The curtain has closed on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series season 3, and nothing will ever be the same. Gina and Ricky finally faced their feelings, resulting in an epic kiss on stage. The Frozen documentary has changed everything for the Wildcats, as well as new characters like Jet and Maddox.
HollywoodLife got EXCLUSIVE scoop from creator/showrunner Tim Federle about that game-changing Gina and Ricky moment, and how one scene in season 1 changed everything for these two. Plus, he weighed in about E.J.’s future, the status of original cast members returning for the uber-meta season 4, and more. Read our interview below:
Ricky and Gina finally get their place in the spotlight, which I’ve been waiting for. When it comes to those two, they’ve obviously had chemistry for years, was a romance always the plan for them?
Tim Federle: Well, the night of Homecoming changed everything for the characters, for me as a writer. Sofia Wylie was cast as Gina, and Gina was the villain of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series in an era when none of us knew if we were going to go beyond one season. We’re up against Mandalorian. Is anyone going to watch this? Is anyone going to accept this show if it doesn’t have Ashley [Tisdale] and Vanessa [Hudgens]? When Sofia Wylie leaned over and kissed Josh [Bassett]’s cheek in the back of that orange Bug, that changed the entire series. So the short answer is, I don’t know when I wrote the pilot if I thought Gina and Ricky would kiss in the season finale of season 3, but from Homecoming on, this was the plan.
With Nini involved back then, I wasn’t sure if it was still the plan from that moment [Ricky and Gina’s Homecoming kiss] because that’s when it changed for me. I knew at the moment that there was something more between them.
Tim Federle: Nini and Ricky will always have something incredibly special. I’m in my office in Salt Lake right now. I just got here to start season 4, and we broke down a bunch of the former sets in order to build new sets. There’s one set piece sitting in my office right now that somebody from production dropped off. They’re like, “Do you want this?” And it’s the “Nini loves Ricky” carved into the treehouse. Those two actors, those two characters, there is always going to be something special about Ricky and Nini because they launched the series. I think for a lot of adults, you look back at first love with a kind of wistfulness because there’s something so real about it. It’s a little bit like how parents describe when you have a kid and suddenly there’s like an extra chamber in your heart. I think there will always be a chamber in Ricky and Nini’s hearts that only the other occupies, but Gina has a way of making hearts beat faster. I’m excited for these two characters.
It’s been a slow burn between Gina and Ricky. I love a good slow burn. But I also want to add that Josh’s performance this season was just next-level. All his feelings were conveyed with just looks. I thought he was brilliant.
Tim Federle: We had sort of a credo in the room that season, which was: we’ve got to go back to fun. I’m really, really proud of so many moments in season 2. It was a darker season in every sense of the word darker, but the show is ultimately called High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. We, as writers, work so hard on his scripts, and we take the show so seriously. But I never want it to take itself seriously. We take the writing seriously, but the show itself needs to have a sense of humor about it. And for Josh, who is himself such a genuinely goofy person, he’s like a golden retriever in a human form, I knew this was the season to kind of let him break free of it because I also think that’s the reality of young people. You’re a skater, then you’re a theater kid, then you’re Jim Carrey, and you’re figuring out what your ultimate form is. Seeing Josh just get to be silly this season, that’s his mode of romance. I have a funny thought, and you’re the only person I’ll tell this to. So in 303, when Ricky and Gina are hiking up the hill talking about the Woman in the Woods, and he puts his hand on her heart… I pulled Josh aside after we’d shot the scene a couple of times. I was like, “Josh, it just needs to be a little bit flirtier here.” He was like, “I don’t know what you’re saying. This is how I flirt. I tease people.” I was like, “Okay, I got it. Do your thing.” But it just made me laugh. He was like, “I know what the intention of the scene is. I thought I was doing it.”
E.J. has already graduated high school. Will we see Matt Cornett next season?
Tim Federle: I don’t think there’s a High School Musical without Matt Cornett. He’s an incredible actor. While I know E.J. had a really challenging season, and particularly by the end, was sort of broken by the experience of trying to live up to his toxic father’s expectations, there are definitely more stories to tell with E.J. What I will caution about expectations is E.J. graduated from high school in every form of that sentence. I think E.J. has got some time to find himself and figure out what he’s doing. He will be around, but I think he will not be back in high school.
Season 4 is going to be incredibly meta. High School Musical 4 is going to be filming at East High, and the Wildcats are going to be extras. Does this mean that we’re going to see more original cast members in season 4? Is that the plan?
Tim Federle: That’s the plan. And so far, the answer is yes. I am still working on it.
Does this have anything to do with some of the cast, like Zac [Efron] and Vanessa, posing outside of East High?
Tim Federle: I’m going to call that an extraordinary and inspiring coincidence.
I loved Emmy’s solo moment in the finale. Her voice is truly incredible. Will we see more of her in season 4?
Tim Federle: I definitely think there are a few characters in season 3, who I’m so fond of and the actors are so extraordinary, that you haven’t seen the last of a bunch of them. I think Emmy is at the age when she’s going to be a freshman somewhere, she’ll probably want to go to East High.
I can’t picture the show without Jet and Maddox at this point.
Tim Federle: I mean, I’ve got to be honest with you, neither can I.
I mean, they need to transfer if they don’t already go there.
Tim Federle: They don’t go there, and I think they’ve got some stuff to sort out back home because Jet got expelled from his last school. Maddox has to deal with Madison, played by the one and only JoJo Siwa. When Saylor [Bell] and Adrian [Lyles] were cast, I had a bit of a long game plan for them because I think they’re really special actors, and I think they’re both so under the radar. Look, we’ve got some really corny comedy in this show. I’m a former theater kid. I was telling dad jokes when I was 11, so it’s really nice to have an Adrian Lyles, who’s so much subtler because he is newer to acting and he’s so brilliant and raw and real, And then there’s Saylor, who just has this light within her that is irreplaceable. I’m hoping we see a lot more Jet and Maddox.
All Gina’s ever wanted is for someone to put their feelings for her first. There was a chain of events that prevented that from happening with E.J., but we see it come full circle with Ricky in the finale. Now that summer’s over, there are a lot of things to play with. Being back at school, it’s a whole different world. What does that relationship between Ricky and Gina look like now that they’re in the spotlight, especially with the documentary?
Tim Federle: I think the main thing I would say is it’s time for Gina’s world to be on Gina’s terms. She has been in the shadow of her mom’s career moving her around, the shadow of a really great boyfriend in E.J., who just was moving on with his own life. I think it’s time for Gina’s next moves as a young woman and also as potentially in a relationship with Ricky for it to be on her terms. I think it’s going to be a lot of Gina setting the rules.
Dara [Reneé] is going to EGOT. I’m just going to say it.
Tim Federle: Yes, I agree with you. By the way. I just want to say that telling those stories of a young Black woman’s struggle with anxiety, opposite Aria Brooks, and seeing Dara triumph in “Let It Go…” I showed the cast the finale at D23. When the lights got turned off on Dara, her mom yelled at the screen. It was so real and beautiful. I’m so proud of Dara for bringing her full gifts to the screen this season. Dara’s just getting started, which is exactly what she deserves.