"You can't always choose your family. Sometimes fate chooses for you." Is anyone else feeling like they need an incredible movie to watch during their quarantine? Well, Mighty Oak has just answered our prayers.
About Mighty Oak
Gina and Vaughn are the sister and brother duo taking the SoCal music scene by storm with their band Army of Love. Gina “Jean Jacket” Jackson (Janel Parrish) is behind the scenes as the savvy and determined music manager while her talented brother Vaughn Jackson (Levi Dylan) is the gifted frontman of their popular band. On the night of their biggest break yet, the siblings’ bond is shattered when Vaughn is killed in a tragic car accident and Gina is unable to pick up the pieces of her life. Ten years later, a 4th-grade guitar prodigy named Oak Scoggins (Tommy Ragen) enters Gina’s orbit, and she becomes convinced that this child must be the reincarnation of Vaughn. While Oak does have Vaughn’s talent and some of his traits, Gina’s friends become concerned with her decision to re-launch their long-dormant band with Oak as the frontman taking Vaughn’s place. Oak comes from a disadvantaged household and as he is thrust into the spotlight, he finds that music is the perfect escape and the much-needed outlet for his pain. Gina in turn finds an outlet for her grief and a way back into living life out loud and to the fullest.
The Star-Studded Cast
Rodney Hicks as DB: Rodney Hicks is best known as being a part of the Original Broadway casts of the Landmark Tony Award/Pulitzer Prize Musical RENT and the International hit COME FROM AWAY. He is also the playwright of FLAME BROILED, which had its World Premiere last Fall at Local Theater Company. Rodney has a host of recognizable TV credits to his name.
Janel Parrish as Gina: Got a secret? She can keep it! You may remember Janel Parrish as Mona from the multi-time Teen Choice Award-winning show, Pretty Little Liars. Janel Parrish was born in Hawaii and started in show business at the age of 6 on Broadway as Little Cosette in Les Miserables. From there, she discovered a love of television and film and ended up in Los Angeles. Janel is best known for her role as Mona in the hit TV show Pretty Little Liars and for the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy film series. When not working on tv and film, Janel loves returning to the stage when she can.
Gianna Harris as Emma: Gianna "GiGi" Harris is a singer, and stage and screen actress, born and raised in NJ. Gigi is most notably known for her work in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Broadway and Touring Production's "School of Rock the Musical." She neared 800 performances prior to her "graduation" from Horace Green. Her other works include: "Working in Theater," "I Have A Voice,” Sesame Street, "The O Clocks,” Good Morning America, and the 70th Annual Tony Awards. Gigi is very passionate about mental health awareness and LGBTQ equality.
Ben Milliken as Darby: Born in Manchester, England, Ben Milliken was raised in Bilgola Beach located on Sydney's Northern Beaches. Ben then moved to Los Angeles, where he quickly began landing roles in multiple film and television projects, including Universal's "Blue Crush 2.” Most recently, Ben landed a role in season 5 of Amazon's hit show “Bosch."
Finally, drum roll please... Tommy Ragen in his break out role as Oak Scoggins! Tommy, adored by his castmates, took on this main role captivating the hearts of his costars and the audience. Tommy Ragen makes his film debut in the hit film “Mighty Oak” as the character “Oak Scoggins.” Impressively enough, this all began with Tommy Ragen when he was just 8- years old with his notebook of lyrics, and his guitar that catapulted an extraordinary rock ballad entitled “Chasing”—ultimately inspiring the script for “Mighty Oak” as well as garnering the attention of several rock legends and iconic artists. This incredible musician lights up the screen with his innocence and honesty. At 9 years old, Ragen was on Broadway's first national tour for the School of Rock. Now, at just 11 years old, Tommy has released three studio albums and has written several original songs, many of which are featured in the “Mighty Oak” soundtrack.
Recently, The Teen Magazine had a wonderful opportunity to interview the cast regarding their experience while working on Mighty Oak! Take a closer look at this unforgettable interview with the cast on their experience with this film, exciting behind the scenes adventures, their journey, and everything we need to know about Mighty Oak.
The inspirational movie often brings up the idea of reincarnation, which is referring to a person resembling another person that has deceased years ago. The cast revealed their personal thoughts on the subject and even revealed their own experiences.
