High School Musical: The Musical: The Series stars talk debuting Disney's first LGBTQ love song
For the past almost 100 years, all romantic Disney songs have been sung between heterosexual couples only. While some fans may interpret hidden queer meanings in iconic songs, the onscreen characters, both animated and live-action, have never shared any romantic songs for LGBTQ relationships — until now. High School Musical: The Musical: The Series is finally breaking that dated trend in this Friday's episode when Carlos (Frankie Rodriguez) sings a love song to his boyfriend Seb (Joe Serafini).
The sweet ballad "In a Heartbeat" comes when Carlos learns Seb feels insecure in their relationship, and so he declares his love for Seb in Disney's first romantic song between two members of the same sex. The importance of that moment isn't lost on the young actors, so EW got Rodriguez and Serafini to dive deep on delivering Disney's first LGBTQ love song, below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you find out that you were going to get this big romantic moment for your character's relationship?
FRANKIE RODRIGUEZ: Oh my gosh! It was a phone call from our showrunner Tim Federle, and he was like, "Hey, just want to let you know you have a solo in the next episode." And I remember when he pulled me aside to show me what it was going to sound like and we were just crazy excited.
What was your reaction when you learned about what the solo was going to mean, not only for your characters but for Disney as well?
RODRIGUEZ: I was so happy. It settles in later because when you're there, you're working and it's part of the job. But now that people are seeing the show, something that we filmed so long ago, it means a lot. It's very special and I hope that people are able to connect with it. I'm just hoping that this is like a blueprint for what else is to come and what else they can explore and what they'll do. To be the first, it's kind of crazy! I just love that we actually got to see them as a couple this year. Last year was more about the setup, but the fact that we really got to show the relationship in the moments that they share together—
SERAFINI: And celebrate the relationship!
RODRIGUEZ: With an onscreen kiss! That was so sweet.
What inspires Carlos to sing "In a Heartbeat" to Seb?
SERAFINI: It comes at a point, as all relationships go especially in high school whenever you're finding your footing and figuring out exactly what your feelings are, there's sometimes a sense of doubt where you're like, "Is this all real? Do you actually like me or is this all just because I'm your only option?" There's so much anxiety and jealousy that Seb is feeling towards Carlos and this comes at a time when Carlos is wanting to salvage that and really let Seb know just how much he really does mean to him. It's a beautiful moment of Carlos expressing, "It's you; I choose you. You make me feel like myself. You are the person I adore."
What was it like getting to explore this more serious and deeper side of Carlos and Seb's relationship?
RODRIGUEZ: It was very different for us. We are usually just the happy couple and we're there to help the story move along in a fun comedic way. But I think that's why it's even more touching because you've seen these characters in an almost bubble, they're always just having a good time. So to see what the actual workings of the relationship are and where they have their trouble—
SERAFINI: And their differences.
RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, it's so relatable because especially when you're in that new relationship zone, you're going through that like, "Oh my gosh, what is this? These are emotions!" [Laughs] To get the challenge as an actor to play that was a lot of fun.
SERAFINI: And first of all, getting to watch Frankie have his first big solo on the show is just so beautiful. He did such a beautiful job! And we got to dance together and I think the way that they designed it visually is just so gorgeous. And fun fact, the director of that episode, Joanna Kerns, is actually the person who directed our "Homecoming" episode back in season 1 when Carlos and Seb first interacted with each other in a romantic setting. So it was really special to share that with her and go back to those Homecoming suits and that moment when they first set eyes on each other.
This whole scene was definitely giving me flashbacks to that Homecoming scene so that makes a lot of sense.
SERAFINI: I think that was actually her idea [to bring those suits back for this scene].
How does this moment affect Carlos and Seb moving forward?
RODRIGUEZ: They were able to be really vulnerable with each other and, like all relationships, it can't be all fun. To move forward, something had to happen. So now they're just able to understand each other a little more and exactly what they're looking for and what they need to bring to the relationship.
SERAFINI: And they solidified their relationship. Part of what makes relationships stronger is getting through those hard times together. So I think, if anything, they're just coming out stronger.
In the original High School Musical movies, we never actually saw any kind of LGBTQ relationship — and only last year did Kenny Ortega confirm that Lucas Grabeel's character was gay and would have "come out in college." So how does it feel knowing that you are presenting this more inclusive picture of what a love story can look like more clearly for young audiences?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh my gosh, it feels amazing and obviously it's so needed. The fact that we get to be that representation that we definitely did not get to see growing up on a platform like Disney with a popular franchise, it means a lot. We definitely see the response, especially on social media of kids who have reached out and said, "Your characters gave me confidence to be myself," or "Your characters gave me the confidence to come out." Those are big, life-changing decisions and so it's very special to be a part of someone's journey that way.
SERAFINI: Yeah and it's just so important to have people to look to, especially if you're in a situation or environment that's maybe less accepting, to see that, if I am feeling these feelings, other people are too and there's hope. There's someone to look towards. It's going to be okay, and hopefully, it will get better.
RODRIGUEZ: I do love that it is played in a really sweet, romantic way versus what most queer storylines involve, like a coming-out scene or there's a school bully. But the fact that they're just teenagers who really adore each other and that's what we're getting to see, and not only that but that they're being supported by the people around them, I think that is very important. I hope people take away some sort of hope and feelings of support from watching it.
SERAFINI: And validation.
Something fans might not know is that after meeting on the show, you two began dating in real life. How did portraying this onscreen couple bring you two together as a real couple?
RODRIGUEZ: Most of our scenes are together so we were just working together so much—
SERAFINI: We started as good friends and just slowly realized, hmm, maybe we should go on a date or something! [Laughs] We very much enjoy each other and we just have such a blast, both on the show and making our own relationship outside of it.
RODRIGUEZ: And there's like a built-in dynamic that now just flows naturally [when we're filming]. Even when we're in the background that day and we're just making eye contact with each other or saying things in different ways, it just adds another layer of comfortability. I toss the ball knowing how he's going to respond back.
SERAFINI: Sometimes honestly I feel like I have to stop myself from being Joe and Frankie and remind myself, okay, this is Seb and Carlos. They're younger, they're not as comfortable with each other as we might be. [Laughs] They're still in the early stages of their relationship, meanwhile we're a little further along.
What do you want to see for your characters in future seasons?
RODRIGUEZ: Oh my gosh, I might be taking on the voice of Twitter right now but I would love to see a "Seblos" duet in the show, I think that would be super fun.
SERAFINI: I would love that!
New episodes of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series stream Fridays on Disney+.