By Samantha Simon
Nov 30, 2018 @ 12:00 pm
Guy D'Alema/Freeform

It’s been 18 long years since Tyra Banks and Lindsay Lohan starred in the Disney Channel movie Life-Size. The feel-good flick had everything a tween-age girl could ask for: fun fashion, a totally fantastical storyline, and a catchy girl-power anthem with choreography to match.

This weekend, the cult-classic is getting a modern update — and we’re happy to report that Life Size 2 packs many of the same things we loved about the original. The fashion is as flashy as ever. The far-fetched plot is still magical. And there’s a remixed version of “Be a Star” that could give Cardi B. a run for her money.  

The sequel premieres December 2 at 9 p.m. ET on Freeform, and although Lohan won’t be making a cameo, Banks is back and better than ever (this time she also serves as executive producer). Her character Eve doesn’t seem to have aged a day — which is fitting, since she’s supposed to be a doll who happens to come to life. But while Eve may look the same, she’s actually an entirely different iteration of the doll that we got to know and love back in 2000. And with Lohan’s character nowhere in sight, this version of Eve shows up to help someone new find her way.

Enter Grace Manning, the twenty-something CEO of Marathon Toys. Played by Grown-ish star Francia Raisa, Grace is struggling to keep herself — and Marathon — afloat following the incarceration of the company’s founder, her mother. Before Eve’s sudden arrival, Grace is the definition of a hot mess. She’s careless, reckless, and stubborn. She would rather party than attend important board meetings. But despite her flaws — or, perhaps, because of them — Grace was the role of a lifetime, Raisa says.

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“When I was obsessing over Life-Size at 12 years old, never ever in my life did I think that I would be a part of the sequel,” she tells InStyle. “It was a little surreal for me when I got the call from my manager, who didn’t really know the movie at all. I was in the middle of getting my nails done; I had foils on my fingers. He was like, ‘Hey, just got a call about Life Size 2. I'm not sure if you're familiar, but it's with Tyra Banks…’”

Guy D'Alema/Freeform

Of course, like most millennials, Raisa was more than familiar. “When I was growing up, my sisters and I begged our parents for Life-Size dolls,” she says. “Every time we went shopping, we’d always be like, “‘Dress me!’ [the way Eve says it in the original]. It was really the first movie that introduced us to girl power. We were like, ‘We can do anything! We're girls!’ It was definitely a bonding experience for us.”

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Naturally, Raisa jumped at the chance to sign on for the sequel. But as a Life-Size superfan, she had to reign in her excitement before filming began. “I had to prepare myself to keep my cool,” she says. “I've loved Tyra my whole life; it started with Life-Size and then my mom used to get the Victoria’s Secret catalog, so I would obsess over those and only look for Tyra in them. I begged my mom to go see Coyote Ugly because she was in it and walked away upset because she wasn't in it enough.”

Before the co-stars met, they chatted on the phone — a call that Raisa will never forget. “When Tyra called me and said, ‘Hey, the table read is tomorrow,’ my armpits started sweating,” she says. “I started pacing and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Tyra just called me.’” Their first IRL meeting was just as exciting. “She gave me a huge hug and she acted like she had known me for years,” says Raisa. “I was trying so hard to keep my cool, but I could not stop smiling ear to ear. I was just like, ‘What is my life right now? This is crazy.’” 

Raisa’s admiration for Banks only continued to grow during filming — especially when it came to putting in face-time with her co-stars. “Tyra is also a producer on the movie. and usually the producers hang out somewhere else,” explained Raisa. “But she would come hang out with us in between takes and get to know everyone. We became friends even before we started filming, and one day she was like, ‘Hey do you wanna go get massages?' So we went to the spa and hung out and talked in the hot tub, just having regular girl conversations about guys and fashion and just life in general. It was awesome that someone who I've admired so much is so down to earth and cool and also kind of took me under her wing and gave me a lot of career advice. She really taught me what leadership was.”

