Philly-born actress and singer/songwriter Jillian Shea Spaeder, best known for her series regular role on Disney XD’s “Walk the Prank,” can currently be seen as a lead in the Disney+ original film, “Godmothered.”
She appears alongside Jillian Bell and Isla Fisher. Spaeder also sings two songs in the movie and has new original music coming out in the new year.
Spaeder also recently appeared as a guest star on Netflix’s “No Good Nick” (with Sean Astin and Melissa Joan Hart), on Disney Channel’s “Just Roll with It,” and in a supporting role in the film “To the Beat!: Back 2 School.” In addition to her acting career, the 18-year old is also a talented singer-songwriter. She got her start singing and playing the piano when she was 5 years old, discovered her love of guitar/ukulele at 12, and is currently writing and recording her own original music. She has several more songs in the works for release in the next few months and continues to write when she is not in the recording booth.
Aside from music and acting, Spaeder enjoys being able to utilize her voice for change in the world. She has dedicated her time to both the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Children International, through which her family sponsors kids in need. She also actively uses her platform to promote equality and inclusivity.
PW recently caught up with Spaeder to talk about her career and what’s ahead.
Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you become interested in acting and music? Who were some of your earliest influences?
Growing up in a musical family, I’ve always been drawn to performing. My parents say I had really good pitch at a young age and started singing as soon as I could talk! Besides shows in my basement for family and friends, I did some elementary school and local musical theatre class shows, which really gave me the acting bug. I got private coaching and eventually booked roles in several local equity theatre productions before heading out to Los Angeles to audition for TV and film roles.
My earliest influences are probably The Beatles and Queen. My parents have a band that plays everything from the ‘60s through now, so I’ve been exposed to many different genres of music. When I was around 9, I started doing some guest appearances at their gigs singing songs from artists like Alicia Keys and Adele. A few years later, I started playing guitar and writing my own music. Now my influences are singer-songwriters like Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes and Julia Michaels.
After appearances in a number of television series, you landed a leading role in “Godmothered.” Why were you drawn to this film? What were some of the highlights of the production process?
Playing Jane in “Godmothered” was really a dream role for me. Acting in a Disney holiday movie was already a big draw, but the character also sings and plays guitar. Being able to do three things I love in one project was an incredible opportunity, so I’ll always be thankful to the director, producers and casting directors for choosing me to tell Jane’s story.
One of the first things I got to do when I arrived in Boston for filming was to record “Rise Up (Joy to the World)” and “Hero” in the studio, so that was a highlight. Then, performing “Rise Up” with a choir behind me and a huge audience in front of me for the big concert scene was surreal. One of the funniest memories on set involved a “newer” actor. We filmed a few scenes with a little piglet named Yenny, who interrupted some of the takes with her squealing or untimely entrances into the scene! It was a challenge to get the scenes done, but we laughed a lot at her antics.
You sing two songs in “Godmothered” and have new music dropping in 2021. Talk a little about your music career. Where do you find the inspiration for the songs you write?
I started writing music a few years ago, and most of the time I find inspiration in the people or things happening around me. For example, I wrote my song “I don’t know” while sitting in a parked car (that’s the first line of the song) and my song “2021” as a response to our crazy year finally coming to an end. Other times, I just get ideas for melodies and certain lyrics pop into my head.
You’re originally from Philadelphia. What was it like growing up here? Were there any people or organizations here that helped launch your career?
I grew up in Malvern, which is such a cool, small town and close enough for my family to jump on the train or drive into the city for a Phillies game, a show at Walnut Street Theatre, or lunch at Reading Terminal Market. Our house is near the borough, so I have always loved being able to walk with my friends to Wawa or Scoops ‘N Smiles, my favorite ice cream place.
My career definitely started here, although I had no idea then that it would actually become my career! I first started taking musical theatre classes at the Music Training Center, which had a Malvern location at that time. I later took voice lessons at the Music Workshop in Berwyn and was a theatre student at the New School at Media Theatre. But my first big “break” was when I was cast in an equity theatre production, “The Holiday Panto,” at People’s Light Theatre Company in Malvern. The only child in a cast of 12, I played “Flea” in their production of Cinderella, which ran for about three months. It was such a great experience, and I’ll always feel like it was the one that started me on the professional part of my journey.
The following year, I portrayed Young Eponine in Media Theatre’s production of “Les Misérables” during the holiday season. Just a few weeks later, I headed to Los Angeles for pilot season, and that’s when I booked the series regular role on “Walk the Prank.”
How have the pandemic and all of the closures impacted your career? How have you spent any downtime?
The entertainment industry was on hold for about six months because of the pandemic, so I spent a lot of that time working on music. I did some remote recording for a few songs I’d already been working on with my producers, and I also wrote a few new songs. One of those was “I don’t know,” which I wrote and recorded in two days. My dad and I produced it, a friend came over to safely help me record a music video, and we released both the song and video that same week.
Before the past election, you were one of the creators behind “It Counts,” a film that provided education for young voters. Why was it important to you to be involved in a project like this?
I have been vocal about issues like equality the past few years. I turned 18 in September, so as a new voter I felt it was important to use my voice to help encourage others to make their voices heard – by voting. My friends and I made the short film to encourage teens to take an active role in determining the future of this country, if not in this election, then in future ones. The message is that every vote counts!
In addition to your professional career, you find time to give back, and are active with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and Children International. How did you get involved with these organizations?
My aunt has MS, and my uncle started the MuckFest, a mud run to raise awareness and support people with MS, in our area many years ago. A lot of my family members and I do the run every year, and my aunt is always there waiting for her muddy hugs at the end! My family also sponsored three kids through Children International as we were growing up; the ages and genders of the kids matched those of my siblings and me. This organization helps children in impoverished communities get the health care, education, and support they need to make a lasting change in their lives. I hope to do even more to help support the National MS Society and Children International in the future.
In addition to your new music, what’s ahead for you? Any new acting projects you can share?
I have a few projects that might be coming up, but they are in the pre-production phase at this point. In the meantime, auditions are starting to come in again, so I hope to have more to report soon.