Sofia Carson is obviously no stranger to writing and creating music; she’s been doing it for years. But that doesn’t mean she wasn’t scared out of her mind to help write original songs for the entire soundtrack of “Purple Hearts.”
“I mean, I was terrified. My mom can attest to that, I called her crying multiple times,” Carson told TheWrap with a laugh. “It was like, who thought that I could do this? Who trusted me to do this? I’ve never written a soundtrack before!”
The Netflix film, streaming now, tells the story of Cassie and Luke (Nicholas Galitzine), who enter a military contract marriage despite hating each other on first meeting. She’s a budding music artist, and he’s headed off to his first tour as a marine. The thing is, Cassie’s a Type 1 diabetic who doesn’t have health insurance, and Luke is a recovering addict who owes his former dealer a lot of money. By getting married, Cassie gets Luke’s military insurance benefits, and Luke gets an extra stipend each month to help cover expenses while he’s deployed. So, though they can’t stand each other, the two strike a deal to help each other out.
Why can’t they stand each other? Well, Cassie is very much a liberal woman, and Luke is a by-the-books conservative man, who initially judges Cassie pretty hard for even mentioning the idea of a fake marriage. They have completely different world views and completely different ways of handling things. Where Luke is very put together and polished, Cassie is loose and free. And though that creates tension in the story itself, their clashing views helped Carson a lot in crafting the songs Cassie would sing.
“I had been living with this person with this young woman for four years — with her story, with her thoughts, her fears, with their love story — in my heart,” Carson explained. “And so I think in the process of writing the music, it helped me to become Cassie that much more.”
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Carson has dubbed Cassie her “greatest challenge as an actor,” noting that, to really find Cassie within herself, she had to fully “surrender” to the character. “And it was one of the most beautiful experiences that I’ve had as an actor,” she adds.
You can check out TheWrap’s full interview with Sofia Carson below. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Sofia, I think the universe really enjoys when we talk because I was driving home from a friend’s last night, and the very last song on the radio before I pulled into my driveway was “Sweet Caroline.”
No way! That is so cool.
Yes! So tell me how that got placed in the film. How did you decide that was the cover you wanted to kick things off with?
You know, it was — being behind the scenes of the music process and the soundtrack was so exciting. And I had the most incredible team. You know, Netflix trusted me to pick my writing partner. I sent the script to Justin Tranter, he fell in love with it, with Cassie, with the message that she represented. And we jumped into this journey together. And of course, we wrote original songs but we also got the chance to do two really cool covers. And we knew that, you know, the first cover was going to be the first time that anyone sees Cassie.
However, we wanted to kind of begin her evolution because when we meet her she isn’t singing the original songs just yet. That takes some time for her to find the bravery to kind of bring her honesty and truth to the microphone. And we also wanted to set the stage that she was singing at a bar in a military town, and she also had to sing a song that kind of cater to that audience. And “Sweet Caroline” was just perfect. Anytime it comes on, everyone wants to jump in and sing. It’s kind of celebratory, and we did a version that was kind of sexy and kind of rock and roll and very Cassie. And it was one of the most fun scenes that we had shooting at the bar, and singing it, and shooting “Sweet Caroline.”
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We really worked a lot on the vocal because I wanted it to sound kind of unique and different. And I think it really came to life in a good way.
It did! Now of course, it has been a journey for you on “Purple Hearts.” It’s been a long time coming, and is now finally going to the world. Have you processed? What emotional state are you in at this point?
I don’t know if I’ve fully processed. It’s such an interesting world that we live in, as artists, because like you said, this has been years in the making. For me, it’s been five years. For one of our producers Les, it’s been 10 years since he first heard on the radio the story of military contract marriages that inspired this story. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this film. And I’ve been involved in it in a way that I never had before as an artist. And so it’s surreal. Because all the moments and the scenes and the songs that I have dreamt of for five years are shot, they’re edited, they’re in the movie, and now we get to kind of release our baby into the world.
