'Austin & Ally' Creators Kevin Kopelow & Heath Seifert On The Cast: 'They Were All Perfect For Their Characters'
When you leave a job behind, you always partake in an exit interview and with just days before Austin & Ally signs off, JJJ conducted our own. We’ve been speaking with the cast and creators about their best memories, the series finale and what’s next.
Kevin Kopelow and Heath Seifert developed, wrote, and directed the hit Disney Channel series. If you didn’t know, Kevin and Heath were also behind Sonny With A Chance, Kenan & Kel, All That, JONAS as well as the recent Ho Ho Holiday Special on Nickelodeon.
Together, Kevin and Heath spoke with us exclusively about their first impressions of Ross Lynch, Laura Marano, Raini Rodriguez and Calum Worthy, the inspirations behind the episodes and if Ally’s middle name is really Willow.
Click inside for our exclusive interview with Kevin Kopelow and Heith Seifert…
Upon filming the last episodes of the season, did you start to reminisce a lot? What were the memories that came up?
Heath: The whole last season, going into it and knowing it was going to be the last, everyone became nostalgic the entire time. We were always going back and looking at the old episodes and scripts and talking about the auditions and our first impressions of each other. It was just a very emotional season and a lot of the story lines reflected what everyone was feeling. We made sure that we went to lunch with the cast and we had a standing weekly lunch date with the four of them and the two of us because we knew we wanted to maximize our time together and enjoy it.
Speaking of first impressions, what were your first thoughts about the cast when you first met?
Kevin: It was really funny, because they were not only perfect for their characters, but they were…we just got so lucky, because they were really nice people with really good families. We couldn’t have been more fortunate.
Heath: We keep saying that it was like lightning in a bottle because you can cast great actors, but you never know what the chemistry is going to be like between everybody and you never know what kind of problems you might end up having on a set. This was…you just couldn’t have asked for four more talented kids, but on top of that, they were just really good kids with good hearts and we were so lucky. From the auditions, they all really embodied something about the characters. We didn’t really have any second choices for any of these roles because once we saw these four people, we just knew that they were the ones. These are them.
Did each of them just scream that character from the start?
Kevin: Since we wrote the script, we had this vision in our minds of what they should look like, what they should be like and it was weird, they all just really fit the characters and not only that, but just talking with them — you know they come in, and do some chit-chat. Even before they acted (for us) — when Raini came in, we both had this moment where we were like, ‘I hope she’s a great actress because boy, is she funny and polite, and just a great person.
Heath: Before Raini started doing her audition scene, we talked with her for about 15-20 minutes and it was one of the funniest conversations — she is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my entire life. She had everyone laughing hysterically.
Kevin: And at one point, we stopped and said to ourselves, ‘Oh yea, she still has to audition. Hope she’s good.’ That kind of thing.
Heath: We were both like, ‘Yea, she’s great, let’s hire her,’ and she hadn’t even auditioned yet.
Kevin: At that time, we had seen her reel and watched that, but this was our character, so it just gelled right away. I was looking at Heath and saying, ‘That was good. She got the role.’ Instantly, it wasn’t even a question.
Heath: When Ross came in, there was something about him too that he was the character of Austin. We wrote this guy who is able to play 28 instruments and Ross was able to play those 28 instruments and he could sing and perform.
Kevin: He was humble and easy going and wasn’t this show off kind of guy. That was Ross.
Heath: He was confident, but he wasn’t cocky and there’s a fine line.
Kevin: With Laura, she was quirky and talkative and she was great. She fit this role that we wanted.
Heath: We wrote this ridiculous monologue for her audition that a shorter version of it ended up in the pilot, and for the audition, it was a challenging scene for an actress. She came in and just nailed it.
Kevin: And of course, Calum…
Heath: Super funny and prepared, and was professional. He was just the straight up…he’s the guy. When he walked in, we went, ‘What a great comedic actor’. I vividly remember that he took the audition scene and made it funnier than what it was.
Kevin: He brought props with him.
Heath: Yea, he brought his own props and drew this…I don’t even remember what the scene was but it was a weird joke that he was telling that involved some drawing. So he made this huge drawing and brought it in. He delivered his lines in a way that just blew me away.
Kevin: All four of them made it very easy for us.
When did you realize how huge the fanbase had gotten?
Kevin: This whole Twitter world…and the following and the response to each episode started to get bigger and bigger. Our writers started corresponding with fans and the fans started asking for things they wanted to see on the show. It just got…
Heath: The interaction we get to have with the fans these days makes it a remarkable experience and makes it a whole different thing. It’s different because what we’re used to in the past with shows we worked on.
