Frankie Rodriguez & His Fantastic ‘High School Musical’ Series Experience

In anticipation of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Teenplicity will be posting exclusive interviews with the cast of the show leading up to its premiere on Disney+ Tuesday, November 12th. Each cast member provided exclusive stories and fun moments from their time on set.

Check out what Frankie Rodriguez has to say below!

For Frankie Rodriguez, taking on the role of Carlos was a no-brainer. While each cast member has different ways in which they relate to their own characters, stepping into Carlos’ dance shoes had not been too much of a leap for the talented performer.

“I think it was just in the sense I am Carlos,” Frankie says when thinking of what attracted him to the role in the first place. “Almost everything that was a plot on the show, I was like, ‘I actually did this in high school!’” It was while reading the breakdown prior to his audition that it really hit him. “I was like, ‘Oh, I think I can do this! It kind of sounds like me!’ Luckily, it worked out.”

Describing his character is one of the greater challenges for the actor. He laughs as he tries to think of a way to capture the essence of “Carlos, the Choreographer.”

“He’s very passionate and very bold and [has his] eyes set on Broadway. I feel like that kind of capsulizes him.”

With big dreams comes a big push to accomplish those goals. Though only a high schooler, Carlos’ focus is on his future career and he takes everything very seriously. Especially putting on High School Musical at East High for the first time.

I actually took him on set and, almost like a yearbook, I had everybody sign the back of it and leave me all these fun notes.

He teams up with the new drama teacher Miss Jenn who takes on Carlos as the choreographer and her right-hand in all things happening with the show. She, unlike many other adults in television and real life, values the teenager’s input and views him as an equal in terms of developing the musical. “I don’t think there’s any bumps in the road between them,” the actor says about the idea of any troubles for the duo further into the season. “What I love about their relationship is that she doesn’t treat him like he’s a high school kid; he comes and says this is everything that I have to offer, and the character of Miss Jenn is very trusting. I love that about her – she really lets her students figure stuff out.”

Of course, there is an instance in the second episode as Miss Jenn feels the need for a little push in the direction of a couple characters. “It’s all fun!” he says of the moment, laughing.

However, it’s not to be overlooked that Carlos still has much to figure out about himself, along with the usual high school problems.

“He actually goes on a fun little journey!” Frankie exclaims happily when discussing what is in store for his character this season. “I think when we first meet him, he’s a little more business orientated. Especially for a high school student, that’s kind of a little odd.” Audiences will get to see the choreographer’s growth over the ten-episode first season. “He really learns how to get along with his peers and make friendships. I think that’s the biggest journey he goes through.”

The love triangle between Nini, EJ, and Ricky is a major plot point for the first season that kicks off multiple character journeys, but will Carlos be getting his own love interest?

“I hope so!” says the actor with a laugh. “I mean, from your mouth to Zac Efron’s ears, let’s just hope something happens.”

Speaking of Zac Efron… Frankie posted a photo of himself holding a Zac Efron cardboard cutout in front of the real East High – Salt Lake High School East – back in June which prompted the question of its status. “Oh gosh,” he says at first when it’s brought up. “I really did have a life-size cardboard cutout of Zac Efron in my trailer.”

For the last day of filming, the actor brought his unique memorabilia out for the rest of the cast. “I actually took him on set and, almost like a yearbook, I had everybody sign the back of it and leave me all these fun notes.” Frankie still has Zefron, though he doesn’t get out much. “Now he lives in my closet because my roommate used to have him out in our living space [and] she was like,” he starts, effortlessly pitching his voice slightly higher and quickening his speaking pace as he imitates, “‘Every time I come home I think it’s an actual person here!’ So until I can get him framed on the wall, he just lives in my closet.”

Getting to be a part of the High School Musical franchise and then getting to film at East High? Just part of why this experience has been once in a lifetime. Another reason is the filming style of the show. Shot in the styling of cinéma verité as a mockumentary, similar to what The Office, Parks & Recreation, and Modern Family popularized in America, it has presented a one-of-a-kind experience for the cast.

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“Oh my gosh, it was literally a dream come true,” Frankie gushes once TEENPLICITY brings up the interesting filming format. “The Office is my favorite TV show, I think I’m rewatching it for the fifth time now. And I think that also had a lot to do with understanding the character and the world even before auditioning.” Already familiar, to an extent, with how it is shot and how this affects the characters interpretation by the audience just fed his excitement and love for the style. “I love that format; that format is my favorite type of television – and some movies.”

Frankie’s enthusiasm grows as he continues on to say about filming, “It’s just so much fun! You’re playing with the other actors but also, you’re playing to the audience in a way so that’s always fun too.” This has provided many surprising sightings during playbacks of footage. “There’s so many cameras going at the same time, you never really know what they’re capturing. So when you watch it back, you’re like, ‘Ah, I didn’t even know I was making that face!’ or ‘I didn’t know I was making that reaction!’ It’s really – it’s life in real time which is so much fun.”

That was just so eye-opening, and it just made this experience ten times even more important and special.

The excitement was added to tenfold by the incredible response by audiences at the D23 Expo in August where they were treated to a special screening of the first episode. The anticipation leading up to the big moment – the HSMTMTS panel and presentation – scared Frankie, just a little.

