Art for the podcast Academy

A New Podcast Series Brings a Brilliant Cast of Characters Together!

Academy is a new podcast that brings to us a mysterious society, a group of friends, and a new kind of storytelling. With podcast shows, it can be easy to just listen and not pay attention with what often happens with regular podcasts but Academy is designed to keep us engaged and obsessed with the story as it plays out before us.

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The podcast is described as follows: “A coming-of-age audio drama that takes place in the competitive, high-stakes Bishop Gray Academy. It centers on scholarship recipient Ava Richards (Herrold), who enrolls at Bishop Gray, one of America’s most prestigious and challenging boarding schools. Ava quickly encounters The Night of the Wolf, an underground organization that caters to the wealthiest students at the school and upholds strict secrecy, as she struggles to find her place in this high-stress setting. Ava must negotiate a perilous and tempting environment where friendships will be put to the test, romances will blossom, and goals will be dashed while trust is in short supply.”

In preparation for the show’s release, I spoke with some of the cast (prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike) about their work and JJ Niemann, Stefanie Scott, and Robbie Kay broke down their characters, lending their voices to a role, and more!

Telling a story with Noah

JJ Niemann, who you might recognize from his TikTok account, plays Noah, the character who leads us through this journey. He’s known for his work on stage so I asked about crafting a performance that is solely vocal and without getting to see his fellow cast mates. “I can’t wait to see how it all comes together, because obviously what we’ve recorded is like little split sections and divvied up sections of what we had,” he said when he was talking about the completed episodes he’d yet to hear. “So there’s so much that I have yet to learn. But it’s cool, I think this scene where like it’s introduced is really cool. And it’s funny because Noah’s kind of this mysterious character at first and is kind of trying to be intimidating and very formal about it. But then you very quickly learn that he’s like a goofball and really actually over it a little bit, all right, enough with the formalities.”

He went on to talk about the journey of learning about these characters and why it’s so fun. “And also to learn that he has ulterior motives as well. So it definitely was cool to get to be the point person for the main character with her journey and bit by bit revealing information to the audiences.”

The mean girl coming to life

Stefanie Scott plays Amber, your typical mean girl on paper but Scott brings her to life with layers and an approach that makes her less of a textbook character we know so well and instead makes her different from all the mean girls we’ve seen in the past. When I asked about that approach, Scott talked about building a character with her voice only.

“The most fun part about that was, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it because I’d never done an audio series before,” Scott said. “And it is totally different because you kind of have to make you feel the room with where you are and stuff. So I was a little nervous about that and selling that, but I just got into it and was being all catty and it was just fun. I didn’t realize that that’s how it was going to be. And then halfway through the day, it was just so fun being behind a little booth, acting mean. She’s smart though. She knows what she’s doing and she’s kind of a detective through it as well, which is fun too.”

Playing with archetypes

Robbie Kay might have played Peter Pan in his past but Caden is a bit different. He’s your typical f-boy but it’s hard to unpack that character in media in a meaningful way. Yet that’s exactly what Kay manages to do and for him, it was about bringing that to life in a grounded way. “I think the first time I read the character breakdown I was like, I have no idea how this is going to even be written. Because it’s out there for sure.”

Kay went on to talk about how the character was described to him. “He was described as f**k boy and Jesse’s best friend. Once I saw the script, it actually made a lot more sense and it was a lot more grounded than I was almost expecting,” Kay said. “So that made it a lot easier to make it real. I think there’s a sensitive and an insecure side to him that really comes out at some point in the series, which makes for a nice turn. It was probably one of the funnest characters I’ve ever got to play before. I had way more fun in the recording booth than I was than I was expecting to. We were ad-libbing a lot and the creative guys were really great with riffing and kind of just going with the flow.”

The YA genre

What is the most exciting part of Academy for me is the fact that the YA genre is getting its chance to shine in a podcast format. Often, those are some of the best books and stories to tell and adults of all ages like to embrace these stories as well. For Academy, it’s a fun take on the genre and I asked each of them what about this genre in particular was fun to explore in just a vocal performance.

“It’s a genre that, similarly to you, I love and like most of my life I’ve watched Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl. Those are shows that I’m still drawn to this day as a full 27 year old,” Niemann said. “I still love YA stuff too. So, honestly, getting to be a part of one of those things was really exciting. Getting to play a character was very exciting as a part of that in the modern era. I really have always loved mysteries and detective things like Nancy Drew and things like that. So having kind of a mix of both having mature themes and a lot of drama and love triangles and relationship stuff, but also with a mystery at its core is still so fascinating to me. And it honestly was a dream come true to get to be a part of something like this.”

For Scott, it was about the mystery of it as well. “I love what you said about the Nancy Drew mystery aspect,” she said to Niemann. “I feel like that’s been on the tip of my tongue and I couldn’t figure out what the word was because that’s totally how I felt. It’s super juicy and I love the mystery aspect and my character’s really just trying to figure out what’s going on, get some justice out of it as well. But something else that’s pretty cool about it is really how well-rounded the characters are and how they’re written. They aren’t just one dimensional characters. Yeah, she’s kind of the queen bee at first who kind of runs everything, but it’s pretty cool when you see how everything twists and every character has their good and bad side.”

Robbie Kay talked more about how it was fun for him to dive into it. “I think it’s just been really relieving in a way in just how fun it was,” he said. “I think there’s a real trend in TV at the moment, which I love that they’re really gravitating towards drama and really serious themes. And that’s a lot of the kind of stuff that I watch a lot of. Event miniseries and stuff like that,” he said. “So, to dive into something that’s just so fun, I’ve never felt so relaxed. Again, in the recording booth, it just flowed in a really nice way. And I think we had so much fun with it that really shows in the final products and how relaxed everyone sounds. That’s just made it feel really realistic. So with the whole YA element, it’s always been a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. I don’t know if you can consider The OC YA, I guess kind of, but that was one of my favorite shows growing up and this series really reminded me of that. So it was really fun to kind of dive into that world.”

All episodes of Academy are currently available exclusively on Wondery+ and Amazon Music!

(featured image: Wondery)


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Author
Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.