The MTV series Happyland is a teen comedy that explores the underbelly of one of the country’s most popular theme parks while going behind-the-scenes to reveal the not so magical reality of the park workers. Having grown up around manufactured happiness, as the daughter of park princess mom, Elena (Camille Guaty), the cynical Lucy (Bianca Santos) just wants to get out and experience something real. And now with Ian (Shane Harper), the new park owner’s son, having joined the family business, a scandalous secret is turning all of their lives upside down.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, co-stars Bianca Santos and Shane Harper talked about how they got involved with this show, what drew them to these characters, the tone of this show, the conflict between their characters, how they would describe the Happyland theme park, getting a new appreciation for employees at theme parks, family dynamics, and the desire to find something more than manufactured happiness. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
BIANCA SANTOS: I would say that it was definitely a project that my agent was like, “You don’t understand, you’re perfect for this.” I read it and I was like, “This is great This is so fun. It hasn’t been explored.” So, I went out for it and everything worked out.
SHANE HARPER: I got the script and it was genuinely the most interesting script that I got, all year. You get a lot of pilot scripts, over the course of the year, and this just totally jumped out. I thought that the premise was completely intriguing and unique and fun. I’d already worked with MTV, previously, on their show Awkward, so I had a natural pull to go back in and I was really excited to.
What did you find interesting about these characters, and what were the biggest challenges?
SANTOS: With Lucy, she’s very responsible. She has real life ambitions and she has real things that she’s working for, which is juxtaposed by her living environment where it’s a fantasy with, “Dreams really do come true.” She just wants real things. She wants to go and be successful and get out of all of this. That’s one of the things that I love about my character. She is the parent to her mom. She takes care of not only her mother, but also her friends and the people in the furry suits around the park. As the show goes on, she really deals with taking a back seat and having everything get out of control. That was a challenge. There are so many things that my character goes through that her world completely unravels. That was challenging. It was also amazing to see Lucy trying to fall in love, and trying to take a backseat and let her mother go forward. I really enjoyed that aspect.
HARPER: The cool thing about these characters is that they’re all very multi-dimensional characters, in terms of what they’re feeling and their motivations. Ian is the son of a powerful man with lots of wealth. He’s a privileged, affluent young person, and with that comes a lot of stigma. I don’t think he enjoys having that. He wants to have something more real. He has a sensibility that makes him relatable, in that way. He really does care about people, and you discover that throughout the series. That’s probably the biggest thing that I relate to, in Ian’s character. He’s a pretty genuine, caring guy, but his circumstances, not unlike Lucy’s, have given him this hand that he’s trying to deal with while figuring out who he is. All of our characters are trying to figure out who they are and what their purpose is, and they’re relating to each other in really real ways. And then, you throw in that comedy and it brings an interesting vibe.
How would you describe the tone of this show?
SANTOS: Our tone is so specific. It’s this soapy dramedy with moments where you’re going to laugh and pee your pants a little bit with it. And then, there are going to be moments where I hope we reach audiences and they’re moved. We’re also dealing with real-life things, like mother-daughter relationships, what it feels like to be lied to for 17 years, and what it’s like to fall in love with someone.
SANTOS: You’re like, “Do we root for them because they’re related? Is it bad that I’m feelin’ it?” It’s like Game of Thrones. Incest is hot right now.
HARPER: It’s really nice conflict. People are going to be like, “What is going on? This is so odd. What’s happening? I want them to be together, but they shouldn’t be together.”
SANTOS: “It’s so wrong, but it’s so right!”
HARPER: The series really unfolds and blossoms into a great well-rounded show. I truly believe that.
There’s something of a power play between your characters because Ian is the son of the boss, but he also works for Lucy. Will we continue to see what happens with that dynamic?
SANTOS: You’ll see Lucy in charge of Ian, but you’ll also see them work together, as a team. It’s really interesting, knowing underlying things about us and watching us work together publicly in the park, it sets up some fun, awkward moments. It’s really fun.
How would you describe the theme park of Happyland?
SANTOS: It’s a successful theme park in a town called Dazzle. Just that, in itself, you can get an idea of what this place is like. It’s this fun, bright, fairy tale place with different worlds inside of it. It’s a fun backdrop for all of the drama going on.
