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‘Descendants: The Rise of Red’ star Kylie Cantrall on her YouTube past, honoring Cameron Boyce and Rita Ora’s dating advice

In Entertainment
July 10, 2024
‘Descendants: The Rise of Red’ star Kylie Cantrall on her YouTube past, honoring Cameron Boyce and Rita Ora’s dating advice

Kylie Cantrall is seeing Red this summer.

Disney tapped the 19-year-old actress and “Unsure” singer to take its wickedly successful TV movie franchise in a new direction. As star of Descendants: The Rise of Red — the fourth film in the franchise, — the Queen of Hearts’s daughter leads a new crop of Villain Kids (VKs). There’s troublemaking, time travel, transfixing tunes and a touching tribute to late co-star Cameron Boyce.

“This really is a new story,” Cantrall tells Yahoo Entertainment about taking the reins from the original cast, which expressed reluctance to continue after Boyce’s sudden death in 2019.

Bringing the drama in the new chapter is Rita Ora, who conjures up trouble as Red’s menacing mother. Brandy slips back into kind-hearted Cinderella’s shoes 27 years after first playing the role. China Anne McClain, who plays Uma, returns to help in “passing that torch” to the new generation of VKs.

Cantrall talks to Yahoo about all things Red as well as her path to stardom, which began with a YouTube series reviewing Disney shows when she was 8 before starring in them soon after.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Oh, I cried. When I got the call, my agent actually did one of those silly things where he was like: “Hey, Kylie, I have some bad news. Unfortunately … you’re gonna be really busy in January because you booked Descendants!” So at first, I was like, “Oh no!” Then it was surreal as it set in.

Kylie Cantrall plays Red, the rebel daughter of the Queen of Hearts.

Cantrall plays Red, the rebel daughter of the Queen of Hearts. (Kwaku Alston/Disney)

A good 10 times. I was obsessed with the first one as a kid. I remember [binge-watching] it over and over, fast-forwarding so I could learn the dance moves to “Rotten to the Core,” my favorite, and the other songs.

We actually met on a Zoom call. The director, Jen [Phang], had us do a little mother-daughter bonding to read our lines together. When I got on, the first thing I said was, “Hi mom.” She was like, “Hi, daughter.” It was cute.

Kylie Cantrall says her onscreen mom, Rita Ora, gave her boy advice.

Cantrall says her onscreen mom, Rita Ora, gave her “boy advice.” (Disney/Edward Herrera)

We didn’t get to hang a ton off set because she was only there for about two weeks. It was quick because obviously she’s a global pop star. She was like: “OK, I’m gonna come in, get my scenes done and jet.” That was the vibe. But the days we were on set together, we bonded. She’s more of a big sister than a motherly figure. She gave me good boy advice: “Don’t date boys your age. They’re a waste of time.” I held onto that one.

I actually didn’t get to really connect with them. Obviously it is such a sensitive project and so dear to their hearts that it makes sense. And this really is a new story. I’m so grateful to China and having her be the guidance we all needed in the beginning — being that big sister to all of us and passing that torch. She was a dream to work with — always sharing the kindest words and giving us advice.

It’s a beautiful scene. I’ve seen all the different versions of this script. The one thing that always remained the same was that Cameron Boyce tribute. That was in every draft of the script. It was the one thing [everyone agreed]: This has to happen. It was not only necessary, but it adds so much to the film. It honors him and his legacy, and how much he was the heart of these films.

Talk about someone who’s been in this industry for a long time and with such a beautiful career. But what I love about her is that she’s managed to stay so unbelievably humble and kind. She’s definitely done it all, so to meet her and to see how welcoming she was to us. She made time to bond with us. The first time I met her, I felt she had this aura about her that’s so angelic. She has this sweet, soft voice, very similar to Cinderella. She’s very regal and she does feel like a princess.

It’s so essential to who she is. It’s cool. It’s edgy. She loves leather. She loves red. I love all the little details — like her red wig, little heart buns and nose ring. Her heartbreak logo that’s all over her outfit and leather gloves. All of that is so key to creating the character. The minute I put her wardrobe on, I was like: I feel like Red. Then, when I got that red wig on, I was like: OK, I’m a VK.

Getting into costume made Kylie Cantrall officially feel like a Villain Kid.

Getting into costume made Cantrall officially feel like a Villain Kid. (Quantrell Colbert/Disney)

You might be onto something. I think I might be.

I went to elementary school and then started being homeschooled in seventh grade after I booked my first show, Gabby Duran. So I only went to two years of middle school, which in my opinion was perfect. I got out at the perfect time [laughs]. Going to school on set is very untraditional. I’d be doing school in increments — like: I have 10 minutes before I have to film a scene, let me get this math quiz done. Having a set teacher to myself was a luxury.

I was still in school when I filmed Descendants, but I was definitely behind. It’s always been hard for me to juggle both — though I don’t think it’s impossible because there are people that do it. For me, it’s been a blessing and a curse to know what I wanted to do at a young age because I’d be in school doing precalc and thinking: I’m literally never going to use this. I know I just want to sing and dance. So that made it hard to motivate, but, kids, stay in school.

While from different worlds, Kylie Cantrall's Red and Malia Baker's Chloe, daughter of Cinderella, bond in the film.

While from different worlds, Cantrall’s Red and Malia Baker’s Chloe, daughter of Cinderella, bond in the film. (Kwaku Alston/Disney)

I did not go to homecoming, but I did get to experience a classic high school prom. I went with my best friend to her school. She brought me as her date, so I got to live that through her. It was fun — and definitely interesting. Everyone was like, Who is this girl? She doesn’t go here.

I truly would have loved it as a kid — not to toot my own horn or anything. I would have really liked the characters. That’s the cool thing about the Descendants franchise — the concept is so good and evergreen. Kids, no matter what generation, will find a place in their heart for it because it’s these iconic fairy-tale characters that we know and love and getting to see what their kids are like. There’s so much great singing and dancing, and the songs are so good and so catchy.

It is a double-edged sword. It’s a great tool to connect with people all over the world and share your craft and art. But along with that, you’re displaying yourself for people to judge you off of a fragment of what’s actually real. They don’t know you. That’s something I had to come to grips with early on, and in a way, I’m grateful to have been on social media at such a young age and to have experienced what public scrutiny feels like. I would get trolls. I had a gap in my teeth when I was younger, so I get comments about that. But it made me thick-skinned and prepared for these bigger moments. Now I’m just kind of like: Whatever.

I want to headline Coachella, or another giant music festival, and my own tour one day, so I’m manifesting that right now. But also getting into the Marvel space. That’s the next thing I’m manifesting. I would love to play a superhero.

Descendants: The Rise of Red premieres July 12 on Disney+ and Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. ET on the Disney Channel.

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