Imagine the happiest place on Earth. If you thought of Disneyland, then all its promotions are working. But in the case of MTV’s new series, the happiest place on Earth is known as HAPPYLAND. It is a theme park where there are princes and princesses, giant stuff animals, roller coasters and just everything that an amusement park should have to entertain thousands of children and their parents every day of the year. But to those that work there, Happyland is just a job; a job that they all desperately try to hold onto in these tough economic times. Plus, as they have discovered, it is rather nice to be working amongst friends — or even with a relative or two.
The princess in the HAPPYLAND fairytale is a young overworked park coordinator, Lucy (Bianca Santos). She has the good fortune, or misfortune, of working at Happyland with her mother, Gloria (Camille Guaty), who has been a princess at the park for longer than either cares to remember. Adding to Lucy’s entertaining world, behind-the-fairytale-scenes, are her steadfast friends and co-workers: Will (Cameron Moulene), Harper (Katherine McNamara) and newcomer Ian (Shane Harper). Then there’s Theo (Ryan Rottman), son of the owner of the park.
Life is certainly never boring in HAPPYLAND and, as romance blooms, there just may be a devilish twist of fate that makes everything seem a bit more forbidden and yet desirable at the same time; so Lucy needs to be very careful what she wishes for.
In an exclusive interview, stars Katherine McNamara, Ryan Rottman and Cameron Moulene talked about their fun-loving roles on HAPPYLAND:
It seems like HAPPYLAND is about characters embracing the fun side of life. Are they or is there more to the story?
KATHERINE: It is. These characters really live in the moment and they do not necessarily think about the consequences of their actions, which makes for great television as they make a mess of their lives.
CAMERON: I think the show is very true to life in that it touches on the human condition and what it would be like for teenagers while working at an amusement park under the circumstances that we do on the show.
RYAN: After filming this, I kind of want to work at a theme park now.
CAMERON: (Laughs) You’d want to be in management, not in the hot costume, like I was.
RYAN: I’d definitely want to direct people around, but still see what is going on. So I guess it’s a really good thing I’m an actor then.
Tell me about your characters and what we’re going to like about them.
CAMERON: I play Will Armstrong and the best way to describe him is: he is the best friend you are ever going to have. If he is on your side. He will have your back to the very end. But he is kind of complacent in the sense that he’s grown up — well, there’s a dichotomy in the show in that there are the affluent who live in Dazzle and the more blue-collar who live in the Brick. Will lives in the Brick and Happyland is his life. It is his only job, and he and his best friend Lucy have grown up there living in the Brick. Lucy has aspirations to go off and do things in the world, but those have kind of died for Will. He is really just set on working at Happyland. He also has some strong feelings for Lucy that he doesn’t talk about because she’s his best friend and it would make it kind of weird and also because he has a girlfriend, Harper.
KATHERINE: It would be kind of weird.
CAMERON: (Laughs) Will is a conflicted young man. He’s just trying to figure it all out.
KATHERINE: I play Harper Monroe. She is a really fun, flamboyant girl who can be your best friend, but she can also be your worst enemy. She’s very driven and she doesn’t let anybody get in her way when she fixates on something that she wants. She’s the best girlfriend you’ll ever have. She’ll bring you ice cream if you have a bad break up or she’ll paint your nails ’til 2:00 a.m. in the morning and braid every strand of your hair, if you want. But, if cross her, you should watch your back. She has a very interesting relationship with Lucy in that she gives her the best advice and the worse advice at the exact same time. It sort of stems from a sort of rocky foundation to their relationship. Harper started dating Will and then had to be friends with his best friend. It is the best friend/girlfriend weirdness. Lucy and Harper are navigating it okay, but when Harper moves to the more affluent side of Dazzle, she has to sort of reassess everything and where she is headed and how Will fits into that. That causes a rift in their relationship, and that causes her to reassess things with Lucy as well. So there’s this huge socio-economic divide between these two communities: Brick and Dazzle. It causes a huge issue for them.
