'Julie and the Phantoms' Star Madison Reyes on How Netflix Series Changed Her Life (Exclusive)

The 16-year-old newcomer talks to ET about being a Latinx lead, the finale cliffhangers and why she's rooting for Julie & Luke.

Spoiler alert! Do not proceed if you haven't watched the first season of Netflix's Julie and the Phantoms. Read what EPs Dan Cross and David Hoge had to say about the big finale cliffhangers and breakout star Charlie Gillespie's thoughts on Julie and Luke's future.

When Netflix's Julie and the Phantoms unveiled its young stars this summer, the world didn't know just much they'd fall in love with a high school student from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Madison Reyes was one of dozens of teenage hopefuls who answered a nation-wide casting call seeking an everyday Latinx teenage girl -- with prodigious musical and singing abilities to match -- to play the lead role of Julie. They hit the jackpot with Reyes.

The 16-year-old newcomer struck a chord with her endearing portrayal of Julie, a girl who was still reeling from the death of her mother one year ago. Through paranormal flights of fancy (it is a teen show after all!), Julie meets and befriends three ghost musicians, aka members of the '90s punk-rock band Sunset Curve: singer and lead guitarist Luke (Charlie Gillespie), openly gay drummer Alex (Owen Patrick Joyner) and bassist Reggie (Jeremy Shada), who help her rediscover her passion for music. Soon after, they form their own group, Julie and the Phantoms. While Reyes and her co-stars sang and performed the majority of the 15 original songs on the first season's soundtrack, Reyes also teamed with Gillespie to co-write the ballad, "Perfect Harmony," which is featured in the seventh episode. Not too bad for a high schooler.

Here, in a recent chat with ET over the phone, Reyes discussed her breakthrough role, fronting a Netflix series as a Latinx girl and, of course, those sweet Julie and Luke moments.

ET: Over the summer, you posted a video of you and your family seeing your first Julie and Phantoms billboard. Was that a "pinch me" moment for you?

Madison Reyes: Yeah. I would say that I've had a few "pinch me" moments, but that is definitely top five. It was that, and then it was also the original Julie [actress Mariana Lessa, who starred in the Brazilian series Julie e os Fantasmas] messaging me after we came out. When she messaged me, that was so crazy. It really made me feel like that this was true and I'm not dreaming.

What was that interaction like Mariana? Was it nice to know you had someone in your corner?

Yeah, definitely. While I was getting ready to film and even while we were in the process of filming, I just constantly thought back to who Julie already was for so many people and how I want to continue that legacy and do it right and do the character justice because that's what she deserves. But also just finding myself through Julie, which is very interesting because she's this girl who everybody can relate with. Knowing that made it a much funnier experience. I'm excited to see everybody else's reaction and how they'll start to love Julie as well.

The story of how you came to become Julie really aligns with her journey. One day, you were a normal teenager going to high school and then this nationwide casting call changed your life. What made you think, "Okay, I'm going to go for it. I'm going to take that leap of faith"? 

I definitely had that gut feeling. I just remember these overwhelming thoughts that I got when I first read about her character, who she was and reading that she was a Latinx girl really sparked my interest a lot because growing up, that's something that I always looked for. And I had very few people that I can really look up to and be like, "That's me. I see myself in that person." So knowing that I could possibly be that role model for somebody and be the person that someone may look up to really motivated me to want to go and take that leap, especially the fact that my sister might have somebody now that she can look up to and be able to really see herself -- and know that she can achieve her dreams no matter how difficult they may seem. To believe in yourself. You shouldn't let people drag you down just because of what your background is or where you come from or where you started. As long as you work hard for it, you'll eventually get there.

When I spoke with Kenny Ortega in July, he was adamant that Julie and her family be Latinx. What excited you about getting to embrace that part of her identity?

Just hearing Kenny and how much work and effort he really put in means a lot, especially as you see diversity becomes a bigger thing as time goes on and our generation starts to shift. Hearing how he really pushed for Julie to be a Latin American girl, and her family as well, was really overwhelming because I wouldn't necessarily say that it's uncommon, but it's not every day that you hear that. To this day, I'm so grateful that he really pushed for that because he could have simply been like, "You know what? Let's just start with ethnicities for the role," and as much as it's great to see a female protagonist at such a young age and her doing these incredible things, I feel like having that representation is just as important. Hearing that he wanted that representation for that same reason that I always looked for, it was very, very nice.


Are there elements to Julie's personality that are very you and are there traits of hers that are farthest from you?

Julie is raw. She's your everyday teenager going through everyday problems, and I liked the fact that even though she can see ghosts -- there's this magical fantasy sense of this ghostly world that no one ever can actually see besides her -- she's still going through normal problems. It's not like she's this incredible being now who doesn't feel sad sometimes. In the sense of her uniqueness and how she approaches situations, I definitely see myself in her a lot. We're definitely mirrored completely, besides her loss with her mother and the sense of how deep that loss can go. 

Julie and her best friendship with Flynn is another highlight of the series. Can you talk about that dynamic?

Me and Jadah [Marie] are best friends. I look at her like a little sister and we're always talking and messaging each other on Snapchat and iMessage. Ever since we first met, there was just that connection, like, you saw the spark. I'm pretty sure Kenny saw it. And then when we started doing the scenes together for her callback, you could also just see it there. It's just the chemistry that we had. Just like with the boys and how everything clicked, it was like that with everybody else pretty much. It just just found its way and rested in a nice orderly fashion. Everybody connected and there was no hate. Even Savannah [Lee May, who plays Carrie], and how her character in the show is this girl who's very mean; she's the popular girl. She's the sweetest person off set, and me and her and Jadah, we had sleepovers and we were always going out to Downtown Vancouver and just hanging. And it's crazy how you can see all these actors and actresses truly become the band and truly become friends and have that true relationship with each other. It was really fun.

You mentioned the chemistry with the boys. Every character in Julie and the Phantoms is so different; you each have your unique personalities and what you bring to the table. What do you think makes the band work?

We had a whole month of just boot camps for learning the songs and getting ready to record and all that stuff. So we spent a lot of time together, just the four of us, just working on what our sound is. And you pick up on things about each other that you might not realize, which makes the relationship a little deeper. I don't really know how to describe it, but we like to think that we're a band first and then we're actors and actresses, because our relationship is just like that. Though our characters may have certain personality traits that necessarily aren't us, you can definitely see within the characters and it felt more like we were just us on set. We were just hanging out like friends where we were saying new lines, but they were still us. There's an understanding that all of us have from within the four of us that we know we have this connection and this friendship and this bond because we're a band and we have to be so open when we're giving ideas for how we want to perform this song or that song and how we should approach it.

Where do you think Julie and Luke stand at the end of the finale? If there is a season 2, what you would like to see for them?

Well, whatever happens, I'm team Juke. They're definitely very good friends at the moment. It's very weird. He even said this is a weird relationship that the two of them have because there's a understanding that Luke's a ghost, she's a human. It's a "it would never work"-type of a situation, but then it's like, with the ending, you're kind of like, "What?" 


They can all touch. 

Right! So I'm just excited to see what happens with the relationship and, also with Nick as well, what's going to happen with that now [with Caleb possessing him]. But no matter what, I'm Team Juke. That's it.

When did you guys determine that Juke was the official ship name for Julie and Luke?

When we used to play, we were constantly talking about it. We're like, "This has to be it!" 

Julie and the Phantoms is streaming now on Netflix. To watch Julie hilariously attempt to divert attention away from the Phantoms with her oblivious father on the series, watch the clip below.

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