Updated: Aug 21, 2020
By Haylee Thorson
Isabella Blake-Thomas is living every girl’s dream. At just 17 years old, Isabella has already accomplished more than most people do in an entire lifetime. After starring in the well-known series “Once Upon a Time,” starting a production company with her mother, writing and producing her own music and landing the role of Princess January in the upcoming Disney+ film “Secret Society of Second-Born Royals,” it’s clear that there’s nothing this girl can’t do. Not only that, but she has made it her mission in life to be a person that people can come to for anything. As an advocate for suicide awareness, she hopes to faciliate honest discussions regarding mental health and help those who are struggling. With killer acting chops, incredible vocals and a heart of gold, Isabella is by far one of the most inspirational people I have ever had the opportunity of speaking to.
I read that you and your mother started a production company together. What was the motivation behind that decision and how is everything going with that?
My mom and I had been creating projects together for a while before we put a name on it. And it just worked so well for us because she was a director and a writer and I was an actress and a writer. So we thought, since we’ve made a couple of projects before now, let’s put a name on it and continue doing it with an intention. Which for us became “making content that mattered,” which is now the tagline for our production company, “Mother and Daughter Entertainment.” For us, we are continually working on things that better the world, improve people’s lives, impact them and spread positivity and love and light and teach people new things. That’s sort of our goal constantly in life.
I think it is so incredible that you are an Ambassador of Suicide Awareness. What drew you to that particular issue and why do you think it’s so important?
I unfortunately have had lots of friends and family members commit suicide, so it’s a very close subject to my heart. And it’s very, very difficult to talk about—especially in this world. I wanted to be a person that people could reach out to. And I’m very open about that on my social media saying, “Please reach out to me if you need someone to talk to because, well, I’m a stranger.” Sometimes it helps to talk to someone who doesn't know you and just to be that shoulder to cry on or ear to listen. So I became an ambassador for suicide awareness. Because it’s everywhere. It’s something that we talk about, but I still don’t think we talk about it enough. I really want to be vocal about it in a way where I’m not sitting here saying, “Yes, I know exactly what you’re going through” and be this actress that says that all the time. I want to be the person that goes, “I understand the feelings that you're going through and I want to be able to help, so please reach out.” And I genuinely mean that to people.
Let’s move onto your most recent project, “Secret Society of Second-Born Royals.” What was it like working on that film?
Oh, it was a dream come true. I mean, it’s a Disney movie! It’s sort of everyone’s dream regardless of whether they’re an actress or not. People always say, “I want to be a Disney Princess” and then I get the phone call that I actually am a Disney princess! It was very surreal. Also, it was an incredible set. I learned so much on set every single day. About myself, about myself as an actress, about life, about film sets. I was just continually learning every single day. And I was up there in Canada for two months filming and we had so much fun on set. There were fantastic memories with the cast. We were all in the same apartment building, so we were able to hang out after filming. We were able to explore Toronto together and it was a magical experience—to use the word “magic” in it.
Did you have to learn any crazy stunts for the movie?
We did have to do a lot of stunt training for the movie. We did some parkour and some free running training. I’m actually an aerialist, so I do stilts and trapeze like in Cirque du Soleil. When I was doing the stunt training I was able to use those skills I already had to help me with my balance and the way it looked on camera. But the stunt training was interesting because I pushed myself to limits that I didn't think I would be able to hit. I had never been more proud of myself than when I was running across a wall and jumping over things. I felt so empowered after that training and after filming those scenes.
How did you prepare to play the role of Princess January?
January is very much like me. She’s sparkly, she’s bubbly, she’s an overachiever. So she and I are the same person—she’s just the Disney version of me! And when I got the script and was looking at her character I thought, “Alright, what can I do to make her relatable?” because she’s a princess and not very relatable to a lot of people. So I thought, “Well, I can help people relate to her emotions and her struggles in life and the things that she overcomes to get where she is.” And if you look at the fact that the whole team has superpowers, yes, it’s not very relatable that one day you wake up and have a superpower. But what is relatable is discovering something new about yourself and not knowing how to cope with it. And I really worked with Anna, our director, to make sure that January was a relatable, sweet and genuinely kind person throughout the movie.
Working on a Disney set sounds like so much fun. Are there any particular memories that you would like to share from filming?
While we were filming, we were up there [in Canada] when the Toronto Raptors were playing in the NBA finals and every week there would be a new game. When there was a home game, our apartment building was so close to the stadium that we would actually see the entire street packed with people and it was just a sea of red (because that’s their color). We were in our apartment building all week and we would go across the street to a pizza restaurant and watch them there. Not only that, but on the night that the Raptors won the finals, I was filming on set and it took three hours to go a 20 minute distance because of the traffic from the game.
But on set, we used to sing and play games and play musical instruments constantly, so there’s footage on someone’s Instagram of all of us singing together and harmonizing. So we did that while we were on set as well. It was a very musical, happy, uplifting set!
Let’s talk a bit about your music career. How old were you when you realized you had a passion for singing? Did this realization come before or after you decided to become an actress or did the two kind of go hand-in-hand?