“For D23, I was scared because I tend to fear the unknown,” he confesses with a laugh. “I had never been to D23 but I knew how big of a deal it was. I think I was just kind of nervous as I didn’t really know what to expect.” Good feelings came soon enough for the actor. “The most fun was actually getting to perform live. I mean, we do it on the show, but we rarely get to do it with an audience interaction. Just to have them there, cheering and applauding, that was a whole other level. Everyone was like, ‘Oh man, this was cool!’ I thought I was Beyoncé.”

With the show attached to such a beloved original series of films, there was bound to be some nerves as to the reaction the show would receive. Would old fans like it? Are new fans able to connect to it? Describing the built-in fan base to be “unreal” in the best way possible, the actor is aware of and has acknowledged those thoughts throughout the process.

He did have some nerves regarding the expectation surrounding the show, but they easily disappeared once he saw what himself and the rest of the cast and crew created.

“Obviously, yes, it’s nerve-wracking to [have] the pressure of carrying on such a legacy but after seeing the first episode, it kind of all melts away.” He says of the series, “It’s really something entirely different but we’re still nodding to the original franchise obviously. So yes, there is some sort of pressure to make sure the OG fans are happy but there’s kind of also not pressure because there’s going to be a brand new generation that’s going to get to experience the franchise for the first time, so that’s exciting!”

It will also mark the first time that the HSM franchise acknowledges characters as part of the LGBT+ community. While there are some minor characters brought up in the first episode, the character of Carlos is a series regular. There was speculation about the sexual orientation of Ryan Evans across the three films but fans are joyous those days are behind them with the inclusion of Carlos.

Frankie told Variety during D23 of the representation in the show, “I think it’s very important. Growing up as a little Mexican gay kid, there’s not really much to look to.” He goes on to thank the showrunner Tim Federle for creating Carlos and just letting him embrace the environment he’s been placed in, and shining, instead of being used for cheap laughs by other characters.

Discussing with TEENPLICITY taking on that mantle of representation for so many people, the actor is still a bit floored by it.

“It’s tricky,” he begins. “As an actor, you never really think about ‘changing the world’, you know. You’re just trying to get the job! But once I had it, then it’s starting to think about it…” The influx of messages from social media helped him realize how big of a role and moment this is, not just for him. “Messages flooded in from kids who were like, ‘I see myself!’ or ‘I finally feel like I can relate to a character!’ That was just so eye-opening, and it just made this experience ten times even more important and special. I hope they connect with Carlos.”

The good thing for everyone is that audiences will get to enjoy much more of Carlos as the series has been renewed for a second season – before the first episode even premiered! Taking the cast by surprise early one morning, the joyous and hilarious reaction made its rounds on social media which warmed hearts to the cast even more than thought possible.

“It’s crazy! I can’t believe it! I mean, I can but I can’t!” begins Frankie excitedly. “It happened when we least expected it. Obviously, we knew we were going to be together for that week and there was a lot of planned things like a planned dinner and a planned event! We were kind of expecting [that] if news was going to be dropped, we were expecting it to be then. I did not expect it to be like, at eight o’clock in the morning, when I was still waking up,” he comments, humor lacing his voice as he recalls his memories of the event. “I think that adds to the fun of the video because we really were surprised.”

Another surprising thing is that Frankie can’t think of a question he hasn’t been asked yet that he desperately wants to be. “I don’t know!” he says as he tries to think of a question. “I get the same questions but sometimes there’s some other questions that are dropped [in and] I’m like, ‘Where did that come from?!’” He pauses, thinking once more. “I don’t know, that’s interesting. I’d have to sit and think on that one.”

When speaking with the cast, there were five questions that every cast member was asked. Here are Frankie’s answers to those questions!

TEENPLICITY: What is your favorite musical?

“Waitress. That’s a new one for me. I saw it on Broadway and then I took my mom and my sister to see it when it was in LA for Mother’s Day.”

TEENPLICITY: What is your favorite High School Musical song from any of the films?

“It would be a tie between ‘Stick to the Status Quo’ and ‘Fabulous’.”

TEENPLICITY: Do you have a favorite original song from the series?

“Can I tease a favorite original song? Um, I don’t think I can without giving too much away but there is a song halfway through the season that’s going to be the anthem for teenagers everywhere.”

TEENPLICITY: If you could play any High School Musical character in the original films, who would you be and why?

“I think I would want to be Gabriella. Maybe Sharpay, I don’t know! I just love Gabriella’s song.”

TEENPLICITY: Are you Team Ricky or Team EJ?

“As Carlos, Carlos is definitely Team EJ. I think we see that in the first couple of episodes… Carlos and EJ have a fun relationship and we have some fun scenes throughout the series that we’re excited to see… As far as in real life, I don’t know! I couldn’t pick one. They’re both so goofy [laughs].”

High School Musical: The Musical: The Series premieres on Disney+ on Tuesday, November 12th!

For all things Frankie Rodriguez, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Instagram!

24. Television and radio production graduate. || I think some people underestimate the range and variety of things that interest younger generations. I'm determined not to.

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