With the screen adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s book Little Darlings, Diaana Babnicova plays Sunset in this year’s releases alongside a cast including Lemar (as Danny), Jamelia (as Kate) and Janae Vito (as Destiny). The series follows sisters Sunset and Destiny, and features original music, which saw Diaana in the studio working with Lemar on the soundtrack. Diaana has worked on a variety of screen projects, including playing Billie in the horror film Don’t Breathe 2, Young Jessica in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (which was released during COVID) and filming George Ezra’s music video for Pretty Shining People. Also having stage experience, Diaana played Shonelle in School of Rock at the Gillian Lynne Theatre, which marked her West End debut, and she trains at Sylvia Young Theatre School. Speaking with Diaana, she tells us about playing Sunset in Little Darlings, filming for Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey and making her West End debut in School of Rock.
What is Sunset like to play in Little Darlings and how did you feel finding out you’d booked the role?
Sunset in Little Darlings is such a fun character to play. She has different qualities to her like her adventurous and rebellious side when she is with Destiny and her chill side when she is in her own zone. I loved how Sunset was a great big sister to her siblings especially because I have always wanted to have a younger sibling, so I enjoyed getting to experience that.
I was very excited to have booked the role of Sunset, especially because I have always been a fan of the Jacqueline Wilson books. The thought of bringing one of her books to life is incredible. I was so happy that I was going to be a part of a big family mainly because I am very close to my family.
How much did you know about the story before being cast and what drew you to the show?
To be honest, I didn’t know much about the story but after going through the script, I was instantly drawn to the story of the two sisters connecting after many years and how they were both brought up in two very different households and the love they have for each other.
Can you tell us about Little Darlings and why would you recommend watching the series and spin-off On Tour: Little Darlings?
Little Darlings is about two sisters, Sunset and Destiny, who find a soulmate in each other through their instant connection and mutual passion for music. The two sisters see each other in a way no one else can. Bringing out each other’s hidden talent to shine for the world to see. Little Darlings has got original music, it has comedy and it shows two different families that everyone can relate to which includes the exciting adventures of the spin-off On Tour.
I would recommend watching Little Darlings because it’s funny and everyone can relate to it. I think it has a positive outlook which sends a very positive message. It’s a lovely story and all the characters bring their own spice to it. There is something in there for everyone so the whole family can enjoy it.
What was it like seeing the completed series come together and how has it been seeing the response to the release?
It was thrilling to see everything together because when you’re on set you only see bits so seeing everything come together was incredible and I felt proud of the work everyone put in to get to the final edit. The response since being released has been amazing, from school, from family and from people I didn’t know. They loved the characters, the comedy aspect of it and the catchy music.
How was it meeting the rest of the cast for the first time and what do you remember from your first day on set?
The first time I met the cast was when we did the cast read-through. Hearing the whole project coming together was amazing. There was an instant connection between us, but it was also surreal seeing and meeting everyone. I remember my first day on set of Little Darlings being amazing and being with Lemar and Jamelia and the rest of the family. Getting into character in hair and makeup for the first time really made it feel real and I knew it was going to be an amazing experience.
How did you find the experience recording the songs for Little Darlings?
I have always wanted to record my own song and just being able to get into the studio with Lemar was a highlight. Not only were the songs unbelievably amazing, but I got to express Sunset’s emotions through music, which was very magical for me.
Can you tell us about your time on set of Don’t Breathe 2 and how was it working on a horror film?
The set of Don’t Breathe 2 was filmed abroad, which on its own is amazing, but everyone on set was fantastic. I got to be on set with other kids and we were all on a roundabout that went so fast, we were a bit scared, but it was so much fun, and the director made us feel comfortable. I got to meet some really cool people, who on set looked scary but in real life, they were amazing to hang around with. It was my first time working on a horror film and it was very different. While I was there, we filmed a night shoot which was intriguing to see how everything works and comes together.
What did you enjoy most about playing Billie in Don’t Breathe 2?
