Punky Brewster stars Soleil Moon Frye and Cherie Johnson shed happy tears ahead of Peacock revival

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Rosy Cordero
·4 min read
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Peacock

With more than three decades of history between them, Soleil Moon Frye and Cherie Johnson are ready to embrace a new future together.

The pair, who starred in the hit '80s sitcom Punky Brewster when they were kids, reunited on Saturday as part of a special SCAD aTVfestival panel hosted by EW to discuss the upcoming Peacock revival where they'll reprise their roles from the original. Happy tears were shed as they reminisced about their shared history while looking ahead to bringing "Punky Power" to a whole new generation.

"Punky is such a part of my heart forever and always. And I always said, even if I'm 88-years-old and people still want to call me Punky, I'll be thrilled and overjoyed," Frye explains. "For me, Punky has always been such a part of me and I never knew where Punky ended and I began. Cherie and I, our entire lives, there's been so much love and joy. It was really about playing make-believe and we always had so much love for it. It really feels like the world right now could use some Cherie and Punky Power. This is all just a dream come true."

Johnson found out about the revival just like everybody else, from social media. She received a call for Frye shortly after fans flooded her page asking if the news was true.

"I kept saying, 'I don't know? I don't think so?' They've been talking about Family Matters coming back for like four or five years now but I've never gotten that call," Johnson says. "Soleil calls me about half an hour later and she's like, 'You know it's true, right? Will you come back?' And I was like, 'Are you kidding me?'"

NBC/Everett Collection

Both Frye and Johnson's uncle David W. Duclon, the creator of Punky Brewster, signed non-disclosure agreements preventing them from sharing revival plans until the deal was done, keeping even Johnson in the dark.

"As a friend, [Soleil] is who you tell your secrets to because she won't say anything," Johnson reveals in full understanding why nobody told her sooner.

When Duclon wrote the show about a young orphan back in the '80s, he borrowed his niece's name for the character of Punky's best friend not knowing she'd end up playing her one day. The actress said she had to try out like everyone else.

"My uncle created the show though he didn't create it with me in mind," she explains. "He was just looking for a name to go with Punky, and what better name than Cherie? When he gave me the script he said, 'Read this, boo boo, and let me know what you think.' So I asked him, 'When are we going to work?' So he said, 'Oh, no baby. I go to work but you don't.' I convinced his wife at the time, they're divorced now, to take me to the audition. Sitting right there in the audience was [who would become] my best friend. After I was called in seven times, the president of NBC at the time Brandon Tartikoff told him, 'Hire your niece.'"

The pair took a quick trip back in time to their first day on the set of Punky Brewster when they were kids and compared it to the moment they shared when they saw each other again to shoot the revival. Yes, tears were shed.

"There was no difference between the very first day when we were six and five and when we were 45 and 44," Johnson shares.

Frye adds, "The days I remember on set was actually when we met at the auditions. She and I were just inseparable and we were having so much fun. I remember drawing and just telling inappropriate stories to each other [then] to see how hard we could make each other laugh. Now, I remember the first day reuniting with her after not seeing each other... It's like one of those things where even though we haven't seen each other for certain periods of time when we've come back together it's like no days have passed. [For the revival], I waited by the elevator for her to come off and every time it was someone else, I was so anxious! I was just so excited. And then the moment that I wrapped my arms around her for the first time after all these years, I cried like a baby."

A moment that stands out for Johnson was being back in Punky's treehouse on her birthday, confirming the sanctuary will be back in the revival.

"I looked at her and said, 'Soleil, I'm standing in the treehouse with you.' Then I started crying right before we shot this scene because I guess as a kid, I took it for granted that I got to see her every day. And now, for my biggest birthday present ever, to be standing with her in the treehouse again at 45-years-old meant everything."

All ten episodes of the first season of Punky Brewster will be released via Peacock on Feb. 25.

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