In the year 2000, children and adults alike tuned in to watch Life-Size, a film about a young girl whose toy doll magically comes to life. Tyra Banks played the “Eve” doll while then-child star Lindsay Lohan played young Casey Stuart. Now eighteen years after the original, Tyra Banks reprises her role in Life-Size 2: A Christmas Eve, alongside the talented ensemble of Francia Raisa, Gavin Stenhouse, Alison Fernandez, Shanica Knowles and Hank Chen, among many others.
CelebMix caught up with actor Hank Chen (Brendon Butler) before the premiere of Life-Size 2 to talk about his role in the film, working with Francia Raisa and Tyra Banks, and his love for Disney and all things magic.
Were you a fan of the original?
Oh my god, yes! I was kind of a closet fan because I was still a kid and I hadn’t come out yet, so I really couldn’t let on that I loved this movie as much as I did. That’s just how it was. I was also a huge fan of that show The Secret Life of Alex Macke, which also had a female protagonist. I remember going over to my neighbor’s house and watching all these shows. The Secret Life of Alex Macke or Life-Size would come on and they would always want to change the channel and during the commercials breaks, I would always change it back to these shows with these strong female protagonists.
How did you get to working on Life-Size 2?
For me, it was the traditional way. I had an audition. I prepared all weekend for them and I went in and I just internalized this character so much and I walked in and I was so happy to be there. I just made sure that I did my best work.
What was your reaction when you got that call announcing you had gotten the role?
I lost my mind. I was actually driving at the time and I needed to pull over. I was on my way to go meet up with a friend and I was barely making it on time. I was running a little bit late and then I get this call from my team and of course when it comes in, there’s like a flurry of activity and calls. I was like, “I have to pull over.” Meanwhile, my friend is also waiting for me and me having to text back while I’m on the most important call of my life. I was juggling multiple things. It was really exciting.
On Instagram, you said it was a dream come true getting to work on this film because you’re a big Disney fan.
Yeah, I’m a huge Disney fan. Disney used to release compilations of their hit songs like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Toy Story, A Whole New World, and I bought all of them. I would get my mom to take me to Target and I would save up my allowance to buy these CDs. This was like the highlight of the month because as a kid, you have limited resources and income. Getting something like this was a real treat. I had to really decide where to spend my money on and these CDs gave me the most joy. Furthermore, I was kind of raised on this Disney VHS compilation. I feel like I kind of grew up in the wonderful world of Disney from as early as I can remember. Disney for me is so nostalgic and so magical and just embedded into my childhood and to be on the other side of that camera and to know that I’m hopefully creating this experience for the next generation and bringing magic into their lives means so much to me.
Disney for me is so nostalgic and so magical and just embedded into my childhood and to be on the other side of that camera and to know that I’m hopefully creating this experience for the next generation and bringing magic into their lives means so much to me.
And that’s what the movie is about. In the first movie, we see magic happening when a doll comes to life. So how old were you when the original came out? About ten years old?
Yeah, I was a kid and what’s funny is I had an army of stuffed animals that I always imagined had come to life. It was very Toy Story or maybe I was just crazy and lonely. I always imagined them in the corner of my bedroom partying during the day when I was in school. Growing up wasn’t the easiest. I was bullied a lot, especially in middle school. They were actually kind of my surrogate family at least for those hours after I got back from school until my parents came home.
Can you tell us about the character you play in the movie and how they fit into the story?
Absolutely. My character’s name is Brendon Butler and his name is actually a play on words because he’s Grace Manning’s – played by the incredible Francia Raisa – best friend as well as executive assistant, so he works for her and looks out for her kind of Alfred to her Batman, if that makes sense. Where we enter the story with Grace is she is in a bit of a quarter-life crisis and she also has a lot of pressure on her as the CEO of a faltering toy company and sort of going in a downward spiral that she really needs her support system to be there for her whether she realizes it or likes it or not. That support system includes myself, Eve played by Tyra Banks, as well as Shanica Knowles.
