LOS ANGELES – Ashley Tisdale was determined to prove there’s life after high school – and “High School Musical.”
When casting directors approached her with possible series, she focused on “Hellcats,” a drama about a college cheering squad.
“It was the best choice for me,” she says “It was a drama. It didn’t involve singing and (the character) wasn’t like Sharpay.”
It wasn’t, though, a slam-dunk.
Because she was so identified with “High School Musical” and its singing/dancing diva, producers didn’t think she could play another role.
“I had to fight for this,” she says of “Hellcats.” “But I also had to fight for ‘High School'Musical.’”
To prove herself, Tisdale flew to Vancouver (where the new drama is filmed) and auditioned. The show’s producers liked what they saw and hired her to play the head cheerleader – the Southern belle who can’t understand a newcomer’s academic motivation for joining the squad.
To help viewers make a visual distinction, the 25-year-old Tisdale let her hair go back to its original color. She works out with a trainer, too, and regularly asks the show’s cheering coaches to let her try new moves.
“I always try to challenge myself,” she says with a smile. In the show’s second episode, she even pulls off a move cheerleaders refer to as “flying.” “I thought it looked like fun, so I asked if I could do it. Then, I told Aly (Michalka, her co-star) and she tried it, too. Being up high is the scary part. Flying back isn’t.
“You have to be a little bit crazy to be a cheerleader...and I’m a little bit crazy.”
In the business since she was 3, Tisdale performed in commercials and community theater before landing a role in the national touring company of “Les Miserables” when she was 8. That led to a production of “Annie” and several feature films. In 2004, she was cast in the Disney series “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody.” From there, it was a quick slide into “High School Musical.”
“I had to fight for that, too,” she says of “High School Musical.” “And now people love the character.”
How much? Well, even though the film series ended, producers asked if she’d do a fourth edition – one that lets Sharpay Evans realize her dreams. In the upcoming film, Sharpay moves to New York and tries to make it on Broadway. “She’s used to getting everything she wants. She’s rich. She’s got the perfect hair, the perfect clothes. But when she’s on her own, she messes up.”
Called “High Stakes,” the fourth installment'is slated for release in 2011. “She finally gets the guy in the end,” Tisdale says. “I felt I needed to do the film because I wouldn’t be where I am without it. (‘Musical’) gave me my fan base.”
Now, “Hellcats” is offering something else – independence. Because the series is shot in Vancouver, Tisdale is on her own for the first time. “I feel like I’m in college. I went straight to Disney right after high school. I have a house next to my parents’ house. So this is me out on my own. I’m vacuuming. I’m cooking and cleaning. It’s great.”
Because “Hellcats” is a physical show, “I’m eating all the time. It’s ridiculous. People say, ‘You’re short and tiny, how much food do you eat?’ But I work out with a trainer besides, so I’m able to eat a lot. I just try not to eat tons of carbs.”
Challenges? You bet. “But I’m a workaholic,” Tisdale says. “I don’t like to sit around. I actually like the schedule of being on a TV show.”
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