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.
Laura Marano brought the dorky, and musical genius Ally Dawson throughout the show’s four seasons and from episode number one, we fell in love.
Ally, who once upon a time had stage fright so bad that she broke out into panic attacks, overcame her fear with her three best friends by her side and eventually made it in the music industry, despite being told from her dad that she had a bazillion in one chance.
Click inside for our exclusive interview with Laura Marano…
Upon filming the last episodes of the season, did you start to reminisce a lot? What were the memories that came up?
Oh yea, we all — the cast, the producers, everyone — started to reminisce a lot. I remember specifically that 3 episodes before the last one, we all just — maybe it was our last live audience episode — but we all went to Calum’s dressing room and we stayed there for a couple of hours and started laughing about the first season, different people we’ve had on the show, different directors we’ve had and the second season.
[One of the memories that came up was in] The fourth episode we shot in the first season which Tilly (Audrey Whitby) was in it — Trish and Dez were working in a pirate deep fry store and Dez was deep frying everything. Our director that episode [Shelley Jensen], who directed a lot of episodes and we all just love — he was so funny, and telling Calum that he needed to eat the shoe that he deep fries and our prop guy was telling him not to eat the shoe because it’s highly poisonous. It was one of the funniest moments and it was only our fourth episode and we were all just laughing. Calum was like ‘Do I die or do I do something for comedy? I don’t know!’
We were just laughing about everything and got emotional because it was near the end.
If the series had to end earlier, would you have been okay with that? How thankful to the fans are you for bringing you back for a 4th season?
I am so thankful. First of all, when we started the show – which was five years ago – we never…many of us, we were just shooting something that was just another job and we didn’t know if the pilot was going to get picked up. It became something so sweet and awesome and perfect. I’ve been working for a long time and had not been on a set as special as what our set was.
When the third season happened, we really were unsure. That last episode… even the writers were unsure. That last episode could’ve been a series finale. Obviously, I would’ve been heartbroken because it would’ve been really sad if Austin never could perform again. No one knew, and it was the weirdest thing because it was like, ‘are we coming back? Are we not coming back? Do we say goodbye? Do we say see you later?’
Honestly, we all believe that without our fans, it would not have happened. I really think, and i think that a lot of the network people thought we were finished. Our fans, single-handedly made a statement about bringing us back. I can not thank them enough. They’ve been so amazing on this journey and so supportive and so lovely and the fact that they put in so much effort to keep us going…I mean, I can’t even express my gratitude; and the fourth season, was definitely the most fun for me, shooting it, because we knew it was our last year — but it wasn’t a sad last year. We made the most of it and we hung out, and we made as many memories as we could and we reminisced and it was really beautiful.
Was there an episode during the series that you thought had the best message for the fan base?
We have had a few great episodes and one that had a great message was the bullying one [Beauties & Bullies]. Raini just killed in that episode. It was such a good episode. I got emotional watching Raini. It’s a big thing that our generation has to face. Online bullying is such a real, still present problem that although there are advocates for it, doesn’t seem to be going away anytime too soon, which is really unfortunate. What I loved about that episode was when Raini…Trish was hurt and everything and we find out who this bully is and Trish was like ‘you know…’ the friends want to get back at this person for revenge for what she did to Trish. Trish came back and said no, because that made them as bad as the bully. I love that because the problem is that when we get hurt by someone online, we tend to just go back at them and try to avenge ourselves and that just creates much more drama and stuff that does not need to be created.
You know, ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind’ is such a great perfect phrase and quote and I loved that aspect of the episode too. Be the bigger person. It’s super hard to be the bigger person sometimes, but be the bigger person.
Do you remember one moment on the show that really hit you hard in your personal life?
I think — not as dramatic to an extent of Ally, but I definitely was insecure about myself musically. I love music and I loved writing songs and I loved doing that, but I was so insecure of it. I love playing piano and we had instruments everywhere and I felt like…I was so embarrassed and insecure to actually play anything or sing anything because I didn’t want to be judged. I think when Ally came out and broke out of her stage fright where she sings that duet with Austin, that was a really great moment for me. Even the recording experience, I was coming out of my shell and giving myself a pep talk, like, ‘Okay, Laura, we can do this. We got this. You can sing.’ That was a really great episode for me and Ally, for giving myself confidence musically.
Can you tell us more about your first impressions with the cast?
Raini, I had actually known for years. I worked with her on a different show — a very different show, very different audience called Huff. I remember meeting her and I just loved her. My mom and I talked about her about how funny she was, how sweet she was, how confident she was…she was just great. I was really young [when I did that show] and didn’t have a phone, social media wasn’t even around then and we didn’t keep in contact with each other after that. We lost contact for a couple of years and when I saw her at the test… wait, I actually saw her a few weeks prior because we were both testing for the same part on another show for Nickelodeon. We saw each other and talked and literally, just two weeks later, we’re testing for Austin & Ally. Right away, we started reading together. There were other Ally’s there, and other Trish’s there, but we knew each other and started reading together. We had lines that they had actually just given us and control freak, anal me, was freaking out because I usually have things memorized — but it was really fun. Raini and I just have this instant chemistry that I definitely associate with how long we’ve known each other and our personalities just fit.