The audience that grew up watching the original has now grown up. As you said, you watched the film when you were younger. How would you say the new movie reflects that change?
I love that question. The movie grows up with the audience. The reason why this is on Freeform which is at the center of edgy teen pop culture. They set the trends and there’s a reason why Life-Size 2 makes perfect sense for the Freeform audience because a lot of these fans, including myself, are now older. We’ve lived lives, we’ve gone through our early twenties, we’ve struggled through love, loss, career and we want to watch characters that have gone through the same and are finding ways of working to overcome that so that we can be inspired and entertained at the same time.
We’ve lived lives, we’ve gone through our early twenties, we’ve struggled through love, loss, career and we want to watch characters that have gone through the same and are finding ways of working to overcome that so that we can be inspired and entertained at the same time.
The release date also fits in with Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas. It’s perfect because the premise of the movie is working at a toy company.
I love that they decided to make it a Christmas movie because first of all, I am a huge addict when it comes to the Christmas movie marathon! I’ll turn on any channel and just let them play in the background. Whatever house I’m in, I feel like there is at least one if not multiple TVs in the background turned on to a cable channel that’s playing A Christmas Story, 24/7 re-runs of Home Alone. When that time of year comes around, that’s the type of movie you want to watch and it really is an honor to be a part of something like that. That’s the dream in it of itself. Getting this job checked off a lot of boxes for me when it comes to accomplishments as an actor.
What was it like working with the rest of the cast?
So fun. It was summer camp with a dash of boot camp. The boot camp comes in because we were shooting a Christmas movie deep in the heart of summer in July and August. If you look at the photographs, that’s what we were wearing in July in the South. Leather jackets and jeans and suits. We were all sweating it out with each other and bonding like heck through all of it and having so much fun while we were doing it.
Tyra Banks has been in the industry for a long time. Did you learn anything from watching her on set or did she give you any advice directly?
Tyra Banks is one of the nicest, hardest working people in show business. It really makes sense that she’s been at the top of her game for so many decades. She started modeling when she was fourteen years old and she hasn’t stopped working. Not just as a model, but this empire she has created is just incredible and inspiring.
Also, because sets can have really long days, for instance, we had a brunch scene where you have to shoot around the entire table to get everyone’s angle. It might as well have been like having a twelve-hour brunch with Tyra. So during that scene, we were all just talking and hanging out and getting to know each other. She kind of big sistered all of us and took us under her wing and she was just a very open book.
This is a businesswoman who is not afraid to try things, not afraid of failure, not afraid of walking away from things that don’t work out, not afraid of getting outside out of her comfort zone, and so kind and so loving. She even called all of us the night before our table read and that was a huge surprise because I just didn’t expect to get a call from Tyra Banks welcoming me to the movie but that’s the type of person she is and because of the tone that she sets from before we even started working it was just an incredible experience. I’ve always been a fan of hers and I can’t even begin to explain just how incredible the experience of getting to work with and observe an icon was.
This is a businesswoman who is not afraid to try things, not afraid of failure, not afraid of walking away from things that don’t work out, not afraid of getting outside out of her comfort zone, and so kind and so loving.
What was her reaction when she heard Life-Size will be getting a sequel?
She was so excited. She would be the first to tell you this has been in development for years. By the time I even came on board, there’s has been five re-writes and lots of cooks in the kitchen just trying to perfect this script and deliver something amazing for the fans. Everyone who was involved cares so much, Tyra, Freeform, Stephanie Allain, Steven Tsuchida, all the cast members. Francia Raisa is an incredible actress and really steps up as the lead of this movie. You’re going to be so impressed with her performance. Francia is just completely amazing. This is a role that she was born to play.
What else would you like our readers to know about the movie?
I hope that they see all of the love that we poured into making this and hopefully, none of the sweat! That it actually looks like December when we filmed it!