Freddie Prinze Jr. spills 'Punky Brewster' revival details and the [spoiler!] cameo in 'Rise of Skywalker'

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Freddie Prinze Jr. promotes Back to the Kitchen at BUILD Studios on June 7, 2016 in New York City. (Photo: Donna Ward/Getty Images)

In real life, Freddie Prinze Jr. is famously one-half of one of Hollywood’s most stable partnerships. The She’s All That star has been married to Buffy the Vampire Slayer herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, since 2002 and the duo are frequently celebrated as an aspirational model for couplehood. That’s exactly why Prinze’s latest role on the upcoming Punky Brewster revival series — with Soleil Moon Frye reprising her role as the now-grown foster kid, who now has three kids of her own — is such a surprising departure. He’ll be playing Punky’s ex-husband, Travis, a rock star whose personal issues brought their marriage to an early end. “They still have a healthy relationship somewhat,” Prinze reveals to Yahoo Entertainment about the series, which will air on NBC’s new streaming service, Peacock, sometime next year. “But he’s gone through some things that drove their relationship apart. I don’t know who else Punky would have married except a rock star based on the type of character she was as a kid.”

Prinze is keenly aware of the contrast between his own marriage and Punky and Travis’s relationship, which follows an arc that he’s seen play out in the town he calls home. “I know enough people who screwed up their lives, and ended up hating the person they loved the most. People talk about Hollywood relationships and how they’ll last forever, but if you look statistically, over 50% of all marriages end in failure, regardless of what industry you’re in. We can all draw from the experiences of our friends, whose relationships don’t work out, either because of their fault, someone else’s fault or nobody’s fault. Sometimes you just choose the wrong person; sometimes you grow apart and you’re completely different human beings. In this case, Punky is probably the one who called him on his mistakes and flaws, and he behaved the way most rock stars do — like a child.”

The cast of Punky Brewster during its original television run. (Photos: NBC/Courtesy: Everett Collection)

The fact that Travis acted like a kid even after he became a parent is another reason why his relationship with Punky was doomed. “Once you start having kids and the other person decides to stay a kid, that’s when the difficult choices get made,” says Prinze, who has two children with Gellar. “That’s what Punky had to do, and Travis respects her. He also knows himself and he knows what he was in that relationship, and the man he wants to be versus the man he is. He’s a lot like me in the sense that he’s probably not going to change. I know I’m certainly not! So I know how to apply that to any character I do.” One thing that Prinze doesn’t know how to do — and he’ll freely confess it — is belt like a rock star. So if any Travis tracks are played during the show, you oughta know right now that it’s not Prinze’s voice. “My voice is horrible, but my lip syncing skills are insane,” he says, laughing. “So you will not be hearing my voice; it’ll be someone who rocks way harder than I do.”

Video: Freddie Prinze Jr. on His Marriage to Sarah Michelle Gellar

Filming on Punky Brewster won’t start until mid-November, but Prinze and Frye, who are longtime friends off-screen, have had regular conversations about what they want this sequel series to be. “I remember how much I loved the original show, and when I read the first script [for the revival], I totally got what they were trying to do,” he explains. “It’s not just a comedy; they put some real stuff in there and when they told me some of the topics they were going to be dealing with, I wanted to be part of the team. I love being a supporting actor, and I’ve wanted to be one my whole career, [but] studios would never let me. I hate being the lead; I hate having that pressure and having that attention. The supporting roles I’ve gotten to do have always been my favorite.”

Two of Prinze’s great loves — supporting roles and Star Wars — came together Volton-style in Star Wars Rebels, the four-season animated series that took place in between the prequel and original trilogies. Voicing “cowboy Jedi” Kanan Jarrus allowed the actor to live out his childhood dreams of swinging a lightsaber like a Skywalker and wielding sarcastic wit like a Solo. And where the animated Star Wars shows that Prinze grew up watching (think Droids and Ewoks) largely existed outside of continuity, elements of the in-canon Rebels have found their way into the live-action films via surprise cameos. In fact, the just-released final trailer for the Skywalker Saga-capping The Rise of Skywalker revealed a sighting of the show’s signature ship, the Ghost, as part of a massive space armada.

"Cowboy Jedi" Kanan Jarrus, voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr., in Star Wars Rebels. (Photo: Disney XD/Courtesy: Everett Collection)

While Prinze refuses to watch trailers as a rule, he has seen photos of the cameo in question. “It does look just like Ghost,” he allows. “I can’t confirm or deny it, but it looks exactly like Ghost to me, so I’m gonna say it is. And this isn’t the first Star Wars film it’s been in! If you rewatch Rogue One, you’ll see that it’s the first ship that goes through the shield, and the reason is that [Rebels creator] Dave Filoni saw a cut of the film, and he said, ‘You don’t have enough ships for this epic battle. We can afford to do that for you at an easy price.’ So because they gave it to our team, they made sure Ghost was in there. And during the attack plan, you can hear someone over the loudspeaker say, ‘General Syndulla, to the deck please.’ I’m very excited to see [the show] make it into the movies, and I hope they keep doing it so kids that didn’t see the cartoon check it out now.”

Prinze is doing his part to pass Star Wars along to the next generation; a Dungeons & Dragons fan from way back, he’s about to introduce his daughter to the wonders of role-playing through the various Star Wars RPG’s on the market. “All her friends are Star Wars fans, and I’ll be their Game Master. Once I see them through a few sessions, anyone who wants to take a shot at it will become the new GM. Games have always been something that I love. We play on Christmas, Thanksgiving — it doesn’t matter.”

This Thanksgiving is poised to be a busy one for Prinze, and not just because he’ll be shooting Punky Brewster and running Star Wars RPGs around the clock. He’s also partnered with Butterball to be the poultry company’s official Ultimate Thanksgiving Host, a role that takes full advantage of a culinary career that includes a cookbook and frequent cooking demos. On Nov. 14, he’ll be dishing out tips directly on Butterball’s Turkey-Talk line, which will be open for calls throughout the holiday season. Here’s a piece of Thanksgiving advice right now: Don’t limit your guest list to immediate friends and family. “When I was growing up, we were the straggler house, which meant everybody who couldn't get home for the holidays or didn’t want to hang out with their families came to our house,” Prinze says. “Now that I’m with Sarah, we always have somewhere between 6 to 24 people. There's always kids in the backyard running around, there’s always dancing going on and there’s always some groovy music playing.” None of it sung by Prinze, of course.

Punky Brewster will premiere on Peacock in 2020; Star Wars Rebels will be available to stream on Disney+ starting Nov. 12.

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