By: Amrie Cunningham [My Take on TV]
I am a TV Addict who watches the Disney channel, and I’m not afraid to admit it. I actually consider myself one of the biggest fans of the charming star Kay Panabaker. Memorable for roles on Phil of the Future and movies like Life is Ruff and Read it and Weep; you may also remember her from the gone-too-soon classic Summerland, now airing on The N. She also has a recurring role on CSI as Katherine’s precocious daughter (not to be confused with the other Panabaker, Kay’s sister, the equally fabulous Danielle, who plays Stark’s daughter Julie on one of my guilty pleasures, Shark on CBS).
Kay is starring in the enjoyable new Lifetime Original Movie appropriately named “Custody” airing September 8 (with two fabulous men fighting over her, I don’t know how she does it! Sure, they’re fighting for custody of her character, but it’s Rob Morrow and James Denton, you cannot go wrong there!). I had the absolute privilege of speaking with her recently about great set relationships, the importance of staying in school, and oh yeah, a charming young kid you might know, named Zac Efron!
Why did you pick this movie [in which Kay’s character finds out at the age of 13 that the man who raised her as his own after her mother died (Rob Morrow) isn’t her biological father and that her mom’s ex-boyfriend (James Denton) is back in her life to get to know his daughter and get full custody]? What about it spoke to you?
Kay Panabaker: When I first heard Lifetime, my sister has done two movies and she’s always, it’s always been the woman who’s been beaten or abused or is going through a hard time. This one, the lead was two guys and a little girl and the story was just so touching to me, it was just the idea that your whole world gets torn apart and you still return to the one that saw you through the horrible times….I thought it was a sweet story. At the time, Rob Morrow wasn’t attached, and James Denton was, so I thought, hey this could be fun! I’ve got a couple of friends that work on the show [Desperate Housewives], one of the hairdressers. I thought, that’s a good thing, so that could be fun. And it was. It was an absolutely fantastic time.
What’s it like working with Rob and James, to start, but with the whole cast in general?
We got along really well. I’ve now babysat for Rob’s kids and Jamie’s daughter. Working with them was a lot of fun. A lot of the stuff that I do, I work with kids, or I work with some adults and it’s in a kid atmosphere and people tend to take me for, I look 12 or 13 and they think “oh she’s a cute little kid, she won’t understand what we’re talking about” so I just sort of hang out with my mom and we do our thing. They really treated me like an adult. To watch Rob and Jamie work is so fascinating because they both have such different methods. Rob is very much the thinker. He went over the fight scene between him and Jamie for like an hour the night before. He’s really thinking about it and when you look at him when he’s acting, I just get so caught up in it. He just does the littlest things, and from what I saw, I started making some of his facial expressions back at him. Jamie, he and I are birds of a feather. We fly by the seat of our pants. What’s really nice with him is that most of the scenes that we had together, it was just the two of us in the scene, so he and I really got to bond. We had such a fantastic time. And I have to say that he is the next Paul Newman. He’s so sweet, and he’s so good. He gives up so much of his time to charity. He’s in the Band from TV (Hugh Laurie, Greg Grunberg, Bonnie Somerville, Bob the Bachelor). They do these performances and it’s all for charity. I absolutely adore them, I think that they’re absolutely fantastic. They’re wonderful men, they’re wonderful human beings. Basically, the best part about this script is the relationships. And we have these big dinner scenes. In one of them, the entire cast got to talking about beads, and we were having this conversation and Nadia, the director, yelled action, not very loudly, but just loud enough so we should have heard her but we didn’t because we were talking so loudly. Everybody was jumping over each other….it was just so much fun.
What else do you have coming up besides Custody?
I did a small part, like one scene, in the new Allison Eastwood movie called Ralston Times, and I actually just got a letter that my scene was cut. I’m kind of upset, because it was not what I am. It was a runaway and she wore goth clothes and heavy eyeliner, and it was so much fun. I’ve got a couple different episodes of different shows coming up. The Suite Life of Zach and Cody…October 9 is a Boston Legal episode. I’ve got an episode of Weeds coming. It was so much fun, I played a good little Christian girl. I did a movie last summer called Moondance Alexander, about a girl and her horse, with Lori Laughlin from Summerland. I think I’m supposed to do some traveling for press and stuff. That should be out soon.
Do you miss working with Lori, and everyone from SUMMERLAND?