"I do believe that when we pass on there is another level of consciousness that we ascend to," said the stage and television actor, Rodney Hicks. "Not in the same form as we were, but maybe we come back in the form of light and energy-matter, or a part of nature in the form of trees, grass, or even a butterfly, rabbit, or bird on its flight. I've had people in my life past and have felt their presence still, if you will, at various times in my life energetically or even through encouragement when I sit still to listen." The rest of the cast presented similar beliefs!
Tommy Ragen, who plays the role of Oak in the movie told us that he believes there is something more than just our physical world. "My aunt Amanda just told me a story about two butterflies that kept circling her. She said they were my Aunt and Grandma."
Gianna Harris: "I do believe in reincarnation. I think that our souls have lived more than one life and that we are bigger than our consciousness."
Janel Parrish: "After my grandma passed, we saw three rainbows the next morning. I like to think it was her saying she's happy."
Ben Milliken: "I'm not closed to the idea. So many instances happen that are too close to be a coincidence."
Carlos and Alexa PenaVega: "We don't believe in reincarnation. But we appreciate the different points of view each character takes on in this film."
For someone who has been on our television screens for the past decade, we were curious as to what Janel's favorite role has been and if it's the most obvious.
"Mona in PLL is probably my 'favorite' role simply because I played her for almost 10 years!" She explained. "It was such a fun character and I will love her forever. I have to say that Gina in Mighty Oak is up there as one of my favorite roles." As the story goes on, viewers won't be able to help but fall in love with Gina from Mighty Oak. Her determination and power are truly inspiring.
Working with Your Castmates
We asked the cast on what working with each other was like. "Each and every day was AWESOME," said Rodney Hicks, "We all just clicked, cast, and crew together—and not just on set but going to dinners and engaging in real conversations about life, songs and Art. I loved every moment of working on this film with each and every person."
15-year-old actress Gianna, playing the role of Emma, remarked on how amazing it was to work with actors she has been watching all of her life, as well as her first-day jitters on her first big film set. "It was such a surreal experience I had grown up watching some of my castmates on-screen ( and still do watch them), so being able to meet and work with them was such a blessing!" She exclaimed. This was her first big film project, so she felt nervous at first, "but being there and working with them gave me the reassurance that I belong and that I am a real actor."
"They were all so mean!!!!" Tommy jokingly remarked before revealing that they were the best. "We laughed so much, and our Director Sean McNamara helped me a ton. He lets the actors feel like they have a lot of freedom to express their creative ideas."
While talking about the scenes, Rodney Hicks told us that he loved working with Gianna. "I’ve now seen the movie twice, and there are so many favorite scenes, but I think my favorite moment watching the movie back is when my character DB says to his daughter, so beautifully played by Gianna Harris, “I love you.” It’s a small thing but so huge. A single Black dad telling his daughter that he loves her before she goes to school. And yes, I may have teared up just a bit watching some of the other scenes throughout, this really moving new kind of family movie for all"
The cast felt like they were this big family from day one. They all connected wonderfully. Even though it was a quick shoot of just 14 days, the bond was real close. Carlos PenaVega felt that it was like a summer camp!
Carlos PenaVega rose to fame with his breakout role as Carlos Garcia on Nickelodeon's Big Time Rush, which tour all over the world. The actor talked about the similarities between performing in a real band when he was younger, to his acting role in Mighty Oak as a band member:
"At the beginning of BTR we were navigating what could be and so excited for every opportunity, every performance/show. I just felt that all over again while filming this movie. Army of Love is picking up momentum and it's that moment of "we can really do this."
Former Broadway stars Gianna and Tommy reflected on their acting journeys as well by discussing the differences between performing in front of thousands to filming a major movie on a set:
Tommy Ragen: "A broadway musical is an enormous commitment. We traveled from city to city doing eight shows per week. On Mondays, we would travel, so there was never a day off for six months. For a movie, it's really intense and short. I'm lucky to have had both experiences. I would definitely do them both again."
Gianna Harris: "The acting style for each are completely different because with Broadway you have to make everything really big and loud, so the audience can understand how your character is feeling, but with film, you have to be more intimate and subtle with your actions and facial expressions because the camera picks up everything. I think film acting is harder.
Behind The Scenes Stories
"Are there any "behind the scenes" fun stories you would like to share?" We asked some members and we were glad we did!
