Kyla Pratt Is Bringing Back Penny Proud For the Culture, Children, and Everyone in Between

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Mekishana Pierre
·14 min read
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CALL ME KAT, Kyla Pratt, Plus One', (Season 1, ep. 101, aired Jan. 3, 2021). photo: Lisa Rose / Fox / Courtesy Everett Collection
CALL ME KAT, Kyla Pratt, Plus One', (Season 1, ep. 101, aired Jan. 3, 2021). photo: Lisa Rose / Fox / Courtesy Everett Collection

Image Source: Everett Collection

If there was ever a celebrity who understands the concept of being booked and busy, it's Kyla Pratt. The 34-year-old Los Angeles native got her start as a child star in the early '90s, appearing in series such as Living Single, The Parent 'Hood, and Smart Guy, as well as beloved films like The Baby-Sitters Club, Love & Basketball, and Barney's Great Adventure. She became a household name with her role as Maya Dolittle, the daughter of Eddie Murphy's titular character in the Dr. Dolittle franchise - which she eventually became the main character of, starting with Dr. Dolittle 3.

Then, during a time when all your friends knew the low-rider and everyone's favorite tracksuits came with salacious bedazzling, Pratt cemented her name in the icon hall of fame by landing the lead for two future TV staples. If you were a child, a teenager, or just a TV viewer with taste, you recognize Pratt for her role as Breanna Latrice Barnes and as the voice of Penny Proud on UPN's One on One and Disney Channel's The Proud Family, respectively. Working alongside stars such as Flex Alexander, Jo Marie Payton, Paula Jai Parker, and Cedric the Entertainer, Pratt worked both productions simultaneously, going from Penny to Breanna with a flawlessness belying her young age.

Almost 20 years after the premiere of her TV lead debut, both One on One and The Proud Family are reaching a new generation on Netflix and Disney+, respectively. Pratt is hard at work on a revival of the latter, titled The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, while working on her new show Call Me Kat on Fox. When the actress sat down for a video call with POPSUGAR, she broke down how she's been dealing with raising her adorable children, filming a new series, and recording for her highly anticipated return to the Proud Family all during a pandemic. And while she readily admits that sometimes it can feel insane, she maintains that "it feels absolutely amazing." Read on for our full chat ahead!

Related: Heyyyyyy! Penny, Oscar, Suga Mama, and the Whole Proud Family Cast Reunited After 18 Years

POPSUGAR: Tell me about your new comedy series, Call Me Kat!

Kyla Pratt: The show is about a 39-year-old woman who doesn't have everything society says that she's supposed to have to be happy, like a relationship or children, or the perfect corporate job, but she has everything else, and she's a very optimistic woman. So, she decides to quit her regular job and use her entire life savings to open up a cat cafe!

She loves cats, coffee, and she wants to be happy, so that's what she's doing. I play Randi, a barista in her coffee shop. Kat's character is extremely socially awkward, so Randi pretty much looks at her like she's wacky all of the time. She tells Kat not to do certain things because that's not what she's supposed to do, and, of course, Kat doesn't listen and does what she wants to do anyway. It's a very lighthearted, bubbly show with so much energy and so much positivity. It teaches people how to be optimistic and has so many amazing messages that I think the world needs today.

PS: I love that, it sounds lovely! You've been a part of a lot of star-studded projects, including Call Me Kat. What titles have been some of your favorites to date?

KP: Of course, I loved being a part of everything from my childhood, including One on One, which was on UPN and now Netflix, and The Proud Family, which is on Disney+. And it's even more special because we're rebooting The Proud Family, with Louder and Prouder coming to Disney+. But I also loved being a part of some dramatic pieces I did as I got older. Like, I did a show called Recovery Road that I believe is still on Hulu. I've been very fortunate to be a part of amazing projects with amazing people. And luckily, some of them became classics, like Love & Basketball. I had no idea at 12 years old that I was going to be a part of a movie that people still watch to this day.

PS: Since you mentioned it, let's talk about your big project in the works - The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder revival. How does it feel to be reprising the iconic role of Penny Proud?

KP: It feels absolutely amazing. Literally, for years I kept hearing, "Hey, you guys should bring Proud Family back." And I'm saying, "Guys, I am not in charge of this. Why is everybody harassing me?" [laughs] So, for it to finally be happening and for it to be happening the way it is is perfect. I don't like when things are half-done, and I feel like the reboot will be amazing. The people who loved watching the original will absolutely love watching the reboot. And it's going to introduce it to people who hadn't seen the original! I love it because we're talking about things that animated shows normally don't talk about, and I think that's something that we need.

