Nickelodeon Animation Studio is taking on the Big Nate franchise, delivering an animated series based on the beloved comic strip and novels. The show premieres February 17 on Paramount+, and stars frequent Nickelodeon collaborator Ben Giroux (Henry Danger) as the titular prank enthusiast. Though it takes place primarily in the hallowed halls of PS 38 and follows his school exploits, it also incorporates his family and their kooky dynamic.
Dove Cameron (Disney’s Descendants franchise) portrays Nate’s elder sister Ellen, who has no shortage of disdain for her little brother’s antics. Of course, they both also have to deal with their overly sentimental but well-meaning father Martin (Rob Delaney, Home Sweet Home Alone) and their own individual school adventures. The global fanbase for Big Nate has only grown over its 30 years of existence, so it’s no surprise that the cast is eager to ensure their work lives up to the expectations placed on them.
Cameron spoke to Screen Rant about her love of the nostalgia that Big Nate delivers, as well as what she thinks she can learn from costar Giroux.
Screen Rant: What was your experience with Big Nate, either the comic strip or the books, before you got the role?
Dove Cameron: You know, I wasn’t aware of Big Nate and the really devout following before I read what would turn into our show. I just knew that it was very beloved, and I knew that it had its own comic.
I would never pretend to be a massive comic person in the way that I know some people actually are. But, funnily enough, there was this strange event that happened every year in my really small town where people would go. It was a huge sale, like a massive town garage sale, with a special section for comics. And that was always one of the first places I went to, hopefully, find an original Batman comic. For some reason, this was very important to me.
Because I ended up loving Marvel and I ended up loving DC, that just became very important me. But that’s the comic world that I lived in. I know that there’s some people that are really comic book people, and I would never want to step on their toes, but I grew up loving the romance of comics. I loved Archie Comics growing up, but that’s not really the space I inhabit anymore.
But when they came to me with Big Nate, I was so excited because the property itself has such a reminiscence – it’s like a love letter to classic animation and classic cartoon style, but with this really gorgeous visual. It’s CGI and 2D, and they use natural light. When I first saw the cartoon, I couldn’t grasp what it was.
I was like, “Why is this pinging to me? What’s happening that is so different about this?” And they’re like, “Well, our animation is CGI with 2D.” The 2D is paying homage to how the original comics were, and it’s giving a very cartoonish feel and movement to a very grounded-in-reality setting with the lighting.
And they have managed to make it feel so nostalgic. So, I was really excited about being a part of something that felt like going back to all of my favorite cartoons growing up, but bringing such a beautiful new elevated light to them.
As for Ellen herself, what is it like for you to build that glorious war of sibling rivalry with Ben, who is ironically not younger than you?
Dove Cameron: It’s funny, I very rarely ever get to work with any of the other cast. But I did, in the past, work with them a few times. We were trying to figure out how we were going to record in the pandemic, and there were a few times we were all together. And it was mind-blowing, watching Ben do his thing. I was like, “I need to step up my game.”
He’s so funny; he’s a never-ending well of creativity, and it’s so inspiring to watch in that way. I love working with people who are better at something than me. It’s inspiring. It’s like, “That’s what you can do with this field.”
I would say there was less building of a relationship, because we never really worked together, and more [getting] the weird after effect of [the fact that] we do have a nice chemistry. He records first usually, as is the protocol for something like this. And then I get to work off that, and that’s a really interesting chemistry to build with someone.
It’s actually not unlike when I was building chemistry with myself [on Liv and Maddie]. How do you do that? It’s a very interesting way to create storytelling with after-the-fact chemistry.
Outside of squabbling with Nate, what is it that you’re most excited to explore about Ellen or that you hope to get to do as her?
Dove Cameron: I think something fun about Ellen is [she’s] really a product of the show itself. The whole show, I think I went into it nervous and really trying to be like, “Okay, I’m gonna build this character. They expect this, this and this. I’m going to really be a good student with this.” And the longer I was a part of the cast, the more I was like, “No, they really want the individual to bring what they’re bringing.”
But also, the more unhinged I was, the better it worked. The comedy is so off the wall, and the more you feed that fire, the more it also that influences the character.
So, I think what I’m excited about with Ellen is that she just gets more and more ridiculous. The storylines are insane, literally. There’s even one storyline that I don’t want to give away, but I turned to the producer and was like, “Can we do that?” And he was like, “Yeah, we checked. We checked, like, five or six times.” I was like, “Okay, so I’m not crazy to think that is wild.” And he was like, “For sure. We barely got away with it.”
I think what’s fun about it is that the creators are so passionate about it. It’s about creating really wonderful content and really wonderful programming that is actually funny, rather than doing everything by the book. This show makes me howl with laughter. I’m just excited for people to see how the ridiculous heights are that we’re allowed to stretch to, including Ellen.
Outside of Big Nate, what else is coming up for you? Are we going to get some more Schmigadoon?
Dove Cameron: I can’t comment on that. I can’t tell you anything about that. But, definitely, I would say that the cast and I are very in love and we would all come back for season 2. Fingers crossed, we’ll keep you posted on that.
And then I have a movie coming out called Good Mourning [with a U] with Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox and Pete Davidson that’s coming out. Yeah, it’s a very fun one. I can’t actually tell you anything about that, because we’re a Band of Brothers. We’re like, “Hey, blood pact. Nobody talks about it.”
Big Nate premieres February 17 on Paramount+.
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