'HSMTMTS': Matt Cornett on Gina & E.J.'s Finale Moment and Season 3 Wishes (Exclusive)
Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you have not watched the season 2 finale of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. Here's what creator Tim Federle had to say about the ending and a potential season 3.
Love is in the air on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series!
After a season of wrong turns, misunderstandings and a blossoming friendship, Gina (Sofia Wylie) took the plunge and ran after E.J. (Matt Cornett) in the season 2 finale, boldly asking the East High senior if he could be her first kiss. His big smile said it all as the two ran toward each other. Though viewers don't see the moment onscreen, creator Tim Federle assured that the milestone is now canon: "We can definitely confirm that." But even though Gina and E.J. are definitely more than friends now, their story is just getting started -- the complications of E.J.'s post-East High life, Gina's uncertain future -- will surely add to whatever they decide to be romantically (or not).
As Federle told ET of the unexpected pairing, "The actors themselves have such chemistry with each other and are such close friends, and Sofia contains such depth... For E.J., who went on such a season of self-discovery when he got rejected from [Duke and later accepted] and realized, 'Oh, maybe life is not going to go exactly as I planned,' I think he really opened himself up to the strength and bravery that Gina has that he hasn't seen in other people."
With the final episode of the season streaming now on Disney+, ET hopped on the phone with Cornett to discuss the climactic finale moment between E.J. and Gina, what he'd like to explore if they do begin dating in a potential season 3 and what his character's future holds now that Duke is no longer in the picture.
ET: Before we get into the finale, how has it felt having two seasons under your belt of the show, and do you feel like it has hit its stride?
Matt Cornett: Yeah, I think for sure. As with any project, when you first start it, it's a little nerve-racking because every show has to kind of find its stride. And the beginning of the first season of any show, it's a difficult process in the sense of finding the tone of the show and just the way the show is going to run and the way things are going to be done. The awesome thing with us, we're lucky enough to have had two seasons so far. After the first season, coming back for season 2, it came back as a very well-oiled machine because we had already done this for a full season. We knew how everybody worked and we had the same crew, same producers, same everything, same locations. So it was like we knew what we were doing and how we ran things around set. Then also, just with the fact that season 1 had already aired, we knew what the fans liked and what the fans wanted and what the fans didn't want, so we knew what to focus on, character development and story development, and how to play certain jokes and certain songs. Also, as an actor playing a character, the longer you play a character, the easier it is to play that character. You get used to knowing how that character would say the line that is on the page and how they would react to certain situations that are written.
How did you feel about E.J. In season 2 versus season 1? At the start of the season 1, he was very much the stereotypical jock who is the adversary to Ricky. And then in season 2, there were more layers to him than you thought.
Everything is done on purpose. I always say, "E.J. 1.0 versus E.J. 2.0." because you're right, they're very different people. They had a full first season of E.J. being the stereotypical jock and getting himself in trouble, and, at times, getting upset at things that he shouldn't be getting upset at and being a problem causer in certain areas of season 1. To then make that character arc stronger for season 2, to where he comes back and because of everything that he's been through and because of the people around him. He says in, I believe it's episode 10, a lot of his change has come from Nini and comes from his relationship with meeting Nini and breaking up with Nini and knowing that he has to find himself in himself and through the support of his friends. I think that's really important. Everything was done so meticulously and perfectly and thought out so well by everyone on the writing team and our producers and Disney. I think it's also important to think, if E.J. was this sweet guy that he is in season 2 and a little more goofy in season 1, then it wouldn't make him, personally, as interesting to watch in season 2. And vice versa. If he came back in season 2 and was the exact same person he was in season 1, it just wouldn't be nearly as fun to watch that character development.
Let's dig into the finale because there are some intriguing turns for E.J., especially with regard to his blossoming relationship with Gina, the seeds of which were sort of planted in season 1. But season 2 it really came to fruition. Were you surprised that the writers took these two characters in?
I said at one point in season 1 -- I believe it was after E.J. and Nini broke up -- I was like, "Mark my words, E.J. and Gina will get together." I feel they kind of deal with the same things. They both feel the need, at least in season 1, to be this perfect person and show that they are top dog and show that they can be the lead. They need to be the lead. Coming to season 2, because of this amazing group, it brought them down to earth and made them a little more humble and real people, and made them realize that it's OK to be yourself, it's OK to not have everything put together. I think they're very similar people. And I think because of that, they come together so beautifully. When they're together, I feel like they're so goofy and happy, and that's the first time you really, truly see true happiness from both of them in the show.
