She starred in ‘Freaky Friday’ on stage. Now, it’s Disney for this Roosevelt High grad

FREAKY FRIDAY (Disney Channel/David Bukach)

In the last six months, Heidi Blickenstaff has watched way more Disney Channel then she thought she would, as a woman in her 40s.

It was prep work in advance of the Broadway actress making her debut as a Disney star.

Blickenstaff plays Katherine Blake in the musical update of the double-switching comedy “Freaky Friday,” which premieres on the channel 8 p.m. Aug. 10.

It’s a part the Fresno native knows well.

Blickenstaff originated the role for a Disney-backed stage production of the musical in 2016. The project, based on Mary Rodgers’ 1972 novel (it was also the basis for two films) was one of the best musicals of the year, according to Buzzfeed.

Blickenstaff is on the cast recording and was instrumental in developing the character for the stage.

Of course, none of that guaranteed she would get the part when it came time to cast the made-for-TV version. She’s not a television actress. She was trained for the stage (at Fresno’s Good Company Players and Roosevelt School of the Arts and later at Duke University) and has spent the last 20 years doing theater exclusively (in shows like “The Full Monty,” her Broadway debut).

So, when the Disney Channel expressed interest in licensing the project for TV, Blickenstaff figured the role would go to someone more qualified for that medium, maybe Teri Hatcher or Brooke Shields, she says.

Even after she got the part and filming commenced there was still that bit of doubt in Blickenstaff’s head whether she was up for the part.

“I was convinced I was going to be fired,” she says,

She’s joking and also not so much. This was no small part and her first movie and she wasn’t exactly comfortable with the nuance and subtly of acting in front of a camera. Theater acting is all about conveying an emotion across hundreds of rows of seats, to the very back of the room. There is a certain amount of physicality to it.

On camera, that same physicality looks weird.

“You can just think something when you have a camera in your face and it gets conveyed,” she says.

She credits director Steve Carr with reigning her in when she got too theatrical. She’s thinking of the movie’s big-reveal, the scene in which the Katherine and Ellie (played in the movie by 19-year old Cozi Zuehlsdorff) realize they have switched bodies.

On stage, the scene is played at the lip of the stage, looking the audience in a way that is ripe for Jim Carey-level physical comedy.

“To do that same thing on film would look insane,” Blickenstaff says. So, she dialed it back. And then dialed it back some more.

The role of Katherine was closely translated from the stage version, which was largely based on Blickenstaff’s type-A personality. It wasn’t much of a stretch. The character of Ellie was a different story. Blickenstaff actually spends a majority of the film as Ellie and worked with co-star Zuehlsforff to flush out the role.

She drew inspiration her own children.

“I basically went on safari in my house,” Blickenstaff says. “I have two teenage step sons and they are gorgeous spazz wads,” she says. “The way that they eat, God bless them, the way they are not entirely aware of their footprint in the world.”

After watching months of Disney Channel, Blickenstaff says “Freaky Friday” will play to the demographic, but also to older teens and even parents. More than that, it’s a movie that builds on the “Freaky Friday” legacy; whether it with the 1976 film staring Jodie Foster, or the 2003 remake, which starred Jamie Lee Curtis and a young Lindsay Lohan. There was also a 1995 television version with Shelley Long and Gaby Hoffmann.

Blickenstaff was actually too young to see Foster’s version and too old for Lohan’s and anyway, didn’t want to taint her own performance. So, she hasn’t actually seen any of the films.

Not, yet anyway.

“I fully intend to do a triple feature,” she says.

Joshua Tehee: 559-441-6479, @joshuatehee

‘Freaky Friday’

  • Starring Hiedi Blickenstaff and Cozi Zuehlsdorff
  • Premieres 8 p.m. Aug. 10 on the Disney Channel
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