Meet the New 'Baby-Sitters Club': Fall in Love With Netflix's Latest Stars (Exclusive)
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Meet the next generation of The Baby-Sitters Club, Netflix's newest adaptation of Ann M. Martin's series of beloved novels about a group of t(w)eenage friends who run a baby-sitting enterprise in Stoneybrook, Connecticut. Led by tomboy Kristy Thomas (Sophie Grace), the BSC consists of the fashionable Claudia Kishi (Momona Tamada), introvert Mary Anne Spier (Malia Baker), preppy Stacey McGill (Shay Rudolph) and politically driven Dawn Schafer (Xochitl Gomez).
While the new Baby-Sitters Club brings the cherished characters to the modern day (social media and Netflix's Queer Eye are just some of the timely mentions), the heart of the franchise remains the same: the friendship between the five girls. Like the novels, which spawned a '90s movie and TV series, the new iteration touches on topical issues such as divorce, gender identity, health, family hardships, racism and, of course, boys.
"It felt like an exciting time to bring them into the present day," showrunner and executive producer Rachel Shukert tells ET. "I wanted to adapt this formative period, but it also felt like an opportune moment because these books are so much about decency, inclusivity and values about being a good citizen, a caretaker, someone other people can count on and a good friend. All of this felt like really important models for this time. It's a world that I wanted to be transported to again and I think a lot of people felt the same way. I feel girls need more stuff made for them."
Before you press play on the new Baby-Sitters Club series, from Walden Media and Michael De Luca Productions, get ready to fall in love with the five young stars -- all relative newcomers -- who make up the BSC.
SOPHIE GRACE is Kristy Thomas
As president of the BSC, Kristy is tomboyish, outspoken and a teensy bit overbearing at times, but her passion and leadership is what Grace loved most. "I think Kristy is awesome and I relate to her. We have a very similar personality. She is driven and I'd like to say I'm intelligent like her," Grace says. "She's a natural leader, and I think those are all such great qualities. It's awesome to be able to see myself in her because she's just such a role model." Though Kristy struggles to adapt to a major change in her life when her mother, Elizabeth (Alicia Silverstone), gets married to her beau, Watson (Mark Feuerstein), she invests most of her time focusing on the club.
Grace wasn't familiar with the franchise until her older sister was gifted Martin's novels by their grandmother. "It gave us something to relate over and talk about because there's an age gap, so there wasn't much for us to relate to," she says. For the young star, Grace noted that Kristy's growth over the course of the 10-episode season was exciting to explore. "I found it so interesting that Kristy hates change; she would really like to be in control of every little detail of her life. I relate to that because who wouldn't want to be in control of their own life?" she says of Kristy's journey. "She made mistakes, she always owned up to them, she didn't always have to try to be perfect and she was a real person. Growing up reading that, it taught me from a young age, you don't always have to be perfect. I think it's cool that we can teach other kids that and that change is OK. You're allowed to deal with it in your own process."
MOMONA TAMADA is Claudia Kishi
Claudia Kishi is synonymous with style and creativity. Always outfitted in the boldest looks and showing off her creative side (elements that are amplified in the new series), Tamada -- who played young Lara Jean in To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You -- knew she was stepping into the shoes of a groundbreaking character. "I loved Claudia. She was so iconic to me," the young actress marvels. "I would always be imagining her fashion sense and what her outfits would look like. It just brought this whole other world to my childhood." Being that Claudia, vice president of the BSC, was one of the first Asian American characters in popular culture that strayed from the Asian stereotype, Tamada was extremely grateful to be part of that legacy. "Growing up, I didn't see many Asian American representations onscreen, so reading about The Baby-Sitters Club and Claudia, it was the first time I ever saw myself in a book and I could actually imagine myself in this storyline."
Getting cast as Claudia was kismet for Tamada, who, like her character, is "super creative" and a lover of art. "I'm not as fashionable as her, but her fashion sense has definitely influenced my personal fashion sense because she's so creative in that way," she gushes. "She's so bold and will do whatever she needs to do to fix a problem or stand up for her friend." Tamada also admits she's not as candid as Claudia can be, though that has managed to seep into her consciousness. "Being able to portray this role has definitely improved my personality a little bit, but still staying true to Momona," she says. An episode this season explores Claudia's close relationship with her grandmother, Mimi, who undergoes a health crisis that greatly affects the young BSC-er. She learns about the difficulties her grandma faced as a young girl housed in Japanese internment camps. "That one really stood out to me. It's a very emotional episode," Tamada shares. "I think it had everybody in tears after we read the script. But I really wanted to be prepared for that week. My mom and I watched a bunch of films with characters that had experienced the same emotions and struggle, and I wanted to be well-educated on internment camps because this is a sensitive topic. I was trying to put myself in Claudia's shoes and think how she would feel."
MALIA BAKER is Mary Anne Spier
Baker was introduced to The Baby-Sitters Club through her mother, who was an avid reader of the books when she was growing up and referred to herself as a "Dawn." Baker's curiosity got the best of her. "Being curious as a kid, I was like, 'Who the heck is Dawn?' So I did my research. We had a big box of the books in our garage and I was like, 'Jackpot!'" the actress shares. "I got to read all of the books; I loved them and I still love them to this day. When [this series] first came to me, my mom and I freaked out." Though Mary Anne has traditionally been white, she is a mixed-race Black girl being raised by her widower father (Marc Evan Jackson) in the Netflix update. "I was really happy that they made Mary Anne a Black character because I didn't have many to look up to when I was growing up," Baker says. "I was really excited that even if I didn't book it, that people would have that role model."