HARPER: And it’s not a dinky little park. It’s substantial, it’s successful, and it’s well-loved. It’s a classy, high-profile place. That’s the vibe that we want to get across with it.
What’s it like to be on this set, in the costumes?
HARPER: It’s so bizarre. It’s so weird. It’s not normal, at all. Even by an actor’s standard, it’s very odd.
SANTOS: My character is in a large puffy princess dress, and has to be out in the park. It’s weird to be like, “Hello, everyone! What a magical day, here at Happyland.” We’re trying to deal with our issues, but we’re also on display at the park.
Do you have a new appreciation for employees at theme parks now?
HARPER: Yeah. We were shooting and it was pretty warm where we were shooting, and I was in there thinking, “How do people do this?” It’s really a talent, in and of itself, to be in a costume like that, in the heat, trying to be animated. That side of the amusement park world is shown, and it’s a very interesting aspect and cool opportunity for people that don’t know anything about that to get a glimpse into it.
SANTOS: You get insight into the world, as you’re watching.
HARPER: It’s all based off of real study.
SANTOS: Yes, it’s interesting. Will has been my best friend for years, since we were little kids. He’s got this girlfriend, and we’ve become this trio. I’m friends with his girlfriend, but there is a little bit of a bite to us because it’s uncertain where Will’s heart is, at times.
HARPER: Like with most young adult males, he’s confused.
SANTOS: Right, and Harper senses that, so it puts a little bit of strain there. We’re trying to have a healthy girl friendship. Lucy has never had girl friends, so we’re trying to work that out while dealing with other stuff, as well. And as the season goes on, we take many different paths and things unfold.
HARPER: It’s pretty complex.
SANTOS: You’re going to need a chart to keep up with us.
HARPER: As the Chandlers get inserted into this situation, that’s the birth of all this conflict. Ian is getting into their group, as this new added dimension that starts shaking things up and causes a bunch of stuff to unravel.
Will we see more of the Chandler family dynamic?
HARPER: Yeah, totally. As the season progresses, there are some incredible scenes. There are secrets that you get to discover with the characters.
SANTOS: His dad is the CEO of this multi-million dollar enterprise, and you get a glimpse into that family’s life, behind closed doors. That adds for some really interesting storylines.
HARPER: With the dynamic between Ian’s brother and his father and even the mother, we really dig into all of that, which is awesome. They represent the good life, the wealth and the status. They created this park, and they’re the faces of this perfect veneer of this park. So, to dive in and get real with them is cool. It’s really neat.
SANTOS: You see that, and then you see Lucy and her mom, living out of a dingy apartment. And you get to see what it’s like when our worlds collide.
HARPER: Ryan [Rottman] and I really enjoyed our scenes together. It was really interesting to play that. We didn’t know what it was going to be like when we shot the pilot, but as we did more episodes, their relationship really started to take shape. The audience will learn about what they like about each other and what they don’t like about each other, and what that brother dynamic is like. That’s stuff we like to play with on set because it’s a really integral part of who Ian is.
Now that this secret is out, how much will it affect Lucy’s relationship with her mother?
SANTOS: A huge amount. Imagine growing up and only having a single mom, and then finding out that she’s lied to you. It’s a huge secret, obviously. We’ve made who my dad is into a joke, but Lucy does want to know. There are things that Lucy wants and needs, and she feels betrayed by her mother, who was the one person that she could count on. There are a lot of moments of Lucy trying to avoid her mother. It’s just like any mother-daughter relationship. It just shows the reality of two people, trying to work and live and love each other. We go on so many different paths. Lucy is a teenager, so she has feelings and she takes things personally, but for good reason. After 17 years of being lied to, she’s gonna be upset.
Lucy is looking for something real, beyond the manufactured happiness of Happyland. Has she always been that way?
SANTOS: She’s always been the responsible one. Her mother was the park princess for 15 years, and she got so caught up in that dream world and that fantasy of just being carefree. Every guy is Prince Charming to her. But Lucy is like, “Okay, here are the bills. I’m going to pay them. I’m going to cook dinner.” She’s stepped up and taken this role because of her mother, and she’s always been that way.
Happyland airs on Tuesday nights on MTV.