Soleil Moon Frye Talks Bringing 'Punky Brewster' to a New Generation (Exclusive)

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Punky Brewster is coming back!

The beloved '80s sitcom, which centered around the titular charismatic orphan, played by Soleil Moon Frye, is returning for a new run on the NBC streaming platform, Peacock, and Frye couldn't be happier.

"Punky Brewster was such a big part of my heart and is such a big part of my heart and I always say that," Frye told ET's Nischelle Turner via video chat this week. "We were the same in so many ways, and her spunk and her heart and her belief and herself-- she had these real-life super powers and I always wanted to be like her, and incorporate them into myself."

"It's a role that I'm so proud of, but to me, Punky is not just a show. She is a part of our lives and a part of, certainly, the parts of myself that I aspire to be. So she's a real inspiration to me, and I feel so honored and humbled to be able to carry her on and share her with a whole new generation."

In the new series, Frye returns as Punky, now a single mother of three, who meets a young girl who reminds her a lot of herself. Cherie Johnson is also returning as Punky's best friend, Cherie -- and there's even a beloved golden retriever, just like her pup Brandon in the original series!

"Punky is coming of age again at this stage of her life, and she has this incredible family of kids," Frye said of the revival series, noting that she has an amazing dynamic with the "charismatic and incredible" Freddie Prinze Jr., who plays her character's ex-husband. "A little girl comes along who reminds her very much of herself, and it's really about them forming this new family and what that looks like."

"I love the idea that as we grow up and get a little bit older right, a little bit older, that we still grow and we still change and we can be coming of age again as adults. It's amazing, 'cause I know I see so much of myself in her, where it's like, I'm trying to be a grown up, but I still feel like such a kid. Punky's still Punky, but she's rediscovering her Punky power."

Part of that power, of course, comes from Punky's multi-colored wardrobe, which was a signature of the character back in the '80s and continues in her modern life. "Punky Brewster was the most fun, fashionable character to play and it's so awesome, 'cause I'll have rappers and different people come up and be like 'Punky inspired me,' and I'm like, this is amazing!"

"We have the most incredible costume designer, Mona May, who did Clueless and so many incredibly iconic film and television [productions], and we just had so much fun coming up with who she would be now. What would she be like now? How does she rediscover all of these things along the way?"

While the cast and crew only finished shooting their first episode before production was shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, Frye noted that they've transitioned to a virtual writers room, keeping spirits high as they continue to prep for their return -- with the hopes of debuting the series later in 2020. Even the unprecedented shutdown can't dampen the actress' spirits about the series' return, something she says has been a dream of hers for years.

"[We were] shooting the pilot and at the end, with the live audience, I was crying and Cherie was crying and we were in tears of joy," she recalled. "Every day going on set was a day of complete gratitude, because these characters are such a part of our life and our heart and to be able to carry them on, it's a dream come true."

And Frye can't wait to share the new show with her own kids -- daughters Poet, 14, and Jagger, 12, and sons Lyric, 6, and Story, 3 -- noting that they're "ready" for possible guest-starring roles on the show which is so dear to her heart. 

"It really is about life and the messiness that we go through and to carry on that same heart with the reboot... I'm really proud," she noted. "I know the responsibility with it, and I really want to be able to convey important messages and stories, you know, where we're able to share and be honest."

"[Punky] had so much heart and also was so about her uniqueness and being who she was and that, although you can come from such a non-traditional background and have a non-traditional family, that it's OK," Frye continued. "There's the family we are born into, and there's the family that we choose and so there was so much heart in the storytelling of this character, who is going through so much and there were so many challenges, and yet she would constantly hold onto that Punky power. I think now, more than ever, we could use some of that Punky power."

Frye is also using her real-life "Punky power" to give back amid the world-wide health crisis, continuing her work with Sean Penn's CORE RESPONSE to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"When disaster strikes and everyone is running, he is the one diving in," she said of working with Penn and his foundation. "I went to Haiti and I saw the incredible work that Sean and his team were doing, and I immediately wanted to get involved, and so I've spend the last 10 years working with CORE... I was actually supposed to be with my girls in Abaco doing hurricane relief during spring break when we got self-quarantined. CORE is such a part of my heart and soul and I can truly say, next to helping raise my children, it's the work that I'm most proud of and our incredible team is awe-inspiring."

Currently, the foundation is working with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti to help set up mobile clinics and testing sites around the city, and Frye encourages everyone to help in whatever way they can. "There's lots of ways to get involved. We are expanding in the coming weeks, and I feel so grateful for our incredible leaders... To be a little part of it feels really good in this time, and I'm so proud of our team."

Punky Brewster will return with a 10-episode first season later this year on Peacock. In the meantime, all four seasons of the show's original '80s run will be available to stream when Peacock launches on July 15.


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