You mean to say that Harper is going to let go of her hunky boyfriend just because of some social-divide?
KATHERINE: (Laughs) I don’t know WHAT she’s thinking! Trust me, I would have written it differently. But it’s not my choice.
And what can you share about Theo? Who is he and how does he fit into the HAPPYLAND world?
RYAN: Theodore is a bit of a hard-ass and he’s a very authoritative type. He kind of keeps everyone in check. But his main focus also is to try to keep his family together and to watch out for them at any cost. He gets into a bunch of shenanigans, but ultimately he’s a family man. His father owns the park and he works with his brother Ian at the park. Theo feels he has to keep Ian in check and it is not really what he wants to be doing. But he is protective of all of them because he knows things. He’s the holder of their secrets and has the keys to everything. He just tries to maneuver himself around enough to be able to control all the situations to his liking. To use a Dungeons & Dragons analogy, Theodore is the dungeon master.
So how does Lucy fit into each of your characters’ lives? She seems to be the focal point on the show, so where do your characters intersect with her?
Katherine: We all work at Happyland, so we all see each other at work. Harper and Lucy were sort of acquaintances ’til Harper started dating Will. But Lucy is the best girlfriend that Harper has. So they are always there for each other. There are many scenes where they are just sitting around girl-talking. Those are my favorite scenes with Bianca. We just have so much fun ’cause that’s what we do in real life too. Then there are bits of time for some shenanigans.
CAMERON: For Lucy and Will, they have been best friends since they were in kindergarten. They probably went to the same school the entire time. There is just so much history there that as they got older, puberty took over and they started to develop feelings for other people. Then Will started to realize: “Wait, I really love this person.” But it is hard for him to bring it up because it is uncomfortable when he realizes he loves his best friend. I think that will be an interesting element that I think audiences will pick up on and we did a good job with, hopefully. There’s some depth to it.
RYAN: (Laughs) I interact with Lucy on a hard-ass level as the dungeon master and making sure that I, as Theodore, steer her in the direction I want her to go so she doesn’t threaten the empire. She ust could be that one piece that if you pull on it, everything falls. So Theodore is watchful and knows a lot more than he lets on. To him, they are all his employees and he just wants Lucy gone — out of Happyland. She’s a threat to his family and he just wants her gone.
CAMERON: Will’s initial reaction to Theodore is that he just doesn’t like him. He doesn’t like this new authority, this new guy who thinks he is going to take over the whole thing. Will knows the park and he is very proud of the fact that there is one thing he knows and that is Happyland. So there’s a friction that goes on between Theodore and Will.
What kinds of antics do they get involved in? Are we talking fun-loving shenanigans or do things get a little dark?
CAMERON: There’s a good blend. We don’t go very dark and we don’t go over the top either. But there is some real stuff we deal with.
I’m having visions of someone hanging by their duct-taped ankles off a roller-coaster.
CAMERON: (Laughs) Oh no. There’s none of that.
RYAN: Well, wait a minute. You’ll have to stay tuned! There are some very funny scenes between Will and Theodore. The audience is going to love the relationship between them. They will hate the way Theodore treats them, but they might start to realize it’s all out of love for his family and that is why he treats them the way he does.
CAMERON: What the show really captured is what the worst case scenarios could be in a theme park. About halfway through the season, there’s one instance where the worst possible thing happens and Theodore and Will have to deal with it. I can’t tell you anything more, but tune in for that.
KATHERINE: Another thing that is great about our show is that none of the characters are what they seem. Every character has other facets, depth and vulnerabilities that you do not see on the surface. So as the season progresses, you get to see those other colors and you kind of have a love-hate relationship with every character. Every character is going to make you want to scream at the screen at some point. But you’ll root for them too.
What is one moment that you are most proud of your character?
KATHERINE: There is a moment toward the end of the season where Harper makes a choice to commit to a friendship and really being true to that friendship. It causes a shift in her and she makes fewer mistakes.