Like many of her co-stars, Baker identified with her character, explaining that they have many similarities. "Deep down I am a shy person -- and I'm able to overcome that while I'm acting -- but I feel that we do share that shyness," she says of the BSC's secretary. "I've been told I'm funny so I'm just going to slide that in there. I'm also a kind and accepting person, and Mary Anne is definitely those." Throughout the season, Mary Anne begins to build up her self-confidence, a journey that anyone -- young or old -- can understand. "A lot of kids are going to be able to relate to Mary Anne and hopefully will look at her as a role model to break out of their own shell. At the beginning, you can see she is a little girl who's trapped almost. By the end of the season, she's gained her own voice, she's gained her own opinion, she's gained her own interests and she's not afraid to share them. I find it inspiring."
SHAY RUDOLPH is Stacey McGill
For Rudolph, her first grade friends were "obsessed" with the books and the more recently published graphic novels, which was how she was introduced to the Baby-Sitters Club. "I did feel connected to this script and the characters when I read it. That's how I felt like it was the right project for me," Rudolph remembers. "As soon as I got the audition and the callback, I started reading as many books as I could." The rising actress plays Stacey, treasurer of the BSC and former New Yorker who never seems to have a hair astray, but as the series reveals early on, the middle schooler is dealing with a health condition that she's, at first, embarrassed to disclose. Like in Martin's novels, Stacey has diabetes.
"She seems so perfect and put together on the outside, but on the inside, she's really sweet and cares about her friends so much more than fashion or boys," Rudolph says. "With her diabetes, that gives her this imperfect side that people can relate to because when you have a blonde, blue-eyed fashionable girl, people are like, 'Oh, she's a bit too perfect.' Stacey has a lot of things that make her really raw and relatable, and she's still a really sweet girl on the inside, even though some people may not think that at first glance." The episode in which Stacey comes clean about her diabetes diagnosis to her friends is a powerful showcase for Rudolph. "That is the first time everybody saw who Stacey really was. Through filming that episode, I felt more connected to her and I felt like I knew her a lot better. I really hope that that translates and that people watching it can feel like they get to know her better too."
XOCHITL GOMEZ is Dawn Schafer
As Gomez tells it, Dawn was the BSC member she had her eye on when the Netflix adaptation was announced a few years ago. "I always thought I was a Dawn," she proudly states. (The character has traditionally been white, but is now Latinx.) "I care about many of the same things that she does and I also have the empathy that she has for others. Like Dawn, I'm a pretty chill person, but I have a strong will and sometimes try to help others, even if they don't ask." But there is one significant difference. "I think the main difference that we have is that Dawn is way more into politics than I am and she has a way bigger vocabulary than I do," Gomez says of Dawn's trajectory. "I'm a bit more silly than she is. The one thing that we do have is that have the same style that she has -- the way she dresses."
Dawn doesn't come into the picture until midway through the season; the time away from her co-stars during the first handful of episodes seeped into Gomez's performance. "Since we were separated for three weeks, they got to have that bond and when I jumped in, I definitely had Dawn's vibe," she recalls. "I was jumping into this bond that they had and I was in her shoes. I was definitely the new girl, but it was a nice experience for me because it really got me into my character." Even so, Gomez is looking forward to exploring more family storylines involving Dawn, Malia and their single parents and dancing with her fellow BSC-ers. "My favorite memory of all the girls, I'd probably say, is us dancing together in the wedding episode because I feel like that was a moment that was really nice to share with them."
THE BSC, aka the "New Fab Five"
The chemistry between the five girls was immediate from Day 1 during the audition process. Baker recalls the fivesome "sitting next to each other in a circle in the audition room," while Rudolph remembers "spending our snack breaks talking to each other, running our lines with each other." "We just naturally drifted toward each other, which is really cool looking back now thinking that was [there] from the first second we knew each other's existences," Rudolph adds. When they all booked their respective parts, they were all itching to reunite on set up in Canada. "We exchanged numbers. From spring and to the summer to start shooting, we would FaceTime every day and chat every day -- thousands and thousands of texts!" Tamada exclaims. "We would work Monday through Friday, and then on the weekends we'd go to the movies or we'd explore town."
"We instantly were like, 'OK, you're my family now,'" Grace says. And their undeniable bond shows onscreen, especially when the Baby-Sitters Club holds its daily afternoon meetings in Claudia's bedroom, snacking on the latest sweets, and gabbing about their latest adventures or stresses. Tamada credits her co-stars for making one particular day one she'll remember for the rest of her life. "I got to celebrate my birthday on set. We were going to go out to dinner and then Shay's mom texted my mom saying, 'Do you guys want to come over?' And I was just like, 'OK, sure. We'll come over there before dinner,'" Tamada shares. "They planned this whole surprise birthday party for me, which was incredible! And I got to spend my whole birthday with all my castmates and it was so much fun."
The Baby-Sitters Club, which is executive produced by Michael De Luca alongside Lucy Kitada and Walden Media's Frank Smith and Naia Cucukov, drops Friday, July 3 on Netflix.
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