This month, Lily Brooks O’Briant’s latest project Life By Ella was released on Apple TV+ on September 2nd, in which she plays lead character Ella McCaffrey, who has returned to school after beating cancer. Lily Brooks had her first series regular role playing Mandy in The Big Show Show on Netflix alongside her on-screen parents played by Big Show and Allison Munn, and amongst her other screen projects, she played Carly Gray in feature film Shark Lake and Jessica in short film Make a Wish. Early in her acting career, Lily Brooks toured America in the US National Tour of Matilda The Musical, starring as Matilda. We recently spoke to Lily Brooks about playing lead character Ella in the Apple TV+ series Life By Ella, filming as Mandy in Netflix’s The Big Show Show and touring America with Matilda The Musical.
In the new Apple TV+ series Life By Ella, you star in the leading role of Ella, can you tell us about the show and your character?
Ella is fun, brave, and determined to embrace each moment of life. Before cancer, Ella was focused more on pleasing others and was afraid to be herself. We meet Ella when she is returning to school after beating cancer with a brand-new perspective, excitement for what the future holds, and a major seize the day mentality. Post cancer, Ella is not afraid to be herself, and she is also incredibly adventurous. I admire Ella’s strength, determination, and excitement toward life.
What is Ella like to play and was there anything that drew you to the role?
Playing Ella was an absolute dream come true. I learned so much from playing Ella and I am so incredibly grateful for all that I have learned. Throughout the show, Ella is always showing the people around her how to live life to the fullest and not be afraid of anything. After going through treatment for cancer, Ella has taken on a new “Seize the Day” mentality. Ella’s experience battling cancer taught her not to be afraid of anything. Going through treatment, she was constantly faced with things so much bigger than her that she couldn’t control. But she made it through and now that she has been given a second chance at life, she isn’t going to shy away from living the life she wants to live just because she is afraid. Cancer has taught her not to let fear stop her from living. I have learned a lot about myself and about life through this outlook that my character Ella has on life. This mindset that Ella has on life is one of the reasons I was so drawn to this story and this character. I am a youth ambassador for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and I have a few childhood friends who were treated at St. Jude for childhood cancer. I had the honour of talking to those friends and hearing about their experiences and being able to learn from their experiences and take pieces of their experiences and put them into my character to accurately represent Ella and what she is going through.
Do you remember how you felt finding out you’d booked the role and what was it like meeting the rest of the cast?
I was beaming when I found out I had booked the role of Ella on Life By Ella. I was so excited to get started and begin telling this beautiful and incredibly important story. Meeting my other castmates was so much fun! Everyone just became a family so quickly and it was just so incredible working with everyone on this show. I have learned so much from each person in the cast as well as our amazing crew.
Did you have a favourite scene or episode to film and how was it reading the scripts for the first time?
I had a blast filming every one of the episodes in this show. But one of my favourites was Episode 6! We had the amazing honour of having Hayley Kiyoko on our show and she was AWESOME! Hayley was so sweet and such an incredible actor and performer who cared about telling Ella’s story just as much as we did.
What are some of your stand-out highlights from filming Life By Ella?
I learned so much from working with the amazing cast members and directors on Life By Ella. It was a dream come true to play the title role in Life By Ella. I connected with Ella and her story from the moment I read the first audition sides. I was extremely committed to the role and talked with friends who had battled cancer as a teenager to try to understand what they faced and how they felt. I also cut my hair, which was long, to a really short bob cut. It was a huge responsibility to play a teenager who had battled cancer and I wanted to make sure that I did everything I could to give teens with cancer an accurate voice to share what it is like and how it changes you. I was so lucky to have two amazing creators in Tim (Pollock) and Jeff (Hodsden), and our producers at Apple TV+ were incredible in their support of the vision of this show.
Why would you recommend watching Life By Ella on Apple TV+ and who do you think it will appeal to?
One of my favourite things about Life By Ella is that it is a show that families can watch all together. No matter what age you are, I know that you will be able to relate to so many of the characters in Life By Ella.
You played Mandy in The Big Show Show on Netflix, what was she like to play and how was it on set of the series?
Playing Mandy on the Netflix show The Big Show Show was so much fun! I drew a lot of inspiration for my character from Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation so I watched a lot of that show while filming The Big Show Show. The amazing cast and crew on this show just made the show so much fun. We all had a blast with each other on and off set.
What did you enjoy most about filming with your on-screen family, which included Big Show and Allison Munn as your parents?
The thing I enjoyed most about working with my The Big Show Show family was just how close we were. We all were always hanging out and talking and even when we were done filming, we still would go out and have fun as an “on-screen family”. Big Show even took the TBSS family to go see Ariana Grande and that was such a blast! Another thing I loved about working on The Big Show Show was just how much I learned from everyone around me. Mandy was my first ever series regular role and I was just so excited to be on set and learn so much from the cast.
What do you remember most from playing Carly Gray in the feature film Shark Lake?
One of the things I remember most about filming Shark Lake was how much I loved acting and working. Working on Shark Lake was where I discovered that acting was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I enjoyed every second of being on set and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.
Having worked on several short films, including Bounce, Make a Wish, Daddy and Papa, and Marina, what are short films like to work on?
Working on short films is such a fun experience. The thing I love most about having worked on so many short films is that I have been able to play so many different types of characters. Doing this has taught me so much about myself as an actress and also about how the film/TV industry works.
What are some of your favourite memories from playing Matilda in the US National Tour of Matilda The Musical?
One of my all-time favourite memories from playing Matilda is my opening night. I remember I was so nervous to perform as Matilda for the first time in front of a big audience, but I had so many people there to support me on and off the stage. Before I went on, my castmates and I had a big group huddle and everyone was giving me hugs before I went on stage. I felt so supported and I knew that my fellow castmates always had my back. Playing Matilda is an experience I will never forget and one that has shaped who I am as a person and an actor today.
How much did you know about Matilda before booking your role and how did you find the experience touring America with the show?
Matilda had been my dream role since I first saw the musical in NYC years before I began auditioning for the show. When I first saw Matilda The Musical on Broadway, I just knew that I wanted to be up on stage playing Matilda one day. So I worked and worked and auditioned and auditioned until I finally booked the role. Playing Matilda and touring around the USA was such a surreal experience. My favourite place we visited was Washington DC.
Where does your love of acting and performing come from and how did you start?
My love of performing started when I was very, very little. I used to put on little concerts in my kitchen for my parents and would sing along to Taylor Swift. I have just always had a big love for performing. And then one day my mom took me to go and see a play at our local community theatre and that night I just fell in love with theatre and told my mom that I wanted to do theatre. She let me do a little theatre summer camp and I loved it. After that, I continued doing theatre and then one day decided I wanted to try doing film and TV. I tried for months to convince my mom to let me try it and she finally took me and my sibling to Atlanta to try doing background work on TV shows. I fell in love with being on set and the rest is history.
Do you have any favourite films, TV and theatre show to watch and how do you like to spend your time away from acting?
My favourite TV shows right now are Gilmore Girls, How to Get Away With Murder and Grey’s Anatomy. Away from acting, I love taking trapeze lessons on the Santa Monica pier and going to Disneyland or the beach with my family.
Do you have any projects coming up that you can tell us about?
You should follow me on all social media platforms to stay tuned for what is next!
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