From the top secret audition to joining a franchise he already adored, Canada native Dylan Playfair speaks with Teenplicity about his journey to getting the role and chats about his character in the Disney Channel Original Movie Descendants 2.
As seems to be the normal with all Disney-related projects, auditioning for the sequel to the channel’s smash hit Descendants meant information was scarce. Actor and former hockey star Dylan Playfair didn’t exactly know what he was auditioning for at first before he landed the role of Gil, Gaston’s son in Descendants 2.
“My audition process was really exciting and actually really, really fast for me,” he says, thinking back to the beginning of this journey. The smile is clear in his voice as he speaks fondly of the memories. “It was quite interesting. I was in Toronto, Canada at the time I got the tape so I sent in the audition tape from the hotel room in Toronto.” After submitting his tape, Dylan got feedback from Judy Taylor and the casting team at Disney who gave him notes and a little bit of information on the character. “When we first got the stuff, it was really top secret so we didn’t know exactly what it was we were auditioning for,” he reveals. It was following his first tape that he spoke with Judy. She was the one who let him know that it was the sequel to Descendants.
“I was a big fan of Beauty and the Beast as a little kid so I watched that movie again and I watched Descendants again,” Dylan says with a laugh. He dishes, “I actually watched [Descendants] before – I was a bit of a fan.” He jokes, “Bit of an insider secret there.” It was with the knowledge of his character and having recently watched the film again that he did another tape. From there, it only took about three weeks to find out from his agent/manager that he booked the role. “It was pretty cool to be able to combine that story that I loved so much as a kid with a sort of new age twist,” Dylan says. He easily sums up his process as, “The way it went down was watching the movies and getting a call from Judy and explaining what the story was. To find out I booked it was pretty cool.”
Getting the role was so cool and exciting that Dylan called his mom and dad right away to let them know he was going to be on Disney. “They were pretty excited so it was really a family celebration. We all came home and I think we went out for dinner that night to celebrate,” he says, listing his parents and two brothers at the dinner table.
Joining a highly adored franchise and taking on the role of someone related to a film you were a fan of as a child is no easy task but Dylan seems to have slipped into the shoes of Gil comfortably. “There’s a pretty long line of history there between [Gil] and King Ben,” Dylan says of his character, given that his father is Gaston and Ben’s [Mitchell Hope, Descendants] parents are Belle and the Beast.
When the battle starts, he’s a pretty exciting guy to watch.
“Gil is also one of the pirate crew members with Uma [China Anne McClain, “A.N.T. Farm”] and Harry [Thomas Doherty, “The Lodge”]. We’re still stuck out on the Isle, but there’s some animosity leftover not just from my dad and Beast but also from the Beast’s son and me,” explains Dylan.
The friction amongst characters because of the pasts of their relatives is a major point in the franchise. In the first film, Mal [Dove Cameron, “Liv and Maddie”] often faced judgement at Auradon Prep because of who her mother was. “You see a lot of callbacks to the original origin stories with the relations,” adds the young actor. “I know there’s a lot of comedic relief that Gil provides and I think elements of those comedy beats comes from the history of our parents. There’s certainly a pretty long memory there between Gil and King Ben.” He says, “But overall, Gil’s character is a lot more happy-go-lucky sort of guy.”
A soft laugh echoes in his voice as he says, “ I think he’s got a lot less malicious intent than the daughter of Maleficent.” As mad as he is with the situation, Dylan believes that Gil is more able to see the good in people. That, however, leaves the question as to how his character got mixed up with Uma’s pirate gang.
“When we get to the island, we find out that obviously there’s another group of Villains Kids who haven’t had the opportunity to leave the island and we find out pretty quickly that since Mal has left, the power vacuum has opened up.” He explains that this allowed Uma to step in Mal’s place and take control. “I believe once that opened, it was a pretty obvious choice for Gil and the rest of the pirates as far as who to follow. I mean, I think when you’re living on the Isle of the Lost, whoever’s got the biggest stick is the one in charge,” he says with a chuckle. “Uma is certainly the strongest and most powerful on the island at the time so it just makes sense for Gil to join that pirate crew, basically as soon as the rest of the V-Kids are gone.”
Similar to the fact that his character doesn’t hold as much malicious intent as Mal does, Gil is not quite the villain that his father Gaston is either. “Gil and Gaston both definitely have the dimwitted element down pat,” Dylan chuckles after taking a moment to think. “They’re both brawny, I think they think with their muscles a lot more than they think with their brains. That’s about where the similarities start to end.”
Dylan explains that while there’s a lot of ego in Gaston, his character Gil really wants the people around him to feel comfortable and feel safe. “And if that means they need to go and kidnap somebody,” he begins to give an example, slight amusement in his voice at his character’s way of thinking, “so be it. If they need to take over the mainland, so be it. As long as everybody’s happy in the end.”
It’s the loyalty and desire to make sure those around him are safe that Dylan thinks will attract fans and viewers to Gil.
“I think Gil’s got a lot of qualities in him that people are going to identify with and they’re going to like seeing on screen. As intense as the film is, I think there’s still got to be an element of humor and Gil definitely brings that to the film.” However, despite this, the actor adds that his character is still a pretty tough cookie. “When the battle starts, he’s a pretty exciting guy to watch,” Dylan teases. “I know we had a lot of fun coordinating the stage fighting and the choreography of the dances and the fights. For as dim and funny as he is on screen, I think the fans are going to get a pretty action-packed ride when it comes to the fight scenes so he’s a pretty well-rounded, exciting guy to watch.”
Behind the camera, Dylan used his years of hockey to aid him in combating the physical demands of the film. He says knowing how important practice was had been a big aid in helping him accomplish what he needed to do.
