There perhaps hasn’t been a nicer person to whom I have spoken this year than Joshua Bassett, who plays Ricky on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. The soon to be 19-year-old singer / actor / guitar player / songwriter is a perfect fit for the character of Ricky, and if you haven’t yet watched his star-making turn on the Disney+ series, you should stream season one now (there’s only one more episode left this season!).
Joshua Bassett is the adorable lead on the series that also stars Olivia Rodrigo as Nini (I’m hoping that the one-time couple on the show get back together), and is about a group of students who attend the High School Musical school (Go East High!) putting on a musical based on High School Musical. It’s funny, self-referential, poignant, LGBTQ+ and a great leading role for Joshua Bassett.
The following is a condensed and edited version of our interview with the charming Joshua Bassett.
Brief Take: How have you enjoyed being able to both act and play music in High School Musical: The Musical: The Series?
Joshua Bassett: Music is my first love and I did musical theatre when I was younger, and when I was 16, it’s kind of when I got more into the actual screen acting. I’ve had a few projects but when this project came along it was perfect. It was everything I love, I mean, it’s got High School Musical, the writing on the show goes much deeper than what you might typically find in this type of show and it has a music element, it really is the perfect project. To be able to go to some real places when I’m acting as well as sing, and we sing live on the show, and I got to write a song for the show, it really is a dream come true and with how it all worked out.
BT: Your first production ever was High School Musical and 10 years ago, you played JV Jock #2, and now you’re the lead in this series. What happened to J.V. Jock #1?
JB: I don’t know, man. I haven’t talked to him in about 10 years but I hope he’s doing alright. [chuckles] Yeah, it’s crazy how it came full circle. When I got the show, I didn’t really think about how it was my first show ever. It shows you that somewhere, I guess, this is my destiny. [laughs] It’s crazy. I truly believe everyone on the show was born to play these roles.
BT: How are you enjoying leading the charge for Disney+, as the breakouts seem to be this series and The Mandalorian?
JB: It’s scary and exciting and everything in between. Obviously Disney has been around since all of us can remember and I didn’t have any doubts on the Disney side, but when you’re starting a new network, this new service, it can be a little intimidating, especially when you are adding on to this franchise that is this beloved. The amount of people that told me: “Don’t screw it up”, I’m like: “Alright”. [chuckles] There is some pressure that comes with it. Fortunately, this show is brand new and not trying to recreate anything. We didn’t have to live up to anything, we were able to do our own thing. In terms of Disney+, it’s insane to see the reaction. For about a year, I have been trying to explain [laughs] what it’s going to be to people and they didn’t quite get the show. It’s not what everyone assumes about a sequel or a remake, it’s its own thing entirely, and for people to finally get that now and to be spreading the word for me, I don’t have to convince everybody is a relief, but seeing that Disney+ has had this reaction is so exciting and wonderful.
BT: What did you bring from your previous acting roles into this experience?
JB: The cool thing about acting is that while it is authentic and should come from a real place, you’re able to live vicariously through a character and go to those places that would not be acceptable in the normal world, that you can embellish a little bit. I think that each role prepared me for the next thing. I took things from Grey’s Anatomy that I learned about being subtle and not necessarily having to overdo everything, then with Dirty John, you learn something every time and I think each thing has led me to where I am now. And next season, I will have learned much more from season 1 of the show and you take a little piece from each one and it goes into you as a whole and you learn and grow and that’s the point of it all. Each thing has led me to where I am now.
BT: What was it about this ensemble coming together that makes it work?
JB: You know, that’s hard, I don’t have to think about it because it’s perfect and I don’t have to question it, but if I had to look into something, I think that one of the key things that everyone brings to the table and something that’s nice about filming in Utah is that there is no ego involved. Nobody is looking at this to serve themselves, nobody’s saying: “I want this solo”, or “I want this moment”. Everyone is incredibly supportive of each other and that is crucial to a good work environment and a good show because we don’t have to fake any chemistry, as it is all real. I think that because everyone pours their heart and soul into this, selflessly and is really supportive and has built this family and community, I think it shows on screen and I think that obviously it shows off screen. I think that’s what makes it special.
BT: Had you worked with or met anybody before filming this series?
JB: Julia Lester who plays Ashlyn, we did this three week process of…I think that it was a staged reading of a show, it was a few months before I got cast. We had worked together and gotten close over those few weeks but other than that, nobody. I don’t think that before this, anybody knew each other. They brought us all out to Salt Lake City to film and we were there two weeks before they started filming, and basically, they locked us all in a conference room for those two weeks and gave us a bunch of games. Occasionally we had a fitting or two, but really we spent all of our time together in that room and we were able to build genuine, real relationships outside of the work environment. When we went to work, we weren’t…I wasn’t doing a scene with my co-worker. I was doing a scene with my close friend, my best pal, [laughs] that was cool that we were able to develop those relationships prior to actually working together. It was less of: “Oh, these are all my co-workers and castmates, and this is my family and we’re putting this on together. To quote the originals, we really were “All in This Together”. I had to go there! [laughs]
BT: You have said that you cried more filming this series than you had in the last three years. What were the moments in which the tears were flowing?
