Forget Prince Charming — geeks are the new cool. Just ask Sarah Hyland. The adorable Modern Family star is putting a few modern twists on the classic fairy tale formula in Disney Channel’s Geek Charming, premiering Nov. 11 at 8:00p ET/PT.
Hyland plays Dylan Shoenfield, the most popular junior at Woodlands Academy. When Dylan accidentally drops her “it” handbag into a fountain, geeky film student Josh Rosen (Hyland’s real-life boyfriend, Matt Prokop) comes to her rescue. To repay him, she agrees to be the subject of Josh’s latest documentary, believing it will help her win the Blossom Queen crown. Little does Dylan know that Josh actually intends to film a hard-hitting exposé about popularity as his entry for a scholarship contest.
When we caught up with Hyland over the phone, she and Prokop were cruising through the Chick-fil-A drive-thru for a late-afternoon snack. Between ordering the No. 1 and joking about Kanye West’s geekiness, she talked about her fun new flick.
You’ve had a busy few weeks with the Emmys and Modern Family’s premiere. Congratulations! How has it been for you?
Hyland: Yeah, it’s been crazy. It’s been really busy. One of the highlights would probably have to be meeting Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin, [True Blood's] Bill & Snookie, at the HBO after-party. Or winning Best Comedy. Or winning all the Emmys. (laughs)
In your new Disney Channel movie, Geek Charming, your character Dylan is described as a “high school princess.” How would you describe her?
Hyland: This “high school princess” persona she has, she’s created for herself, so for the first half of the movie, you really see her put on a character. It’s not the true Dylan Shoenfield that you think it is, I’m sure, for the first half of the movie. Any viewer would hate me watching it. Towards the end, you really see who she is, and what kind of person she is, and why she was acting the way she was.
How is Dylan different than the role you play on Modern Family, Haley?
Hyland: Well, they are kind of similar in a way. Haley is very… She’s popular and she’s into fashion and makeup. She doesn’t really have the money that Dylan Shoenfield has, but she definitely puts all of her allowance to anything vain and trendy. Dylan has crazy amounts of money, so much that she doesn’t even know what a bus is. But Dylan is actually secretly really smart, whereas Haley isn’t the brightest bulb. There are a lot more layers to Dylan than Haley. Haley’s pretty [straightforward]. She is who she is, and she has a good heart underneath, but that’s about it. There’s not a lot going up there, I think.
In this movie, you actually get to work with your real-life boyfriend. There have to be some good stories there. What were some of the best and worst parts about working with Matt?
Hyland: Well, the best is just that we got to spend a lot of time together. When I’m working on Modern, it’s a long day, and I just want to get home to my boyfriend and dog. With Geek Charming, if it was a long day, it was like, “well we’re already here together,” so that’s fine. Long hours weren’t really an issue for us just because we were already together all the time. And that was a lot of fun.
Were there any difficulties working with him?
Hyland: Probably when we’re fighting all the time (laughs).
Fighting on-camera or off-camera?
Hyland: On-camera. No it was funny because … our characters had to hate each other in the beginning of the movie. So it was a lot of fun, but sometimes it was hard. And, you know, there’s a scene where he’s carrying me. I was more aware. Like, I’m sorry if I’m hurting you. I was more aware of stuff like that.
This film seems to have a quirky, fun sense to it. Could you share one of your favorite scenes?
Hyland: One of my favorite scenes is actually when Dylan is showing Josh how to make an “everything-but-the-kitchen-sink” sundae. It goes into video mode because Josh is filming her and that’s when you really get to know Dylan and how goofy and silly she is.
That scene is actually the director, Jeffrey, he goes: “Make an ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ sundae. And don’t stop until I say ‘cut’.” So it was like a 15-20 minute take, of us being crazy. When you see that, that’s really just me being me. Basically I was just, I was just being me because it was a lot of fun. Just messing around. I had so many gummi bears that day! (laughs)
Every Disney movie seems to have a message, a lesson you learn at the end. What’s the take-away from Geek Charming?
Hyland: The moral of the story is to just really be true to yourself. And don’t try to be something that you’re not just because you think everybody else will like it. In the end, if you’re not yourself, people probably aren’t going to like you.
