JoJo Siwa grew up as a fan of High School Musical, so when she got the call to join High School Musical: The Musical: The Series in a guest starring role this season, she said yes without asking any questions about what role she'd play.
"I immediately was like, 'Yes, I don't care the capacity, I don't care the day, I don't care the time, sign me up!'" she tells EW with a laugh. "It's such a cool, iconic show and it feels like such a big, big honor, and so I just felt really grateful."
But Siwa had no idea just how meaningful her role would eventually become. When she found out who she'd be playing in season 3 — Madison, a Camp Shallow Lake alum who returns in Wednesday's episode to visit her ex-girlfriend, Maddox (Saylor Bell Curda) — she realized it featured a major turning point in her career.
Anne Marie Fox/Disney JoJo Siwa talks joining 'HSMTMTS' as queer character: 'This was such a special role'
"I've never played a gay character — besides myself, and I'm not a character, I'm just myself, but that's that's how it looks to the world," Siwa says. "But this is so straightforward: Madison is a queer human. I think it's really special getting to know that kids are going to watch this and not be like, 'She's queer? What's that?' They're going to be like, 'She's queer. Cool.' I love that the next generation just kind of [moves past] it vs. it being a weird thing."
After coming out last year, Siwa can't help but wonder if seeing a character like Madison on TV when she was younger would have helped her accept her own sexuality sooner. "I think it would have made me realize that it's okay a lot younger. It's normal," she says. "It took me a while to really be comfortable with that. I didn't really realize that it's okay until I was like 17. I didn't really realize that it was okay — I always thought with other people it was okay."
She remembers how she would joke around with her older brother when she was younger, asking if he was gay, because deep down she wondered if that would make it okay for her to be too. "I would always like tell him that I wanted him to be gay, and my mom says that I'm really like, pre-wired, that that was me being like, 'No, I'm a little gay,' and in my head, I was like, 'If he is, then I could be,'" she says. "But my brother's as straight as they come, he has a great girlfriend, we love her. It was definitely more about me."
That's why getting to play a queer character on HSMTMTS means so much to her now — she knows that helping push forward LGBTQ representation onscreen (like how she was the first same-sex couple to compete on Dancing With the Stars) could change people's lives for the better. "I immediately knew that this was such a special role," she says. "I was very grateful that they wanted me to play Madison and to have this relationship with Maddox. I knew it was a role that was going to be really special to the show, to this franchise, but also to me. It's really awesome."
Plus, Siwa can't wait for her fans to see a new side of her on the series. "You'll get to see a fun side to me, a little flirty side of me. You haven't seen JoJo like this before," she adds. "Madison, you could say she's still in love with Maddox. They're definitely broken up, but there's still some tension between the two of them. I don't know what their future is but the storyline between the two of them really has so much room to grow."
HSMTMTS season 3 debuts new episodes on Wednesdays on Disney+.
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