this is for the kids! Let's just have fun with it, let's honor the characters’ celebration of doing something different in that moment!" Now we look back and people are like, "Oh my gosh, this is so nuts!"
Did you take anything from the set?
I took my nameplate [that] says "Stone" on it. I was gifted a Paddington Bear in a military coat and it says "Cadet Kelly." That was our production gift and I have it in my child's playroom now. It's really sweet to have that token.
Last year you posted a TikTok video using the viral “I know something you don’t...” song, and you captioned it with a pride flag. Hilary and Andrea Lewis [who played Carla] recently spoke about how the movie resonated with the LGBTQ+ community and even helped some people come out. Do you think that Jennifer was a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
So the movie itself doesn't necessarily have those [LGBTQ+] undertones … but I think that because the movie came out at a time for people who were coming of age, it resonated with them. This is something that Hilary recently said too, because she's been promoting How I Met Your Father. She mentioned like, "Wow, I didn't know but that's so great that it could resonate with people and help them in that time of their lives." There's this concept of queering [the film] after seeing the two girls be that close. It's one interpretation of the movie because a movie is a piece of art; it can be interpreted many ways. It's really wonderful that the legacy is so vast that it can affect people who watched it in one regard, and people who identified with it in a different regard. That's special and that's to be celebrated — that it helped a lot of kids feel like they were seen in some way, shape or form.
It's possible that Jennifer Stone does come out at some point, I don't see why not. I do think she would be married, so whether that's to a man or woman, that's for the writers to decide … I think at some point or another she would remember the trauma of dealing with Kelly and somebody, maybe a recruit, might jog that memory for her and she would be triggered by that and have to get over it. I think it would be really interesting to see where she's at now, having had the experience of somebody stir her life up so much.
Your forthcoming cookbook, Christy’s Kitchen Throwback, is based on your hit YouTube series. Will any famous faces be featured in it and, more importantly, is the famous Kim Possible Naco recipe in it?
The first question that I get from everyone about the cookbook is if there is going to be a Naco recipe. Naco was the first episode that I did with Will Friedle on my Christy’s Kitchen Throwback [show] on my YouTube channel. Of course the Naco is going to be there! It'll probably be front and center. It's going to be the kind of cookbook that you can give to your friends or you can have in your kitchen or on your bookshelf and pick it up and enjoy it, because there's fun facts about me reconnecting with my celebrity guest friends that I haven't seen in decades, like Lalaine.
What is the most unique recipe in the book?
It might be the bacon pancakes that I made with Jessica DiCicco from Adventure Time.
You also have two brand new podcasts — I Hear Voices with your former Kim Possible co-star Will Friedle and Vulnerable with your husband, Brendan Rooney.
So Will and I have been touching base with one another because we've been doing comic cons and for a while, we were just like, "Hey, are we gonna do a reboot?" Then the live-action [Kim Possible] came up, and then COVID happened. So he called me and my husband and he was like, "Hey guys, I want to do something with animation. I want to do a podcast, let's see what we can do." My husband, being a proactive producer with a marine background, was s like, "Let's execute this." Within two weeks we were sitting in downtown L.A. in a completely built-out set. We have Eric Newsome, E. G. Daily... There are so many unsung heroes in the voice-over animation world.
Vulnerable is basically a podcast that I’ve asked my husband to be my second in command for. He loves podcasts, and I didn't really listen to podcasts so I was like, "Can you walk me through this experience?" I'm obviously very comfortable in front of a microphone but it's really great to have somebody else in the conversation, and there's a female and male point of view. Our guests have stories to tell; they've gone through something and are really interesting. We've had Hana Giraldo, an artist who is Pat Benatar's daughter, and we've had Will as one of my first guests where we talk about his issues with anxiety. His first anxiety attack [happened] when he was filming a scene for the DCOM H-E Double Hockey Sticks, and so he talks about his journey with anxiety.
Many of your movies and television shows are nostalgic for fans. Since you were a child actor, is there any movie or series that gives you that same sense of nostalgia?
There's a movie called Teen Witch that I will always stop whatever I'm doing and watch, because it is just so of that moment.
Romano's new podcast Vulnerable airs Tuesdays. I Hear Voices premieres March 11 with new episodes airing every Friday.
You can pre-order Christy’s Kitchen Throwback cookbook here.
Watch our full interview with Christy Carlson Romano, below: