EXCLUSIVE | 'Julie and the Phantoms' star Savannah May says working with Owen Joyner was the 'cherry on top'
The two previously co-starred in Nickelodeon's 'Knight Squad' but their friendship runs much deeper than their status as co-stars because for May, Joyner is 'family'
Savannah Lee May is an actress, singer, dancer and much more. At just 20, the budding artiste is already proving her mettle, going from playing a knight on Nickelodeon's 'Knight Squad' to playing the antagonist on upcoming Netflix series 'Julie and the Phantoms'. And she's just getting started.
MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) got the chance to chat with May about portraying Carrie on 'Julie and the Phantoms', working alongside Owen Patrick Joyner for the second time in a row, her passion for theater and choreography, her dream roles and much more.
You began your acting career with an unnamed role in the 2017 series 'School of Rock' and now find yourself in a major role in 'Julie and the Phantoms'. Does it feel like coming full circle for you, being back in a coming-of-age teen musical show of this nature?
'School of Rock' was actually my second job — my first job was the pilot of 'Knight Squad'. So I did the pilot and then I had a guest-starring role in an episode of 'School of Rock'. And that was a really cool experience to be able to see how a cast works, but growing up in musical theater myself, being on 'Julie and the Phantoms' is definitely coming full circle in my personal life, particularly for my 11-year-old musical theater geek self.
What was your favorite scene on the show?
That's such a tough one. I will say that Carrie is such a different role than anything I've ever played before. Every scene was so much fun for me. To be able to pull out that inner diva and mean girl, it was the coolest experience, and it was so much fun to be able to do that with this cast. If I had to pick one, without giving too much away, there's one performance number that I have in the show for a song called 'All Eyes On Me'. There's something really cool that happens in that number that I think fans of the show are really gonna love. So I'm excited for them to see that.
You've worked with Owen Joyner (Alex on 'Julie and the Phantoms') before on the 2018 series 'Knight Squad'. Does it make it easier to work with a colleague you're already acquainted with?
Oh, 100 percent. Working with Owen on 'Knight Squad' was such a fun experience. I truly love him. He's like family to me now. And when we wrapped 'Knight Squad' I was really upset we weren't going to be working together anymore, and then fast forward a few months and we booked another series together. It was the coolest thing to be able to go from one series to the next. He was one of the first friends I made in LA, we met on the pilot of 'Knight Squad'. Knowing someone for so long definitely has its advantages when it comes to working with them again. Cause I know how he works, I know how he thinks.
But working with new people is also really exciting because you get to meet so many wonderful, new people and see how they work, and it's this whole collaborative experience. So, I don't think there's really one way that's easier or one that I prefer, but I will say getting to work with Owen again was like the cherry on top of booking the job.
Buttercup was your longest role, seeing as you appeared for all of 'Knight Squad's 30 episodes. Do you prefer working on one long series or do you find working on multiple shorter projects more enjoyable?
I think as an actor, you love to play as many roles as possible to really stretch your range and I think that can be fun. It also depends on the types of characters you're playing and what opportunities come next. I personally really love the consistency of playing one role for such a long period of time. Because when you're on a series, you can have your role and character grow throughout the series while it's running. And with Buttercup, that's kind of what happened.
In season one, she truly was the sidekick. She wasn't the brightest person in the room but she always had such high energy and she was fun and sweet and bubbly. But season two came around and she started sticking up for herself and coming up with ideas, and she became a little more intuitive with the duties of being a knight. So, that was something that I truly loved. And then I did the movie 'Secret Life of Cheerleaders' right after that, and to switch from Buttercup to Eva was also a really cool experience.
In 2019's 'The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders', in addition to your role as Ava Scott, you also earned yourself credit as a choreographer. What was that experience like for you?
It was so much fun. I've been making up dances in my room since I was three and a half, so I've always had an interest in choreography. We had a choreographer from the school that we used for filming on the set, as well as five cheerleaders from the actual school and their cheer coach. They taught us the big group cheer that was shown at the pep rally and the one dance battle between myself and Allie DeBerry who played Katrina.
When it came time to Eva's audition for the cheer team, they told me, "we have stuff if you want to use that. But if you wanted to make up a couple of little moves, or make up your own dance, that's totally fine with us." And so I took it, and I ran with it. I went home that night, I found a song, I choreographed the number, and then the next day at cheer rehearsals, I showed it to them. And they loved it! They didn't have any notes, they just said, "Yeah, that's perfect, let's just put it in the show." That was like such a dream come true moment. I can definitely see myself wanting to choreograph more. I kinda got the bug.
Seeing as you have a passion for choreography, musical theater and juggling multiple roles, would Broadway be something you would consider working towards in the future?
Absolutely! Broadway has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, so to be able to accomplish that one day would be absolutely insane.
In 2017, I had the opportunity to perform on a Broadway stage with the cast of 'Chicago' for composer John Kander's 90th birthday. And there were some really big Broadway legends there — Chita Rivera, Bebe Neuwirth — it was just unbelievable talent within this room. That's a moment that I have never forgotten and will never forget. It was so surreal to think that I had worked for something my whole life, and then that one night, it just kinda happened. I started crying backstage once it was over because I couldn't believe it. We got a standing ovation and it was just such a magical night. I would absolutely love to do something for Broadway again.
Do you have a dream role you'd love to be able to tackle in the future?
Oh, that's a tough one. I'm such a musical, theater geek, I have so many favorites. I've definitely always loved 'Legally Blonde' and Elle Woods is such a fun role. And the music is just so much fun. I also really love 'Mean Girls' and all of the female roles on that are fantastic, but I love Regina George, obviously. She's iconic. But I also love Karen's role. I love her songs and I think that her role is just so much fun to be able to play. Those are some of my top favorites for sure.
Going back to your current role. Characters like Carrie on 'Julie and the Phantoms' can sometimes lead to typecasting, do you feel like it will have an impact on the next role you choose?
I definitely do believe that there's tons of typecasting, but I think the one great thing about playing Carrie is that she's really not one box. I think with mean girls and the diva roles they can be considered to just be truly mean and there's really no back story to it. But with Carrie, as the show progresses, it definitely shows more than just one side to her and I think the audience will be able to see that there's a lot more to her than meets the eye.
What's next for you after 'Julie and the Phantoms'?
Not much, as of right now. I was crazy busy last year, I never really stopped. So when Covid hit, it kind of made me chill out. I got time to just really focus on myself and family. I've definitely been taking this time to occupy myself with different artistic outlets. Since 'Julie and the Phantoms' is such a musical show, I've been taking Skype voice lessons. I do sing on 'Julie and the Phantoms', and I haven't sung like that in so many years. So I'm trying to find my voice again. And of course, I've also been choreographing routines to some of my favorite songs right now. Just really taking this time to try and stretch my abilities as much as I can.
Where can fans follow you to see what you're doing next?
I am on Instagram and Twitter at my full name, Savannah Lee May.