Guy D'Alema/Freeform

Filming their first scene together was memorable, to say the least. In it, a hungover Grace finds herself waking up next to Banks’ fully-glam character, leading her to assume that they had a one-night stand. “That was the first time I filmed with her, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I'm in bed with Tyra,’” says Raisa. “When I saw her in the pink gown that she wore, I died.” 

That sexually suggestive scene is one of the earliest signs that the film is a more grownup take on the original. “I really appreciated that Tyra stayed true to what is going on in the world today,” says Raisa. “One sign of that is when Grace wakes up with Eve, it’s not a big deal that she thinks they hooked up. Even when she shows up at brunch, her friends aren’t like, ‘Uh, you slept with a girl?’ They’re just like, ‘Oh, this is your one-night stand.' It’s just a normal conversation. Obviously, what we're all fighting for today is equality, so I love that message of being true to yourself.”

Grounding the story in 2018 was key, as was figuring out its real target audience. “Tyra pointed out that the original Life-Size fans have grown up, and she said that we had to grow up with them instead of keeping it too G-rated,” says Raisa. “I don’t know if kids will understand it as much as the original fans will, because when you grew up with something, you have that nostalgic feeling. There are little buttons that hit to the original but then it also hits to where you're at today. We all go through growing pains, and with my character, we really showcase what people go through from childhood into their mid-twenties.”

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For Raisa, accurately portraying that journey was important. “Being older than Grace, I’ve been on that side of what she's going through,” she says. “I put myself back there in terms of what I was feeling when I was 25 and had all these responsibilities that I felt I was too young for. You know, being in the entertainment industry, one day you're in school and the next day you're filling out W2 [forms]. It’s like, ‘What?!’” 

Life in the spotlight may move quickly, but over time, Raisa has figured out that authenticity is key — especially when it comes to social media. “I don't let the pressure get to me anymore,” says the star, who received tons of attention after donating a kidney to her friend Selena Gomez in 2017. “For a really long time I was wondering if what I was doing or sharing was socially acceptable, and putting that kind of pressure on myself about what other people would think drove me crazy. It made me depressed. So now I’m just myself. I share enough that people know I'm in a relationship and some other personal stuff but other than that, I very much limit my postings to what I want people to know. I like my privacy and enjoy keeping things to myself. I don't know how it happened — maybe lots of therapy or lots of praying and going to church — but the trolls of the internet don’t bother me, and I'm very grateful for that.”

Much like Eve in Life Size 2, Raisa is all about spreading positive energy, especially among women. “I didn't realize how catty I guess women could be until I opened my eyes to it, and I admit I was [being that way] myself,” she says. “But one day I woke up and was like, ‘Why do we do this?’ Nowadays, I try to support my girlfriends and all women in any which ways possible. This industry, especially, is so competitive. Being Latinas, there's very few roles for us. If I go out and audition for something, if I feel like a friend of mine would be good for it, I will call her and say, ‘Hey make sure you go out for this role. I went in for it but I think you would be great.’ It's really important to uplift each other.”

That sentiment rings true throughout Life-Size 2. And for anyone who compares her portrayal to Lohan’s in the original, Raisa has a message. “It's a different movie, and I'm not replacing Lindsay,” she says. “In the movie we talk about how there's an Eve doll for everyone, and each one has its own serial number on her foot. In understanding that, it's just a different Eve showing up for another girl who needs her — who needs that guidance and that mother or big sister figure. It's a whole different story. When people talk about Lindsay, I get it, because I was an original fan and I wanted to work with her so bad. But I'm not replacing her, and I really hope that people enjoy that we kind of grew up with everyone else. She is in it somehow, and I think it's very creative the way that they did it.”

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Another creative touch that Raisa appreciates? The new take on “Be a Star” at the film’s end — although it turns out that Banks was never much of a fan of the tune in the first place. “I love the remix so much, but I died laughing because Tyra does not understand why we all love the original song,” explained Raisa. “She said, ‘I don’t get it. I hate that song.’ And I was like, ‘Really? It was my jam growing up!’ But we both really love the remix and she's so happy about it. Being up there [onstage] next to her was so fun ... There were a lot of bucket list moments that I checked off with this movie.”

Shining bright and far, indeed.