EVERYONE’S HERO :
An Interview with Raven Symone and Jake T. Austin
By Wilson Morales
For Raven Symone, this month has been very special to her. We’ve seen her grow up from the day she was on “The Cosby Show” to “Hanging with Mr. Cooper” to her hit TV series, “That’s so Raven” and the hit Disney film, “The Cheetah Girls”. When “The Cheetah Girls 2” recently aired on Disney, it drew huge number, besting any and every TV program during that time span. Almost 21 by the end of the year and no more TV series for now, Raven is concentrating on a number of things, including films. One such film is the animated “Everyone’s Hero”, in which a sassy girl who teams up with a young boy (Jake T. Austin), and some off-the-wall sidekicks and embarks on a sometimes perilous, often funny, cross-country quest. In the process, he restores his family’s honor after something valuable is stolen, befriends the world’s biggest sports superstar, and reveals the hero within. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Raven and Jake share their thoughts about baseball, working with the late Christopher Reeve, who was the film’s original director, and Raven’s life so far.
Can you talk about your character?
Raven: The character I play is Marty, the cutest girl in the world. She’s a tomboy and reminds me a lot of when I was in middle school, nine or ten years old, with big, big pants and skater clothes. I always thought I was such a guy. I was like, “Why do I own a skirt?” Being able to play and through her be a baseball lover. I couldn’t throw like her. I suck at it.
Did you attend Middle School?
RS: I went to public high school, middle school in elementary. I didn’t start home schooing until my last two years of high school. I failed algebra. I got detention. I got kicked off the step team. I did it all.
Is it weird for the both of you that this is the first time that the two of you have met?
Jake T.Austin: It’s a little weird. To meet in a room with other people and Fox. It’s fun, but it’s a bit strange.
Are you a huge Yankees fan?
JTA: Huge. I’ve been my whole life, so when I got the audition, I was like, “be yourself” because the kid’s like me in a lot of ways. He’s a Yankees fan. The only thing I would say that’s different is that it takes place in a different timeline. It was pretty easy to get to know the character.
Was it tough being in that booth imagining all the stuff that’s going on?
JTA: Well, some scenes were a little bit tough. Because my character ran away from home, of course, he’s depressed. Having a ball and a bat screaming at each other all the time; it’s tough because it doesn’t really build your self-esteem. It’s a little bit hard to pretend to be depressed. I’m not depressed at all.
RS: Just wait.
Was it hard to pretend that you couldn’t hit the baseball?
JTA: It was fun. It was fun when he swung and miss and he fell and the bat hit him in the head. It was fun to do that. Half the time I was laughing..
Are you a big fan of baseball?
RS: Um… Atlanta Braves. That’s only one I know because I live there and I know you will be mad at this, but I only know (former slugger) David Justice.
JTA: Now, he’s a sports broadcaster for the NY Yankees.
RS: Hey, I said something right. You tell me something about baseball and I will nod and say yes. Now show me football, it’s on.
JTA: Who do you like?
RS: Well, just to play it. I’m good on the playstation.
Did either of you do any research on the Negro League?
JTA: I’ve known baseball all my life so the Negro League was the second league that I knew. It was really cool to learn how all these players came to be like Satchel Paige, who never played a game in the Major Leagues, but he’s one of the greatest players of all-time. At the same, it’s just as important as regular baseball. Hank Aaron never played in the Negro League because be the time he started playing, African Americans were now playing in the Major Leagues.
Can you talk about your memories of Christopher Reeve? How do you remember him growing up?
RS: I remember the tights. I watched the Flip Wilsons and Lucille Balls and the Dick Van Dykes. I never watched the Batmans and Supermans with my dad. It was more like a father-daughter type of thing. But I still loved him after that. I think it was more of him, and not necessarily the character that I identified with and he always stressed the importance of hero and being ok with yourself and overcoming your difficulty especially when he took he took his turn in life. It should show everyone no matter what you come down with, some people go crazy, like my hair color could be awful, but look at the world and realize what you could be going through, and Christopher Reeve made it seem easy. He understood that that was had to happened to him and he has to make good with what it is. That’s a lesson that all people can get through in underlying “Everyone’s Hero”
JTA: When I auditioned, I met him once of twice. He was really nice. I had a lot of respect for him and I still do. I met Matt Reeve at the screening of the movie and he was really nice and I said I was sorry about what happened (about his parents’ deaths) and they were just great people.
Can you talk about doing an animated film?