I had the premiere two nights ago. And my mom described seeing me as she felt like I was almost floating. And Liz and I kept saying — Liz, my director and my partner everything in this — that she kind of felt like she was here, but she wasn’t. It kind of all feels a little bit out of body, I think, so I don’t know when it’s going to, you know, hit us that it’s happening.
Well, what I love about Cassie is she’s, I would argue, if not the most, one of the most mature roles you’ve had to date.
Oh, for sure.
She’s very fleshed out as a person. Tell me about playing that aspect, because she’s so different than anything you’ve done.
Cassie was my greatest challenge as an actor to date, and I admire her so much. I am so grateful to Liz, who was such a fighter for truth and honesty in every aspect of this film. Of course, the core of it is our performances as actors and you know, we would not quit until the words that came out of my mouth felt like mine. And that’s kind of what happened. I had the honor of being able to live with Cassie, [and] help create her for four years before I kind of physically became her.
And we worked so hard to make sure that Cassie was so unique, and so specific, and so different from Sofia and my mannerisms — the way that I walked, the way that I spoke, the way that I carried myself on stage. I, for months, did an immense amount of research on every aspect of her life that would have informed the woman that Cassie is, from immigration, to the immigrant experience in San Diego, to Type 1 diabetes, to the military, the military culture, to Oceanside. I journaled her entire life from her first memory to the day that we met her.
It felt like I had, in a way, lived life in her shoes, and seen the world through her eyes. And I think that allowed me to really dive into her skin, because I was so scared. I just wanted to do her story justice because it needed to be told so vulnerably. And I think Cassie being as fearless as she is, reminded me that I had to be fearless too and to just let go and dive into this role.
What was the hardest part of her to find, for you?
You know, we’re very different. I think we’re very similar in a lot of ways, like her passion for justice is very similar to mine, her love of music, of course. But Cassie is like — she’s messy, you know? She’s unpredictable, she’s tough, she’s unafraid to say exactly what she thinks when she thinks that regardless of the consequences. And Liz really tried to kind of shake — because I’m more polished, and more put together, I think through things much more. And Cassie, is not that. She’s like the antithesis of me.
So Liz had to kind of like, shake that out of me in order to become Cassie. And of course, even physically, the transformation helped as well, because I had [tattoos] that I got to pick which was so cool. You know, her clothes, her style, I was very involved in picking to make sure it was like kind of rock and roll, kind of an ode to the 70s, kind of tomboyish not very feminine. So I think all of that helped to really bring her to life.
And then of course, the core of it was her world view, which had to be so different from Nick’s, and so different from Luke’s and that came from, I think, the research that I did in the deep dive that I made into Cassie. But I had to surrender. And it was one of the most beautiful experiences that I’ve had as an actor.
Talking of similarities, one thing that stuck out to me is the reaction she has when her song is really starting to go viral, and her lyrics are really taking off. As I was watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder if that is just like past Sofia, when your music really started taking off and started to hit. Did that inform the moment at all?
That’s present Sofia as well! So definitely, it is cool to be able to use your own experiences and to draw from that as an actor. But yeah, I think you’re right, past Sofia, because for instance, the first time that I heard my song on the radio, is kind of what Cassie is feeling too. Which is really, really beautiful to kind of live that through her eyes.
One of the other things I love about the story is just the commentary on the healthcare system, the reasoning behind why this marriage happens. Talk to me about the discussions that happened there behind the scenes. How pessimistic did you want to be versus — you know, is it pessimism? Or is it realism?
I would say that what we strived for was realism. And I hope that we accomplished that. It was incredibly important to me and Liz to be very specific, with type one diabetes in particular. I am so proud that our lead character is a type one diabetic, because diabetes is far too underrepresented in film and media. And in the process of becoming Cassie, I wanted to study what it means to be a type one diabetic, what the community goes through, what the day-to-day life entails.
And so I, of course, spoke to multiple medical professionals and I spoke to one young woman in particular whose name is Laura, who has a social media account called Not Your Type. She spoke to me in depth, and we had multiple calls about, truly, the injustices within the system and, just, it’s heartbreaking. And that’s what we tried to tell. We tried to tell her story and the story of countless type one diabetics who, quite literally Andi, they can’t afford insulin, and without insulin, they die. It’s a simple as that. And the insurance doesn’t cover the insulin that they need, and so they’re forced to do these things in desperation like a contract military marriage because they need to live. So I hope that our story was told with the realism and the gravity that the situation requires.
