[INTERVIEW] Troop Zero Marches Into Amazon Prime Video

If you haven't heard, an Amazon Original film titled Troop Zero made its viral debut earlier this week. The movie focuses on a young outcast named Christmas who is obsessed with the possibility of extraterrestrials. When she learns that the winners of an upcoming Birdie Scouts contest will be featured on NASA's Golden Record to be broadcast into space, Christmas sets out to create her own team of misfits to compete. A girl with anger issues named Hell No and her destructive sidekick, a deeply religious one-eyed girl, and a boy with a heavy interest in fashion join Christmas in her quest for victory.

The movie follows the struggles and newfound friendship of the misfits. During their quest, the children learn to accept their uniqueness and that of others. One of the aspects that sets Troop Zero apart from other similar adolescent, underdog stories is that it maintains the worldliness and drama of the story without simply becoming a heroic comedy. It is definitely a "feel good" movie with heavy undertones.

DFW native McKenna Grace stars in the main role as Christmas. McKenna has done her share of acting in the past, but she is at the cusp of a huge breakout year in 2020 with the release of Troop Zero and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. This weekend, Alamo Drafthouse hosted a Troop Zero release party to commemorate the film. McKenna Grace and her costars Charlie Shotwell (Joseph) and Milan Ray (Hell No) were present for a short Q&A following the show. We were invited to participate in a short interview with the cast to get the full scoop on Troop Zero.

The camaraderie and personalities of the young stars were as blatant as their onscreen portrayals. The group danced after tasting Alamo Drafthouse's cheese sticks and sang some of their favorite Bowie/Queen tunes in unison. These vibrant character traits are among those that enable this collection of kids to stand out in a film full of big names like Jim Gaffigan, Viola Davis, Allison Janney. 

Interviewer #1: It seems like each of you had dual roles to play in the movie and as just regular kids is there anything that you could draw from in your own personal lives that you brought to the movie? 

Milan Ray: I'm the type of person to not share my feelings and my personal life with everybody. I will if I'm really close to you and I trust you, but not just on a regular basis. So, I kind of put that in Hell No where she's reserved, but then she's open to the people she trusts. And throughout the movie she starts to trust Troop Zero more and more.

McKenna Grace: Well, for me, Christmas was just pretty much me, except I completely got to embrace my weird side. I have to act somewhat normal in society. Christmas is really so similar [to me]. I didn't know in my mind where she started and where I started. It was great.

Charlie Shotwell: I think there a lot of similarities and also a lot of differences between me and Joseph, but I think deep down we're a similar person. But, what was most fun about it was that I was able to kind of create a character and just do whatever with it.

Interviewer #2: How was it transporting yourself to 1977, way back before you were born? How do you prepare for something like that?

McKenna Grace: I already really loved 70s.

Charlie Shotwell: Whenever I play something that's set in the past, my favorite part is the clothes. I did a movie set in the 80s and I did a movie set in the 1800s. In that one we had burlap coats, giant military hats, and swords and stuff. That was super fun. But, for this one, I just loved all the bellbottoms, the cool hair bands, shirts, and fun 70s clothes that they had.

Interviewer #2: You said that you already love the 70s. What do you love the most about the 70s?

McKenna Grace: I love the music and the fashion. So, that was really fun to get to put into this movie.

Milan Ray: Yeah, the same. The clothes, the music, everything. It was very nice.

Charlie Shotwell: I kind of like movies from the 70s.

Interviewer #2: What was your favorite movie from the 70s?

Charlie ShotwellAlien was the 70s I think. It was very late 70s, like 77.

ILID: In the movie, each of you had to get a badge to move on to the competition. In real life, what would you have gotten your Birdie Scouts badge for?

McKenna Grace: I hope for music. I love acting. I acting is my passion, but I'm also trying to work on music right now and my singing. I love writing songs, creating music, playing the ukulele. I'd love to get a musical talent badge.

Milan Ray: I would get an acting badge because I love everything in the industry from acting, directing, and producing. Everything. I love the feel of being on set. So, if I were to get a badge, I would hope that it would be an acting badge.

Charlie Shotwell: My badge? Because music and acting were taken, it would be writing. Playing piano and writing are my two main hobbies besides acting. So, it would be for writing a short story or something like that because I really like to do that.

Interviewer #1: How did you choose your roles and what attracted you to this particular film?

Milan Ray: When I read the script, I really loved it. I was like, "This is a great movie. I really want to get this role now."

McKenna Grace: It was pretty much same for me. I read the script and I immediately fell in love with the characters, the story, the message, and the lines. The writing was incredible. It's just such a good film and I'm so, so proud to be a part of it, and I'm really happy that it's out.

Charlie Shotwell: I just don't like to be too choosy with roles and I really like to be able to play as many different types of characters as I can. I like to play people that are different and be able to do a wide range. That's why I liked this because Joseph was a character that was so different than many things I'd seen before and the whole script was so different. Everything about it was quirky and amazing and the scenes were so good. So, that's why I fell in love with everything the first time I read it.

Interviewer #2: You guys face some of the real-life problems that your characters have to face. You were saying before that you are quirky and have to act normal. So, how is that environment in real life for you?

