Meet the Stars of Netflix's 'Julie and the Phantoms,' a New Musical Series With a Ghostly Twist (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Meet the young stars of Julie and the Phantoms, Netflix's new teen musical comedy series that has all the ingredients of your next obsession -- original radio-ready tunes, larger-than-life numbers, friendships and romances -- all with a paranormal twist.
Based on a Brazilian series, the show centers around high schooler Julie, who lost her passion for music following the death of her mother the previous year. When three musicians -- Luke, Reggie and Alex -- from 1995, the year they died, suddenly appear as ghosts in her mother's old music studio in the present day, Julie slowly begins to find her love of singing and writing again. The boys' unlikely friendship and chemistry with Julie brings them to form their own band, and hence, Julie and the Phantoms is born.
Newcomer Madison Reyes leads the fictional band as frontwoman and singer Julie, ET exclusively reveals, while The Phantoms consist of Charlie Gillespie, who plays guitarist and singer Luke; Jeremy Shada, who plays bassist Reggie; and Owen Patrick Joyner, who plays openly gay drummer Alex. The first season, which features nine half-hour episodes, is set to drop Thursday, Sept. 10, on Netflix.
It was important for Julie and the Phantoms executive producer and director Kenny Ortega to find a Latinx lead to fill the role of Julie and, as a result, have the story rooted in a Latinx family. Carlos Ponce plays Julie's widowed father and Sonny Bustamante portrays Julie's younger brother in the series. Booboo Stewart also stars as Willie, a skater boy.
"I wanted this to be a Latina family, and I also wanted a Julie 'from the block' -- a young girl that was relatable, that other young women could relate to," Ortega exclusively tells ET. After going through dozens of casting reels of hopefuls, Ortega felt the authenticity he was looking for was missing. "There was a moment where we wondered if we could really 'find what Kenny was looking for.'"
It took a nationwide talent search reaching approximately a thousand high schools to find Reyes, who had no prior TV or film experience when she submitted herself on tape.
"[The casting director] called me one day and said, 'Sit down and get ready.' They did this with me with Zac Efron [on High School Musical]... They said, 'We think we found your Julie,'" Ortega recalls. "And I'll never forget it. I turned on my computer and punched her video and there she was... never having been in front of a camera or in a recording studio or ever having worked professionally. Just this 14-year-old high school freshman in Allentown, Pennsylvania, that, for me, had the magic."
To flesh out Julie's band, The Phantoms, Ortega sought out "triple threats," or "actors that can bring it all... and bring something to the party and are going to be great partners." That's exactly what he felt he found in Gillespie (Charmed), Shada (Adventure Time) and Joyner (Knight Squad), all relative unknowns who were in bands, played instruments or sang on the side. "Not only are they strong actors, musicians and singers," Ortega says, "but they're just inspired guys, and you could see it when they were auditioning."
Ortega specifically remembers the moment he knew they had found their band. It came during the final testing stage when Reyes was grouped with Gillespie, Shada and Joyner. At that point in the audition process, the field had been whittled down to about 35 hopefuls.
"I remember the last time I put these four actors together onstage in front of a room full of Netflix people, my producing partners and casting agents, just moments before they were about to go -- and they were all playing live and singing live -- there was something that happened onstage where they realized how close they were," Ortega says. "Charlie called them all into a band circle. They huddled and no one knows what they were talking about. No one knows what they said to one another. They turned out of that circle and Madison walked to the microphone and she said, 'Hello, I'm Julie, and we're Julie and the Phantoms.'"
"She claimed it. They just claimed it. Everyone's camera went up in the air at the same time. There were all these iPhones filming the moment and it was thrilling," he shares. "I knew. We knew. The whole room knew."
While Julie and the Phantoms is a fictional band created for a scripted show, Ortega has bigger aspirations for the group -- if things go well, of course.
"I wanted us to be able to find actors that could really do it, that could go on tour and go in the recording studio and record the album," says Ortega, who spent the weekend filming a virtual music video with the cast over Zoom from their respective hometowns. "So with all four of them, Madison and the three boys, Charlie, Owen and Jeremy, I felt that what they presented gave me the confidence that we could really go beyond just television with this group of players."
There will be a 15-song soundtrack accompanying the first season, sung and performed entirely by Reyes, Gillespie, Shada and Joyner, as well as recurring cast member Cheyenne Jackson, who plays antagonist Caleb Covington, whose path crosses with the Phantoms. "With the success of the series," Ortega says he hopes Julie and the Phantoms "could be a touring group."
Outside of the flashy musical numbers -- and there are several high-production routines reminiscent of the High School Musical days ("It's what I enjoy bringing to the story," Ortega acknowledges) -- Julie and the Phantoms also delves into deeper themes, like the loss of a parent and the journey to rediscovering your passion.
"I've always loved surprise. Whether it's to do a musical number that jumps out of a scene that you don't expect or whether it's something lurking, jumping out of the dark. I like the surprise that life can present," he explains. "What I liked about the initial idea was a young person that suddenly opens a door and walks into a room, and three ghosts explode into her life. How do you handle that, and what do you do with it? I just thought, 'Yeah, this is fun.' We can play with some new rules, but also underneath that, [explore] some important ideas."
If there's one thing Ortega hopes people intrigued by the fantastical premise remember, it's that at the end of the day, Julie and the Phantoms is a tale of four unlikely friends who learn they're stronger together than apart.
"Certainly not giving up on yourself and that we all face moments where we lose precious ideas or people, and that it can be heartbreaking. And that through grief, though, we can move out of the dark and into the light again," he says. "I think this is a story that is important in that respect, and it reminds us to keep your eyes on the horizon. We have to bob and weave through life sometimes, but the greater answer is ahead of us. I think that's what these characters give each other through their friendship and through starting the band together. They inspire each other to move forward and to risk it all and to make the choices that not only can give them back what they thought they had lost, but even more."