Ross on the other hand, I had never met before. I saw him at the test and there were a lot of other Austin’s and a lot of other Ally’s…I really don’t know why my mom and I decided to sit by that side of the room, but we did and then my mom and his dad, Mark, started talking. Somehow, Glee got brought up and Darren Criss and at that time, Riker was working on the show and I was obsessed with Darren Criss, so that came up. [I remember] Ross was playing guitar, being super chill, like he is. We actually ended up reading together in the big room when we were testing and that went really well. It was a scene we both knew and both had memorized, no big deal. He was so sweet and really quiet. People don’t realize that Ross is automatically…he’s a quiet guy and I’m a really loud, slightly obnoxious, outgoing girl, so it was kind of hilarious us together talking.
With Calum — Even though I think Ally and Dez have a lot in common, and have their own secret friendship going on, we actually didn’t read together before he was cast. He read with Raini and Ross so he met those two first. We met at the table read and I remember he was so…oh my gosh, I loved Calum right away. He was so smart and sweet and he was the oldest there. He was 19, the big 1-9 and Ross and I were mere 15-year-old’s so it was like we had this over 18 cast member on our show. He was turning 20 when we were shooting our pilot and during the first season, he turned 21. It was funny he was like ‘I can already drink in Canada, but whatever, it’s not a big deal to me’.
Right away, there were really good vibes. But the real test was when we started our first week of shooting. I sometimes think that the episode that went the most smooth in the history of Austin & Ally, and a lot of episodes went really smooth, was the first episode. That just doesn’t happen. There’s usually bumps and yea, we had a lot of rewrites, but it went so smoothly. We were ahead of schedule, we had that huge stunt with The Helen Show scene and that went well in the first take…crazy things that usually do not happen with shooting, just happened. I remember we had our first live audience and all of these kids have no idea who we are, they never ever heard of the show Austin & Ally…kids at the live audience loved it and wanted autographs that day. We all were like…that’s cool! It was such an amazing pilot experience.
Are you hoping to work together again in some way?
Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes.
Ally Dawson was a dork, and a musical genius all in one and also this really genuine character that you couldn’t help but love. What quirks did you love or was there something that you personally added to him? What would you have loved to see him try or do during the entire series?
I think Ally and I were very similar from the very beginning, but I do think her character evolved to be even more like me. I kind of see Ally, she was anal, and a control freak — which I am, don’t get me wrong — but I’m also super super dorky. Ally was definitely dorky but I think she just even just got dorkier…the writers were like, Laura is super quirky, and we have to make Ally like this.
I remember…our second episode shooting was ‘Kangaroos & Chaos’, the writers were still trying to find the tone between Austin and Ally and there were a few rewrites and figuring it out and finally the last rewrite, before the live audience, they did this really funny thing – when she’s lying to Austin and she says something about a marsupial and it was super awkward and quirky and it was absolutely perfect for me as a person, because that’s how I would say different things. In that moment, we all sort of realized that’s where Ally is. That totally made sense.
Throughout the first season, for more of her quirkiness, I added a little dance move because in one of the scripts it said that she does an ‘awkward dance move’ which soon became The Ally Way, which is the famous flailing arms. At meet and greets now and when I perform too, I still get people in the audience who want me to do The Ally Way. I can’t refuse because I think it’s hilarious that people love that dance so much. How it came about was I was practicing and reading the script with my family while we were eating our Italian dinner on a Sunday and the next day was Monday, when we started shooting. I came up with a few different dance moves and I did that one first and my mom and sister, Vanessa, told me to stop. She was like, ‘Laura, stop. You don’t have to do anything more. That is the most awkward thing that I think anyone will ever see in their entire life. That is the winner.’ It became a thing and we had quite a few episodes about it — we had a whole episode dedicated to it and now it’s The Ally Way.
The fans are completely crazy for the show. When did you realize how huge the fanbase had gotten?
It started hitting me…it comes in waves. We all went to Disneyland together and we took our executive producers because we wanted everyone there (we felt like a family) and it was a very big group at Disneyland — it was 27 people. It was December and our week had premiered just a month or two before that, it was very, very recent — and on that trip after the show being on for just a few weeks, we kept getting recognized all day. That was cool for all of us. I mean, our show was on Disney Channel and were at Disneyland, it made sense but it was still cool.
