The stars and showrunner dish on the new season of the Disney+ musical comedy and hint at romance troubles for Gina and E.J.
The Wildcats are kicking off summer with camp adventures, new memories and, yup, Frozen! The new season of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is mere hours away from dropping on Disney+ and the cast was just as excited for fans to finally get a taste of their characters outside the halls of East High and to be able to see different sides now that they're deep in the meta musical comedy's run, which was already picked up for a fourth season.
"It's really cool being able to push the envelope. Not a lot of shows get to go to season 3, so we're very fortunate in that regard. To be able to push the boundaries and explore deeper on a lot of these characters," series star Joshua Bassett, aka Ricky, tells ET of the new episodes. "And bring up a lot of storylines that maybe we wouldn't have talked about in season 1 because we didn't have time, but now we can explore some more intricate nuances to life and theater kids and summer camp."
"There's so many fun twists and turns," the 21-year-old singer-actor teases, adding that moving to sunny Los Angeles to film season 3 "was a nice refresher for all of us." "I speak for the cast when I say that it felt like real summer camp. It was truly a blast. And I think there's a lot of magic in the season that people are really going to enjoy."
Co-star Matt Cornett, who plays E.J., agreed, saying that this season was meaningful for many different reasons -- "[it was the] entirety of us having fun and us living our best lives and enjoying every moment of it. I think you will perfectly see the fun and the enjoyment and the love that we put into this season. It was, overall, an incredible, incredible season." For Sofia Wylie, who portrays Gina, putting some of the Wildcats in a different environment other than high school intrigued her, hinting that the "switch... really shows in our behavior and demeanor this season."
But as summer camp heats up, so do the challenges that face the HSMTMTS crew -- and we're not talking about cramming for exams or racing to make theater practice on time.
"There's definitely a lot for E.J., specifically this season. This is the summer camp that E.J. grew up going to; this is the summer camp that Nini and E.J. met at. As he says in episode 1, it's his second home. There's things that immediately he's challenged with," Cornett previews, referring to E.J.'s abrupt appointment as director of the Frozen musical production at camp. "It brings this summer to a completely different path than he originally thought it was going to be. He starts to tackle that and trying to figure out how to balance, 'Well, this is how I wanted this summer to go and this is actually how it's going.' It's a really tough challenge for him."
Meanwhile, when the season begins, Ricky's in a bit of a crisis as he navigates the post-breakup blues after splitting with Nini and embarks on a new relationship with Lily. But things soon come out at the start of the summer that change everything for him.
"Ricky is tired of being sad. I think he's had a really angsty two seasons and season 3, he's like, 'You know what, I'm going to summer camp and I'm not looking back. It's summer, it's never going to end, so may as well enjoy myself,' which is obviously not true. But I think he has that mentality of, 'Screw it. I'm leaving my life behind. I'm going to summer camp and I'm just going to have fun,'" Bassett says of his character's mindset. "And I think that can only take you so far. He makes the best of summer camp, but you can't pretend like you're OK when you're not. And you can't put a Band-Aid over an empty tank of gas. I think he's sort of putting on a brave face, but it's interesting to watch him navigate how you can't always just pretend like everything's fine and you can only hold out that facade for so long."
Adds Wylie, "For Gina, this is the happiest you've ever seen her. She's experiencing so many firsts and that's really exciting for her, where in the past it's kind of been a little more intimidating where then she puts up this persona of fearlessness and confidence when she's really just scared inside. But right now I think she trusts people around her. She has a really good friend group with Courtney and Ashlyn and so she feels safe and it's nice to see a safe Gina."
In the romance department, E.J. and Gina begin the summer on a love high, taking small steps in their fresh new relationship. Of course, it being HSMTMTS and all, the honeymoon period is quicker than they both anticipate -- especially with E.J.'s growing list of responsibilities as he attempts to put on a successful production of Frozen.
"E.J. and Gina have just started this relationship, so they are in their honeymoon phase where everything is perfect and rose-colored. And I think that honestly is the best part of relationships sometimes is that beginning era. But of course other factors come into play and people get stressed out, things change, other people come into the picture," Wylie teases. "So we'll definitely be able to see how their relationship morphs and shifts and stays the same or doesn't throughout the season due to all of those external changes and internal ones too."
"[Directing Frozen] definitely complicates a lot because going into the summer, he's excited to have all of his friends there [at camp], but also excited to experience this summer with Gina and get to have this summer with Gina and really grow together through it. Whenever he gets thrown into this boat of having to direct this show, it shifts his focus a little bit to that, whereas he really wanted his focus to be on Gina and being able to take in every second with her and be present in every moment with her," Cornett says. "He now has to split that focus and throw some of it onto directing. You see that focus starts on Gina, splits to directing and then, I don't want to spoil anything, but a little bit starts to shift more towards directing and he gets very, very overwhelmed with that."
Speaking of other people coming into the picture, Ricky may end up being that third point in the love triangle. Bassett addressed the possibility, but played coy about whether his character plays a part in E.J. and Gina's romance roller-coaster.
"It's an interesting thing in high school, how relationships flourish and then fall away," Bassett says. "It ebbs and flows, and I think that sometimes romances do die and there's always that lingering thing around. So whether it's spoken or unspoken, I think obviously there's still unresolved things amongst the whole cast. But it is interesting to see a bunch of those kids all in one spot at summer camp. Who knows what will happen?"
Showrunner Tim Federle added that there's a reason why he believes E.J. and Gina work romantically, saying, "They're [both] misunderstood. I think Portwell stans have a reason to stan. But it must be said that Ricky and Gina have something undeniable that they share, which is outsiders. And in a long-running series, my hope is always that all fans will be happy. That never seems to be the case, but I think there's definitely something there between all three of these characters that they're going to have to explore, whether it's this summer or in the future."
Wylie left it up to the fans to decide whether they're Team E.J. or Team Ricky or Team Gina when it comes to the romance question.
"Dara [Renee] and I were talking about this earlier. We were like, 'It is best to not get involved personally in what we want for [our characters].' Because I think the fans of the show have that passion for it and so just letting them have their own opinions and their own wants, I think is best, because when we personally, as actors, get attached to certain things then that changes certain biases and motives and how we will act with our characters and as our characters," she says. "So I try to stay out of it personally, but I'm just excited for what comes and I think the fans would be really happy with the outcome."
As for what awaits fans, Cornett promised there will be plenty of satisfying moments throughout the season -- including more original songs, special guest stars (hi, Corbin Bleu! Jesse Tyler Ferguson! JoJo Siwa!) and surprising new renditions from Frozen, High School Musical and Camp Rock.
"It's High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. There's going to be drama. There's going to be all kinds of twists and turns," Cornett shares. "There's so many unexpected things that you might think you know where things are going to go, but I think you will quickly find out that you don't quite know where they're going."
Season 3 of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series drops Wednesday, July 27 on Disney+.
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