Tommy Ragen revealed that Janel and Carlos pranked him with a spider! "They scared the crap out of me. They put a fake spider on me, and I'm not a big fan of spiders."
Carlos PenaVega also told us about a hilarious moment during filming. "We filmed in an actual coffee shop that we didn't shut down. There was this time where we are filming a scene and a random person off the street walks in (WHILE we are filming lol) and comes up to me at the counter and orders coffee...I didn't know what to do. Hahaha, IT was hilarious."
At our wrap party, there was karaoke and some of the cast got up to sing. "I hadn’t sung in a bit and wasn’t sure how it would come out," Rodney told us, "with a room filled with people and the loud atmosphere, having spasmodic dysphonia (a voice disorder). I didn’t know if I could even do it, but I felt so at home and ease with everyone that I got up and sang. That was actually one of the first times I sang in public, after being told by doctors three years ago that I wouldn’t be able to sing or speak clearly again, so it felt really cool to be able to have that moment with this really wonderful group of human beings and Artists." Rodney's story is so inspiring that we couldn't help but share it!
Fast Facts With the Cast
Q1: What drew you to your character?
Alexa PenaVega: I loved that Valerie was so different from the characters that I had been playing. She has so much going on and is struggling so much.
Tommy Ragen: My family experienced a huge loss, just like Oak did, and those parts of the movie felt very real.
Ben Milliken: The character had all the comedic elements I was looking for, and the movie just had so much heart. I was in.
Rodney Hicks: He is like a sage mentor to everyone, and I loved the positivity and heart he had for the other characters in the movie to ensure they were good in their lives.
Gianna Harris: I noticed a lot of similarities within our personalities. Emma has the same beliefs as me, so finding a character that fit what I believed in made me so much more determined to get the role.
Janel Parrish: I loved her strength. Even when she seems like she's going to spin out of control, at her core she is a survivor and can get herself through anything.
Carlos PenaVega: I felt like this was the closest I have come to playing myself on screen. It really felt like I could play around with this character and just have fun exploring!
Q2. If you can have anyone in the world come back as someone else in your life, who would you want to see again?
Tommy: It would be my Aunt Holly. I know this would make my Mom and my whole family the happiest they could ever be.
Ben: My grandfather. He was a theater actor in England. He loved it so much. He passed away before I had even begun to consider a career in acting. I'd love to be able to sit down with him now and chat about it.
Gianna: Martin Luther King
Janel: I don’t think I would want that actually. I think I love my memories as they are, remembering people I’ve lost exactly as who they were...I wouldn’t want them back, only as someone else. I would rather miss them but treasure the memories.
Rodney: Oh, hands down my Grandmother. She could come back as a grasshopper, and I’d know it was her. That’s how deep and beautiful our connection is. It would definitely be my Grandmom.
Q3. What was your favorite moment on set? What is your favorite scene in the movie?
Tommy: Screaming and crying at Janel because that was my most challenging scene. My favorite moment was when we got to surf, and they cleared the surf, and let me catch any wave I wanted!
Ben: Every moment, we spent sat around that table as a band. We were always laughing. So much fun. My favorite scene is the scene in the record store where I'm trying to sell our CDs to people who don't want to buy them lol.
Gianna: Tommy and I filmed the ear-piercing scene because it was just so weird and kind of gross but also so funny and crazy. My favorite scene in the movie is definitely the surfing scene. It was so much fun to learn how to surf and mess around in the water, but also Oak and Emma have a deep conversation about Gina during that scene.
Janel: My favorite moments on set were when the band and Oak were together. We all had so much fun shooting and hanging out together between scenes, and the chemistry became so easy. As far as my favorite scene, it’s a sad one, but when Gina has to say goodbye to Oak, I just love that scene and am so proud of the connection Tommy and I were able to create. He is such a natural and talented actor, even at 10 at the time, and working with him was a joy. I’m most proud of our scenes together.
Alexa: I loved working with Tommy. He is such a gem. So sweet and still so innocent. He just has this kind and gentle nature about him. All of the scenes where he is taking care of.
Mighty Oak is a fantastic film and a definite Teen Magazine recommendation! You can watch it now on Apple TV, VUDU, and Amazon Prime. Watch the trailer now!