Claudia Lee wasn't born during the heyday of parachute pants, scrunchies and Jesus Jones, but the 17-year-old Indiana native has gotten a crash course in 1990s trivia starring on "Surviving Jack."
Debuting at 8:30 p.m. March 27, the new Fox comedy is based on the childhood of writer Justin Halpern, who created the [Bleep] My Dad Says Twitter feed. Set in the early '90s, it stars Christopher Meloni as Jack Dunlevy, a no-nonsense dad who takes over most of the parenting duties of his teen daughter and son when his wife, Joanne (Rachael Harris), goes back to law school.
Lee plays Rachel Dunlevy, the savvy 17-year-old who knows how to work her parents to get exactly what she wants, much to the amazement of her younger brother, Frankie (Connor Buckley).
"She's the female version of her father," Lee said, "and it's very cool to play a confident, popular teenager."
Lee was able to roll right into the new role from her previous gig on The CW's "Hart of Dixie," where she played another teen, Magnolia Breeland. And, she said during a Wednesday interview at RedEye, she has experience pushing boundaries with her own father, Klaudius.
"I test my father all the time ..." she said as her dad winked—maybe in agreement. "Sometimes I think I'm the reason why he has gray hair."
Her parents' must be used to it by now. Lee was born in West Lafayette in 1996 and by the age of 5, she regularly asked why she didn't have an agent or a manager. "I think they were very alarmed," she said.
After attending an acting camp at 13, she finally got a manager and in 2009 moved to Hollywood, where she booked a national commercial and a role on Disney XD's "Zeke and Luther."
Lee grew up listening to late '90s music from Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, but she didn't know much about tunes from earlier in the era until "Surviving Jack." Her costar Harris said in a conference call earlier in the week that when Harris and the makeup and hair stylists would sing those songs, "we would just get blank stares from Claudia Lee."
"Rachael was always like, 'Claudia you need to listen to Peter Gabriel,' and I was like, 'Peter Gabriel, what?'" Lee said.
Lee did take Harris' advice about at least one '90s-ism while filming the eight-episode season.
"She said, 'Oh my God, you have to say "No, doy,"'" Lee said. "And I was like, 'They said that in the '90s? I really hope they didn't.'"
They did, and now Lee does, too—at least on TV.
What's happening to Magnolia now that you're on this show?
I don't know what's going to happen with "Hart of Dixie." My main focus right now is "Surviving Jack."
She tests her dad—and her mom.
She is testing her father a little bit ... She is a straight A student and that's where her intelligence plays in. When you're a teenager you always think you're right, but she has those moments where she realizes, "Oh, maybe I'm not so right after all."
She knows how to get away with things?
Oh yeah, of course. She likes getting by with her good looks.
Is Rachel going to get into even more trouble than she does with Mango in the first episode?
Oh yes, she does. There's an episode where she joins the wrestling team, which is really cool. You guys will have to see that. Also we have a homecoming episode where she kind of fights for what she believes in and I think will be a little shocked at what she's promoting. They'll be like, "Wow, her morals are very messed up."
I don't see her as a rough-and-tumble wrestling type.
I don't know. You'll just have to see how it works out. She does work that outfit though. That one-piece is so attractive. [Laughs.]
Has it been fun to learn about the early 1990s, which you missed?
It really has. I love the fashion from the 90s. I know everyone thinks it's awful, but it was really cool creating that side to my character because our designer, Marian Toy, would not let my character repeat an outfit. It was like a pure joy to wake up early in the morning and see what I was going to wear. And everything matched—like we had two scrunchies on one wrist, a scrunchie in the hair. Everything was coordinated and everything worked.
Rachel sounds maybe a little spoiled?
She's a little spoiled.
Which parent allows her to get away with more?
I think she gets away with things from both parents. They just can't keep up with her because she's so ahead of the game. I think they're more in shock and kind of taken aback by how their daughter just plans everything out. And it's really cool to see them kind of have moments like, "Wow, we created this monster."
Is it odd playing in this era where there was no Internet or cell phones?
I love it because sometimes I wish I didn't have a cell phone. But I love being connected with all of my fans and I love tweeting and instagramming. But I think that something is not going to hurt my generation, but going to affect their relationships and how they interact with people. Nowadays people are so comfortable behind this kind of protective wall of being able to say whatever they want, but they can't say it to your face.
What's it like to work with Chris and Rachael?
It's amazing. I respect them so much. I love Chris; I think he's such a wonderful person. I love how serious he is about his craft and how he has a vision for everything and if he has an opinion he'll say it. He wants the best for the scene. I love working with him and I truly respect him. Many people are intimidated by him because of the characters he's played in the past, but I think that's out of a sense of respect. He's someone I look up to. I love how he's such a lovely father in real life. It's kind of cool because I hang out with his daughter.
Rachael has said, "I want to be Claudia Lee when I grow up." What's your reaction?
It's so lovely to hear her say that; she's said that to my face. I respect Rachael so much and think she is such a lovely person. I love working with her and she's such a talented comedienne. She can look at a scene and find five different ways to sell the joke and they'll all be brilliant. She's just always about what's the best thing we can do for the show. I love the fact that she has such respect for me as well because being a kid sometimes it's tough when you're working in an adult environment ... I think it's such a huge compliment and it makes me feel a little warm inside.
Do you ever get to go back to Indiana?
I do get to go back to Indiana but not as often as I'd like. But when I do go back I'm like, "OK, I need to go back to California." It's such a slow-paced lifestyle and I'm used to things happening so last-minute or always being on the go.
We talked about you coming to Lollapalooza this summer, but tell me about your music?
I recorded my album when I was 13 and I'm going to be 18 in June. So I have definitely grown up. The things that I sang about when I was 13 are very different from what I've been working on now. I love music; I think it's very personal and relatable and everyone responds to it differently. So I've just been creating music to kind of have fun and have a good time. A lot of my friends are successful in the music industry and it's kind of our hangout mode. We hang out and create music and that's our fun.
You got to sing on "Hart of Dixie?"
Yeah that was really cool. It was one of my own songs from my album and that was a really fun moment.
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