Danielle Jalade, Daria Johns and Peyton Basnight went through all the same challenges actors face when they start a new project for their series “Saturdays,” set to launch at 9 p.m. March 24 with back-to-back episodes on Disney Channel. They had to create their characters, learn their lines and perform in front of the cameras.
They faced one other obstacle that most performers on this side of the roller disco era have never had to tackle. They had to do all their regular acting work while on roller skates.
The three play three best friends who are on a quest to become the top skaters in Chicago. Paris Johnson (Jalade) and her best friends Simone (Johns) and Ari (Basnight) have formed the We-B-Girlz skate crew and want to prove they have the hottest skate routines on the planet.
All of the actors got some help preparing for the unique acting challenge with a skate camp that was held before filming started. Jalade (“Yes Day”) admits that of the three, she was the one who spent the most time seated on the roller rink floor.
Johns (“Nappily Ever After”) was a little better prepared for the challenge as the Chicago actor spent plenty of time in roller rinks while growing up in the Windy City. Even when she moved to Los Angeles, Johns sought out a place to keep skating.
“The skate camp helped me hone my skills and now I can say I am a pro,” Johns says.
Basnight (“Sudden Sisters”) found acting and skating at the same time made both 10 times more difficult. It is one thing to be hanging out with friends on the weekend but the rink gets far more congested when it is full of background skaters and even camera operators rolling along with them.
There were even times when the director was on roller blades moving along in front of them.
All of this was even more complicated for Jalade as there are times when her character is talking directly to the camera. That is counter intuitive to what TV and film actors are trained to do.
“It is really something that you are not supposed to do. But, I really enjoyed it,” Jalade says. “Looking into the camera, I really enjoyed getting to connect with the audience. I get to look them in the eyes and say ‘Did you just see what I just saw?’
“For me it was more like ‘Am I looking in the right lens?’ There are three cameras around you and you have to look to the right one.”
Another benefit of skate camp was it allowed the three young performers the opportunity to hang out together before filming started. This was a good way for them to create a bond that would translate into the tight friendship their three characters share on screen.
“Saturdays” was created by and is executive produced by Norman Vance Jr. His past producing credits include ‘Moesha,” “Girlfriends,” “American Soul” and “Swagger.”
It was only natural that Vance’s latest project would be set around those who frequent a roller rink. That’s because he comes from a very tight-knit skating family. He wanted to reflect his early life through the new series.
“We would go skating and then come home and I would have my family,” Vance says. “It’s just good to show that besides from just Saturday nights when we would go to the skating rink and have a great time, at home I had parents who would welcome me back.
“If something happened, I could download to them. It was very important to show that we have a two parent home. These kids go home and they are safe.”
Vance turned to a pair of veteran actors to portray the parents in “Saturdays.” Golden Brooks, best known for “Girlfriends,” plays the mom while Omar Gooding of “Barbershop” fame portrays the dad.
One of the other executive producers is former “black-ish” star Marsai Martin. The young TV star is finding just as much joy working behind the cameras as in front of them.
“I enjoy it in different ways than how I was with acting,” Martin says. “I like that with acting that I got to build my character. With producing, it is a way broader scale into not just touching on the talent but just the overall vision of what you are putting out there.
“It is really cool to create in this way.”
The cast of “Saturdays” also includes Jermaine Harris (“The Map of Tiny Perfect Things”) as London Johnson and Tim Johnson Jr. (“Ballers”) as Derek “D-Rok.”
Along with the launch of “Saturdays,” the mystery series “Secrets of Sulphur Springs” returns for a third season. It deals with Griffin Campbell and his family, who move into a hotel with a paranormal past. “Springs” kicks off the evening with two new episodes starting at 8 p.m. Both series will stream on Disney+ shortly after.