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Interview with Ysa Penarejo from An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars Movie

American Girl McKenna Shoots for the Stars movie On July 3rd, 2012 An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars comes out on DVD/Bluray. The movie, based on the popular American Girl doll of the Year for 2012 and her books features McKenna Brooks™, a determined and confident young gymnast, in an all-new modern-day adventure. McKenna™ is on track to make the regional competitive gymnastics team but off-track in school, where she’s suddenly struggling to keep up. When her teacher suggests a tutor, she’s embarrassed and desperate to keep it a secret from her friends. Then a bad fall at the gym sidetracks her from her favorite sport. Will she recover in time to make the team? Can she succeed in school, too? McKenna needs to focus on her strengths to overcome her challenges – and, with the help of family and friends, find a way to believe in herself again.

I had the opportunity to interview Ysa Penarejo, who plays McKenna’s best friend Toulane in the movie, and was very impressed by her gymnastics and competitive dance background. I really enjoyed hearing how her own background in sports helped her in the movie itself.

First, a little more about Ysa’s character Toulane in the movie. Toulane Thomas has been McKenna’s gymnastics teammate since the girls were three years old. A strong, competitive gymnast, Toulane pushes McKenna to stay on her game and do her best. Toulane is sometimes too competitive, though, and puts a lot of pressure on herself to succeed and to live up to her mother’s expectations. Like McKenna, Toulane needs to learn about life “balance” and remember how to just have fun. In real life Ysa is a dancer, actress and singer, but did take gymnastics when she was younger but eventually had to choose between dance and gymnastics – and she chose dance (and if you look her up on YouTube for her dancing, I can see why she picked dance – she is awesome!).

SportsGirlsPlay: Were you excited when you found out that you got the part in the movie?

Ysa: Very excited! I had just had my graduation from elementary school and my mom got the call. She said I got the part of Toulane and I just started screaming!

SportsGirlsPlays: What specific preparation did you do for the movie?

Ysa: When we first got to Canada for the shooting nobody knew that I could tumble and dance, but they soon figured it out. We trained with our stunt doubles to learn the routines but let the stunt doubles do the harder skills.

SportsGirlsPlay: Was it hard to balance filming the movie with schoolwork, your other activities and family time?

Ysa: We were in Canada for six weeks to do the shooting for the movie. I just went with my Mom so it was hard not seeing my Dad and brother for that long, but we were okay. We did not work every day we were there so when I was not working I would do stuff with my Mom and the others. I am also a dancer so I did not have regular dance practices while I was there but luckily my dance teacher was flexible about it. Since we filmed the movie during the summer, school work was not an issue.

SportsGirlsPlayWhat was it like working with Olympian and actress Cathy Rigby?

Ysa: Oh, she was just so great. She is a great actress and was like a coach to us.

DollDiaries: In McKenna’s stories she has to overcome challenges with being injured and difficulty in school. Have you ever had a challenge to overcome like McKenna did?

Ysa: Yes, I had to take some time off dance just for school – to focus on schoolwork. Once things were better I could add the dance back in.

SportsGirlsPlay: McKenna’s story is a lot about friendship and being there for each other – did you know your co-stars before the movie shooting? Do you keep in touch with any of them now?

Ysa: I did not know Jade before the movie but we spent a lot of time together and really bonded. Now we are really good friends and still stay in touch.

SportsGirlsPlayWhat was your favorite scene to film?

Ysa: There was a scene called Mission Impossible where I kind of had to be the spy. I was wondering where McKenna was going and had to follow her in the halls without her noticing. I kept running into teachers and had to do some crazy jumping and flips. Having a gymnastics background and dance experience allowed me to do most of the scene on my own.

SportsGirlsPlayWhat final thoughts do you have about the movie that you want our readers to know?

Ysa: It is a great movie with an important lesson – school comes first and friendships are important. And always do your best.

In addition to her acting and dancing, Ysa loves to sing and she has a new pop single, Like not Love, coming out in July via iTunes. The song is about relationships and making choices – especially in your tween years. Ysa was super sweet to talk with and she really reminded me of a combination of my two daughters – as she is right between them in age. Follow Ysa on Facebook (and she loves hearing from her fans there, plus it is a great place to find more information, photos and updates from Ysa) and Twitter.

I’d like to thank Ysa again for taking time to do this interview! She is a super talented young lady and I expect we will see a lot more of her in the future!

I have seen the movie already and can truly say that any gymnast, gymnastics fan or American Girl fan will LOVE this movie!! Not only is it pretty realistic (right down to Toulane’s pushy “gym mom”), it also provides for plenty of teaching moments and laughs, too. And if you are a rhythmic gymnast – there is a whole scene that you will adore!

Don’t miss it! An American Girl: McKenna Shoots for the Stars will be available on DVD/Bluray at Walmart on July 3, 2012 (and Amazon download) and will also be televised on NBC at 8 pm July 14, 2012.


Follow @YsaPenarejo  and tell Ysa how you achieve your goals or “Shoot for the Stars” on her Facebook wall to win a signed and personalized Blu-Ray/DVD  copy of MCKENNA SHOOTS FOR THE STARS along with a free download of Ysa’s new single “Like Not Love.”



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