Is this movie anything like any experiences you had in high school?
Hyland: Not really. I went to a performing arts school. So, we didn’t have any of that kind of stuff. We didn’t have a Blossom Queen or football teams or soccer teams or anything like that. So, it wasn’t a lot like that. Everyone was pretty much popular at my school because it was really, really small. I didn’t really have the normal high school experience.
Is it tough for you, then, when you play a “typical” high school student?
Hyland: Oh no. There are so many high school movies out there that you watch them and, after so many, you kind of figure what it was like. And it’s kind of fun to be a part of something like that you never got to experience. That I would never have gotten to experience if it wasn’t for my career.
Can you tell us a little about Dylan’s wardrobe in the movie?
Hyland: Dylan’s personal style is really very, very fancy. Like, rich. It’s classy and put together. Like, she really thinks through everything she puts on. And she wears heels all the time. Even when she dresses up as a quote-unquote “geek,” she is wearing heels. The only time you don’t see her in heels is when she is barefoot because she’s in her bedroom getting dressed.
Is there a little bit of you in that at all?
Hyland: No. I only wear heels to events because I have to. Really, I love heels. I have a great appreciation for heels. I’ve lost all the muscles in my legs from dance to wear heels all the time now. So, I don’t know. I don’t really think as hard as Dylan to put stuff together. She thinks of scarves and earrings and necklaces and bracelets and rings and stuff. I hardly ever wear accessories. I wear one necklace that my boyfriend gave me for Christmas last year all the time. And that’s it. I’m not a big accessories person. I used to be. But now I’m too lazy. I’m not as thoughtful as Dylan. I’m too lazy to do anything like that.
In the movie, the princess falls in love with the geek, but aren’t geeks kind of the new cool?
Hyland: I think so. I’ve always been into that. But, you know, in the typical high school fashion, the populars stay with the populars and the geeks stay with the geeks. You kind of just have to believe in the movie and go with it and not expect what you expect from today’s trends.
What’s so appealing about a geeky guy?
Hyland: I mean, they’re smart. They are smart and they have goals. And they’re really into one thing. And being so passionate about anything is, I think, really attractive.
Do you have any favorite geeks?
Hyland: Kanye! (laughs) He’s a geek. He likes teddy bears. (low voice in the background “robots”) And robots!
Is that Matt in the background?
Hyland: (laughs) Yeah, that’s Matt in the background.
It’s a Donald… Do you know who Donald Glover is? From Community? The black guy? He does this standup routine where he’s like “There are no black geeks. Geeks are ‘in’ right now, but you know Kanye West? He’s a geek! He likes teddy bears. Barack Obama’s a geek!” He has this whole bit. (laughs)
A geek isn’t necessarily Urkel or anything, you know, they don’t wear their pants up to their belly buttons with suspenders and big thick glasses. They are into certain quirky things, so, yeah, technically, Kanye West is a geek. Robots and teddy bears! (laughs)
You seem pretty grounded. How are you staying out of tabloid trouble?
Hyland: Probably my boyfriend and my dog. (laughs) We like to stay in, and the most we go out is, like, to watch movies. We go out for friends’ birthday parties and stuff like that. But we’re not big club-goers.
You’ve been in the business for a long time, first as a child actor now as an adult. Have you noticed any differences in the roles that are coming your way or how you’re treated on the set?
Hyland: I’m still not really playing an adult yet. The oldest I’ve played is 18, but still in high school. So, yeah, I haven’t really noticed any difference. I’ll notice a difference when I’m playing a college student. That will be, that will be a big chapter in my life. College. (laughs)
What other projects do you have in the works?
Hyland: I just did a little Lion’s Gate film called Gay Dude. And me and Matt actually just did another movie together over the summer. Chris Colfer wrote a movie Struck by Lightning and we’re both gonna be in that.
Who is someone you would love to work with in the future?
Hyland: Hmm… Russell Brand. I think he’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met or the funniest people I’ve ever seen. I love Russell Brand. I think he’s fantastic. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of my favorite comedies.
Photo Credit: Bob D’Amico/2011 Disney Enterprises