Corbin Bleu made his name doing Disney but he thankfully has the maturity of someone his own age, if not somewhat older, rather than an age more typical among fans of his early work. He seems to be doing a good job navigating Hollywood post-High School Musical; he was, after all, cast in Ashton Kutcher's racy television series The Beautiful Life (it was canceled after two episodes, sure, but the role was nevertheless a valiant attempt at departure for Bleu). His latest film Free Style sees a return to more family-friendly fare but, perhaps due to his brand-new influence as a producer, this project is set in a slightly more realistic world than that of your typical Disney Channel franchise: in once scene his character Cale attends a party at which there is (gasp!) drinking that neither constitutes a major plot point nor sets up an overwrought Aesop. And Bleu is down to earth and realistic... which is exactly what makes him such a pleasure to talk to.
Hey, how’s it going? I just heard The Beautiful Life got canceled—that sucks.
Yeah. It’s… you know. Yeah. [laughs] It happens; you move on; you go to the next thing. It was fun, though! I mean, I had a wonderful time working on it. It was perfect.
And it was a different sort of project for you, too.
Very, very different. Yeah. It was great to be able to let my fans see me in a different light—let all the audience see me in a different light. It was good! I got a chance to be out here in New York.
You like the city?
I love the city. I was born here in Brooklyn.
Really? Get out! I’m a Brooklynite.
Are you really? Where in Brooklyn?
I live in a neighborhood like right next to Park Slope. It’s right next to Prospect Park.
Cool! You know where Sunset Park is?
That’s where I grew up.
Nice, nice. I imagine that it’s nice coming back and visiting.
Yeah, it’s great. I love it. And, I mean, all my family’s out here. I have a lot of family out here.
So let’s talk about Free Style! What attracted you to this movie in particular?
Well, the script came in, and we read it… you know, it seemed like a wonderful project. Really what was fascinating was the motocross; I had never ventured into motocross before the film, and I started doing my research and I went to see—there are a few films that have come out that really sort of glammed up the sport, and we wanted to show the heart of it a little more. We wanted to really dig deeper and show it with authenticity, you know? You didn’t want to have the sound of a two-stroke when you watch a four-stroke going by; we wanted that to be real, and once—I got into it myself; I started going to all the races and really became a fan. And then… you know, also it’s a family film. You go to these races and all these families are there. It takes a lot of people to get these guys out there; it’s a very expensive sport and—
Well, yeah, you’ve got the bikes and the—
The gas—everything! Everything. Everything. And then transportation! I mean, you have to get those bikes from one place to the other, and it’s a lot.
And it’s a dangerous sport! It’s dirty and it’s noisy and people get hurt!
I know. So, on top of that, medical bills! [laughter]
Right, exactly! So I imagine you got to try it out yourself as you started preparing for the film?
I do; I started—I have a bike now and I ride all the time. I go to all the races, yeah.
That is too cool. And, you said it yourself, there have been quite a few films recently made about the sport and I imagine that you’ve seen them.
I have. And, you know, I think what makes us different is not only just the real bare-bones of the sport but also—the backdrop is motocross; it’s also really a story about this young guy and his pursuit and his persistence, and there are all these obstacles in his way; like I was saying before, this is an expensive sport and you have a lot of family there. And this guy whose father left him when he was a kid, who works two jobs just to put food on the table—he’s taking care of his mom and his younger sister, so for him to actually make it in the sport, I mean, it’s a lot. Then there’s a whole other layer of—obviously it’s an interracial mother and father. And he ends up getting introduced into the Mexican culture of his new girlfriend. So there’s another layer of that, playing into a little bit of the race factor as well, and—oh, race and race. [laughs] I just caught that.
No, but there are a lot of different layers to it and those layers also came about more so—they weren’t in the script originally and they developed the more we dove into it. And this is the first time I got to work behind the scenes; my production company was behind the film, so I was involved in casting, and once we cast Sandra Echeverria [who plays Cale's new girlfriend Alex] it turned out she was from Mexico and we got a chance to bring that into it; we wrote stuff into it for that, so it was a whole… you know, a whole organic process that just continued to build.
Yeah, I imagine it would be really cool to get to actually work on something behind the scenes after spending most of your time thus far working in front of the camera.
Yeah, it was great! One, you have a better grasp even on what you’re doing because you’re not in the dark.
You know how all the pieces fit together.
Right! You know how it all came together. Sometimes with an actor you only have your script and what the director might talk to you about, which isn’t even always the case—sometimes you don’t have a director that communicates that well. So for me to be on that end of it… I got a little insight into the project.
And I think, for people who really love movies and are already involved in one capacity, that’s the motivating factor that drives them to become multi-hyphenates: because that way they get to play more of a role in fitting the pieces together and get a better sense of what you’re doing for each job.
