Long Live the Newest Disney Princess: An Interview with Karen David of ABC’s ‘Galavant’
There was something about the script of Galavant that gave actress Karen David pause. “A Jennifer Lawrence Type” is what was written in black and white. She recalled feeling something akin to her heart sinking. Born in the foothills of the Himalayas and of Chinese, Indian, and some Jewish descent, David describes herself as a “mish-mosh of everything.”
“Are you sure they really want to see me as Isabella?” David had asked her agent. “The last time I checked the mirror, I looked nothing like her [Lawrence].”
The Waterloo Road and Scorpion King 2: Rise of a Warrior star went into the audition unsure of what to expect, and decided to simply have fun with it — which was just what they were looking for.
Between witty anti-love ballads like “Maybe You’re Not The Worst Thing Ever” and guest-star John Stamos encrusted in his own vomit while encased in a suit of armor, the cast of Galavant is surely having the most fun on television right now.
Written by Dan Fogelman and composed by Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater, Galavant is ABC’s eight-episode musical-comedy miniseries that Vulture describes as “terrific.” And terrific it is.
With the premise of a knight, Galavant (played by the handsome Joshua Sasse), on a quest to win back his lady, Madalena (Mallory Jansen), the show is one part Robin Hood: Men in Tights, two parts Monty Python, and a dash of The Princess Bride for good measure.
Yes, it’s “been done” before, but with an infectiously charismatic cast who has noteworthy comedic timing and delivers stellar musical performances (admit it, you’ve been singing along!), Galavant is a gut-busting pleasure to watch.
David, in particular, endears herself as “the people’s princess,” she’s quick to put the strapping, big-headed knight in his place and wields a sword as well as any damsel-rescuing hero would.
Raised in Canada, David went to study jazz and gospel music on a scholarship at the Berklee College of Music in Boston at the age of 17. She moved on to study drama at the Guildford School of Acting in London, and her first big break was an ensemble role in the original cast of Mamma Mia!
The dark-haired beauty joined GALO for an intimate dive into her experiences on the set of Galavant, revealing what it was like working with Disney Kings Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, and telling us a bit about what’s in store for Princess Isabella Lucia Maria Elizabetta of Valencia (now that’s a mouthful!), ahead of the show’s final episodes, which air this Sunday night.
GALO: Galavant is a very different show from anything on right now. What did you initially think of the premise of it, especially as a television show? And what about this role drew you to it — what excites you most about playing Isabella?
Karen David: Well, it’s not everyday that you come across a script that’s a medieval comedy-musical. With those three very words — when my agent first told me about it — my eyes just lit up and I was intrigued because I didn’t know quite what to expect. When they sent me the script, I was like a little girl watching a brand new Disney film. My eyes were getting bigger and bigger with every line that I read from Dan Fogelman. He’s a comedic genius, the man behind Crazy, Stupid, Love. and Tangled — I didn’t expect anything short of brilliant, and that he was with the script. It was 22 minutes of laughter and ridiculousness, and I was so excited.
When I came across his description of Isabella, his ideal dream girl for the role was someone like Jennifer Lawrence. My heart kind of sank and I told my agent, “Are you sure they really want to see me as Isabella?” They said “yes.” And I said, “You have the script, right? Because in the script it says ‘A Jennifer Lawrence Type,’ and last time I checked the mirror, I looked nothing like her.” And they said, “But you gotta go in!” And I sort of went in feeling like the underdog — not in a bad way, but you know, just having fun, and I didn’t really know what to expect.
You know, you add someone like Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, who are Disney Kings behind all the hits of Disney, and it’s really a reflection of our childhood, between the likes of The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, Aladdin — the list just goes on. I just thought someone had to pinch me when I got the role. I was so pleasantly and wonderfully surprised. Hats off to ABC and Dan Fogelman and Co. for not being afraid to think outside of the box, because let’s face it — I’m a bit of a mish-mosh of everything, with my heritage and all that. And to play a Disney princess is every girl’s dream, so the little kid in me was just so gleeful and excited to play this feisty character.
One of the many things I love about Isabella is that she’s got a lot going on. She’s a painting with different textures; she’s very multifaceted in the sense that she’s not afraid to wield a sword. She’s a bit of a tomboy at heart — she’s tough. She’s a tough cookie but she’s got the biggest heart. Isabella cares so much about her family, her kingdom, and there’s nothing she wouldn’t do to protect them.
I was immediately drawn to her — she’s so funny by default. I don’t think she realizes how funny she is, because she can be very matter-of-fact and quite blunt. The dynamic between Isabella and Galavant is hilarious. I love that so much, she’s got a fallen hero who’s up on his high-horse, and [then there’s] someone like Isabella, who’s come to revive him, but in a way that involves giving him a kick up the butt. I love that it’s sort of the anti-fairy tale; the twisted demented fairy tale that goes against the normal clichés that we know. So that, in a nutshell, signed me up really quickly [laughs].
GALO: What you were saying about Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, you really do have the ultimate Disney Princess package. As a musician, what has that experience been like for you, singing these songs?
KD: I was so excited and nervous at the same time. We’re talking about a multi-Oscar winner and everyone — everyone — knows his songs and we all sing them. I initially trained in classical music, and then I went into choir school because you had to and I’m so glad I did. All those skills — harmonizing and what we did back in choir school — we used them a lot while working with Alan. And then I ventured toward more pop music, so it was a little bit like, “oh gosh, you know, this is the whole ‘Magical World of Disney.'” And though, yes, it’s a bit similar to musicals, at the same time, of course, it’s that “Disney voice.” And I kept thinking to myself, ‘what is that Disney voice?’
After working with Alan, you just realize whatever he writes is going to make you look good. It’s going to make you look fantastic and sound fantastic, and you’re going to naturally sound like a Disney voice. He just has that Midas touch — that magic — a special ingredient that he adds to his songs that makes them come to life, and the music just lifts off the paper. I think Glenn’s lyrics are hilarious.
GALO: Oh yes, I love that.
KD: Right? I think it’s going to be a household staple for every marriage across America, which is brilliant. But the joy of working with them is a childhood dream come true. I remember being in choir school singing Alan songs. My choirmaster actually messaged me a few months ago in joyful disbelief and said, “oh my gosh, who would have thought, all those years ago [you] were singing Alan songs in school, and now [you’re] singing them on American network television.”
GALO: You got your start in Mamma Mia! at the West End Theatre. How did that experience prepare you for Galavant? How is performing for a televised musical different than having to perform that type of show on stage?
KD: Well, Mamma Mia! was the first and only musical I had ever done. I went to drama college and it was all about straight theatre — Ibsen, Shakespeare, you know, it was all very Alexander technique, very acteur, acteur type of stuff. So when I got my first gig out of drama college, I was waiting tables for three weeks. And FYI, I’m the worst waitress in the world. I remember when I got the casting for Mamma Mia!, all my thespian sort of “acteur” friends were laughing at me saying, “Are you crazy? Are you really going to go up for this? It’s going to be a big flop — I mean, Abba songs? Like, come on. And you’re supposed to be doing Shakespeare at the Globe!” And I just thought, you know, it beats waiting tables. And when I got an ensemble role and I was an understudy for two main girls, of course I did it. And I’m so glad I did [that] because it really laid the foundation of what to expect.