Carly Rae Jepsen Talks Bonding With Her Fellow 'Grease: Live!' Costars: It's Like 'Musical Summer Camp for Adults'

Eric Ray Davidson
Carly Rae Jepsen of Grease: Live! photographed on Dec. 20, 2015 at Quixote Studios West Hollywood, Calif.

When she was asked to play the role of Frenchy in Grease: Live!, Carly Rae Jepsen didn't hesitate for a second. " I feel very lucky that I’m somehow getting to split my passions [acting and music] in a really balanced way that I would have dreamed about when I was seven years old," says the singer.

Jepsen spoke to Billboard about the hair-braiding bond she's formed with the rest of her Pink Ladies (Julianne Hough, Vanessa Hudgens, Keke Palmer and Kether Donohue) and why it's been a blast embracing the quirky, lovable role of Frenchy in Grease: LIve!.

How does it feel to go from touring with your album Emotion to Grease: Live?
I think it’s just generally a freedom that I feel now to do what I’m loving and what’s attracting me. There’s a little bit less of that feeling I had immediately after “Call Me Maybe,” where I was like “Oh, god, I got to get the next thing.” That was why Cinderella [on Broadway] was so happy for me because it was just to step out of that and try something freeing and new. I made an album [Emotion] that was just a passion project, versus trying to make a single. It was just very much about B-sides and every song needing to count. When they said, “Would you like to audition for Frenchy?,” the answer was immediately, “Yeah.” I feel very lucky that I’m somehow getting to split my passions [acting and music] in a really balanced way that I would have dreamed about when I was seven years old.

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You’ve played Cinderella on Broadway. What’s different about Grease: Live?
I had a conversation with my parents last night because they were asking the same thing. It’s just a completely different monster. There’s new challenges, there’s new comforts with the fact that I get to be in Los Angeles where I’ve got my friends. When I moved to New York [for Cinderella], I feel like I was completely alone there. But I feel like what’s so cool with [Grease: Live] and is the hardest challenge for me is the dancing. I don’t dance but it looks like I do.

Those rehearsals are no joke.
It’s very intense and crazy. But it’s such a family feeling of day one. It’s like, girls are like braiding each other’s hair. You go to lunch with each other. It feels like this intense musical summer camp with adults.

The Pink Ladies are close. What have you, Vanessa, Julianne, Kiki, and Kether done to bond?
Day one, when we had the initial introduction, it was for the photo shoot. So we were all a little timid about each other. Then I came in a week-and-a-half later than everybody else because I was doing some shows in London. I was just kind of nervous to be the new kid in school, like, “Are we going to get along?” Then day one, they were all just like, “Come on, Carly, we’re going to get lunch!” Like, "Wow, they’re so friendly." I think hanging out after hours has really helped. Because you are here sometimes twelve hours a day, six days a week. It’s your life, so if you’re not enjoying yourself, you’re kind of screwed. And luckily we are. Once we went to lunch and kind of talked about boys and shared what’s going on in our lives and family and Christmas, we came back and there’s a different kind of energy, like you’re braiding each other’s hair, you’re touching each other, and you’re grabbing each other’s asses. It physicalizes the scenes in such a positive way, because we were just girlfriends.

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What’s the vibe like when you hang out?
Well, my boyfriend was teasing me because it was Vanessa’s birthday and I was telling my boyfriend [musician-producer Matthew Koma] on the way, “So, like, it’s kind of like a different party vibe than our social scene with the band boys. I’m just preparing you. It’s like musical theater types -- an intense energy. So just embrace it. It’s going to be a fun night.” Then we ring the doorbell and, I’m not kidding you, the whole party is playing running charades. We just looked at each other and I was like, “See what I mean?”

Wait, what’s running charades? Like, a charades relay race?
You have somebody pick the word or whatever it is and they’re at one station in the house and there’s two separate teams. So you get your word and you run back and forth. It was intense and I was laughing because he’s a little bit of the shy type and I think he got Big Bang Theory and I was like, "I’m so proud of you right now, good job." But I love that energy. It’s a big part of like my childhood. My growing up years was all around musical theater types so it’s really fun to take a break from the album over the Christmas months and share that passion.

Is it scary to take on an iconic show like Grease?
It’s such a classic that it scares you. We’re doing it in such a different way that it becomes a little less intimidating than trying to make another movie or Grease 2, God forbid. We’re doing a live version, with a live audience, incorporating elements of this format that haven’t ever been done. It’s going to be pretty cool. And the way they’ve cast Sandy and Danny? It’s like [Julianne Hough and Aaron Tveit] are in real life. Like, Julianne is just like, “I’ve made cookies!” So nice! It’s wonderful. And even the talent of watching them dancing -- like, you think you know what a good dancer is, and then you see someone whose chin is placed perfectly, whose angles are just perfect, and it’s just like, wow.

1950’s styles never seem to go away: the letterman jackets, the leather jackets…
It’s almost like how the ‘80s has been a kind of cool thing. There’s a '50s-'80s retro combination of cool right now. It’s really hot. There’s a beautiful mesh of so many eras colliding in fashion right now. I feel like the '50s was classically, eternally cool.

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The Grease: Live! cast is all experienced but is it stressful to think of performing live in front of millions of potential hate-watchers?
I think when the stakes are high, when the pressure is kind of making you sweat, is when I always perform the best. I kind of get off on that challenge. I mean, just because the challenge is great, it doesn’t mean that you always rise to it. It doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be some severe bloopers, because that’s kind of the fun too. But I like that kind of pressure. It makes me sweat but it also ignites me. You never really kind of go into something like this without a little bit of curiosity yourself, like, “I don’t know how this is all going to turn out but I’m stoked to find out.”

Didi Conn, who played Frenchy in the film, will cameo. How do you feel stepping into the role of Frenchy?
Frenchy is just like so lovable and friendly and ditzy and carefree and innocent and sassy. It’s fun for me, after being something as vanilla and sweet as Cinderella, to have fun and pointy boobs and that crazy hair and a bit more of a quirky side than any of the characters I’ve played, whether that’s high-school productions or college productions or whatever. That’s new to me.

What’s hardest about playing her?
There’s a real innocence to a lot of what she says. I think I want to say everything sarcastically because I’m 30 and I’m not in high school anymore. There’s one line where we laugh at every single time: “The only man a girl can depend on is her daddy.” And every time I say it, it just sounds so dirty. It doesn’t matter how I say "daddy." I’ve tried eight different ways of saying daddy and everyone laughs at me every single time and I’m like, “Guys!” And that’s my challenge right now, trying to say daddy in a not dirty way.