Through Disney’s vast and magical lore, very rarely does the focus shift to that of someone not entitled to the throne. In their long list of royal characters, just four have siblings, though only two films – Merida and Frozen – give a notable focus to the younger siblings.
Disney+’s newest original film Secret Society of Second-Born Royals explores what life is like for those second-borns, those who may never actually take the throne and instead slip into the shadows, and their own unique potential in the Kingdom of Illyria.
“Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is a [film] about a group of teenagers who are second-born in the Kingdom of Illyria [and] are sent to a summer school. Summer school turns out to be a super-secret training facility for superheroes!” exclaims Faly Rakotohavana, the actor behind one of the featured second-born royals, Matteo.
Describing his character Matteo as introverted and shy, Faly adds, “He’s very kind and he’s smart. He’s probably one of the smartest in the group for sure.” However, Matteo like much of the group has trouble coming to terms with his own abilities and trusting other people to accomplish the needs at hand. “The whole film, to Matteo, is a big confidence arc for him. It’s him learning to be confident in himself and learn to trust the people around him.”
Unlike his character, Faly explains that he is a very social person. “I love talking and meeting new people. Matteo is… the complete opposite of myself in some sense,” he says. In addition to that, Faly is the oldest in his family with two younger sisters while his character is second-born. However, both share an optimistic point of view on the world.
This commonality is on full view whenever speaking to Faly. His personality burns bright in everything he has to say about the film, his joy slipping into each sentence and his enthusiasm never wavering. The actor’s sunny composure echoes the fondness he has for his character.
“We try to see the best in people, we both do,” he says, comparing himself and Matteo. “We see the world as glass half-full. We look for the best in all situations and all people, and we believe that there is a positive outcome for everything.”
It is a wonderful insight into who Matteo truly is at his core, especially given that, according to the actor, being considered underdogs is one of the biggest insecurities that the group faces throughout the film.
“It makes the film stand out, I think,” Faly says of this theme. “We’re not the top dogs. We’re not the first-borns. We’re all second-borns. We’re underdogs, we are put in the shadows of our older siblings.”
He adds, a vital reminder for all about the theme, “I feel that [it is really going to] stand out in this film because no matter who you are or how you feel you place in this world, you are equally as important as everyone else.”
That is an idea that Matteo and the other second-borns will have to face throughout the film. As they each discover their own powers, they must learn how to work as a team.
Amusement is clear in Faly’s voice as he calls for a drumroll before revealing his character’s super abilities. “Matteo has the ability to control insects! He is an insect manipulator,” the actor proudly announces. Though being an insect manipulator would be a great help for all the mosquitoes that are still hanging around, Faly would choose Queen Catherine’s power of teleportation if given the chance.
We look for the best in all situations and all people, and we believe that there is a positive outcome for everything.
“Teleportation would be so cool, getting to be wherever I want, whenever I want by the snap of my fingers sounds so nice. Never have to worry about going anywhere, I can just be there!”
Like with any talents that people develop, it is natural to compare oneself to their peers and Matteo is no exception.
“I like to think of [Matteo] as the underdog of the underdogs,” Faly confesses, never losing his fondness for his character. His voice only seems to heighten the pride that he has while recalling the arc Matteo goes through. “He is very low on the scale of power when it comes to his friends. It’s super funny, you know, throughout the film, Matteo constantly finds himself, slightly, in some ways comparing himself to the rest,” the actor continues. “That’s where his confidence arc comes in, because he learns throughout the film that he’s just as important as everyone else and he plays an important role just like everybody else does.”
Matteo brings an unmistakable necessity to the group – hope. The actor calls his character a breath of fresh air, bringing a sense of positivity to the group. “I think his optimistic attitude really brings out a sense of hopefulness that the whole group kind of thrives off of.” Not only does Matteo help the group but the group also helps him in his own journey as well.
Faly credits this to the group’s high confidence and loud personalities. “They love talking,” he jokes. He goes on to say, “They love socializing. And Matteo’s just not [like that] so I feel they bring out the confidence in Matteo, and they bring out the trust in him.” Faly’s grin overtakes his voice and he proudly teases of the arc, “At the end of the film, you’ve got a beautiful, beautiful man named Matteo.”
The group, however, goes through many of their own trials individually and together before that. Seeing the different characters come together and understand each other is a remarkable aspect of the film for Faly.
“I think that was probably the most beautiful part of the film itself – watching this group of strangers that never interacted in school all get trapped in this room with these really crazy personalities,” he explains. “Everybody’s different and unique in this film with a very diverse cast full of big personalities. So we see them all clash from the beginning.”
The actor holds this arc for the group in high regard and his voice relays his respect for what the film is able to do.
