Uncle Walt must be rolling over in his cryogenic chamber.
Just when Britney Spears finally seems to have righted herself, the past few months have seen past and present Disney stars generate enough tabloid headlines to make the studio seem like a snapshot taken during the fall of Rome.
Demi Lovato recently spent two months in a treatment facility dealing with “emotional and physical issues.” Miley Cyrus is so out of control her “Achy Breaky” dad thinks she’s under attack by Satan himself. And every day that ends without Lindsay Lohan’s having hijacked a plane to Cuba seems like a blessing.
So what in the name of Goofy is going on with young actors?
“You know, my parents are definitely worried,” says 18-year-old Las Vegas native Adam Hicks, whose Disney-brand series, “Zeke and Luther,” is kicking off its third season (8 p.m. Monday, Disney XD).
“The thing about the industry in general, no matter where you work, what you do: You grow up fast. You mature fast. You have to,” he continues. “You gotta be on set whatever hours. You gotta do this, this and this. And before you know it, you’re working like a grown man. And you start to believe and you feel like a grown man. Because you’re working like a grown man, people are treating you like a grown man. So, mentally, it can throw you off. That’s why it’s really good to keep grounded and remember where you came from.”
Granted, Hicks’ opportunities for TMZ-worthy mischief are limited by his long hours — his “Zeke and Luther” duties keep him occupied from around 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays — and the relative isolation of filming in Redondo Beach, Calif. But he’s still getting enough of the kind of attention that could make anyone’s head spin.
“It sort of, like, hits you out of nowhere,” he says of his first brush with fame. “You know, one day, you’re, like, just filming. The next day, you’re walking in the mall and 20 kids are like ‘Aaaaaggghhh!!!!’ ”
But after nearly four years of working on the tween-targeted skateboarding comedy, Hicks still seems level-headed. And for that, he credits his parents, Ron and Lucy, and their preparation for the full-time acting career he says they never forced on him.
“My parents did a lot of talking to me and just figuring out what I wanted to do, if I really wanted to do it. They gave me a lot of opportunities to quit.”
Hicks says he recently went back and watched episodes from “Zeke and Luther’s” first two seasons and saw both himself and his Luther character grow up onscreen. But the series is still geared toward kids, so the humor remains “Three Stooges” broad — if Larry and Moe were replaced by Screech and Urkel. And there’s only so much maturity you can expect from a character who, in this week’s premiere alone, gets trapped with a wasp in a portable toilet, mistakes a bedpan for a guacamole bowl and periodically sports a giant orange Afro wig.
That’s where “Lemonade Mouth” comes in.
The April 15 movie marks Hicks’ move up to Disney Channel proper, and it’s being positioned as the channel’s Next Big Thing. More importantly for Hicks, it allowed him to showcase an entirely different skill set.
The movie, a “Behind the Music”-style look at fictional teen rock stars, features Hicks as keyboardist Wen Gifford. And unlike his madcap work in “Zeke and Luther,” he’s proudly not funny. Not even once. “I wanted to show my fans that I have lots of categories of acting,” he says. “I can do different things.”
And one of those different things is music. Hicks says he was asked to write a song for “Lemonade Mouth” before he was even cast, and he was competing against a pool of freelance songwriters for a spot on the soundtrack. Liking what they heard, producers soon asked him for a second song. Then, during filming in New Mexico, they hit him up for a third.
Disney boasts that Hicks is “the first Disney Channel/Disney XD star to write lyrics for a performance-based song on a Disney Channel Original Movie.” (The qualifiers are necessary because members of The Cheetah Girls penned songs that played in the background of their movies.)
And even now, he gets a little speechless talking about getting to perform his own songs onscreen. “It was, like, the greatest thing that ever happened to me in my life,” he eventually musters.
But as much as Hicks relished the chance to step away from Luther — after all, he’s 18 now, there are girls to consider, and Wen is a rock star — he isn’t pulling a David Caruso. (For you younger readers, the guy who’s always messing with his sunglasses on that “CSI: Miami” show your grandma watches nearly ruined his career by turning his back on his breakthrough gig. And a gig is what old people call a job when we’re trying to sound cool.)
“Every day, I go to work on ‘Zeke and Luther,’ and I love playing Luther,” Hicks says, “because I get to go around and just goof off and do what I want. And I’m a goofy guy. …
“But sometimes you just wanna chill and be cool.”
Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.