To me though, it didn’t start hitting until the second season. I didn’t have social media up until that point. I was the only one of the cast and I’m still the baby with social media. All my fans are still like, ‘Laura, update your biography. You’re not new anymore.’ I didn’t get a Twitter, and Instagram way later, until later in that second season, so I didn’t realize how huge and awesome our online fan base was getting. When I started to get into social media — I’m still trying to understand it. I’m still not the best — but I realized that wow, we have a really strong fan base, especially online. It was a really, really cool.
If there were a spin-off from Austin & Ally?
If there was a spinoff, it would definitely be Trish and Dez. On their journey in LA. Trish trying to manage other people and Dez trying to film other videos and Austin and Ally are off somewhere, and we’ll find out what they’re doing. But Trish and Dez would have to do other things and not just worry about Austin and Ally and I think that would be just amazing. Plus, Raini and Calum are just so talented and perfect and amazing. I would watch that show obsessively.
Is there a storyline from the show that you thought should’ve been longer?
Oh, yea. Where is Nelson now and also, my mom!? She was there and she decided not to go to Africa, but then never came back. Where were any of the parents for the graduation anyhow? For my own, real graduation, I was just hanging out with my parents that day. We went to a restaurant and ate, so what’s up with Penny not being there, or even Lester? I don’t know why Ally, Austin, Trish and Dez are all orphans basically. Even the siblings! Austin and Ally were both only children, but Trish and Dez both have siblings that we never see again.
I just love that Ally’s mom completely disappeared. What’s even funnier about her mom was that it was a really emotional episode about how she was going to stay and she didn’t stay. I wish that was longer.
If you could, would you do it all again? Would there be anything that you would change or would you keep it all the same?
I would definitely do it all again. What I would change…I would appreciate certain smaller moments more and appreciate certain crew members more because I grow very attached to people. Our crew was slightly different every season and not totally different — most did stay with us the entire run.
I would love to do ‘Real Life and Reel Life’ over again just because it was such a fun episode to do. That was another episode that went really smoothly. It was so fun and we got to be all these different characters as Ally and Austin. We really all bonded that episode and it was a really fun episode to film. The Glee Club one was really fun too. There were a lot of episodes I’d love to do again because they were really fun.
Where do you think your characters are in 10 years?
I don’t want to give away anything, because of our finale. But, I think Ally is continuing to make music and…that’s all I’m going to say. No spoilers, there is enough of them out there.
You were on a Disney show for four years time. Did you feel any pressure to exude that “Disney celebrity” image?
I think that everyone who is or was on a Disney or Nickelodeon show does feels pressure to grow up and be older and be edgier. For me, it’s all about staying true to myself, especially with my music coming out that is a bit edgier and a little bit different. But at the same time, I can’t change myself and make myself someone who is not me. Lucky for me, I happen to be very similar to the character I’ve been playing for four years. On top of that, it doesn’t make any sense to me to change myself. I’ve been given this incredible fan base and these incredible fans that I’ve met…it just doesn’t make sense to leave them behind. I really do want them to be on this journey with me.
But yes, you do feel certain pressure to…you get pressure both ways — to be squeaky, squeaky clean and then you get pressure to be the whole opposite of that. To be older, be edgier and I think it really comes down to what feels me. People can see what’s real and fake. Everyone is really smart today and if you’re not true to yourself, it’s very obvious. I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to do anything that isn’t true to yourself. I definitely feel the pressure, I still feel it, I felt it, but I just always remind myself to be true to who I am and once you’re doing that, you really can’t go wrong.
What will be your first project after the series finale? What are you hoping your fans will think about it?
I have a prom dress line is coming out with Sherri Hill in just a few days. We have a ton of prom and formal dresses. I have a lot of fans who are in the Bat Mitzvah age and we have dresses that are more appropriate for that too. It was much fun, not only being a part of the creative process but also modeling them. I am very short, I am not model size at all and it was really fun. I was totally out of my comfort zone posing for these photos but it was awesome. I can’t wait for everyone to see the full collection and go shopping for them.
I’m, obviously, very excited for my music. I am going to be announcing my single for you soon and I’m really excited. What we were just talking about with the pressures, I think it’s kind of why I’ve been trying to perfect my music for the last few years. I think that there was this internal struggle of ‘where do I go with it, lyrically and conceptually, sonically… am I going to be really different from Ally’s music’ and that was my struggle while creating the perfect sound for me. I finally feel like I am really, and truly authentic to myself. As I say, I like to tell everyone that my music is like Maroon 5 and 5 Seconds of Summer who spent the night out on the town and had a female love child. That would be me. Right now, the first single — I’m excited for everyone to hear it and I’m trying to make as perfect as possible and as relatable to everyone as much as possible. That’s a journey and I’m just so so so excited for everyone to hear it.
I’m planning the video process right now and that’s really excited. I’m thinking really big and I have to calm myself down. I have to give myself a talk and tell myself to calm down.
The Austin & Ally series finale airs SUNDAY, January 10th @ 8PM ET/PT on Disney Channel.