1 of 5 | Peyton Elizabeth Lee and Blake Draper star in "Prom Pact." Photo courtesy of Disney
NEW YORK, March 30 (UPI) -- Doogie Kamealoha, M.D. actress Peyton Elizabeth Lee says she could relate to her latest character, an ambitious teen who learns to enjoy the frivolous side of high school in the new romantic comedy, Prom Pact.
Premiering Thursday on Disney Channel and Friday on Disney+, the movie centers on Harvard-bound high school senior Mandy (Lee) as she obsesses about her own grades, while her classmates are outdoing each other with elaborate "promposals."
She tutors Graham (Blake Draper), a handsome athlete and the son of a powerful senator Mandy wants to write a letter of recommendation for her.
Milo Manheim plays Mandy's best friend, Ben, and Margaret Cho plays her academic adviser, Ms. Chen. The movie was executive produced by Modern Family star Julie Bowen.
"She is very academically inclined, very driven, very hardworking, very focused, very uninterested in all the hoo-ha," Lee told UPI about Mandy in a recent Zoom interview.
"This film follows the journey of her becoming more and more accepting and embracing of the so-called hoo-ha," the 18-year-old added. "It's very truthful to my experience growing up and finding the balance between working hard and enjoying life."
She thinks audiences will connect to this comedic quest for work-life bliss, as well.
"Navigating that dynamic was something that I was really excited about and I hope contributes to the authenticity of [the story] and also, hopefully, helps viewers feel less alone," Lee said.
Newcomer Draper, age 20, was eager to put a 2023 spin on the archetypical "all-star basketball captain, jock of the school" character, Graham.
"I wanted to bring my own thing to it, some nuance, to make him a three-dimensional character and real," the actor said.
Lee said she loved exploring the relationship between Mandy and Graham, which quickly grows from contentious to crush.
"They are so different and they have these very clear ideas of who the other is based on a lot of stereotypical tropes we see in the media," the actress said.
"It is through getting to know each other that they realize there is more than what meets the eye and more than they expected. They're really good for each other in that way because they challenge one another to question those quick judgments that we make about people."
Mandy and Graham positively influence one another at critical points in their lives.
"Where one lacks, the other sort of makes up for it," Lee said. "Mandy gets Graham to be more focused on his future and Graham gets Mandy to be more excited about the present."
Draper said he was happy to see all of the 1980s pop culture references that made it into the movie.
"I love the music. I love the movies. A lot of great media came out of [the era] that we still love to this day," he said. "To be able to take what was done so well then and to bring that into the present for a modern audience was so much fun."
Lee added: "My mom, from the time I can remember, has played us '80s music and made us watch '80s movies. It was really fun to tap into that side of my creative taste."
The actress also served as a producer on the movie.
"It was really cool to join the project in an earlier stage and get to kind of develop the characters and the relationships, the script, where we were going to shoot who was going to direct it and who was going to be in it," she said.
"Getting to be more a part of those decisions and those conversations was really exciting for me, and I hope I get to continue to do that more and more."
Stand-up comedian and All-American Girl icon Cho said she was thrilled to appear in a Disney film.
"To be in this very lavish, huge world that is very diverse and really a very satisfying coming-of-age story that centers on an Asian American female character is really important," Cho said.
"I also love that her most important friendship is with this guy, and [shows] we can have relationships with people that don't turn romantic," she added, referring to Mandy and Ben.
"That's something I haven't seen in a coming-of-age romance. There's always sort of a love triangle. This is more of a male-female friendship exists in an important way."
Ms. Chen's role is to provide balance and perspective for the determined Mandy, Cho said, comparing her to the mentor character Annie Potts played to Molly Ringwald in the 1986 classic, Pretty in Pink.
"It's so weird to see people looking to the 1980s the way people in the '80s looked to the 1950s, but it's totally right," she laughed at the thirst for nostalgia. "We think it's so long ago, but for me it's not."
Ultimately, Ms. Chen is a force for good in Mandy's life.
"She's got a lot behind what she's saying. It's not just to direct her in a different way," Cho said. "I think it's a really special way and I really love how she comes in and saves the day."
Although the entertainment industry has changed drastically since Cho began her career in the 1990s, she said she is happy with the direction is heading.
"I love where we're going. I think there still needs to be more change," she said.
"There seems to be more diversity within comedy and I would like to see a lot more voices being amplified, whether that's Asian American voices, queer voices, trans voices. This is a really important time for looking at the intersectionality of stand-up comedy, so I think it's a really good time."
Cho also appreciates what a movie like Prom Pact does in allowing viewers to see people who look like them represented on screen.
"I love it! I think it's really showing this meaningful visibility that is really enduring," she said. "When you can see somebody in a movie that looks like you, you really feel this sense of affirmation of existence and it's really profound."