"It's amazing to be in any environment where you get that type of love, especially for something I was part of when I was so young. And for it to still resonate with so many people is an incredible feeling."

PS: It feels like damn near everyone is a fan of The Proud Family. What is it like to have that kind of fanbase, where people will still come up to you raving about the show to this day?

KP: It's absolutely crazy! I didn't realize how distinct my voice was until Proud Family came out. It's amazing to be in any environment where you get that type of love, especially for something I was part of when I was so young. And for it to still resonate with so many people is an incredible feeling. That's why I'm excited about the reboot. I feel like there are so many different things we talked about in the first run, like learning about Kwanzaa, talking about segregation, that episode where Penny wasn't supposed to play football because she was a girl and even stealing music online! There are so many new issues to talk about, and I feel like everyone is doing an amazing job incorporating that into the new episodes. I can't wait for you guys to see it.

PS: Trust and believe, I'm excited to see it. [laughs] You posted something really adorable on Halloween, a photo of your daughter, Lyric, dressed as Penny Proud. How is it having your daughters enjoy your work so much? Did they realize it's their mom they're listening to?

KP: Yeah! Back in the day, I put on The Proud Family Movie because that was all I had access to. I have all of the episodes on VHS, but where am I going to watch that now? When I put it on for them years ago, I wanted to see if they would recognize my voice, and they did. It was an amazing feeling. My daughter came to me, and she was like, "I want to be Penny Proud for Halloween." And it gave me a little anxiety! I told her, "Baby, there's no Penny Proud costumes. I need to make this up and put it together. I can't have you looking crazy when you're dressing up as me! I have to figure this out very quickly." And my youngest, I asked her, "Do you want to be something from The Proud Family?" She told me no because she wanted to be a mermaid. [laughs] I'm like, "Hey, whatever you guys want to do, let's make it happen."

PS: That's so cute! What are some of your favorite moments from working on The Proud Family?

KP: I'm thinking back to times when I would lose my voice because I am a naturally loud person, and I still have not perfected the art of diaphragm breathing. I would lose my voice and go to work because I was afraid to tell them I lost my voice. And I would get there, and they'd tell me, "Kyla, it's okay. Just call us so we can reschedule." I remember that happening a lot. [laughs] I remember having to sing songs for Proud Family, not feeling like a singer at the time. I'd have anxiety about that, but just push through and do it. I remember us doing this small video with the ladies of Destiny's Child for the theme song.

PS: An iconic moment!

KP: [laughs] I didn't even realize until, I want to say eight or 10 years ago, that I was really in the video with Solange and Destiny's Child. That is major.

PS: Well, speaking of the revival, can you tell us what we have to look forward to?

KP: I can't tell you too much! All I can tell you is that they are pushing the envelope. They're making sure to highlight real issues and teach real lessons, just like the original. They go in deep, and I'm just so happy to be a part of it.

PS: See, you're answering my questions ahead of time - that is exactly what I was about to ask. Are they tackling conversations happening in real life right now? How relevant will the topics be?

KP: Oh yeah, we have to go deep. I think The Proud Family back in 2001 was going deeper than any other cartoon around back then. So, now we have to stay relevant, especially with everything that's going on. You can't ignore the conversations that need to be had. Sometimes it's nice to see it in cartoon form where it's not too serious, but it's still teaching you something.

PS: I totally agree. And, obviously Penny is a little older in the revival, but what do you think Penny would be doing as an adult, regardless of what happens in the revival?

KP: I honestly feel like she would be a social justice lawyer. I feel like she always had something to say, and she stood her ground. Anything that wasn't right to her, she would call it out, and she would let it be known. I could see her out here in the streets and making sure that she could take care of her community.

THE PROUD FAMILY, Penny Proud (2nd from right), 2001-05.  Disney Channel / Courtesy: Everett Collection
THE PROUD FAMILY, Penny Proud (2nd from right), 2001-05. Disney Channel / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Image Source: Everett Collection

PS: That's our Penny Proud! When I was younger, I didn't realize you were working on One on One and The Proud Family simultaneously. What was that like?