RS: No makeup, no hair. Pajamas, and you’re in a room by yourself. Maybe once or twice, they’ll come in with a camera just to get my facial expression but otherwise, it’s just freedom. Imagine you get to do what you love and not have any restriction whatsoever. You can loud as you want and be as ugly face as you want and I love it. I also have another movie where I play a tinkerbell with Lucy Liu and Brittany Murphy. I play a character called Eridessa. It will be one of the first African American roles that Disney puts in their theme parks; so that’s very exciting. I’m a light fairy and create light. That’s fun.
How did you deal with all the attention after being on The Cosby Show?
RS: I went to public elementary school here in White Plains while the show wasn’t on and while it was on, I had a tutor on the set and she would send my work to my school. I moved to Atlanta after that and stared “Hanging with Mr. Cooper”. Six months of the year, I would go to public high school and middle school and that’s when the transition happened. I would have tutors again send my work back to school back and forth until things got really bad and they started to beef up the script and then I had to be home schooled. I’ve always been of that and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I never had a problem because I rode the bus to school; and the people I went to elementary and middle school had known me. I lived in their neighborhood. So, it only made a difference when I went o the new high school and on the PA, the principal was like, “Do not talk to Raven Symone. Don’t ask her for her autograph or you’ll get a detention.” So I dare anyone to start school that way. I dare anyone to go through what I went through on the first day of school. I was friends with the lunch lady and proud of it. She saved me chicken biscuits. No worries for me. Although your part in the film is small, it’s a very important one.
How do you feel about that?
RS: It’s fabulous that we’re encompassing the whole entire ethnic background of how baseball was back in that day. My father is very important in the film because his favorite player was part of the Negro League. It’s great for me. I love it, especially since she’s a girl. Most of the time, you’re like, “Let’s go meet up with the boys, and you’re like, nah, she loves it, she’s black and she digs this.”
What else is going on in your life?
RS: Well, I’m on tour every weekend. I actually go home and I’m guest starring in a friend’s video. I go all around the world traveling. I think I’m the only artist touring around the world who didn’t sell 300,000 copies and selling out. I’m amazed. I don’t know what’s going on.
Well, you have a big following.
RS: I’m very fortunate. They are coming to see Raven Baxter and I think they get a big shock when I walk upstage with baggie jeans and with a baseball cap turned to the bak and doing hip-hop moves. It’s funny, but I was in Detroit and this girl asked me, “Why do you dance like a boy?” and I said, “because I’m Raven Symone” and you’re watching Raven Baxter and I’m only wearing this because I was told to.
How do you feel about the huge success of “The Cheetah Girls 2”?
RS: Excited. I’ve always said this and with no disrespect to anyone at the channel, but the Cheetah Girls was first and we just wanted come back to prove that. We had a great time. Kenny Ortega is a wonderful director. It took us a minute to get back together because the girls were doing their own thing and I was doing my own thing. It was like the big sister going off to college and not seeing the little sisters for a long time and you sort of have to nudge your way in there a little bit and it was good to have that for the movie because if you saw the movie, you see how Galleria for the first time doesn’t feel supported and she’s correct about it. In the last film, she was wrong about it. This time she was on the right end and she feel awkward about it and it was good that we were sisters and we have that bond where we can come together in our time of need and we can also disagree on things. So, it worked out.
What would you credit to your success? What’s the secret?
RS: I don’t know. I really can’t tell you what it is. Maybe it was getting an F in algebra. Maybe it was having top clean the birdcage and if I didn’t, I was on punishment. Maybe it having to clean all the rooms in the house except for the basement because my mom didn’t want to do it. I don’t know. I can’t really pinpoint it right now.
What do your parents think about your success?
RS: I don’t know. I’m twenty years old. I’ll be twenty-one on December 10th. I have my own house. I have three cars. I live by myself and I still call my mom to see if I can come out. Yes, I still call her, and she’ll still ask if I have clean my room.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from the Cosby show?
RS: Not as much as I should. We’re all very busy. I might run into them once in a while and I heard through the grapevine that Bill is very proud of me and that’s all I can ask for.
What’s the message of the film?
JTA: I think it’s to keep on swinging. That’s the whole moral of the story. Even when he doesn’t think he’s going to get the bat back on time, and he knows that everyone thinks he stole the bat, he just kept on going for it, and he ended up getting the bat back to Chicago, and he ended up proving himself right. Keep on swinging is the moral I think the film is.
RS: I think it shows that everyone has hero inside of them. You might not know that you do, but it’s not just the people who save lives, or typically what you believe is a hero. It’s anybody who steps outside of their box to take a chance. That’s a hero.
EVERYONE’S HERO opens on September 15, 2006