Soleil Moon Frye recently spoke to her kids about the difference between sad and joyful tears. The actress and mother of four, who starred in the ’80s sitcom “Punky Brewster,” reveals she cried happy tears after learning the show would be coming back.
“I kept saying to my kids, ‘Every day that I’m there [on the set], I’m crying joyful tears. Because I’m so genuinely proud and happy to be able to be a part of it,’” Frye told HuffPost at Build Series.
Frye was just six years old when she took on the role of Penelope “Punky” Brewster, a young girl raised by a foster dad, played by the late George Gaynes. Earlier this year, NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service announced it had picked up a pilot of the show in which Frye plays present-day Punky, a single mom raising three kids. Punky’s best friend Cherie, portrayed by Cherie Johnson, will reprise her character, and Freddie Prinze Jr. has signed on to play Punky’s ex-husband. Their split is a bit “messy,” Frye said, but it’s clear there’s still chemistry between the two.
Frye calls the revival a dream come true, particularly because David W. Duclon, the original “Punky Brewster” creator, is involved and committed to maintaining the heart of the show.
“As a little girl, I didn’t know where Punky ended and I began because we were the same in so many ways,” she said. “And she really, to me, was a superhero. She was going through life’s challenges and struggles but she was so positive and had so much spunk. And throughout all of my life people will come up and they will call me ‘Punky,’ and would come up and share their stories about growing up in a single household, growing up in the foster care system, being adopted … I always said, ‘If I was 80 or 90 years old and people were still calling me ‘Punky Brewster,’ I would be so proud because I’m still so proud of Punky.”
The revival cast is rounded out by Quinn Copeland, Lauren Donzis, Oliver De Los Santos and Noah Cottrell. They recently shot the pilot in front of a live studio audience, which was both exciting and emotional for Frye, especially upon seeing Johnson for the first time in 20 years.
“The elevator opened and we just burst into tears. I get emotional talking about it,” she said, adding, “Looking back, it was the time of my life. We were really able to be kids. Cherie and I were so wild on the lot. I mean we would scooter everywhere, we would have pogo sticks. We would sneak into Johnny Carson’s set. We were really living this very surreal life but we were such kids at heart.”
Now a brand new set of kids will be part of the show, and Frye is excited to see their stories take shape, too. In the new version of the series, Punky will meet Izzy (Copeland), a young girl who reminds her a lot of her younger self. Frye said fans can expect a lot of coming-of-age storylines.
“I’m rediscovering myself as a grown-up but still a kid at heart … I think you see a lot of my personal experiences through the character … Punky is rediscovering her Punky power. I think so often as we get older and as we grow up, there are times in our lives where we lose that. We lose that spark and we go in a different direction in life.”
Frye, married to producer Jason Goldberg for more than 20 years and the mother of four children with him, is particularly proud of playing a strong female adult character and said there’s no better time for that.
“There’s been times I’ve questioned myself and I’ve gone through my insecurities and I’ve really forgotten those fundamentals of my inner spark,” she said. Speaking of the adult “Punky” character, she added, “Just because you’re a single parent and you’ve gone through a divorce and you’re raising kids, it’s not like your life is over. And seeing a woman who is going through that next stage of evolution ― at least for me, I’ve never felt stronger and sexier.”
Before Frye, 43, returns as Punky Brewster, she can be seen in “Staging Christmas,” premiering Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime. It marks her first TV Christmas movie, and much like the “Punky Brewster” return, it’s one of those bucket-list items she can now check off.
“On the list of my dreams was romantic Christmas movie for Lifetime,” Frye said, adding, “I wanted to escape to that world, and to be able to do that was really special.”
Check out the Build Series interview below.