JB: It’s really everything! Some of the key ones that come to mind are when we shot Wondering with Julia (Lester) and Olivia (Rodrigo) at the piano in episode 2. During every single take…they had a few shots of my eyes watering, it’s funny, I was trying not to cry, because they said that I couldn’t have actual tears, and then literally, in real life, I was holding back tears. When they shot the Homecoming dance with Carlos (Frankie A. Rodriguez) and Seb (Joe Serafini), I wasn’t even in that number and I was there the entire day to witness it all, because I wanted to say that I was there. And the crazy thing is that Matt (Cornett) who plays E.J. also wasn’t really involved in that dance number. And during filming: one of the takes, which I believe is the one that they used, from across the room, both Matt and I were watching and we both had full-body chills at the exact same time. We found that out a couple of minutes after when we were talking about it. I was like: “Yeah, right when Seb walked in, I had full-body chills”, and Matt was like: “Shut the hell up. I had full-body chills as well!”, I was like: “Are you kidding me?”. It was the most insane thing in which we both experienced the same magical moment from completely opposite sides of the room, and that shows how it is truly special. And those are a couple, but really it was all the time, like when Miss Jenn (Kate Reinders), she walks into the room and the kids are all rehearsing “Stick to the Status Quo” around the piano, the look of pure joy that she has in her face, that got me every single take. Even, again, I wasn’t in that and I stayed and watched every take of that, those were a handful. [laughs] But it really was all the time. [laughs] Those are the couple that stick out.
BT: Who are some of your future dream collaborators in acting and in music?
JB: I’m a huge fan of Harry Styles, it would be my dream to one day open for him. Kacey Musgraves is a favourite, Bryan Cranston is my all-time favourite actor, Donald Glover is a brilliant mind – I’d love to work with him. Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, brilliant actor. I mean, geez, the list goes on and on, Hilary Duff! Been in love with her since I was eight. [laughs loudly]. Really, the list goes on and on.
BT: You’re in the industry and thriving at a relatively early age. What advice would you give to young hopefuls looking to make a career from their pursuits?
JB: Wow, that is a loaded question. [chuckles] I haven’t really spent a lot reflecting, but I think that one of the key things for me is doing theatre when I was younger, it teaches you so much about the group effort and being prepared and I think it’s easy for people to lose sight of that. People can be selfish in this industry and it’s understandable, but I think that one of the key things that I’ve learned is that by making everyone else look good, you also make yourself look good, and at the end of the day, the better environment you can make for everybody else, that’s a win. It’s not about you being in the spotlight, it’s about making sure that everyone feels welcome, making sure that everyone is at ease. Every time I go into an audition room, I try and ease the tension as much as I can and talk to people, because some people feel isolated and scared, but having a familiar face there or someone to whom you can talk can really put things at ease. It’s a group effort.
BT: What song had the greatest impact on you the first time that you heard it?
JB: This song is one of the most popular songs in the world obviously, but “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney has always been that song for me, that I think came from the heavens [laughs], like this magical song. I guess I would say “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney is number one for me, it’s my idea of the perfect song.
BT: What is something that an audience should look forward to watching on upcoming episodes of the show?
JB: Every episode is perfect in my eyes, obviously, but when I got the script for episode 9 and 10, there’s a video somewhere, I hope it doesn’t leak, but I bawled like a baby when I read the last script. And not even necessarily because the content was…but when I read it, I have so much love for this cast and I know the world is going to love it just as much, if not more than I do. Seeing it all come together like that is like once in a lifetime, it’s truly magical. And there’s so much, and I can’t say anything, but there’s so much and I’m excited for people to see it, because right now, I am seeing the reaction of people enjoying things and I’m like: “Ohhhhh, just you wait, just you wait, there’s way more to come”. Aaaand in season 2, I know they have some big plans, there just so much and already it’s been so great. But buckle up, there’s a whole lot more in store.
BT: How much has your life changed since this show has started airing?
JB: That is one of the biggest misconceptions – my life hasn’t really [chuckled] changed. If anything, this show, filming it has changed me as a person and I’ve grown so much and all that, but I’ve still got a good circle in my life and I’ve still got my family, and as long as I’ve got those key things, whatever shifts around me doesn’t quite affect me because I have that core. But I keep my core and nothing else really matters too much.
BT: On this note, how much have you enjoyed seeing the reactions and how much everyone’s been shipping the different characters?
JB: It’s so exciting. It’s so funny to see it, because again, I’ve been sitting with this stuff for a year now, almost, the cast have had all of these theories, but to see people pick up on things that I didn’t think that they would have picked up on, and taking different screengrabs and things and catching a moment that like: “Oh, Nini and Ricky looked at each other in this way, that means that this is going to happen”, or predicting and speculating, it is exciting and fun to get a glimpse into how people are reacting to the show. That’s one of the most exciting things is to see all the discussions about it, the debates, of why they’re Team Ricky or Nini or E.J. or Gina or whatever it is, it is absolutely a ball and it’s a lot of fun.
Season one of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is now streaming on Disney+