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Lucas Grabeel Talks ‘Switched at Birth’ Dance Episode, Working With Mandy Moore on ‘Sheriff Callie’s Wild West’ + More [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

Lucas Grabeel
Disney Junior/Rick Rowell

If it seems like you’re hearing Lucas Grabeel’s name everywhere, it’s because you are. The ‘High School Musical’ star lends his talents to two TV shows, just dropped a music video and has a pretty serious to-do list for 2014.

Lucas took a break to talk to PopCrush about an extra-special episode of ‘Switched at Birth,’ voicing an animated character on Disney’s ‘Sheriff Callie’s Wild West’ and creating a custom dance move for his new track, ’135n8.’ (He even talked about having a childhood crush on co-star Mandy Moore!)

There’s the danced-themed episode of ‘Switched at Birth’ coming up. What can you tell us about Toby’s role in the episode?

I do get a chance to cut loose — footloose — a little bit. I’m not dancing to ‘Footloose.’ I see that may be misleading. (Laughs) I get to dance a couple of times in the episode. There’s a couple of little group numbers that we do together, which are really great, and then there’s a little solo number that I get to do, where I just kind of free-form dance around my apartment, which is a lot of fun. It was a lot of fun to shoot because I kind of just got to make up some stuff and be crazy and wild.

The whole episode is great because it’s not — I was wary at the thought of having a dance episode in an hour drama, but every dance is dealt with in either a very real or very fantastical way. It really came together. It’s a great episode. I’m really excited for people to see it.

How long did it take all of you guys to choreograph and prep for the episode?

Well, we did shoot the episode out of order so that we could rehearse during the episode before. Once we shot it, we were prepared. I had a couple of rehearsals beforehand. For the bigger numbers, it took us a couple hours to learn the steps and stuff, but it’s not like it’s Broadway. We weren’t learning these giant dances or anything.

For the number that I did on my own, it was super quick. It was like 25 minutes maybe of rehearsals, just to figure out what I was going to do. It was more talking about it and then on the day when we were shooting it, I just, I brung it! (Laughs.)

Was there any cast members who you saw dancing and you were like, “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t know you could bust a move like that”?

A lot of people, actually. I was really pleased with how everyone danced. Especially Vanessa [Marano], who says she can’t play sports and she can’t ride a bike and she can’t drive a stick shift and all these things the show has made her do, including not being able to dance. In our group number that we danced together, she was amazing. She was great! I was like, “Vanessa, you’re awesome! What are you talking about, you can’t dance?” And she was like, “I’m just staring at you the whole time.” Well, something’s working, because you’re great.

You also voice a character in ‘Sherriff Callie’s Wild West.’ Can you talk about how you prep for voicing an animated character versus an on-camera roll?

It’s definitely different. I’ve done voiceover work, but this was my first television series that I was a series regular on. I was a little worried at first because I had never sustained a character over that long a period of time before and I was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to keep it up and get to interact with all of the people in the same way throughout the entire series. But it was such a welcoming environment that everyone just kind of welcomed me and said “Trust in yourself. You got this. This is a good voice, stick with it.”

As far as preparing for it, you have to use your imagination. Put yourself in the position of the character and inside the world. What’s hard about that is you don’t see the animation yet. You don’t know what it’s going to look like, you don’t know what the world is that you live in is going to be like, so you just kind of have to use your imagination and say “How is this character going to yell or laugh or cry or sing or talk to someone close by or far away?” And then you just trust in the director that they’re going to lead you in the right direction.

At the end of the day, it’s a show for young children, so the most important thing that we always stress in the recording booth is to have fun and to play and laugh and make jokes. That kind of energy hopefully translates from the microphone to the screen. We get to play for a living. It’s pretty fun.

Mandy Moore also voices a character on the show. I feel like back in the ’90s, every teenage boy had a crush on Mandy.

Oh, yeah!

I have to ask, did you have a crush on her as well?

Of course I did! I’ve always been a fan of her. Of course, she’s gorgeous and when I met her doing the show, we’d recorded once before. She and Jessica DiCicco, who plays Toby the cactus, my best friend, we had such a fun time together. She’s a great person as well. She’s super sweet, very nice and she’s kind of quiet and kind of to herself, and I’m kind of that way as well, so it worked out. We had fun. She’s a pro and she’s great. And she’s amazing on the show. Once I’d seen the finished product, it’s so cute. She always comes in at the last minute and saves the day. She seems great on all of the songs that she does. It’s great to work with her.

You just dropped a video for ‘135n8.’ I read that you created a dance move specifically for this.

Yeah, I worked with the choreographers from ‘High School Musical,’ who are great friends of mine, Chucky Klapow and Bonnie Story. Basically, I wrote the song to make a video because I wanted to work with them, I wanted to work with some old friends of mine, the ‘High School Musical’ crew and some of the dancers even came and danced in the video. I told everybody, I want to make sure that we all force each other to do our best and really make something creative and artistic out of this whole thing. We all work at our own jobs and everything, but coming together and working on something outside of that, we have no boundaries and no one that we’re making this video, that’s looking over us, telling us exactly what we have to do. It was just great.

Watch Lucas Grabeel’s ’135n8′ Video

I said I want to make a 135n8 dance move and that’s kind of how I came up with the idea of the song, because of the beats of the song. “1, 3, 5 … and 8.” Yeah, they came up with a little something and then we worked together and kind of crafted it out, so hopefully kids around the country will be doing the 135n8.

Just like the Soulja Boy dance or the Harlem Shake?

I don’t think it will be that big. I did want to do something that people could connect with and to bring people together. Dancing has always done that for me, so I felt that would be a great way to get people involved and even more connected to the song.

Lastly, what goals do you have for 2014?

Well, the song and video have been sitting on my shelf for quite some time. I’m so excited that it’s finally out. I’m going to promote that and push that out. I’m really excited that ‘Sheriff Callie’ is out. That’s also something that I’ve been working on for several years and now it’s finally out and it’s very exciting.

We’re on a break from ‘Switched at Birth’ right now, but we’re going to start back up in April to shoot the rest of season three, and I’m always excited to get back to my ‘Switched at Birth’ family because we have so much fun. Other than that, I’m going to try to write some more music and put it out maybe this summer. I’m always auditioning and trying to get myself in another movie or a guest spot on another TV show or something. Then I’ll probably make some music videos with the new music that I write. You know, just stay busy. Be creative.

Next: 14 Actors to Watch in 2014

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