A certain generation will always remember Ashley Tisdale as drama (club) queen Sharpay in the High School Musical trilogy or sharp-tongued hotel employee Maddie on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. But there’s another role from Tisdale’s time at Disney that’s nearest and dearest to her own heart: Candace, the obsessive, perpetually frustrated older sister of Phineas and Ferb‘s titular stepbrothers.
“I love her. She’s one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played,” the actress tells EW. “There’s just so much creative freedom; there’s no limit to her.”
So, naturally, when series creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh asked her to return for a new movie based on the show, Tisdale was on board immediately — but not without trepidation. For those unfamiliar, each episode of Phineas and Ferb sees Candace frantically trying to “bust” her brothers by exposing their daily fantastical creations to their mom, always unsuccessfully. Despite her excitement about returning to the role, Tisdale worried she would have trouble finding Candace’s manic energy again.
“I was like, ‘Oh, am I going to be able to find her craziness?’ Because obviously we’ve grown and matured. I was like, ‘Let me just feel this out a little bit,'” she recalls. But as Povenmire noted during a virtual Comic-Con panel for the movie, “She just immediately hit this crazy stride. Like, the very first thing out of the box was like, ‘She’s still in there. You don’t have to look for her too far.'”
Ahead of the movie’s debut on Disney+ this Friday, Tisdale spoke to EW about finding Candace again, why she loves watching Phineas and Ferb, and why we shouldn’t expect a High School Musical reunion. (Sorry!)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did it feel to return to the role of Candace after so many years away from the show?
ASHLEY TISDALE: It felt so great. We did Phineas and Ferb for 10 years, the series, and it was really sad when it ended. It was three years since I had played Candace, and so when we were told we were doing this movie, I was so excited to do it. I was a little nervous; I was like, “Oh, am I going to be able to find her craziness?” Because obviously we’ve grown and matured. I was like, “Let me just feel this out a little bit.” And within the first couple seconds, Dan and Swampy were like, “You are fine.” [Laughs] But she’s such a great character to play. There’s just so much creative freedom; there’s no limit to her, and all the stuff that I do on the show and in this movie is getting to add so much stuff to it.
We do kind of get to see another side of her in this movie; you go to more vulnerable places than we often got to see on the show. And this is a classic voice actor question, but how do you personally get yourself to those emotional places when you’re recording in a room by yourself?
With animation specifically, you have to be more animated, you know, because if you were to do a script like you would on a TV show, it might just come off a little boring because it’s so much more grounded and downplayed. So even though we’re not as grounded in animation, I still will, with the emotional stuff, find the real, the feeling of what she’s really going through. As an actress, with my process, I very easily get to emotional places because I really am present in what my character’s going through. So usually, for me, if I’m crying in something I don’t have to think of something sad in my life. I actually can’t do that; it doesn’t make me cry. I literally have to just be listening to what I’m saying, and that usually will make me cry. I think it was the same thing with those moments in this movie. It’s just obviously in her voice, but a very real moment for her.
On the other side of it, you talked about going to this crazy place with this character. Is there anything you do to get yourself into that and get into that headspace?
I think I just have probably a crazy side of me that I let out. [Laughs] No, I mean, she takes up a lot of my energy. I actually can only do two-hour sessions at a time playing Candace because it just drains me. Her energy is just so wild. But I love playing characters that I’m not like. It’s so much more fun and entertaining for myself, being able to be insane and crazy and wild. I love finding those moments, and usually when I make Dan and Swampy laugh, I’m like, “Oh, I nailed that one.”
You’ve said before that you have an aversion to watching your past work. Do you feel the same way about Phineas and Ferb, or is it easier when it’s a solely vocal performance?
I actually love watching Phineas and Ferb. I think it’s because I’m not seeing it when I’m doing it. Because you record and you record, and sometimes we record in completely unorganized areas. Like we do a third part, [then] the second, and then we redo the middle, so you really don’t know how it’s going to come out. So I do look forward to seeing that, and seeing how it comes out as as a full piece. But I mean, I love to watch my work once I’ve done it; I just don’t watch myself constantly. [Laughs] I just like to see how it comes out after the work you put into it. And I think sometimes I’m a little bit hard on myself, but I feel like as an actor, you always are like, “Ooh, I could’ve done that better,” but that’s what you take to your next project.
Would you return to any of your other iconic Disney roles if the opportunity arose?
I don’t think so. I think that Phineas and Ferb has been such a big part of my life for many years, and it’s such an easy, incredible job to have. You know, you’re able to just be in your sweats recording. So it is something that I’ve always enjoyed doing. But I think, for me, I’m always looking to play different characters. I don’t want to go too [far] back into playing stuff I’ve already done. I want to keep growing as an actor, and keep doing things that challenge me.