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‘Star’s’ Newcomers Reveal Audition Stories, What It’s Like Working With Lee Daniels

Variety logo Variety 12/15/2016 Joshua Alston
© Provided by Variety

As the curtain closes on one show, another steps into the spotlight.

“Empire” wrapped up its midseason finale Wednesday night and won’t return to Fox until March 2017. But to fill the void, Lee Daniels has introduced another music-filled series: “Star.”

“Star” debuted tonight on Fox with a special sneak-peek episode, before landing in its regular timeslot come January. Before the premiere, Variety met the cast on the set of the new drama in Atlanta, where starring newcomers Jude Demorest, Ryan Destiny, and Brittany O’Grady were hanging out with their seasoned co-stars Queen Latifah and Benjamin Bratt, who was spotted giving each of the ladies a kiss on the check, quipping, “You guys are innocent now, but wait until January.”

On set, Bratt spoke highly of his trio of co-stars, noting that they are levelheaded and will be able to navigate the fame and attention that comes from the show. Now that the premiere is here, are the girls nervous? Read ahead to see what the young cast had to say about their big break…

How did you become involved with the show?

O’Grady: I was in college at the time at Pepperdine University, so I was there and I’d just get up and leave whenever I got the call. It was a little uncomfortable for me at the time, but I did it. I got the call that I booked the role when I was doing the school play. We were doing “South Pacific” and we had just started on that. I did some stuff before that, but I got a theater scholarship through Pepperdine and pursued that. When I booked the role, I withdrew from all my classes to go and do the pilot.

Demorest: For me, it was the same sort of thing, Brittany and I were together for all of our auditions after the first one. When I got my first callback I met Brittany then. I did about 11 auditions, which is very uncommon. I’m used to doing three, maybe four. So every day they would call and want us to come back and do something different. One day we would sing for The-Dream. The next day we would walk in and Frank Gatson was there teaching us choreography. And they would be there out of nowhere, we would get a call saying, “Come to the office,” and we’d show up and see these industry legends. One day they called me just to sit in a room with [O’Grady] and get to know her. For hours we just sat there and ate tater tots together. It was really unconventional because Lee is really involved. He’s already directing you during the auditions.

You two have a natural chemistry onscreen. Is that a result of the time you spent together in the audition process?

Demorest: Well, it was hard because we’re playing sisters. We could act it because that’s what we do, but it’s much better when you have a real bond. And now that it’s been a year, we’re around each other all the time so it feels natural. We’re like real-life homies now so it’s easy.

That’s good because the media loves a story about friction on the set, especially between women. Are you ready for that kind of scrutiny?

Demorest: I hadn’t really thought about it, but hopefully people will understand that the catty girl group dynamic is just on the show. We’re actresses and we get along really well in real life. It’s not a drama-filled process at all. And we all have very different lives and goals in real life and respect each other’s differences.

Ryan, did you audition at the same time or did you get involved another way?

Destiny: It was at the same time, but I got two callbacks and on my last one is when I met [Demorest and O’Grady.] So it was a much different process than what they went through — much shorter. I was living in Detroit and they would fly me out to L.A. for the callbacks. Once I got the call that I booked it, they flew me back out to L.A. an hour later. So it was weird. I think [my co-stars] were surprised by how long it took and I was surprised by how short it took.

What has been the hardest part of becoming a cohesive girl group?

Destiny: Maybe just not knowing what’s going to happen. They’re writing it as we go along, so they are creating these relationships and where those relationships go as we do the choreography and practice behind the scenes. So it’s strange sometimes when we are getting into a rhythm, but something different is happening in the script.

Demorest: The other thing is that we’re musical artists in real life, and the girl group music that we do on the show is much different than the stuff we do outside the show. The dancing is amazing. Sean Bankhead is doing the choreography and it’s incredible. But it’s not what we would do in our own music and the same with the style and what we wear. So sometimes we have to let go and remind ourselves that we’re being actresses — not artists. The songs are lines and the clothes are wardrobe, so you just have to trust the process.

What have you learned from working with Lee Daniels?

O’Grady: It’s hard to narrow it down to one thing, but I think what I’ve learned from Lee is to cut it in half.

Demorest: All of us have learned that.

What does that mean?

O’Grady: He says to all of his actors, “Don’t do too much.” A lot of actors are very external and expressing things externally, but Lee is all about having it be internal and more subtle. Good directors are like that and some actors get thrown off, but it’s great practice for us. When I look back at the pilot, I remember the places where he said, “Cut it in half,” and it’s better.

Demorest: It always looks better. And he shows you that a little is all you need sometimes. It’s been hard for me to learn, but every time he yells, “Cut it in half!” and you do it, it ends up being a better take.

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