That show in particular was just so great. The crew was fantastic, and the cast and the crew got along so well, and we all saw each other so much more often than we saw our actual families. We spent 18 hour days working. We all had so much fun. We were so upset [when it was canceled]. We had so much fun. We got to go to the beach. My mom and I would go get breakfast. We’d walk down to the beach, sit down, and as the sun was coming up behind us, we could watch dolphins swim by. I mean, it was such a nice job. Like “I get paid to do this?” And I absolutely adored it. I still keep in touch with cast. I hang out with Lori’s girls. I don’t have to babysit them. I go over and hang out with her girls.
You were canoodling with Zac Efron before it was the hot thing to do! You’re a lucky girl.
It’s the weirdest thing. When we knew him, he was like 16, and he had a gap between his teeth, and he had this surfer persona, it was the cutest thing and now he’s like Mr. Hearththrob and it’s like “Wait, what happened to the cute little boy that I was kissing”. My mom and I were laughing because I always work with the “hot guys” before they become hot. Then they go on, and it’s always like “oh yeah Kay Panabaker worked with them”. Zac and Jesse. I adore Jesse [McCartney]. We have a radio station out here called KIIS FM, and Wednesday is Hump Day and one of the DJs goes out and humps things. One of the DJs decided to go out and hump celebrities. They were going to this club, to try and hump Ryan Cabrera and Jesse McCartney, and I was like “Oh no, Jesse’s not going to know about this” and so I actually sent him a text message…he and I had a conversation….I thought it was the funniest thing. My mom is looking at me like “you shouldn’t tell this story” but I thought it was cute.
So you’re entering what, your Junior or Senior year of college [there are various reports online....and she’s only 17]?
Senior year. I’m hoping to graduate in March and my birthday isn’t until May, so I’ll actually graduate before I’m 18.
And I was 18 when I started college so that is just awesome. Danielle did the same thing, right – she was very young when she started high school and college.
Yeah, she just graduated in June at 19.
You were valedictorian in high school, too [at the age of 13].
Mmhmm, and I think Danielle was too. She didn’t get to go to her graduation because she was filming or something.
What do you like to do when you have some downtime?
I usually hang out with my friends. It’s hard because a lot of people that I hang out with are in the business and they’re either older or they’re younger than I am. I don’t like teenagers. People my age tend to be really stupid. I’m just waiting for them to grow up and then I’ll hang out with them. I just went to the San Diego Zoo with a friend of mine and my parents and we did this Spend the Night, which is on the ground, hard and not very comfortable…I said let’s go again, ha! I read, I’m such a bookworm, I’m totally a nerd. I also make necklaces and jewelry which is a lot of fun for me.
What would you do if you weren’t going to act anymore?
I actually want to be a teacher. That’s my back up plan. That’s what I’m going to school for. I absolutely love history, so I’m a history major. Acting, I enjoy it, and I’d love to do it as long as possible but it’s one of those things where I could never work again because people decide that they don’t want to hire somebody who’s 18 and looks younger. I guess teaching. I enjoy animals, I enjoy kids. Anything in that realm.
What do you watch on TV when you get the chance?
My mom and I have shows that we watch religiously. We watch Entourage, just because it’s so true to Hollywood. We watch 24. Friday Night Lights. It’s so upsetting, because you’re like, oh no, it’s going to get cancelled, nobody watches it. It’s the best. And it’s great. I love that show. Matt Saracen. Need I say more. [um no, Kay, that’s pretty much how we all feel].
Tell me about working with Kiefer [on the dark comedy film Dead Heat].
I worked with him right before 24 went to series. It was my first job off the warm up track. He was an absolute sweetheart to me. He treated me like a professional, he would give me good ideas. He was the nicest, sweetest guy and at the end of it, I’m the worst at goodbyes, like if I’m on a set, and it’s about to be goodbye, because it just goes to hysterical sobs. He gave me his phone number, and said call me any time, I adore you.
What about Phil of the Future [my personal favorite Disney show]?
I watch some of those episodes now [because] I couldn’t really watch them when they first came on, but now it’s been a few years…I watch them, and I look at myself and go “how did I have that much energy?” I realize it was because I was just eating a lot of sugar.
What is one thing you would want readers to know about you or to remember as we see more of you in the future?
I really enjoy acting and the fact that education is so important. There are so many kids in the business, out of the business that don’t go all the way. Our society is to the point where you need to have a college education in order to do anything. My mom was saying in her time, having a high school education was good enough for anything, and now it’s not. So people really need to stick with their education. I know it’s long and I know that I’m advanced, so I’m getting it done…you’ll have the rest of your life to goof around…you’ll be wiser.