Dove Cameron went to high school for only two years. “I skipped ninth grade,” she says. “I went from eighth to tenth, and then I graduated a year early to start working, and it was a big blessing for me because I was not a school person, although I really do miss having that kind of environment. I was a huge show-choir girl!”
In 2012, she left her Glee-like days behind to lead a double life, starring as identical twins Liv and Maddie Rooney on the Disney Channel series Liv and Maddie. Cameron considers herself a musical theatre buff at heart, but television took the reins during her teenage years, so she’s thrilled to be starring as Amber Von Tussle in NBC’s December 7 broadcast of Hairspray Live!
“I actually saw Hairspray in theatres when it came out [in 2007],” she says. Cameron and two of her closest friends “snuck mashed potatoes and gravy in from the nearby supermarket, and we watched it. We loved it so much that we went again the next day, but I had the poster up in my room for like three or four years. I was obsessed with the movie.”
Just as she was a huge fan of Hairspray, Cameron began to experience the fandom that comes with life as a Disney Channel star. She’s also been in the Disney Channel film Descendants, about the children of Disney villains, in which Kristin Chenoweth played her mother Maleficent; the two will play a mother-daughter duo again in Hairspray Live!
Cameron first felt the impact of her work when fans recognized her at The Grove in L.A. “I had a full-blown panic attack,” she admits. “I had to duck into the Nordstrom, and get water, and take a minute… I can’t make eye contact when people sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. I don’t take compliments well, so I freaked out. But I slowly got used to it over time.”
The 20-year-old actor spent her teenage years leading Liv and Maddie, which lasted for four seasons, and it wasn’t always easy being the go-to girl. “Right when Liv and Maddie had started, there was no roadmap for how to do a show where one girl played two,” she explains. “It’s just not something that is often done, so we had nothing to refer to. Before we really figured out a rhythm and a way to get through it—and have me be alive at the end of the day—it was a long period of time where I was really struggling with the energy, and the workload, and shooting everything twice, then recording on the weekends, and still sleeping, and having a social life. There was definitely a time when I [told] my mom, ‘I literally think I’m not capable of doing this. I do not think I will survive this. I think I am going to let all of Disney Channel down. They trusted me with this, and I seriously think I am going to cost them millions of dollars and pull out of this show.’”
Despite the struggle, Cameron credits Liv and Maddie with her toughness. “I honestly think what skyrocketed me into professionalism was learning how to play two people and still live through the day. I know that sounds dramatic, but shooting everything twice and going through the emotions of two different humans was crazy for me at 16. In terms of my career, that was something that really, really formed me.”
Though she’s a bit nervous about Jerry Mitchell’s fast-paced “Nicest Kids in Town” choreography in Hairspray Live!, she says, “Nothing can scare me now.”
Michael Gioia is the Features Manager at Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.