CAMERON: It’s hard to look at a character that I’ve played like that ’cause I don’t want to judge him. But I think Will is a very proud guy, just in general. He’s got principles and he sticks to them. So if someone attacks his friend, he’s got their back in a second. If he feels like someone is invading his element that he knows the best and it might jeopardize his job or his work environment, he speaks up. So I think it’s just general pride that Will carries with him, even though he is not some affluent kid who can throw money around and drive a Range Rover. He’s got backbone. He’s got hutzpah. He’s a good guy. He’s just a solid guy.
RYAN: The proudest thing I feel about Theo is just his loyalty. He stays true to his agenda and his family throughout the entire season. That is what I’m most proud of for his character. As for a specific scene, maybe when he allows Will to come in and help when he needs it.
CAMERON: Theo is always a step ahead of everyone else.
RYAN: Yeah, but it was a big step for him to break a wall down and actually allow somebody to help him.
How would you describe the show to viewers who might be interested in tuning in?
RYAN: I’d say it’s just a chance to get insight into a world that we never get to see. We knew nothing about this world, but once I learned about it, I found it so intriguing. You just want to find out more about it. So I find it intriguing and fascinating and think others will too. The under-belly of it. Like the dark-side of a prince.
KATHERINE: What’s great about the show is that it talks about so many of the issues that teens go through, whether it is relationship-drama, parent-drama, or first jobs or college applications, but it is set in this absurd and very vivid and odd setting. It kind of adds a new element, a different point of view and a different perspective.
CAMERON: What I love most about the show is we are in this golden age of television and it is becoming clear that audiences are demanding more human-element opposed to this over-fantasized world. So HAPPYLAND is a teen-drama about characters that do not get the recognition they deserve. What the show has done is satirized a wide array of socio-economic issues and very valid and important themes that every person experiences when they are growing up, and they have masked it in this very satirical, fluffy HAPPLAND world. It shows you that everything is not as it appears. It addresses theme of where images and vanity is prevalent, and rich kids sometimes have the upper hand just naturally. Yet it makes it funny and dynamic. It is a really smart show that people are going to like.
KATHERINE: It is very smart. It is a dramedy in a sense. It has these really intense dramatic moments and situations with very smart comedy. It just brightens it up enough and has that nice balance.
So what about those costumes? How hard was it to wears some of those?
CAMERON: Let me tell you what is not fun. It is sitting out in 95 degree heat in a furry suit, where it feels like a furry sauna. That’s what I did for a couple of the episodes. So there are costumes. There are big furry costumes. We have a character called Ricky Raccoon and he’s the mascot of the park, and one of the jobs at the park is you have to play Ricky. As an actor, it’s a really tough thing to do. Shane’s character Ian wears the Ricky suit once and fails, then he turns out to be a Prince Valor.
RYAN: I was happy with my suit.
CAMERON: (Laughs) Oh yeah, you got to wear that sexy suit all day.
RYAN: I wore fitted suits. It was great.
KATHERINE: Harper’s job at the park is one of those annoying photographers, who says, “Here’s your picture. Would you like to pay $29.95 for the photo package?” But I actually got to take a lot of fun behind-the-scenes pictures because they gave me a working camera. So I would take pictures all the time. I was the on-set paparazzi.
RYAN: You really should have had a costume double.
CAMERON: We talked about it. But they really wanted me to experience it as an actor. I did kind of appreciate it as an actor.
KATHERINE: (Laughs) It allowed you to really connect with Will’s struggle, physically and emotionally.
After working on HAPPYLAND, would you ever want to work at a theme park?
RYAN: Been there, done that.
KATHERINE: If I could work with the same people, oh yeah.
CAMERON: I could maybe work there maybe a day. That would be fun.
To meet all their zany characters, be sure to tune in for the hilarious, yet heart-warming premiere of HAPPYLAND on Tuesday, September 30th at 11:00 p.m. on MTV (following all new episodes of AWKWARD. and FAKING IT).