Billie’s character is different to the characters I usually play. She is chill and mysterious and takes care of the other kids in the shelter. She has loads of independence and she gets to do her own hair and dress how she likes. I remember, when I was doing my fitting for Billie, I got to choose my favourite outfits that I thought she would wear. Also, I love how she is free-spirited and fun.
Do you have any favourite memories from playing Young Jessica in Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey?
I have a few memories from playing Young Jessica. My favourite memory was when I met Don Juan for the first time and seeing the magic bring him to life was fascinating. Also, the scene where I work out the impossible formula with my dad and filming the song This Day. Every moment on Jingle Jangle was special.
What was it like filming for a Christmas release and working on your film debut?
Christmas is a very special time and to be able to film a Christmas movie which celebrates the festive season was amazing knowing that it would bring smiles to people’s faces and remind people of the hope of all possibilities and that everything is possible. Making my film debut and getting to meet and work with the cast and crew was exceptional. Working with the director, David E. Talbert, who made me feel so comfortable, and I also met Lynn Talbert, who was a producer, who was also very kind. We had so much fun on set and loads of snacks. I also had the opportunity of meeting Forest Whitaker, Phylicia Rashad, Anika Noni Rose and many more incredible casts.
Do you remember how you felt when the film was released and you saw it for the first time?
Jingle Jangle was released during COVID, so I couldn’t wait for it to come out and see how everything came together. When it got released, I was beaming with excitement and I think I watched it about a hundred times, seeing how everything fit and including the music. I felt so privileged to have been part of the amazing cast and crew. I grin every time I watch it…
You’ve previously filmed George Ezra’s music video for Pretty Shining People, what was this like to do?
Filming Pretty Shining People with George Ezra was a wonderful insight for what was to come for me, I actually got the opportunity to interview George Ezra after the shoot; I was a bit nervous as that was my very first experience with someone I look up to, but he really helped me to feel comfortable. Also, it was a shoot with loads of other really talented kids, which was so much fun!
On stage, you made your West End debut in School of Rock as Shonelle, how was this?
This really was a jump from anything I had done before, but wow was it so much fun! The live audience filled me with so much adrenaline and made me look forward to every show after that. Also, I met some wonderful people that helped me on my School of Rock journey which I have kept as lifelong friends to this day. In addition, I got to play a role which allowed me to sing to an audience every single night which was a dream fulfilled.
What are some of your stand-out highlights from your time in the musical at the Gillian Lynne Theatre?
One of my many stand-out highlights at the Gillian Lynne Theatre was my final show where all generations of School of Rock came together to perform one final show. In fact, I remember looking into the audience and seeing my family, friends and filmmakers, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, which was a pretty emotional experience and a fitting farewell for the West End show.
Where does your love of acting and performing come from and how did you start?
I remember performing to my family at the age of five and since then it has really just been a passion that I have just pursued. After that, my mum would just take me to church every Sunday and every special occasion I would perform to the entire church. My first real taste of the performing arts industry was at the training for The Lion King Cub School and was fortunate enough to work with the team. My time there gave me fundamental skills and confidence for auditions. I was also very fortunate to get signed to Sylvia Young Agency at the age of nine, who are incredible and has helped me with so many opportunities.
Can you tell us about your training with Sylvia Young Theatre School?
Sylvia Young Theatre School is a remarkable school which teaches fantastic vocational and academic skills, of which there are not many schools that can teach both in high standard. Before Sylvia Young, I had not done any ballet, tap or jazz, but now I get to do it twice a week, which is so much fun. In addition, the camaraderie the school’s community creates is a very supportive space to learn and have fun.
What are some of your favourite films, TV and theatre shows to watch?
My favourite films and TV shows include: K.C. Undercover, Pitch Perfect and Friends, which I know the script word by word after watching it over 100 times. I just love the singing, comedy and ultimately the fact that I can binge-watch them over and over again.
How do you like to spend your free time?
In my free time, I love to do artistry like canvas painting, writing poems and songs and ice skating, which I try to do once a week. In my spare time, I like to do things which relax me, especially after a long day of work.
Do you have any upcoming plans you can tell us about?
Yes, but I have an NDA so the secret will have to be kept quiet for a little longer.
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