I personally loved the way it's been written. I love the misleads and everything like that, in the sense of building the anticipation of maybe there being something there. And then, oh, finally, E.J. has the guts to say something and ask for a date. And then, Jamie comes in and says something to scare E.J., so he pushes back. And then the finale, where you finally get what people, hopefully, have really been wanting and that is for E.J. and Gina both to know from each other that this is real and this is what they want and they really, really do like each other. It's been so much fun. I love Sofia Wylie so much. She's such an incredible human being, so it's been a blast getting to play this with her.
What are you hoping for, especially if you do get a season 3? What are you curious about for you in terms of their relationship?
There's tons to think about. It's tough because we have no clue what the future of not only the show right now but also just characters. You have no clue where everyone's going. Is Gina going to stay with Ashlyn? Is she going to keep staying with Ashlyn? Is her mom going to come back? What is E.J. up to? Where's everyone going? And it's kind of crazy to think about that because there's just so much, which I know Tim Federle has plans for everyone, so I'm not worried at all if we were to go back for a third season. It's an exciting thought to think about getting to continue that storyline. There's a lot that could be seen. It would be really great to get to see more of them together and see them open up to each other because that would really bring their relationship together even more.
One of the most fun scenes was the scene on the couch, right after E.J. found out from his dad that he did get into Duke and then having that realization that he didn't want to get into Duke because of somebody else. He wanted to get into Duke because he got into Duke, not because somebody helped him get into Duke. That was such a fun scene because it was raw and genuine and real, and you really saw these two people connect on a deep level. I'm hoping for a little bit more of those conversations because E.J. has so much backstory in his life and Gina has as well. Gina's moved 30,000 times. There's so much to think about and talk about between the two of them, so they can truly, hopefully make this progression and really, truly know each other better.
You shared a memorable scene with Jordan Fisher in episode 11 where Jamie thanks E.J. for being a big brother figure to Gina. What was it like working with Jordan and filming that?
First of all, Jordan Fisher is such an awesome dude. I'm shocked I'd never met him or known him before because I have so many mutual friends with him. I'm very lucky to get to say that he's a good friend now, and he's such a great guy. I have nothing but amazing things to say about Jordan. Funny fact actually, that scene with Jordan was the very first scene I shot in all of my Gaston makeup. I remember the first time I met Jordan, I was already in my Gaston makeup. He was like, "Oh, wow. Look at you." And I was like, "Jordan, I promise this is not what I looked like all the time. These eyebrows are fake. This is fake. Everything, the sideburns." I was so worried that Jordan was going to think that that's how I actually looked. I don't know why. Maybe that was my inner E.J. coming out and letting everyone know that I don't actually look crazy. (Laughs.)
That scene was so much fun because E.J. was just so excited to get to meet someone in Gina's family because he started to build this relationship with Gina. And I think he was excited to finally get to meet somebody that she had talked about and somebody that he's got to hear about from her life, which I think would, in turn, make E.J. feel a little closer to Gina, getting to know that he's gotten to meet her brother, her mom or whoever it is from her family. That's what makes it such a big turn. Jamie says, "I'm glad she has a big brother figure in her life," because this whole time leading up to this, E.J. has truly felt that there's something there. And he has, I think, finally worked up the nerve to say something because this was after he asked Gina out for risotto. He was really confident that this was something great. And then immediately, when he hears that, he starts thinking, "Oh no, did I do it again? Did I really go too far because I think too much? Did I really think this was something that it wasn't? Did I misread this?" I think that worries him. That brings him back to almost the first season version of himself, where he starts to put up walls and deflects and tries to protect himself, which, in turn, hurts Gina. There are just so many layers to that. It was definitely interesting having to pick those apart.
E.J. is a senior and he's not going to Duke. What does his future hold?
That is a great question, and I have no clue. I honestly don't know. I've talked to Tim a little bit about it, but not really too much because I don't want to think too far ahead. I know Tim Federle and the writing staff have so many great ideas and they're all so incredibly talented at what they do and so creative. Yes, he got into Duke, but he also comes back to his dad and says, "I'm not going to Duke," because he doesn't want to get into Duke that way. He doesn't want to get into this dream school that way. He wants to get in because he did it and that's a big thing for him -- that he's finally realized he wants to be in control of his success. I think it's so much more important that you work for something and earned it yourself, rather than having it handed to you because it just makes it mean so much more. And your hard work has paid off. So we'll see what the future holds. I have no clue and hopefully, fingers crossed, we get to go back for season 3 and we get to figure that out.
High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is streaming now on Disney+. For more, watch below.
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