Isabella Blake-Thomas takes us behind the scenes of Secret Society of Second-Born Royals
We grew up on the Disney classics—falling in love with the stories of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and so many others, always obsessed with happily ever after. Then, as we continued to follow stories of royalty, we stumbled upon movies like Descendants and Maleficent that showed us the other side of the kingdom.
The stories of princesses shaped us, and we would be lying if we said we had *never* wondered what it would be like to wear the crown ourselves.
Isabella Blake-Thomas is no exception. Her Disney dreams came to life, though, when she was cast as January in Secret Society of Second-Born Royals, which hits Disney+ on Sept. 25.
The movie follows Sam (Peyton Elizabeth Lee) a rebellious royal who is second in line (eeek!) for the Illyrian throne. The twist? She has powers. We don’t want to give too much away — because you will not want to miss it — but Sam is not the only second-born royal with some ~powerful~ abilities. If the teaser tells us anything, January might just serve up some serious superhuman moves, too — she borrows powers!
While Isabella wasn’t busy filming some major “save the world” moments, GL caught up with the royal herself near the beginning of quarantine to talk about all things Secret Society, including some v. exciting on set secrets and the moment she found out she landed the role of January. Check out our convo below!
Girls' Life: Let’s talk a little bit about your background. What inspired you to start acting?
Isabella Blake-Thomas: I started acting at a very young age, I was four at my first audition. It was something that I never really realized that I loved until I was in the middle of doing it because I'd actually always acted without realizing it. My mom used to teach drama in the UK, so I was around monologues and duologues and scenes and musical theater... And when my mom told me, “Well, you know, this is a job. You can do this as a job,” I went, “I can play and be different things and earn money?” And my mom said, “Yes, you can.”
At the age of four, I decided that’s what I want to do, and so I started doing it. Within a month of my first TV show, I went, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” And I just fell in love with it and I knew so early on, because it was so appealing, being creative and getting to try all these different things as a career.
GL: Your next big gig is Secret Society of Second-Born Royals, which is set to hit Disney+ on Sept. 25. Can you tell me about how you got that opportunity? Were you excited to take it right away?
IBT: Oh, 1000%, I was excited. I mean, it's a Disney movie. It's Disney+, Disney princess, royalty. The character January is basically me just as a Disney character, and I was honored that they chose me to portray January because obviously when you're seeing so many people for one role, everyone has their own thing to bring to the part. I'm so fortunate that they loved what I brought to January and that I meshed and worked with the rest of the cast.
As for the process of the actual auditioning, I auditioned a couple of times for a casting and then in front of Disney, and every time I got to the next step of auditioning, I was just continually grateful. Because, as an actor, when you're going to auditions all the time, any opportunity and any step that sets you apart from other people is a blessing. And by that, I mean that when you're going in the room, you try your best every time, so to know that they like that every time is such an incredible feeling because you know that you're trying your best and that actually is good enough. It's very, very validating when this is your career.
GL: What can you tell me about your character, January?
IBT: I can! I can tell you lots of things about her because she is me. January is bubbly and sparkly and full of life and wants to befriend everyone and wants to make every situation right. She wants to make everyone else friends with each other; she's just a very bubbly, happy, positive person. And that comes across from the moment you meet her in the movie. That scene was a blast to film because it was actually the scene I auditioned with, and it was fun to be able to see how that came together with the rest of the scenes in the movie.
As for her as a person and not just her personality traits, she is the one that you would turn to and go to when you're struggling because, even though she's always bubbly, she relates to a lot of people in a lot of different ways and she's very honest. There are some fabulous scenes where you get to see her honesty and relatability as a teen. And even though she is a royal, she is very relatable and that's also what I wanted to bring and really portray with the character. Yes, she's a royal and she is in this made-up land… she is still a normal teen, and she’s going through normal teen problems. That’s one of the reasons I loved her!
GL: You mentioned that you relate to January — in which ways are you similar to your character IRL?
IBT: Well, I am very happy and bubbly and positive. I befriend everyone; I’m very extroverted so I love talking to people, I love making new friends. On the other front of the relatability specific things, I have felt a lot of the feelings that January explains through the movie. Without going into too much detail so I don’t *spoil* anything, I remember doing one or two of the scenes where January starts talking about her personality and her backstory as we start learning more about her, and I remember reading those scenes and going, “I can relate so much to this.” And I think and I hope that other people watching it can because it means that January suddenly has so many levels and it's so much deeper than just the happy, bubbly person. It's interesting to see why she's that way and all of her reasoning behind everything.
GL: What is it like being Disney royalty?
IBT: Oh, it’s surreal. I think I have to remind myself every single day that I’m in a Disney+ movie. I'm doing the over-the-phone press at the moment for everything… and every time I'm saying, “Secret Society of Second Born Royals, streaming only on Disney+”, it just makes me smile because Disney is such an iconic family and such an iconic company. It's been around for so long that, to suddenly be a part of that, is a whirlwind but the happiest feeling. There are so many incredible actors that have come out of Disney and started on Disney, that I'm just honored that I'm now a part of that family and share something in common with them.
