Dara Renee knew how lucky she was, being cast in the upcoming Disney Channel musical version of “Freaky Friday,” and she was ready.
Except for maybe one thing. She had to play mean, and that just wasn’t her.
“It was for the mean girl,” said the 17-year-old former Baltimore resident on the phone from Los Angeles, where she’s preparing to start her senior year in high school next month, “and I was like, ‘I’ve never once been the mean girl.’”
Happily, she took the part of Savannah anyway, and loved the experience. The mean part — having to play the main characters’ chief nemesis — never came easy, though.
“I felt so bad,” Renee said with a hearty laugh that continually punctuated her conversation. “Every time I would have to do a mean scene … I would apologize every time. And they were, like, ‘You don’t have to apologize after every take.’”
“Freaky Friday” premieres on the Disney Channel Aug. 10, starring Heidi Blickenstaff and Cozi Zuehlsdorff in the identity-switching, mother-daughter roles played by Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris in 1976, and Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis in 2003.
Renee and her mom, Kimberly Brooks, lived in Baltimore until about four years ago. While here, Renee attended John Paul Regional Catholic School. Brooks, who grew up in West Baltimore and graduated from Seton High School and Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University), class of 1988, founded the Encouraging Youth to Dream Performing Arts Studio, which she still runs.
Her daughter’s nascent career proves that acting runs in the family.
“She’s just bubbling with excitement,” said Brooks, who returns to Baltimore frequently, even though much of her work with students at the studio is done online from the West Coast. “This is like a dream for her.”
Brooks said she couldn’t be more proud of her daughter’s work.
“This was her first time in front of a camera,” Brooks said. “As an actress myself, I know that feeling. Seeing her on film and watching her share her gift with the world was just amazing.”
With her senior year at Los Angeles’ Charter High of the Arts Multimedia and Performing School (CHAMPS) ready to start, Renee said she’s waiting to see what will be her next acting job. College, she said, is on the horizon — maybe even a return to the East Coast, as a student at one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“I’m definitely going to take a semester or a year at Morgan State or [Washington D.C.’s] Howard or [Atlanta’s] Spelman,” she says. “I have to get that experience.”
Renee said she didn’t know the name of the project when she first answered a casting call last year, but recognized a certain poetic justice when she got the part.
Both she and her mom, Renee said, had “Freaky Friday”-themed slumber parties in their younger days. Perhaps her casting was pre-ordained.
“I was familiar with both of them before I even auditioned for this movie,” she said with that laugh. “I’ve got a long history with ‘Freaky Friday.’”