When you hear that an extremely talented and picture-perfect teenage girl is playing twins with polar-opposite personalities on a squeaky clean Disney Channel TV show, you might think, "Uh-oh." How long until she’s twerking away her paychecks and spilling her guts to Oprah on a post-rehab spectacular?
But everyone can relax: We spent a day on the set of Disney's "Liv and Maddie," and we can happily confirm that the kid, aka star Dove Cameron, is all right. Dove plays prissy Hollywood transplant Liv, who returns home after five years in L.A. to rejoin her twin sister Maddie, a basketball player/tomboy, along with her two younger brothers and her parents. Dad (Benjamin King) is the girls' basketball coach, and Mom (Kali Rocha) is a guidance counselor. So boundaries are, you know, kind of out the window.
Though Liv and Maddie are identical twins, the show is more about family and friendship, which is great news for the talented cast as well as the audience. Here are six lessons we learned on the "Liv and Maddie" set.
Dove is grounded.
We asked Dove what it's like to be the New Big Disney Star. "Honestly, I am a little skeptical that I have these fans," she laughed. "There’s something a little magical about Disney Channel, specifically. It reaches such a broad audience. It’s overwhelming. I get so wrapped up in this project because it’s literally my whole life. It’s literally everything to me."
Dove is so wrapped up in shooting that she didn't even see Disney vet Miley Cyrus's performance at the VMAs. “I was making dinner with my boyfriend at the time,” Dove told us. “I think that honestly she’s in a very interesting circumstance, where everything she does is being watched and filmed and commented on. I think she’s a wonderful performer and she has a lot of talent. I have not had the pleasure of meeting her, but I hope to one day, and I think she should be free to express herself artistically.”
It's a "ridiculously happy set."
Dove says she was “raised on the Lindsay Lohan movie 'The Parent Trap,'" which helps when you get a job playing twins. And she also got a little help from director Andy Finkman, who gave her a box set of "The Patty Duke Show." “That was more relevant, mostly because it was television and that’s a completely different beast, a much faster pace,” Dove said. “Television is much more laborious.”
Indeed. We watched Dove and Kali Rocha, who plays her mom Karen, do several takes of a funny scene with an old-fashioned washboard. In between takes, Dove would sometimes slip into song. “It’s kind of an unconscious thing,” she confessed. “And it’s obnoxious and everyone probably hates it on set. I’m constantly singing. That’s been my means of expression since I was little.”
On the contrary, her castmates love her singing. Rocha said it's a "ridiculously happy set," and that they sometimes get together to make up "ridiculous songs, which are not kosher for Disney." Those ditties will stay off-camera but Rocha promises that her other talents — "flutes, batons, and flag-twirling" — will be on display for the TV audience.
And everyone on set is crazy for Dove's mom, Bonnie. Benjamin King, who plays Liv and Maddie's dad, said he loves to look out and see her smiling.
Dove's TV parents are super-protective.
“I never worry about Dove,” said Rocha. “I think she’s incredibly levelheaded, sort of a phenomenon. She has an amazing mother. She’s not gonna have any problem staying in her shoes and knowing exactly which way is up. She’s awesome.”
King couldn't stop raving, either: “You just know when you’re in the presence of something great. Dove works so hard. I never hear her complain. She’s kind of teaching us what the rewards are when you pour in so much.”
Meet the whole family in this "Liv and Maddie" sneak peek:
They play well with others (i.e. guest stars!)
King also loves acting — especially with guest stars. “I can tell you that we had a superstar basketball player who was recently a Laker and became a Houston Rocket,” he said. “Dwight Howard! I’m a Lakers fan. It’s very easy to buy into the press machine that he’s a bad guy for leaving our team. But after 45 minutes hanging out, I was like, I’m now partially a Houston Rockets fan. He’s actually very funny, and he was very gracious.”
We will also get to meet Liv and Maddie's flamboyant aunt... eventually. Rocha told us that we will meet her Hollywood-based sister, who was caring for Liv for the past five years. “It’s somebody amazing,” she teased. “Somebody you can picture living in L.A. and showing her the high life and taking care of her.” Shall we all cross our fingers for Jennifer Coolidge?
And that's not all. Tenzing Norgay Trainor (who plays the youngest Rooney, Parker) is wild about the wild guest stars. Literally: tarantulas. "That was my first time ever seeing one in real life,” he said during a study break on set. “They’re pretty cool. I wish I could have one as a pet."
Dove's little brothers are awesome.
They've been working together a while now, so it's no surprise that Liv says she and Tenzing and Joey Bragg (Joey Rooney) are like real-life siblings. There's jocular fighting, a little wrestling, and (of course) teasing.
Tenzing is picking up some of his humor from his big bro Joey, who is a veteran stand-up comic at the age of thirteen. (Whoa.) Fortunately, Joey is still a kid, undecided about his bar mitzvah plans. “I could do a Star Wars theme,” he mused. “Harrison Ford being grumpy at my bar mitzvah could be fun.” He also cleared something up for us regarding Dove’s physical transformation. “She’s actually 13 and Jewish and a boy,” he deadpanned. “The makeup is genius.”
Dove goes day by day.
Maybe it's because she was raised part-time in India and calls the country her "second home," but Dove has a very meditative way about her, which is helpful when you're in and out of hair and makeup for hours at a time.
“Some episodes are particularly twin-heavy,” she told us. “The most we had was six changes a day, which was madness. Usually we try to stick to one or two changes. We’ll try and do all of Liv’s stuff, and then all of Maddie’s stuff, except in an episode where there are lots of twin scenes together. We have to shoot that all at once so I’ll be flipping constantly.”
We're dizzy just thinking about it, and Dove is, too. “It’s really disorienting and strange,” she reflected. “But then seeing two of me was kind of scary. I mean, I can’t handle that much of me. I would get sick of me! There are very few actors who have been in my position and get to experience this much of a challenge, so it’s fun for me. This doesn’t feel like work.”
"Liv and Maddie" premieres Sunday, September 15 at 8 p.m. on Disney Channel.