GL: You mentioned earlier that you went to Toronto to film the movie. What was your favorite on-set moment while filming?
I have a couple that I can think of, but overall, the whole experience on set was phenomenal. I mean, the costume crew was so welcoming, the director was - it very much was a collaboration with characters and I worked closely with her to make sure I was portraying January in a way that worked with the other characters and worked on-screen. So, Anna [Mastro], the director, and I really worked on that together.
But the specific moments on set, I have to say some of the stunts I got to do. I was fortunate enough to be able to do a lot of my own stunts, and being able to train for those and learn how to do them was very empowering. It was just a fun experience all-in-all because I got to try so many new things that I've never done before! I got to try free-running and parkour and learn how to essentially run on a wall and vault over things. Now, watching that in the movie, it makes me so proud of myself to see that I started learning that on-set, and then by the end of the shoot, I was able to jump over things and I just felt so confident about it.
GL: You also worked with some other really amazing talent for Secret Society of Second Born Royals, including Skylar Astin and Peyton Elizabeth Lee. Is there a moment in particular that stands out to you as really great with your co-stars?
IBT: It was fantastic, and everyone was so great on set. We all became really close-knit, like a family. I remember this one moment, we were in the lunchroom on set, and Faly [Rakotohavana], who plays Matteo and I and Skylar, we were all singing, and we would harmonize to each other. We would sing songs left and right all day, every day. And it was just a musical constantly on set; we would play music in the makeup trailer and music when we were waiting off-set with our Airpods. It was a blast, especially with Skylar, to get to know him as a castmate and a friend was a great experience.
GL: One of the most interesting things about the film is that it isn’t just a film about royalty; it’s sci-fi and fantasy, too. What was the experience like getting to dive into what is not just a magical world, but a science fiction one, too?
IBT: It was really interesting, actually, because I was able to watch how the world was created. It is a made-up place, so I was able to see what thought goes into creating that world. You have to think of the rules of the world, and what are all the rules of magic in this world? Do people know about the magic? You have to think of all these different things, so seeing it come together was very fascinating on the behind-the-scenes side of it.
In front of the camera, being in that world was interesting, especially because we filmed in Toronto, and the exteriors weren't in studios. It's fun to see how they turn some iconic Toronto locations into these places from the land of Illyria and see how they use the colors from this land to make it more prominent that this is where we were. But as far as the actual sci-fi fantasy of the movie and not of just the place, I love the characters; they’re not just royals, there is lots of depth to them. There are lots of stories and lots of history with them and their lives, so to see on-camera how they aren't just one-dimensional, there are lots of layers to them when it comes to the things they do and the things they say and the things they know, it does cover a lot of different areas that aren't your typical Disney royalty things.
GL: What one thing can you tell me right now, a little sneak peek, for fans who are excited about the film?
IBT: The most exciting thing about watching the movie? I have to pick one? There’s so many things; it’s like picking a favorite song! I know I said this, but the relatability of all of the characters because we all know a version of these characters in our everyday lives and it’s fun to say, “Oh, that person in my life is like January on-screen,” or “That person in my life is like Matteo on-screen.” It's really cool to be able to see it that way.
All of the characters are lovable and funny and caring and have so many layers to them, but they are also flawed. I think when you're watching them, you're not feeling like you are anyone less than them. You can be those characters, and it's very easy to be the real-life royal superheroes that you're watching in the movie. And then as a fun thing, that would be all the superpowers. I mean, come on! It's a superhero movie! It's very exciting. As you start to learn which character has what superpower, you're able to see in the movie how they use it and how they learn from it and what lesson that teaches them.
GL: There are *so* many teens who want to act as a career. What is one piece of advice that you have to give your fans who want to pursue their passion?
IBT: The mind and soul one is to stay true to who you want to be because, in this industry, it's so easy to get lost and to feel focused to change. So as long as you know who you want to be, it's one of the things that will make you go far in this industry. I make sure, for myself, to stay happy and stay kind and stay thoughtful and stay humble, as well. And grateful, because everything is an opportunity and I'm very fortunate for everything.
And then the actual "going out and doing it" advice would be to go to acting classes. Acting is a skill and you have to practice it and learn it and work on it constantly. In my everyday life, even though we're not on set at the moment because of everything going on, I'm still working on myself as an actress. I'm getting life experiences and life feelings that I can pull into my roles. I'm doing a lot of writing at the moment. So it's constantly working on that. Work on the craft, really learn it, feel comfortable doing it in any situation, and then stay true to who you want to be.
Ready to see some Isabella and her amaze superpowers on-screen? Tune into Disney+ on Sept. 25 to see January and the rest of the rebellious royals in Secret Society of Second-Born Royals.
Photographer: Dean Foreman, Makeup and Hair: Andrew Toma, Styling: Lisa Cera + Tyler McDaniel, Crosby Carter Mgmt. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.