Lucire
The global fashion magazine February 26, 2024 

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Living her truth

LIVING From studying acting, singing and dancing since age six to Disney’s Zombies franchise and now The Winchesters, Meg Donnelly shines in so many ways. Jack Yan interviews her

Photographed by Lucas Passmore
Make-up by Beth Follert
Styled by Karlee Parrish
Hair by Ashley Lynn Hall/Atelier Management using Oribe
From issue 45 of Lucire

 

 

Meg Donnelly

Blazer and top by Zara
Trouser by MaxMara
Rings and earrings by Stica
Make-up from Āthr Beauty and Armani Beauty

 

Meg Donnelly is one of those multi-talented performers: gifted in music and acting, lighting up the screen in hits such as the Disney Zombies series playing Addison, or more recently, as Taylor Otto in American Housewife, which concluded a five-season run last year. Her music, including a début album, Trust, has earned her even more fans. All have netted her a sizeable following in social media (over a million on Instagram), where she’s showcased her work, and discussed dealing with anxiety. Her abilities are without question; but there’s a real side to Donnelly, too, that her fans can relate to.

She notes that that social media are a two-way street for her. ‘I feel it’s important to utilize social media platforms to connect with my fans. I love them. They are kind, and without them, I wouldn’t have had many of the opportunities I’ve enjoyed. I hear their stories about how I, or my character Addison, have helped them through difficult times. So I want to support them, let them know how strong they are and also bring them a bit of fun.’

Performing is something that’s been with Donnelly since childhood, and something she’s loved for as long as she can remember. ‘When I was a kid, I tried sports but I had absolutely no interest … just picking flowers and singing the whole time. On top of that, I used to try and jump up on stage whenever there was a band playing at a local restaurant or at outdoor festivals. At five years old, I was obsessed with the musical Rent (and I still am obsessed), which really piqued my interest in musical theatre!’

When she was six, she and her father, Michael, saw a sign in a window reading, ‘Coming soon: sing, dance and act’. That turned out to be Annie’s Playhouse in Far Hills, New Jersey, a performing arts’ school, which continues to showcase its famous alumna on its home page. She was signed up and took classes in musical theatre, dance and acting, which she took intently five nights a week and on Saturday mornings.

‘I thank the universe every day for musical theatre and what it has done for my life. Also, shout out to Annie’s Playhouse for being the best.’

She describes being on stage as an ‘escape, and something I have always been so passionate about.’ She adds, ‘I’m so thankful for the strength performing has given me.’

Annie’s notes that Donnelly was signed up professionally through its Broadway series programme. She recalls, ‘I signed with a manager at the age of 10 for only musical theatre. However, they did have a TV-commercial division as well, so they asked me if I’d be interested in film and TV. It was hard for me to transition at first because I was an animated, theatre kid with a big voice. However, I really fell in love with acting on camera, it’s just a different kind of performing. I loved working on Sesame Street and I feel grateful to have worked on Team Toon. Not only did I make friends for life, the experience thought me so much about the industry, being on set and taking direction. I truly don’t think I’d be where I am if I hadn’t worked on Team Toon.’

Donnelly attended Annie’s from age six through fourteen, when her family moved to New York City full-time.

It was in New York that she discovered a love of Japan, which prompted her to start learning the language, something she continues to do today. ‘When I was attending high school at the Professional Children’s School … there were exchange students there from Japan. They were dancers that were forming a boy band. They taught a few dance classes at pcs that I attended. I developed a friendship with them (which still continues until today). They were learning English, so I decided to take up Japanese to better communicate with them. After they left go back to Japan, I continued my studies. I even had a chance to travel to Tokyo to visit with them and promote Zombies at Disney Channel Japan. I also did a Japanese version of my single, “Smile”. I love the Japanese culture and especially the people!’

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Blazer, top and trouser by Theory
Rings and earrings by Stica
Make-up from Charlotte Tilbury and Westman Atelier

 

Following from her time on Team Toon as Ash (from 2013 to 2015), Donnelly eventually impressed those casting for the role of Taylor, a teenager trying to fit in with her classmates after her family moves to a pretentious neighbourhood in Westport, Connecticut, in American Housewife. But she didn’t initially get the role in the long-running sitcom.

‘Ahh … American Housewife. I could [talk] forever about it,’ she says. ‘I felt so absolutely blessed to be apart of such a funny show. This project changed my entire life! I moved out to LA full-time just two days after my 16th birthday! I was extremely nervous because it was my first big project. To top it off, after a lengthy audition process, I was originally passed over for the part of Taylor and was not [in] the pilot.’

Johnny Sequoyah, then just 14, was originally cast for the pilot, but when ABC picked up the series, Donnelly stepped into the role for episode two.

