Just a few more weeks until An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars is out on DVD and I just got off the phone with one its stars! Ysa Penarejo, who plays McKenna’s best friend Toulane, took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk with me and share some of her insights from the movie.
In the movie Toulane Thomas has been McKenna’s gymnastics teammate since the girls were three years old. A strong, competitive gymnast, Toulane pushes McKenna to stay on her game and do her best. Toulane is sometimes too competitive, though, and puts a lot of pressure on herself to succeed and to live up to her mother’s expectations. Like McKenna, Toulane needs to learn about life “balance” and remember how to just have fun. In real life Ysa is a dancer, actress and singer, but did take gymnastics when she was younger but eventually had to choose between dance and gymnastics – and she chose dance (and if you look her up on YouTube for her dancing, I can see why she picked dance – she is awesome!).
DollDiaries: Were you familiar with American Girl before you auditioned for the movie?
Ysa: Yes, I have loved American Girl since I was a little girl.
DollDiaries: Do you have any American Girl dolls?
Ysa: Yes, I have four including MyAG dolls and Julie’s best friend Ivy.
And then I told Ysa about the photos of McKenna and Ivy (as Toulane) that I took for the review I did on McKenna’s practice outfit and she said she would love to see them so I posted them on her Facebook page.
DollDiaries: Were you excited when you found out that you got the part in the movie?
Ysa: Very excited! I had just had my graduation from elementary school and my mom got the call. She said I got part of Toulane and I just started screaming!
DollDiaries: What specific preparation did you do for the movie?
Ysa: When we first got to Canada for the shooting nobody knew that I could tumble and dance, but they soon figured it out. We trained with our stunt doubles to learn the routines but let the stunt doubles do the harder skills.
DollDiaries: Was it hard to balance filming the movie with schoolwork, your other activities and family time?
Ysa: We were in Canada for six weeks to do the shooting for the movie. I just went with my Mom so it was hard not seeing my Dad and brother for that long, but we were okay. We did not work every day we were there so when I was not working I would do stuff with my Mom and the others. I am also a dancer so I did not have regular dance practices while I was there but luckily my dance teacher was flexible about it. Since we filmed the movie during the summer, school work was not an issue.
DollDiaries: What was it like working with Olympian and actress Cathy Rigby?
Ysa: Oh, she was just so great. She is a great actress and was like a coach to us.
DollDiaries: In McKenna’s stories she has to overcome challenges with being injured and difficulty in school. Have you ever had a challenge to overcome like McKenna did?
Ysa: Yes, I had to take some time off dance just for school – to focus on schoolwork. Once things were better I could add the dance back in.
DollDiaries: McKenna’s story is a lot about friendship and being there for each other – did you know your co-stars before the movie shooting? Do you keep in touch with any of them now?
Ysa: I did not know Jade before the movie but we spent a lot of time together and really bonded. Now we are really good friends and still stay in touch.
DollDiaries: What was your favorite scene to film?
Ysa: There was a scene called Mission Impossible where I kind of had to be the spy. I was wondering where McKenna was going and had to follow her in the halls without her noticing. I kept running into teachers and had to do some crazy jumping and flips.
DollDiaries: What final thoughts do you have about the movie that you want our readers to know?
Ysa: It is a great movie with an important lesson – school comes first and friendships are important. And always do you best.
In addition to her acting and dancing, Ysa loves to sing and she has a new pop single, Like not Love, coming out in July via iTunes. The song is about relationships and making choices – especially in your tween years. Ysa was super sweet to talk with and she really reminded me of a combination of my two daughters – as she is right between them in age. Ysa also has a Facebook fan page and she loves hearing from her fans there, plus it is a great place to find more information, photos and updates from Ysa.
I’d like to thank Ysa again for taking time to talk with me today! She is a super talented young lady and I expect we will see a lot more of her in the future!
Follow @YsaPenarejo and tell Ysa how you achieve your goals or “Shoot for the Stars” on her Facebook wall to win a signed and personalized Blu-Ray/DVD copy of MCKENNA SHOOTS FOR THE STARS along with a free download of Ysa’s new single “Like Not Love.” https://www.facebook.com/MissYsaPenarejo