I think anything worth having is worth working for.
In total honesty, and slight amusement as he recalls the memories of rehearsals, Dylan reveals, “I said this to the choreographers and I’ll say this to you as well – learning the dances was definitely one of the hardest things that I ever had to do – harder than a lot of the stuff I had to do in hockey. I gained a brand new appreciation for dancers and how in shape they are.” While the dance moves weren’t second nature at first, his hockey background and going to rehearsals helped him to understand the things he was going to need to do to fit in and to learn the moves and the dances, according to the actor.
“The kids from the first Descendants – they already did it before. They already filmed a whole movie so we came in after they’ve already had a formula that was successful,” Dylan says. “But they were really, really accommodating and everyone on the show was great. We got along from the first day onwards and that made a huge difference. We were like a team – we were a team working together toward a goal so there were more similarities than not.”
Dylan cannot help but laugh when Teenplicity asks what his favorite part of the movie to film was, doubting that it would be the dancing. “Funny,” he says with a laugh as he admits, “the hardest part was also the [most fun] part.”
The former hockey star adds with fondness, “I would say that once I figured out the dance moves, because the beginning was hard, it did become my favorite part, the dancing.” He goes on to say, “I think anything worth having is worth working for and we definitely worked really hard to get those moves down and I’m really, really proud with how it turned out. The hardest [part] was my favorite part.”
Through bonding from overcoming those difficult dance moves and working together on set, Dylan cannot help but think of the atmosphere as one similar to summer camp. “It was really, really fun,” he recalls. “It felt like a dance summer camp because the cast was all sharing the same hotel in Vancouver. I was living in Vancouver at the time but we were having so much fun on set, to be honest with you, most of the opening rehearsals, I was actually staying with either Thomas or Mitch on their couch because we were hanging out all day on set and then we didn’t want to go home at the end of the day.” No one could blame him, as he dishes that the hotel had a pool, hot tub, and gym. “We pretty much spent every day together so that gives you an inclination into how well we got along.”
Friendships created off-screen help to build and add on to the relationships that are seen between characters on-screen. Whether they are best friends or sworn enemies, the comradery between actors heighten the emotion in any given moment. Especially when it comes to a scene with the song “It’s Going Down”, which features multiple Villains Kids. This is a scene that Dylan is most excited for fans to be able to watch. “I think that dance number and that scene in the film has got the most nail biting moves and characters and story development in the entire show. So the song ‘It’s Going Down’ is definitely going to be a lot of fun to watch and I think fans will agree.”
Of course, there’s even more for fans to look forward to. With a franchise with such a dedicated support base behind it, Teenplicity took a few questions fans submitted and had Dylan answer them.
Every failure is, in my mind, an opportunity to grow and get better.
“What do I enjoy most about Gil?” the actor repeated the fan question, chuckling to himself as he thought up his answer. “I really enjoy his loyalty to his friends. I think loyalty is one of the best qualities a person could have and Gil has it in excess.” Dylan adds in amusement, “Gil’s like a big golden retriever in a lot of ways. If you’re a bad guy, he’ll bite you. If you’re a good guy, he’ll be very, very loyal to you.”
Another fan asked Dylan whether he would rather be in big production, like summer action blockbusters, or smaller productions, like those of independent films, to which he responded that he would do both if he could. “That’s a hard question,” he admits at first.
“I think in today’s day and age – I don’t want to sound too selfish – I think you can do both. I think the big blockbusters I would love to do. With a blockbuster, you get to play a character that’s larger than life and [with] really sort of overexaggerated worlds whereas independent films, you get to go really, more deeply into more subtle human issues.” Dylan is quick to add that while he does think blockbusters deal with human issues, there’s a different feel from watching Iron Man or Captain America than you get from watching something like Manchester by the Sea. “They’re two completely different films and I think that with the way film and TV is going today, you’re encouraged to do both. So I would absolutely take up the opportunity to do a blockbuster if it were there and if an independent film is something that I really believe in, then absolutely I would love to do projects in both worlds.”
For many actors, it takes quite a few tries to be able to do both. “No” is the word heard most often in the entertainment industry and for some, it’s difficult to overcome. Dylan, however, puts a positive spin on an otherwise negative notion. “Every failure is, in my mind, an opportunity to grow and get better,” he says.
“Something I learned when playing hockey is there’s no such thing as a perfect goal. Every single goal you score happens because somewhere along the way, there was a mistake made. I mean, Descendants 2, there is a perfect example,” he says before explaining his own personal journey to get the role of Gil.
“I had auditioned for the producers of Descendants about three years before the movie was made for a different project – one that I didn’t get – but they remembered me from that audition. Four years later when Gil came up and I auditioned, they remembered me and they knew I was meant for this role. If I had taken the first ‘No’ as a failure, maybe I wouldn’t have approached the [Descendants 2] audition with the same amount of energy, knowing it was the same producers. You know, is this going to be a better thing,” he recalls thinking, because of his previous interactions with them, “or a worse thing? If you make every failure a stepping stone forward, then you never feel like you’re really being set back by anything; you’re always moving forward.”
Dylan hopes that this inspires his fans and helps them to grow, as they’ve shown him so much love and support already as well.
“A big, big, big thank you,” he says to his fans, pure gratitude and joy seeping into his voice. “We don’t exist without you guys. There is no Descendants without the fans. There are no TV shows or movies so you guys out there tweeting and liking and watching and supporting the things that we do – we really, in the truest sense of the word, owe it all to you guys! So thank you! Keep on showing the love and I will promise to keep giving it back!”
Be sure to catch Dylan Playfair in Descendants 2 on Disney Channel, Disney XD, ABC, Freeform, and/or Lifetime on July 21st at 8:00PM!