Kevin: It could go both ways too and these fans could’ve been horrible, but they weren’t. They were really nice and suggesting really cool stuff. You see instantly what they’re attracted to and what they liked about the show. I think I really started to sense in early season two that the fan base had taken on a whole greater level. They were vocal and visible entity out there and they’ve been really great since day one.
Heath: We invited a lot of them to the set.
Kevin: People would come to tapings and we’d meet them and say hi. Pretty recently we went to see R5 in concert and fans recognized us there. That was pretty fun. You’d also see where — the award shows where the fans could vote — you could see how passionate our fans would get. Even getting a season four. I don’t believe that we would’ve had a season four if they hadn’t been so vocal.
Heath: When they thought the show was going to go away, it definitely helped when they were pleading to not have it go away.
Kevin: When we went into Disney to try and convince them to do a fourth season, we brought in Twitter statistics and showed them, you know, ‘Look at this on Twitter.’
Heath: It ties into what we said earlier about our cast with them being so likable and so friendly and approachable and the fans started to love them as people and not just their characters.
Were there any super crazy fan moments that really stuck out to you?
Kevin: There were fans that traveled to come see us. I remember some from Australia…that was pretty nuts. But nothing stalker like. Just fun, crazy stuff.
Heath: Yea, we hadn’t had to block that many Twitter followers (laughs).
Kevin: They also send scrapbooks and they do really nice things. We’ve been sent baked goods.
Heath: People make beautiful drawings of the cast and we love that stuff.
We know you did write many of the episodes, too. Where did the ideas come from?
Heath: I think it’s a lot of everything.
Kevin: Some of them are fantasy like, like the music career. Heath plays music.
Heath: Yea, I play music and danced for years and had done some touring. It’s been a fantastic hobby for me, but the different scenarios and different worlds have inspired a lot in the show.
Kevin: A lot of the relationship stuff does come from real life and a lot of people’s lives.
Heath: We usually go into every season with a little road map on where we want to take the show. That’s a great place to start and in between every season, we talk about where we left everybody and we want the show to go, and how do we want to get there? What kind of stories do we want to tell this year, what are the ways we want to evolve the show? We begin every season with a pretty clear road map about the kind of stories we need to tell and just from that, we would talk a lot and stories come out of that.
Kevin: We like horsing around a lot too, so we like writing a lot of bits. Like, boy and girl be together, and we’d put that in the shows.
Heath: Sometimes you’ll see a real story in the news and you’ll think of a storyline, ‘Here’s a way that could’ve actually happened out of that that’s really funny’ and we turn that into an episode.
Do you personally have a favorite episode that really stood out to you?
Kevin: It’s hard to say because I was watching the marathon this past weekend — and I liked a lot of the episodes and there’s different reasons why I like some of them. I thought the prom episodes turned out really well and they were really funny. The reason was maybe that we had brought in all these other characters we had set up and tied all these other things together. It got Austin and Ally back together and it just…
Heath: The pilot will always have a special place in our hearts.
Kevin: The pilot is still my favorite episode. It will always be.
Heath: The season finales were great. I’m very proud of all of them and all of them were great and special, including the series finale. I love ‘Reel Life and Real Life’ where we re-created moments from our show in various genres. That was a lot of fun. I always enjoyed when we got a chance to play with our own mythology.
Kevin: I know the kids [the cast] were reflecting on their favorite things and moments and in the meantime, I’m just watching the show and I remember shooting the episodes like it was yesterday. Watching the kids just mature and grow up [during the marathon], but they were just as good when they started to when they ended and that was pleasant to watch too.
Do you remember one moment on the show that really hit you hard in your personal life?
Kevin: We did a bullying episode that was really good and I didn’t think it was going to affect me the way it did, but watching Trish get bullied…and this episode stemmed from the kids getting some mean tweets from people. Our kids are so good about it — when we say our kids, we mean the cast. They’re not our kids, but we love them like our own — and they would get these tweets and just brush it of. To me, I love that they were mature enough to do that, but there are a lot of people who aren’t like them who are getting these things and aren’t able to handle it the same way. That affected us in a big way and people around the set they were really emotional.
Heath: A lot of people came up to us that week while we were shooting the episode and told us personal stories of how much doing a storyline like that meant to them and that was really nice to hear…It was well received and I liked reading a lot of the tweets and emails that we were getting in response and that’s what we’re happy about with that episode.
Kevin: In general too, we had a show that had a boy/girl lead where they weren’t romantic when it started. They were just a boy and girl who were friends.
