Their characters are raising a child on Freeform’s Baby Daddy, but stars Jean-Luc Bilodeau, Chelsea Kane, and Tahj Mowry already know a thing or two about being raised on television. Speaking with EW, the actors share what it’s like growing up in front of the camera — and staying there for good.
On Baby Daddy: Bilodeau plays Ben Wheeler, the titular “baby daddy,” who on the Freeform sitcom takes care of his daughter, Emma. Currently, in season 5, Ben is trying to get over Zoey (Jonna Walsh) and work things out with Sam (Daniella Monet). “This was one of the first times he’d every really tried to pursue something, so he got let down,” Bilodeau says of Ben and Zoey’s breakup. “It’s a pretty wild start to the season, but everything works out … as usual.”
On Kyle XY: Bilodeau landed his first recurring TV role 10 years ago as Josh Trager on Kyle XY, which debuted on ABC Family before the network became Freeform. He says getting the gig was partly due to the “luck” of April Matson being selected for the role of his sister Lori Trager — as casting would either go with blonde or brunette siblings. But once on set, he had to learn quickly. “I had absolutely no idea what I was doing,” admits the 25-year-old, who soaked up everything he possibly could. “I slowly started to put the pieces together in season 3, and then we got canceled!”
On the evolution of Freeform: “I’ve been with the company for so long now, I’ve seen them go through three huge face-lifts,” Bilodeau says of the network with which he’s spent most of his career. Most recently, the transition to Freeform has helped him see a slight shift in his show. “Our content is getting a little bit more mature,” he says. For example, at the beginning of this current season, Danny (Derek Theler) and Bonnie (Melissa Peterman) spent an episode high, which Bilodeau says would never have happened in seasons 1 to 4. “We’ve had a lot more freedom,” he adds.
On Baby Daddy: Kane’s character Riley Perrin, the Wheeler boys’ childhood friend, helps with Emma on a regular basis, but her interest in the family goes deeper than that. “The characters I play always have a real thing with brothers,” jokes Kane, referencing her role as Stella Malone on the Disney Channel’s Jonas (yes, of the brothers Jonas) from 2009 to 2010. Her love triangle on Baby Daddy has been up and down throughout the past four and a half seasons, but Kane says we’ll see some resolution soon. “You’ll see Riley and Danny finally figure it out a little bit,” she says. “We get to open up a whole new story line where there’s not so much miscommunication, but they’re actually a real couple.”
On Jonas: The 27-year-old actress got her start on Jonas as Stella in 2009, acting alongside the famous brothers. Although she first auditioned (and filmed an alternate pilot) for Wizards of Waverly Place, she stayed on Disney’s radar until the Jonas brothers’ show became an opportunity. “I remember thinking they were so cute and once we were in the room together, we had such a blast,” Kane recalls. “I thought it would be such a fun job to get, and I couldn’t believe it when I got the phone call.”
On growing up Disney: Not only did Kane get to have a front row seat to the Jonas explosion, which she likens to Beatlemania, she got to be part of the “Disney channel gang” at a key time. “We were almost like our own little Mouse Club,” she says. “Now to watch everyone else go on to different branches of their careers — whether it be acting or singing — it’s really amazing.”
On career growth: After Disney “really got me out there,” Kane went on to shake it off on Dancing With the Stars on ABC before landing Baby Daddy — which has allowed her to grow up in front of fans. “I haven’t had one of those crazy overnight shifts from childhood into womanhood,” she says. “It’s been a really beautiful transition.”
On Baby Daddy: Mowry plays Tucker Dobbs, Ben’s roommate, who is often the biggest jokester on the show, but that may change a bit this season. “This season of life is getting to him. He’s trying to find a girl; he’s trying to do this gig as an entertainment reporter,” Mowry says. “This is the most driven Tucker we’ve seen thus far.”
On Smart Guy: As a kid, Mowry always knew he wanted to be on TV, too. His mother/manager at the time (who also managed his sisters, Tia and Tamera) was able to get him in front of the producers of 1997’s Smart Guy. The young actor told them, “Hey, it’s me! Put me on the show!” Mowry, who says he always felt like “an old guy in a little man’s body,” thought it was a perfect fit, and so did the producers who cast him as the child genius T.J. Henderson on The WB show.
On growing up on TV: Coming from Full House and endless commercials, the now 30-year-old says having his own show was “dope.” “I always loved acting,” Mowry says. “[And] T.J. helped me grow up in a way. We touched on serious issues, so while filming, I was learning as well.” After Smart Guy, Mowry went on to film Disney Channel Original Movies and voice Wade Load on Kim Possible, so he considers himself part of the early 2000s Disney era (“Shia, Hillary, Raven, like that crew back in the day,” he says with a laugh), but he probably gets recognized most for his roles as T.J. and Teddy on Full House. “I feel like I’ve been acting since I was walking pretty much, so people have seen me while they’ve grown up,” he says. “I think it’s funny when a parent comes up to me and they’re freaking out.”
Baby Daddy airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET on Freeform.
A version of this story originally appeared in the June 17, 2016 issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now or available here. Subscribe now for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.