'Jem and the Holograms' Star Talks Scary Fan Base, FaceTiming Scooter Braun and Sucking at Guitar

Justina Mintz
'Jem and the Holograms'

"There is a lot of pressure because we changed so much of it," says Aubrey Peeples about the adaptation of the popular '80s cartoon.

When it was announced that Jem and the Holograms would be getting the Hollywood treatment, fans of the '80s cartoon were skeptical, at best. 

The original "girl power" TV show follows the story of Jerrica Jones and her sisters, both biological and foster, who form the rock group Jem and the Holograms with the help of her late father's robotic creation, Synergy.

The film, directed Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe, Step Up), has kept Jem's core components intact, but opted to modernize the series for the screen, adding social media elements to the narrative and updating the music with the help of music mogul and Justin Bieber co-creator, Scooter Braun.

Nashville's Aubrey Peeples, who steps into the pink bedazzled pumps of Jem, felt the pressures of adapting such a beloved series, but took a pragmatic approach to the process, knowing that it would be impossible to please everyone. Her ultimate hope is to "bring younger generations into the whole Jem culture."

In a sit-down with THR, the actress-singer talks about her prep for the film ("Lots of research and Wikipedia"), her ideal role ("An Amy Winehouse biopic") and what's up next ("There's a lot of goals").

How do you go about preparing for a performance that is based off an '80s cartoon character?

Lots of binge watching. Lots of research and Wikipedia  Jem has it's own Jemipedia. But it is definitely an updated version: it doesn't take place in the '80s, the songs are different, there is also all this social media stuff but the important messages, like really learning what Jem is, is what we brought to the movie. It's all about self-expression and self-empowerment. The messages are really cheesy but they are so relevant to everybody.

What were some of the important things that the film took from the TV show?

The hair and makeup, the wardrobe and all of the essential themes. There is Synergy and the whole storyline of their dad dying and creating Synergy before he died as a last memento to look after them, and sisterly bonding — all of those things are still there, it just takes place in modern day.

Were their any music artists that inspired your Jem performances?

That's hard. Scooter Braun is our producer so it was all very pop-radio based so I fell like the songs of the movie really fit in with pop radio today and all the female vocalists on pop radio. I don't know if there is a specific music artist that I would compare her to because everything I did was character work and not necessarily trying to make her like another artist because she is very uncomfortable being in this disguise and being on stage.  

How were the film's performances done? Were they pre-recorded or live?

Both. There was one performance that was live performance. "Alone Together" was live and it was shot right there in the bedroom and I feel like you can tell because my guitar playing is not very good. But all the other ones were pre-taped and recorded in the studio first. We had two weeks before the film where we were in the studio at night and during the day doing and rehearsing, not choreography, but learning how to move together onstage as a band.

Was their any performance that you were particularly drawn to?

"Young Blood" was cool to perform because it was the girls' first time performing together and it was our first time performing together, as well. That was very cool for us because it was kind of a meta out-of-body experience because we were experiencing performing for the first time. A lot of audiences through the film were actual fans, and we had done a social media blast earlier in the day like, 'If you wanna see a live performance of Jem and the Holograms come out tonight!' So we got like 400 people who really wanted to be there. So, that was super cool.

On Nashville you are a country singer and the music in Jem is more pop-based, do you enjoy performing genre more than another?

Layla's [Peeples' Nashville character] music is closer to my heart because some of it is based on my own music so that is more my style, but I love getting the opportunity to do both. Neither are really what I sing, but just to sing in general is great. I grew up doing musical theater so I was used to doing different kinds of music. I really love doing music and film at the same time, I mean it is a blessing and whatever capacity that takes shape. But I am a blues singer so very different from those.

Who is your favorite blues artist?

I love Aretha [Franklin]! I sing a lot of Aretha covers. I love Amy Winehouse. I love modern pop rock band inspired by the blues like the Black Keys.

Would you ever want to play one of them in a film?

Oh definitely! If they ever make an Amy Winehouse biopic that would be incredible. I don't look like her, so they would have to do prosthetics or something. I would like to do a biopic in general, I think that would be a very hard challenge I would love to sink my teeth into.

Jem and the Holograms has a devoted following, were you nervous about going into this movie knowing that there is this intense fandom?

For sure, there is a lot of pressure because we changed so much of it, but my personal opinion is that if we tried to replicate it we would get just as much, if not more, hate. Because we would never do it justice, there would always be something a little bit off so I think by making it a modern version we were able to bring younger generations into the whole Jem culture, which is what it did for us. We didn't know what [Jem] was before we were cast and then we realized how cool it was, and that is hopefully what we will do for young fans. It is also an honor being able to step into a culture that is so cool and so unique.

In the update of the story, Jem gets is approached by a studio after a YouTube video she recorded goes viral. What do you think the movie is saying about the current state of the music industry, where Justin Biebers and Sean Mendeses rise to fame on the Internet?

I think it is saying, in general, not just with the music industry, that if you are on YouTube and you rise to fame that there are pros and cons and you have to be careful but it is also a great opportunity. My personal opinion is that the Internet provides — not a security blanket — but there is a safety to it because you can open up and show who you are because you are by yourself in your room. So it allows you the opportunity to be your real self, and when that happens online people respond to it. I think Jem explores a little bit of that but I think the message of it is to use the opportunity, this Internet culture, to be yourself.

How did Scooter Braun's involvement influence the music in Jem?

He 100 percent influenced it. He helped find the songs and really led the way for the entire music of the film because he is the king of pop radio and he is also the king of turning someone into a star, so it was really cool to have him there when we were trying to portray a storyline that he was so familiar with. It was nerve-wracking. One time he was like "I don't want you to do that riff, do a different riff. You have to come up with something else right now." And I was like, "Uhhhh." It was over FaceTime so I was like, "Oh god it is already gonna sound weird." But it was amazing to work with him.

Looking to the future, do you want to continue combining music and film, or focus on one?

I want to continue doing music and film, but I don't necessarily want to do them together always. I don't really look for that in my next role but I do go out on all of those auditions and when I get the opportunity to do both of course I jump to it. Looking forward I just want to do more films in general, one day I want to do Broadway and I would love to have an album come out in the next year or two. So, there's a lot goals.  

Jem and the Holograms is out in theaters on Oct. 23.

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