Heath: I think we’ve all had that in our lives. But of course, it’s television and we’ve made them a couple off and on throughout the show. I like that aspect of it as well.
If you could, would you do it all again?
Heath: In a heartbeat.
Kevin: I’m upset that it’s over. We pitched season four as our final season because we knew after season one what we wanted the finale to be and you’ll see it. But we weren’t ready to end it. We just didn’t want to end it. Yes, we would definitely do it all over again.
Heath: Doing the show was one the greatest experiences of my life. It’s the greatest set we’ve ever been on…the cast, we couldn’t have asked for better people.
Kevin: Especially in our careers, absolutely. Just a very good thing in my life in general.
If there were a spinoff from Austin & Ally, which characters or what storyline would you like to see on the screen?
Kevin: One of the ideas that we had for a spino-ff was having the four of them run a music factory. Running this school and making it nationwide. It just never materialized.
Heath: There was a variety of things that came up in season four that could’ve been spun off into new shows. One of them was the A&A music factory.
Were there any guest stars or recurring stars that you would’ve loved to bring back one more time?
Heath: Oh gosh, yes! We love John Paul Green and Nelson (Cole Sand).
Kevin: Brooke. Carrie Wampler as Brooke was awesome. Kira (Kiersey Clemons), we could have used more. Billl, with three L’s from season one. We always want to put him in. There are other characters, too, that I think we could’ve utilized again for sure. Any of the love interests for any of the characters, we could’ve done more with if we had had more episodes.
Is there a storyline from the show that you thought should’ve been longer?
Kevin: I will say that when Austin and Ally first got together, we had them agree to break up really fast. Maybe that was the least painful way to do it with the big picture in mind. But I do think that there could’ve been some more mileage out of them trying to make it work as a couple before coming to that point.
Heath: We got them together because we thought that that would get in the way of their professional lives as well and we could’ve had some more in that.
Kevin: Obviously we did explore that in other episodes too.
Heath: And also, when you get a new season, you don’t know how long that season is going to be.
Kevin: The network usually picks up 13 and then you get the back nine but sometimes the back nine is actually a back 13 or seven. You know what the finale you’re building towards is going to be and you know that you have to do a Christmas or Halloween episode and it’s interesting. You have all these episode ideas on cards and you’re moving them around and around and sometimes, it just makes it hard to arc out. Like, we want to do five episodes that build up to a kiss, not two.
Heath: So, we have to do it that way. When we did season three, we thought that was our last season. You don’t know these things and we made sure that our season finale was at least good enough to end the series.
Kevin: The season three finale, we went into it like it could’ve been our series finale. We left some unanswered questions.
We have to bring up the mentioning of Ally’s middle name in the series finale promos. Is it really Willow?
Kevin and Heath: You will have to watch the finale to see. We know there is a big discussion out there of what her middle name actually is and we know we hear that it’s Willow in the promo. It may or may not be Willow. We will say to just keep your eyes open because it will be answered in the finale.
What did you like most about your job?
Kevin: For us, it’s really about just liking and loving the people that we worked with. They made it just so pleasant and easy to do and everyone is rooting for everyone and it just was such a joy. Writing for these guys [the cast and crew] and watching it happen…You’re sharing this success together. If the show wasn’t as good, it still would’ve been an incredible experience but it was a really good show because of all the talent we had.
Heath: The entire crew was amazing and getting to work these people and building this family. You spend so much time there that it’s a relief that it’s a great warm place to be and that you’re happy. Being in our little cocoon in our writer’s room with all the amazing writers who are dear friends, and getting to know the cast as well as we have, to me is the greatest thing about it all. The opportunity to make a living being creative is the greatest thing anyone could ask for, and to have it be such a fun and positive experience is really lucky and really hard to move on from.
What will be your first project after the series finale? What are you hoping your fans will think about it?
Heath: The first thing we did right away was we produced a holiday special on Nickelodeon. That was really fun because we love doing variety and love doing sketch. The first show we really worked on as writers was All That a long time ago. So we were excited to do that kind of project that tapped into that side of our brains again.
Kevin: And now…we have a development deal over at Nickelodeon.
Heath: We’re developing that here but we’re trying to develop projects that involve the Austin & Ally cast as well.
Kevin: Our cast are growing up, so they’re not kids anymore, but we’re still hoping to work with all of them again as well.
Heath: We’re also just checking passion projects off of our lists too, with one being that we’re writing a horror movie that we’ve had an idea about for a while.
The series finale of Austin & Ally airs Sunday, January 10th @ 8PM ET/PT on Disney Channel.