In the second Disney original film of the Zombies franchise, Pearce Joza joined the cast as new werewolf character Wyatt Lykensen and reprised his role for the recently-released Zombies 3. The new film was released in July worldwide on Disney+, with Pearce reuniting with the cast for the red carpet event, and it is due to be premiered on the Disney Channel in the US this Friday, 12th August. Prior to joining the Zombies franchise, Pearce played Emelian in Dwight in Shining Armor, and Spyder Johnson across all episodes of MECH-X4 for Disney XD, and amongst his other projects, he has been involved with a number of short films including the 2020 release of Under The Lights. Answering our questions, Pearce told us about the recent release of Zombies 3, joining the Zombies franchise as werewolf Wyatt Lykensen and his time as Spyder Johnson in MECH-X4.
Can you tell us about your character Wyatt Lykensen in the Zombies franchise and was there anything that drew you to the role?
Wyatt is loyal to his pack and, eventually, the town that embraced him. I was especially interested in becoming a part of Zombies 2 because the first movie was nominated for a Humanitas Prize. This organisation’s motto is, “Changing The World One Story At A Time”. Zombies 2 picks up after the difficult integration of Zombies into Seabrook, adjusting to a “new normal”. Then, enter the werewolves. I knew Zombies 2 was going to be enjoyable on its own merits as entertainment but mostly looked forward to being a part of the film as a metaphor for towns, cities, states, and the world at large. Different cultural traditions may seem strange to us when we are first introduced to them but once we get to know people, we find they are like us in the most fundamental ways. Most people want what we want: opportunities to learn and work, the freedom to live without fear, and the opportunity to love their family and friends.
What is Wyatt like to play and what do you enjoy most about working on the films?
Sometimes people who were once marginalised forget their fight after they’ve been accepted and turn around only to suppress others. Wyatt and his wolfpack had just been accepted into Seabrook after a fight by the end of Zombies 2, yet in Zombies 3, he and his pack made judgments about the aliens. In the wolfpack song, Come on Out, we sing, “You’re not welcome ‘round here”. Wyatt finally realises he’s been hypocritical and tells WIlla, “We also lied when we came here to find the moonstone”. It’s certainly fun to work with a great group of people who actually become your extended family but being a part of important messages like the ones in the Zombies franchise has been the most rewarding part.
How much did you know about Zombies before auditioning and how was it joining the cast in Zombies 2?
Having seen the first Zombies movie, I was familiar with the style and message. I had to audition several times, so by the time I was cast, I had a real affinity for Wyatt. The original Zombies cast was overwhelmingly welcoming, just like the message of the Zombies series! I felt very blessed to be received and supported in the Zombies 2 film like they’d known me for years. I hope the new cast in the Zombies 3 movie felt the same way.
Do you remember how you felt reading the script and getting into character for the first time?
I vividly recall my first read of the script. Interestingly, Wyatt’s personality evolved a bit from the first script I read to the time we began filming. Getting into character for Zombies 2 meant getting used to the fangs and having the fingernails retouched regularly! These things, and the wardrobe, really does help an actor get into the character.
What is it like working with the rest of the cast and being on set of a Disney production?
A Disney set is always special. My first experience was playing Daniel, the fourth bionic brother on Lab Rats: Bionic Island; then MECH-X4, and most recently, the Zombies series. Each set is unique, of course, but has in common the comradery of the crew and cast to support each other while everyone works hard to create something special for the audience.
How has it been seeing the response to the new release of Zombies 3 and how was it reprising your role for the new film?
Everyone was thrilled with the response to Zombies 2 and now the reaction to Zombies 3 is equally as amazing! I was so happy to get to revisit Wyatt and move his story along. In addition to the general Zombies message, Zombies 3 fans noted the issue of the parallel of struggling with barriers to get a good college education just as Zed struggled. Another theme I’m proud of is that competition does not mean hatred of the other party; it means being pushed to do one’s best.
What is the music and choreography like to learn and perform?
Learning the choreography takes a lot of practice and patience, for some (me) more than others. LOL! When I lived in Colorado, I participated in snowboarding, mountain biking, and triathlons. I love to be moving. So I am always in awe of the professional dancers in our cast and the choreographers. I grew up performing in musical theatre and like to sing. But singing in a studio is next-level. We had the most amazing vocal coaches to get the sound and fluidity but also the emotion. My short solo in Zombies 3 – Someday has quite a different emotion than my portion of Come on Out.