‘As a result, I felt additional pressure to prove myself, as everyone else already knew each other and I was walking in as the new kid. But, every person in the cast and the crew was incredibly welcoming. I felt at home immediately. I always thought the script was insanely hilarious. I didn’t know if the show was going to be successful and for how long. I just was having so much fun!’ she says.

‘I truly believe hard work and talent “get you in the room”. However, there is a lot in the selection process that is out of the performer’s control. At that point, a little luck is needed. So if I had to put a percentage on it, 80 per cent hard work and talent, and 20 per cent luck.’

Donnelly counts those who had worked with her up to this point as the greatest influences on her. ‘It started with Annie Forgione at Annie’s Playhouse, as she is the first to help shape my singing voice and to believe in my talent. Will Wedig, director, Team Toon, for introducing me to the world of a production set. What to do in front of the camera and how it all works behind it.

‘Meeting and working with famous performers on Sound of Music Live!: Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer, Audra McDonald, Christian Borle and Laura Benanti.’ (Donnelly was the understudy for the part of Lisl in the TV special.)

‘[American Housewife’s] Katy Mixon was inspirational, to see a strong woman as a lead of a TV show while raising two small children and setting the tone for the family environment of the set. It was so empowering.’

Finally, her screen father on the sitcom, ‘Diedrich Bader for helping me fully transition from the “new kid” to an integral part of the American Housewife family. And for giving me the advice of “Always be prepared, but always have fun!”’

In 2018 came the Disney Channel TV musical movie Zombies. At its core is a story about outsiders and the initial suspicion surrounding them, and the friendships that are formed as they are accepted. Unlike the usual zombie fare, this involves students from Zombietown attending a regular, suburban high school, and takes Zombies & Cheerleaders, an unaired musical by David Light and Joseph Raso filmed initially in 2012 as its source material.

Donnelly’s role, as cheerleader Addison, is zombie Zed’s crush, and herself being new to the school, harbours no prejudices against the newcomers. Fittingly for Disney, the central message is ‘be kind’.

‘We should always choose kindness,’ says Donnelly. ‘To treat people how you want to be treated. I am proud to play Addison, as she is the driving force to bring people together. She sees the good in people no matter the adversity. I learned a lot from her character and strive to be like her every day. Being kind is simple and it starts by listening and seeing people for who they are. As there is nothing better then people being able to be their selves and know their own truth.’

Zombies has proved to be a hit for Disney, with further TV movies and spinoffs.

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Meg Donnelly
Vintage Linda Richards coat
Top by Dion Lee
Trouser by MaxMara
Rings and earrings by Stica
Make-up from Āthr Beauty and Armani Beauty

 

She remains mum about Zombies 3, released this year. ‘I want everyone to watch so I am not going to say much. Addison is always about leading and helping others; it is now her time to find out where she belongs and who she really is (with help from her friends). Plus there are awesome new characters and bigger and better songs and dance numbers!

‘I am looking forward to when Zombies 3 promotions start as engaging the fans is the best thing ever!’

Until then, Donnelly has been sharing snippets from her work and private lives, including snapshots with her boyfriend Noah Zulfikar, himself an actor. ‘We understand we have a public life, but we are able to balance the two,’ she says.

Zombies combines both of Donnelly’s loves: acting and music. ‘It has been a balance, as I love them both equally, as they are both therapeutic in their own ways. Acting allows me to escape into another character and learn and see through the lens of another person. Whereas music is a creative force that allows me to put my feelings and experiences to melodic and sometimes fun dance beats. As a rule, during my breaks from acting projects, I work on my music. I am not sure when new music will be coming out, but hopefully soon.’

The ideal future role would bring together all of the things that give her joy: ‘I would like to pursue strong female (kick ass) roles to empower young fans, whether they are on the small screen, feature film, or Broadway. Music is part of me so any role with a musical component would be incredible. And of course, my ultimate role is anything Marvel. A girl can dream …’

In 2022, Donnelly might be coming closer to that dream, after getting cast in The Winchesters, the Supernatural prequel, which has been picked up for a series. Donnelly plays Mary Campbell, the future mother of brothers Dean and Sam Winchester in Supernatural, herself a woman who hunts otherworldly beings to keep the world safe. Set in the early 1970s, the series comes with a built-in fan base from 15 seasons of Supernatural, and early reports indicate fans are already excited. •

 

Jack Yan is founder and publisher of Lucire. This story was first published in 2022.

 


Coat and trouser by Zara
Top by LNA
Rings and earrings by Stica
Make-up from Charlotte Tilbury and Westman Atelier

 

 

 

 

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