McKenna Grace: I like to surround myself with people who I know won't judge me. I don't want people that are “judgy” in my life. Even if people do judge me, I don't really care. I think that it's funny. I've heard rumors about myself and I just laugh at them. I like hearing them. It's funny to me. I just like to surround myself with people who love me and care about me and just accept me for who I am. Like Charlie and Milan! These are my friends. We're all so unique and different and odd. It's great to have people that just love you for who you are. If you have to change for someone, you don't want them in your life.

Milan Ray: You don't want to have to change for anybody because you shouldn't have to change yourself for their approval. Their approval doesn't matter at the end of the day. Don't surround yourself with people who judge you and people who want you to change. That is not a good environment. It's toxic and just not good. You want to surround yourself with people who love you for you and who won't judge you, no matter what you do or how you do it.

Charlie Shotwell: I agree with all of that. You can't change for anyone. I think a side effect of that is that I kind of like hanging out with adults more because I feel like they're a little more open to stuff, whereas kids can be a lot more “judgy”. It's such a great thing to be able to find kids that don't judge at all and aren't mean or anything like that. It's fun to be around kids that are also weirdos, which is why it was so great to be able to be in this movie and meet everyone.

ILID: Each your characters is unique in their own aspects. You obviously drew inspiration from yourself, but did you draw any inspiration from any outside sources or people?

McKenna Grace: I thought that it had a very Little Miss Sunshine type of feel, so I watched that. I usually get a list of movies from the directors that they want me to watch in order to prepare for it. But, I think that this is just a very unique movie and that there's not many out there like it. There are not many with the girls as the main characters. There are so many that have a group of boys like Stand By Me or The Goonies. So, it's great to see females leads and Joseph. Joseph is the best. It's really unique and completely different from any movie that I have ever seen before.

Milan Ray: Agreed. I can't think of anything like it because it's so different from what we usually see. I'm glad that I got to be a part of it.

Charlie Shotwell: In terms of Joseph, I think if I drew inspiration from anyone it would definitely be David Bowie. Literally, by the end of the movie he has a lightning bolt on his face. The way he kind of held himself, the way he was just able to be a weirdo and be able to just be who he is... For the dancing elements, I had watched Billy Elliot and I really liked that movie, so that one was also a bit of an inspiration.

Interviewer #1: How was it working with Bert and Bertie? It seems like they allowed you all to be yourselves more. How did that work for you individually?

Charlie Shotwell: Horrible! We hated it. It was the worst.

Milan Ray: It was terrible!

{The cast collectively laughs}

McKenna Grace: I personally have never worked with any female directors in a movie. I have in TV shows, but only guest starring in episodes a few times. It was really cool getting to work with a female director. No, two female directors! It was my first time working with two directors too, so I was nervous going into it. I was scared that they might have different opinions, but they didn't. They were very in sync and they never argued. They always seemed to want the same thing in the film. It was really cool. It's like they were the same person. It was awesome. They're really talented. I hope I get to work with them again someday.

Milan Ray: Whenever we shot a scene, they would let us watch after we shot it. It was so cool because they let us help. They let us put in our ideas and our thoughts. It was really cool working with them because they're so kind and talented. They're just wonderful people.

McKenna Grace: We had a lot of freedom with creativity.

Charlie Shotwell: I was kind of nervous because there were two directors and they might have different visions, so they might clash on some things. But, it wasn't like that. They were just so in sync. They always understood each other. They always were together. They were so powerful together, which was so amazing to watch.

Interviewer #2: What's your favorite part of the movie?

Milan Ray: I like the scene where we are all walking down the road. I have the bubblegum, she [McKenna] has a lollipop, and he [Charlie] has his glasses. We all look so confident, like we are going to win.

McKenna Grace: I like the jamboree scene. That scene by far is my favorite. I like how we're all there together dancing, singing, and just being ourselves. I like how we stand up for each other during that scene. It's wonderful and I love it.

Charlie Shotwell: I really like the jamboree scene and the other dance scene that I had because I am not really a dancer. It was so fun to be able to learn that. We had a choreographer there before we started filming and I was practicing the dance moves. It was really fun to get it right.

ILID: You mentioned that after each take, they'd let you watch it. Do you actually watch any of your own movies? I know that a lot of actors won't watch themselves on screen because they think it's too awkward.

Milan Ray: I've seen Troop Zero six times!

McKenna Grace: Yeah, it is awkward for me, but I am my toughest critic. I don't like to watch the movie before it's done or in a small environment. I saw a horror film I was in and after it was over I went to the car and I cried because I did so awful. It was only because I was in a small theater with like 10 people and they were all like critics, so we didn't get much of a reaction anytime something scary or something funny happened. There was no laughing or anything. It's harder to be there with people who don't like it just because it's not their vibe, so they think it's not great. Then, whenever I went to the premiere and there was a huge audience in a huge theater, everything was great! I was like, "Whoa, this is so different!"

Interviewer #1: In wrapping up, I would say that each of you have very positive things to say about your role in this movie. Give me just one thing that each of you hopes that the audience will take from this movie.

Charlie Shotwell: It's OK to be weird.

Milan Ray: Don't change for anybody because it doesn't matter if you're different. At the end of the day just be you.

McKenna Grace: Yeah, totally. Just be yourself. It's OK to just truly embrace yourself and surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, like the troop. They just love each other. It doesn't matter if people think you're weird. As hard as it may be, just try to be yourself because somewhere out there your troop, who loves you and accepts you, is waiting for you.