KP: To me, it was normal. I started in this business when I was 8, and all I had ever known was work. The fact that I was able to do a cartoon and a TV show at the same time didn't even register as a lot to me. It was like, "Oh, I'm doing One on One this week. Oh, we're off next week? OK, I'm going to do a couple of episodes of Proud Family. Oh, I'm off from that? I'm going to go hang out with my friends." It was a normal situation for me. I didn't realize back then how amazing that is. But looking back at it now, that's a lot! And I'm doing it again now because I'm recording the Proud Family revival right now and shooting Call Me Kat. It's kind of like history repeating itself.

Related: Netflix Has Done It For the Culture! See the 7 Iconic Black TV Shows to Add to Your Queue

PS: How does it feel knowing that a whole new generation of people are watching One on One now that it's on Netflix?

KP: It feels absolutely amazing. Like I mentioned before, I have all the old episodes, but on VHS. So, I didn't have a way to watch them. The fact that it was released on Netflix and is now at our disposal is so great. Being able to flashback in time and knowing that other people can do that as well is exciting! My 10-year-old daughter was watching One on One with me, and it's crazy because I now realize how many grown conversations we were having on that show. Now I see why the adults around me were having anxiety because I'm now the adult having anxiety watching it with my daughter. I was thinking, "Oh, she's about to ask all the questions. OK, let's get ready."

PS: Yeah, looking back on it, I completely understand why my mother always said things like, "Why did I let you watch these shows?"

KP: But also, just because you watch certain things doesn't mean it's going to change you or make you think that you are supposed to do things. I look back at the music, movies, and TV shows I watched as a kid, and I'm like, "Hey, I turned out all right." I think my baby's going to be fine. I'm not going to be overdramatic about things entertaining her. Well, I'm going to be a little dramatic, but not extra.

PS: Very true. I think people overestimate how much of these shows affect our lives, even as kids.

KP: They do. But I think it's also important for parents to be open and have conversations with their kids about what they watch, you know what I mean?

PS: Oh, absolutely.

KP: That's where the issue is - a lot of parents not wanting to talk about things or trying to hide things for so long, and then their kids try to go figure it out themselves.

PS: Okay, preach! Let me find out you're about to have a YouTube series about parenting. I'll wait. [laughs] What about One on One do you think makes it so iconic and special to audiences?

"I think it's the fact that we had something on television where you could see us fighting against the negative stereotypes that were out there in the world."

KP: I think it's the fact that we had something on television where you could see us fighting against the negative stereotypes that were out there in the world. Mainly, you see a healthy relationship between a Black man and his daughter, and how involved he is in her life. And I think it's also relatable to everyone; men with daughters, daughters dealing with their dads and growing up. They can ask themselves, did you have to experience this with your daughter? And if you did, how did you make it through? As a young woman, did you have these experiences with your dad? And if you didn't get to experience that, you can see what it was like to do so because everyone has a different story. I feel like people were able to watch it because it was so realistic and pure-hearted fun.

ONE ON ONE, Robert Ri'chard, Sicily, Kelly Perine, Kyla Pratt, Flex Alexander, 2001-2006.  Paramount Television / Courtesy: Everett Collection
ONE ON ONE, Robert Ri'chard, Sicily, Kelly Perine, Kyla Pratt, Flex Alexander, 2001-2006. Paramount Television / Courtesy: Everett Collection

Image Source: Everett Collection

PS: Would you do a revival for One on One like you're doing for The Proud Family?

KP: I would love to be a part of a reboot for One on One, but I let everybody know if I do anything from the past, it has to be an upgrade. You know what I mean? It has to be done correctly. Flex and I talked about it recently, and it's always a possibility. I'm not saying that it's not a possibility, but we would have to do it the right way.

PS: Right. Never say never.

KP: Never say never!

PS: How would you say you've evolved since your debut at such a young age?

KP: I believe that I've evolved in many ways growing up in this industry. Luckily, I had a mom that didn't put the business side of things on me. It was a hobby, and it was fun for me to do. Now that I'm older, of course, it's a business and a hobby at the same time. It's something I fell in love with early. I've grown to understand that I'm not every character that I play. Everyone deserves to have their story told, and there are so many different people out there in the world. Sometimes I'll play a character that is completely different from me and it doesn't affect who I am as a person. When I was younger, I used to think, "I don't want to do that because I wouldn't do that." I had to grow up and realize it isn't about me. It's about telling the story of the person it was written about, and for the world to see their perspective.