Yeah. Very true. Very much so. The more you work on any profession—you learn a lot about it as you go along, and the more you learn about it the more you want to venture into it and learn even more and bring what you can to the table. And this is something that I… I got a chance to bring some of my own thoughts into the project and I’m looking forward to future projects with my production company and taking the reins even more.
I know there are a lot of actors who become producers primarily to have more control over the projects they’re in, but do you have any interest in producing projects that—
That I’m not in? Absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. It’s all about the work. [laughs] It’s all about the part that gets put out. I mean, I love acting and I love getting the chance to be in films, but I might not necessarily be right for some of the films I want to put out there as well.
For this film you mentioned Cale and his sister being biracial and there being little touches like that. I thought it was really nice how this family film touched on such things, as well as showing Cale at a party where [laughs] people are probably drinking without hammering it over the head!
Yeah, right! Right, right.
It was just like, “Yeah, it’s there. Whatever! Moving on!”
[laughs] Yeah! I mean, you know, we wanted to make it a family film. We wanted to make it a family film. But. This stuff exists. Just because it’s a family film doesn’t necessarily mean that, you know, people don’t get angry. He does go to a party where there are people drinking. It’s more so about—even though he might be in these situations or have these things happening around him—it’s more a story about his work ethic. And I think that’s what’s going to speak out to the kids especially.
I did like when, at the party, [Cale's soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend] Crystal goes up to his best friend saying “Hi!” and she’s so obviously plastered. I cracked up.
[laughter] Awesome. Cool little insight: the guy who plays my best friend and the girl who plays her are brother and sister.
Yes. So they had to… that whole scene where they’re kind of dancing with each other and she’s all over him… that was definitely some acting right there. [laughs]
Ooh. That is awkward. That’s awkward. But—not to make the obvious segue into High School Musical talk, but one thing that I always wondered about those movies with Ryan and Sharpay is… I mean, they’re related… how…?
[laughs] A little incestuous! Yeah, it's a little incestuous!
Not that the movies aren’t fun, but unfortunate implications much, Disney? Are you sure about that?
[still laughing] That’s the fun part about it. All those little… the things that go over most of the kids’ heads.
Yeah. [laughs] They have to have something to watch there.
Exactly! There’s a page on this website TVTropes.org—it catalogues devices and tropes used in media and entertainment, and on the page for 'Parental Bonus' I’m pretty sure High School Musical is on there.
Is it? Is it really?
I think it is!
[laughs] That’s funny. That’s funny; I gotta check that out.
What else are you working on?
There are a few things. There’s actually a horror film, which is pretty cool. It’ll be fun. Nothing’s set in stone, but there are a couple projects, one for our production company and then a couple other films with different people that I’m looking into. And of course music. You know, always going to continue following the music. At this point in my life I only want to do music if it’s right. I don’t want to have to—
You don’t want to force it.
No. I don’t want to have to force it; I don’t want to have a deadline for an album to be out; I just want to go and make music at this point.
I read somewhere that for most Disney-affiliated actors they’re given the option of being able to explore music if they want to, so I imagine that’s a really cool opportunity.
You know, I had been doing music before I started with Disney, and the opportunity came along to sign with their record label. It definitely made it easier, definitely, because they do have that synergy. But everything just worked out. At the moment I just know the type of music that I want to do is not necessarily coinciding with that. We’ll see.
What kind of music are you—
I’m a huge rock fan. I want to explore rock more and really… just make good music! Just make music, yeah.
Like get a couple guitars and set up shop in the garage?
Yeah! You know, you look back and listen to the old recordings of the legends and you go “What about this has made it stand the test of time? Why?” Because they’re just playing. There’s so much soul in there; there’s nothing layered over it; there’s no electronic sounds and all that. As much as we’re in this new age where that’s the sound—and I think you need to use that because that’s what the ear is accustomed to now—
And there’s easy access, so there’s no reason not to if it can enhance what you’re doing.
Exactly! But I think the bare bones needs to be just the true, raw sound.
I have a question; have you ever listened to the Monkees?
Yeah! Of course!
I love the Monkees. I grew up on them. The first TV show I ever watched was an old VHS of their show.
That’s so funny. Yeah, yeah! Of course. Absolutely.
Any other—the Beatles, of course, I’m assuming.
What else? Costello, maybe?
I’ve always been into… I mean, Michael Jackson, obviously. Prince—I’m a big fan of Prince. But I like old Guns ‘n’ Roses and Whitesnake… Metallica. I like a lot of hard rock.
[in unison with me] I love AC/DC!
All right, it looks like they're kicking me outta here. But it was great talking with you.
Free Style is now in theatres.