I’ve always loved singing. My mum is trained in musical theater, so we would sing musicals around the house constantly as I was growing up. I remember one of the first songs I sang in music class was “Edelweiss” from “The Sound of Music” and it was sort of in my blood. And then as I got older, I started playing different musical instruments. When I was about nine, I discovered guitar and I went, “Hmm…this is really fun!” So I started playing guitar, then piano and then ukulele along with my singing. It was only a couple of years ago that I decided to actually write music. I played around, got some chords and stuck some words over it. I mean my first song wasn’t great. But as I kept writing and listening to other music, my writing got better and better. Eventually my mum said, “You should just record this. Even if it’s just for yourself, at least you’ll have it for later in life.” And I thought, “Sure, why not?” So I started recording it and realized that I wanted to release it. So I found a studio near me and a producer who would be up for collaborating with me and we worked on my first single “Blame.” Then I realized that I wanted to keep writing and keep recording and keep releasing music because it had become a passion for me. So when you ask whether it came after acting, I think singing has been at the same time as my acting, but actually being a singer and songwriter came later.
At the moment, do you feel more connected to acting or making music?
Both, for different reasons. Music is very personal because it’s all me. It’s like releasing a journal for me. But with acting, I’m able to be so many different characters and portray my personal emotions through those characters. So that’s personal in a different way. It’s an escape for me. So acting is my escape and music is my journal. I’ve always felt that way with music, regardless of whether I’ve written a song. It’s me singing these lyrics—and it’s no one else. I’ve been able to squeeze every struggle and every high and every low that I’ve ever experienced into a three minute and 30 second song. I’m able to express myself so quickly and so definitively.
If you weren’t acting and singing, what do you think you would be doing?
I would be a writer. My mum would joke and say that I would be a dermatologist because I love skincare. But if we’re talking based on the knowledge I have, I would be a writer. I love writing scripts and stories and it’s always been a passion of mine. Creative writing was my favorite subject when I went to school and it was fantastic because I was able to express myself in another way. I’m very fortunate to have so many ways to express myself because I know that not a lot of people get that. I love creating images in people’s minds, I love using descriptive words. I always see a movie when I’m writing it, so that’s how I know if it works. And if I’m watching it in my mind, I can finish it and go, “Oh, that was a good movie!”
What do you want to be known for? Or in other words, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
One that empowers people to be the truest version of themselves. I have worked very hard to fully accept myself and my quirkiness. And I think especially, to use the cliche “being in the spotlight” from such a young age, I had to accept myself in a different way because I was in front of the camera. After years of working on that and accepting myself, I want to be able to help people figure out those lessons. I want to help people love themselves and accept themselves. And that’s not to say that we’ll be able to look in the mirror every single day of our lives and go, “Wow. Look how great I look!” or “Look how beautiful I am!” or “Look how strong I am!” But hopefully it’s helping them have the majority of the days be like that. Of course, there’s ups and there’s downs… it’s just part of life. If you didn’t have the lows, the highs wouldn’t feel as great. It’s all about balance. But if I can help people—even when I’m not here anymore—to be able to look in the mirror and say, “You are strong and you are confident” then I am very, very happy.
If you could go back and tell your 13-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
Don’t worry about the braces and don’t worry about the acne. I remember feeling so self-conscious about having braces and acne and I look back and think, “Sure, my skin wasn’t fantastic.” I’m sure I looked a little bit dorky. But that’s just part of life. I think if I had been able to acknowledge that earlier, I would've been more comfortable in my skin. I would also tell myself to do what makes me happy in the moment. In high school, there were so many decisions I would make. Whether it had to do with homework or what I was doing on the weekend, I would do what felt right in the moment—but in the long run, did that make me happy? No! I chose to do an extensive amount of math homework on the weekend instead of telling myself, “It’s alright. You can do it tomorrow. Just relax.” I think [I would tell myself] just to take myself less seriously, actually. Take myself less seriously and not worry about the braces and the acne.
What advice do you have for any young person trying to break into the entertainment industry?
Keep trying. And when you think you’ve tried enough, try again. It’s something that I still live by. Because there are so many “no’s” in this industry. You can have 100 “no’s” for every half “yes.” It’s not often that you will get a “yes” and regardless of where you are in your career, you’re not always going to be right for every role. So just keep trying. Because when you feel like it’s not working or you’re not succeeding, your time could be just around the corner. Whatever the universe thinks is right for you, that’s what it will give you. It’ll be tough. This industry is such a tough one because there’s so many people in it. But if you keep trying, the right thing will happen for you. And actually, I’ve just thought of an example... me! For “Secret Society,” I booked it after I had auditioned for something else that I really, really wanted. I had auditioned for a show that I was desperate for and I was really gutted that I didn’t get the role. But a week and a half later, I got the audition for “Secret Society” and I went, “Oh, this looks really good!” and I booked it. Someone reminded me later on and said, “If you had booked that other thing, you wouldn’t be able to do this!” And I went, “Huh. You’re totally right!” So keep trying—the right thing will come along.
Anything else that you would like to add?
Reach out to me with anything in life. I like being involved with my followers on social media and I’m very open and honest on my platforms. So, people should reach out if they want to chat. I check my DM’s and I read all my comments—so people should definitely reach out. I’m very, very sociable!
Also don’t forget to catch her in “The Secret Society of Second Born Royals,” coming to Disney+ on September 25th!
Haylee Thorson is an editorial writer who specializes in beauty, culture, and travel. Follow her on Instagram.