Can you say about some of the events/projects you have been part of during your time in Zombies?
I’ve gotten the privilege to compete in two Magic Quest adventures. I was so lucky to go into a Disney park after dark! Both the Summer Quest and the Holiday Quest were a blast to film with my pals from the Zombies series. When we participated in the Build Q&A, we first got to walk past a gigantic neon “poster” for Zombies 2 on a New York City Times Square marquee. That was special!
In 2019, you appeared in episodes of Dwight in Shining Armor as Emelian, how was the experience?
Working with Sloane Siegel, Caitlin Carmichael, and Evan Hofer was the best! Again, I came into a series with people who had already established relationships on and off the set. This group of actors was also incredibly welcoming to me as was the crew. As an actor, it is a dream to be able to portray different people. I am grateful that this role gave me the opportunity to breathe life into another “person”. This series films a lot outdoors, off the set. You have to be prepared for chiggers, logs and sticks, unexpected water, and many other outdoor challenges. The Dwight in Shining Armor ensemble and team were professionals all the way.
You’ve previously played Spyder Johnson in MECH-X4, what was this like?
Playing Spyder was a blast! I had performed stand-up during open mic nights and improv programs which helped me with Spyder’s silliness and goofiness. The director would sometimes allow us to improv lines, which I loved. I hold affection for Spyder because he was not always the most knowledgeable or the most talented, but he was always there for his friends, trying his best!
Do you have any stand-out memories from your time playing Spyder?
Our first day of filming was on location, in the rain, riding bikes to find the robot. I had filmed on location several times before but this was the first large-budget program on an outdoor shoot. I will never forget being in wonderment that day. Filming with the hybrid wolf-dogs, stuck in the small closet with my friend Alyssa Jirrels, who played Veracity, is also a stand-out memory. I finished my high school degree by taking rigorous college courses so my mother would always request that I say that in interviews so kids who were watching would want to stay in school as Spyder famously often talked about not doing well in school! LOL.
What are some of your highlights from your acting career so far and can you say about some of the other projects you’ve worked on?
I co-starred in a recent short film that won many awards, including the Tribeca Film Festival’s Untold Stories Fan Favorite Award. In this film, I play a teenager with epilepsy who wants just one day to feel “normal”. In preparation, I spoke with doctors, teens with seizure disorders, parents, and advocates. It was life-changing. In the United States, and perhaps in other countries, you can watch it on YouTube: Under The Lights Film. As a young actor, I was in other award-winning independent films such as BOYS, How to Beat a Bully, and Best of Seven. These can be seen on various platforms. All three of these films bring to the forefront important societal issues.
How did you get into acting and is it something you always wanted to do?
When I was four, my mother took me to a production of Frog and Toad. I was mesmerised! My family’s home backed up to half-a-million National Forest acres and I was lucky to pretend that logs were ships on the high seas, submarines, or trains. I spent my young life pretending and I could not believe that people did it together on a stage! Soon after that, I was in a few productions a year in my hometown of Durango, Colorado. I was 11 when I first got paid to act. My parents brought me to California, they watched me while I filmed my scene, talking to the director. Afterward, they said, “How did you know what to do? You looked so relaxed”. Even though I had never before acted in front of a camera, I answered, “It’s what I do”. I’ve felt that way ever since.
What do you enjoy doing away from your career and do you have any favourite TV shows and films to watch?
I love to golf, and play pick-up basketball and spikeball. Sometimes I surf but not as often as I used to. If I’m watching TV for fun and relaxation, I’ll watch professional sports, comedies, and dramedies. But sometimes I’ll choose to watch something to see my idols on screen so I can learn from them: Morgan Freeman, Sean Penn, Steven Yeun, Forest Whitaker, Robert Downey Jr., Leonardo DiCaprio, Danny Glover, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, Jamie Foxx, Gary Oldman, Ewan McGregor, and Don Cheadle, to name a few.
What are you hoping the upcoming year brings for your career?
I hope to continue my good fortune working with incredibly talented people in front of and behind the camera, playing a wide array of characters that move people, serving as a catalyst to consider new ideas.
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