Better Nate than ever, a charming musical hailing from 20th century studios, makes its grand debut on April 1 via the Disney+ streaming service. From writer-director Tim Federle (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series) own novel, the spectacular film is a semi-autobiographical tale about a little boy with big Broadway dreams. It follows 13-year-old Nate (played by newcomer Rueby Wood, who lights up the screen) as he travels to New York in hopes of auditioning for the new Lilo & Stitch musical.
Although his parents don’t share his love of musicals, Nate at least has the unwavering support of his best friend Libby (Aria Brooks, Nickelodeon’s All that). She accompanies him on his daunting journey, defending him at every turn and discovering her own passion in the process. They meet Nate’s aunt, Heidi (Lisa Kudrow, Friends), who takes the opportunity to reconnect with her estranged family after her own Broadway dreams take her away. And while Nate’s brother, Anthony (Joshua Bassett, who incidentally plays in the musical high school series) doesn’t necessarily care about showtunes, he cares about his brother.
Brooks and Wood spoke to Screen Rant about what drives each of their characters, how their friendship brings out the best in each of them, and what their favorite musicals are.
Rueby, I feel like you and Nate parallel each other as big theatrical kids making very big debuts – whether it’s your screen debut or Nate’s Broadway debut. Can you talk about your relationship with him and your journey to play him?
Rueby Wood: Yes, absolutely. I live in a small town like him. I love Broadway so much; I was lucky enough to be able to realize my dream. I was introduced to the theater very young and I love it so much.
I really think bringing Nate to life was really like living my dreams. I was very lucky to go from theater to cinema and to be in a film about Broadway. It’s the best of both worlds, and I love it.
Aria, on the other hand, you’ve been working in film and television for years now, and you seem very driven and focused on what you want. What first spoke to you about Libby and the story of Better Nate than ever?
Aria Brooks: Specifically, I think it’s Libby’s character and her ability to love. Just loving in general – loving Nate, loving herself – I think that was very inspiring, and that’s what I really loved about her. Because he’s just a very loving person.
And while she has this sometimes very comedic wit and spunk, at the bottom of it all, it comes from a good place with her. It comes from a place of love, like I said, so I love it for that.
I love the friendship between you two, because it’s so sweet and encouraging. What do you think each means to the other? What does Libby mean to Nate?
Rueby Wood: I think without Libby, Nate wouldn’t have made it. Not just because she pushes him to go to New York to fulfill his dream, but just in life, because she is such an important friend to him. She just keeps her fire burning, and without it, I don’t think it would be [the same].
He gets bullied at school, and whenever he’s not really feeling good about his life or whatever, he can just go to her. She’ll immediately pick him up and say, “It doesn’t matter. Eliminate him. Let’s move on.” She’s really that driving force in Nate’s life, and that’s really important.
Aria Brooks: Yes, I agree. And I feel like Nate is so important to Libby. I feel like she really thrives on seeing him thrive. I think that’s where his growth comes from. Let’s pretend it’s a word for today.
We added it to the dictionary, congratulations!
Aria Brooks: We act in films and we create words here.
I think with Libby and Nate, they both need each other. Libby likes to see Nate succeed. That’s where she comes from. She’s got it together, she’s got the organization – and that’s kind of her thing, keeping things organized, keeping it grounded and keeping it together. You know what I mean? It’s what she likes to do. She likes to be there for others, but also to be there for herself.
Another character who is very important to Nate’s journey is his Aunt Heidi. Can you talk about the development of this relationship during the film? Because when you first meet her, you don’t really know her well, and yet she becomes a crucial ingredient.
Rueby Wood: Of course, when Nate first sees Aunt Heidi, he doesn’t know her very well personally. But he had heard of her, and he always kind of idolized her because she got what he could never have, which was to be in New York and to be on Broadway.
She’s just such an idol to him, and then he meets his idol. And it’s kind of like meeting a celebrity. But what’s great is that she doesn’t think she’s that important to him until they meet. But as she learns that she’s a key part of his life, they can really bond with it.
You talked a lot about love, Aria, and they love each other very much. But the way they love each other is not necessarily the same. Can you explain why this is important to Libby’s journey?
Aria Brooks: I think a lot of people will relate to that, where they love someone in one way, but the other person doesn’t feel the same way. And I just feel like it’s super important to her story, like you said, because she’s learning to change the way she loves him.
She realizes that she loves him too much for this to stop him. She loves him too much, just in general, to allow those kinds of feelings and the fact that he doesn’t love her that way to get in her way. So I think that’s a big part of his journey.
Finally, for each of you, what is your favorite musical? If you had to sing through a musical, what would it be?
Rueby Wood: We’ve been asked that question a lot, so I got to really think about it. And I would say, musically speaking, I love Hamilton and Wicked. I mean, I love all musicals, but I love Hamilton and Wicked and Little Shop of Horrors. All the classics.
Aria Brooks: Okay, for me, I love Hamilton. Like you said, I could rap and sing it all the way through. Every two hours. And then Dreamgirls is another really big one. I am currently doing a production of Dreamgirls at my school.
More: Disney+: Every New Movie & TV Show Coming April 2022
Better Nate than ever will begin streaming on April 1 exclusively on Disney.
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