I also want to get into the realism of the relationship between Cassie and Luke itself. You’ve got a very liberal woman who is now in a contract marriage with a conservative man. He calls her a lib, he calls her a snowflake. But she calls him on it every single time. At no point is she like, “Well, he says terrible things, but he’s pretty, I can see what he’s saying.”
Oh, no. From the first conversation she says toxic masculinity, misogyny, like, she calls them out from the very beginning. I think we really wanted to make these two people as different as possible to make their world views incredibly clear, so that the fact that these two people could see each other for more than just that, more than just politics, more than just red and blue, made it that much more powerful. And we had a lot of fun.
I think we dedicated most of our time to making this relationship as real as possible. And you know, there were so many moments of conflict, but then also a lot of moments of levity and realness, and kind of sexiness and flirtiness that was always tied into their differing world views. But it’s such a beautiful story, and such a powerful story. We really just kind of surrendered to to Cassie and Luke.
And no point is she like, fundamentally changed as a person. She doesn’t necessarily “come around” to what he says.
No, and neither is he, because that’s not realistic, either. They’re not changed, they just lead with compassion for the first time. They see each other past their differences and realize that perhaps, perhaps we have more that connects us than divides us.
I have to ask, were you bummed about being able to sing with Nicholas? Because we know he has a voice, we saw “Cinderella.”
Nicholas and I talked about that! It would have been so cool, it wouldn’t have made sense in the story. But who knows? One day.
Well, before we wrap, I do want to get into the songwriting as well. I’m always interested in the technical aspects of it, in the sense of like, you’re writing the songs through the lens of a character. So when you approach songwriting as Sofia, you’re approaching it one way, I imagine. And when you’re songwriting for Cassie, it has to be different. So how do you kind of find that line?
I mean, I was terrified. My mom can attest to that, I called her crying multiple times. It was like, who thought that I could do this? Who trusted me to do this? I’ve never written a soundtrack before! But believe it or not Andi, it was a very similar experience. Because, you know, when I write songs as Sofia, I dive into my heart to speak or sing my truths and in order to write songs for Cassie, and to bring her story to life, I had to dive into her heart. And I had been living with this person with this young woman for four years — with her story, with her thoughts, her fears, with their love story — in my heart. And so I think in the process of writing the music, it helped me to become Cassie that much more.
I drew from Cassie and from Luke in order to bring the songs to life and it was such a beautiful experience. We wrote the entire soundtrack, believe it or not, in one week. One week. “Hate the Way” was the first song that we wrote, and “Hate the Way,” I had started writing a couple of weeks before. I had most of the lyrics on my phone because that was, to me, exactly what Cassie and Luke felt. She hated how much she loved him, like, she did not want to love this man. But she couldn’t help it because her heart was no longer hers, it was his.
That was the first song that we wrote and it really set the tone for Cassie and for The Loyal because, first of all, it was important for Cassie to be very different from Sofia, musically, sonically. And you know, she’s indie. She’s rock. I’ve never done something like that before. When we recorded “Hate the Way” Justin was like, “You’ve never sung like that before. I think we found Cassie’s voice.” And it was so thrilling.
Then we wrote “Blue Side of the Sky,” which really sets the tone, I think, for our story and for our hero Cassie. And she has that tattooed on her forearm. The lyric says “I’ll never touch the blue side of the sky” because she spent her whole life fighting. Fighting for justice within an unjust system for — whether it’s immigration, healthcare, for her dreams — and no matter how close it is, she can never touch the sky. And then we wrote “I Didn’t Know” which was magical to bring to life, and our hardest one to write was “Come Back Home.” I think we wrote almost three different versions of the song and the last one was, you know, the no-brainer. It was the one that stole all of our hearts.
“Purple Hearts” is now streaming on Netflix.