“To unify towards the end of the film – there’s something really beautiful,” he says. “I think it’s all a sense of learning to trust each other and that we start off not really knowing whether or not we can fully trust these people or whether or not we can open up to them. Throughout the film, we learn to be vulnerable with the people around us and we learn to trust each other, which was very beautiful.”
The group will do this under the stress of a looming villain by the name of Inmate 34. “Inmate 34 is an epic, dangerous man. That’s all I’m gonna say,” Faly teases with a laugh.
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is a project unlike any other that Faly has been a part of. While his past credits include television shows like The Mick and Raven’s Home and the film Nightmare Cinema, nothing can quite compare to the production of this Disney+ feature.
“It was a whole new area for me. It was an eye opener because I’ve never really been a lead in any of those projects,” he begins. “The scale of the project is insane, considering everything was filmed in Toronto.” There’s still a sense of awe and disbelief as he discusses being flown out for the film. “We got our own little VIP [airport lounge] that I didn’t even know existed. I didn’t know airports had VIP sections – I didn’t know that was a thing!” he exclaims, humor overtaking the disbelief.
He thinks back on the shooting locations next. “We filmed in these huge universities and an actual castle that’s in Canada. It was beautiful, very large.” Overall, he still can’t believe the entire experience.
“It was crazy for me,” Faly says. “It was kind of overwhelming, but in a good way!”
One thing that really set Secret Society of Second-Born Royals apart was the stunt work. As superheroes, the group finds themselves in the midst of the action. Even the onscreen training sequences for the royals included an intense obstacle course.
No matter who you are or how you feel you place in this world, you are equally as important as everyone else.
“We got to do a lot on our own, for sure! There were definitely some things that I would have totally done, but Disney was like, ‘No,’” Faly recalls with a laugh. “We did a lot of training as well. A lot of the obstacle course scenes that we did – just huge obstacle courses – [had] lasers flying everywhere and we’re just running around. We go to do those stunts, and there were a lot of other cool ones that I can’t wait for everyone to see,” he teases.
Throughout those scenes, training and fighting alongside him are fellow cast members Skylar Austin, Niles Fitch, and Peyton Elizabeth Lee, just to name a few. “That was… amazing,” Faly gushes of what it was like to work with so many amazing actors. “I [can’t] even express into words how much fun that was. Especially with having a cast that knows how to bring fun to a professional setting and then still be very professional when it comes right down to doing the job.”
All that fun on-set translated off-set as well. “We did a lot of exploring in Canada,” he recalls, saying that the cast got to know each other well. “We were all really close in Canada and I feel like we’ve all become really good friends.”
While the cast spent so much time together off-set, they weren’t always able to be together onscreen. If given the ability to have more scenes with any of the other cast members, Faly pauses for a moment to think.
“Probably Noah!” he answers with great joy. “Noah Lomax. I didn’t get very much screen time [with him]; I know a lot of the other cast did. I got a few scenes with him for sure but yeah, I definitely wish I got more scenes with him. That would have been awesome!”
Looking back his journey with Secret Society of Second-Born Royals, Faly has learned quite a bit and gained confidence in himself and his acting abilities. He says, “The biggest thing I learned from this set was that anything’s possible. This movie was a huge blessing for me – it was a miracle.”
The actor remembers going to the audition and being struck by how many others were waiting as well. “There were like a hundred people in the casting office! It was the most crowded audition I’ve ever been to,” he admits. But he didn’t give up. “Out of all of those kids, I was the one that booked the role of Matteo. And it was a huge eye opener that proved to the fact that hard work and patience opens a lot of doors, and that if you work hard enough, anything that you thought would be impossible can definitely be possible.”
Faly reflects on how much has already changed. “I never would have thought two years ago that I’d be like a Disney Prince.” He says of the new title, “It’s still surreal to me. I never refer to myself with that title because it doesn’t feel right.” The thought alone leads to a small laugh from the actor. “But the truth is that it happened and it’s a blessing. I’m super grateful for it.”
Another thing that Faly is grateful for is an earlier project titled Nightmare Cinema, something that he is proudest of himself for doing. “That was a horror film that I did, and I was so proud of that. I was so proud that I booked that, that I filmed that. I always wanted to be in a horror film and, you know, not only that, [I] got to play piano in the horror film.”
He confides, “I love to play piano, so I got to live out two of my dreams – three of my dreams – all at the same time. So I’m very proud of that role. It was way different than Disney projects that I’ve done. I think getting to play in a production like that was something I was very proud of at that time.”
For now though, his focus is on Secret Society of Second-Born Royals. “Go check that out,” Faly encourages. “It’s gonna be an awesome time! Watch it with friends, family – whoever you want. You’re going to love it.”
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals is available to stream on Disney+ now!