(Featured image courtesy of @augieisaac on Instagram)
When you think children’s television, two names immediately come to mind: Disney and Nickelodeon. These two channels have dominated that demographic for years, from classics like That’s So Raven and Rugrats to modern favorites like Descendants and Andi Mack. One actor who has the bragging rights of having worked with both networks is Augie Isaac, better known as Gus from Mighty Med and Julian from School of Rock.
TV Wasteland spoke with Isaac about the pressures of kid-focused shows, his favorite set experiences, and how quarantine has shaped his focus as a creator and performer.
The audition processes for every show, whether they’re more kid- or adult-oriented fare, are very similar. The length of the process all depends on the size of the role, as studios need to be a lot more careful when choosing the big names that could be leading entire programs. Recurring or guest roles are often added quickly and only require a couple callbacks, while the names at the top of the poster often need to return half a dozen times (or more) to ensure that that prime spot should be theirs.
It can often be intimidating to walk into a waiting room and see dozens of other people your age trying out for the same role, and Isaac himself is no stranger to audition-related anxiety, but that usually fades away quickly. “Before it happens, you’re so nervous, but once you walk into the audition room… then it would go away.” He also credits much of his calm attitude to his parents. Both have worked in the industry, his father as a writer and his mother as a producer, and “my dad conditioned me to prepare as much as possible and always keep prepping,” inspiring Augie to always operate on the belief that you can always rest on the preparation you’ve done even if there’s nothing else to rest on. His parents were originally unsure about him entering the industry, especially at such a young age, but he’s really glad that they budged and allowed him to explore his talents while they were still growing and expanding. “They root for me, and they want me to achieve whatever I want,” but they’ve also never been overbearing, constantly respecting his boundaries of what he does and doesn’t want to do.
On the topic of working with Disney and Nickelodeon, Isaac said, “I wouldn’t even say that they’re different from working anywhere else.” The energy of a set is determined much less by the studio and more by the specific producers, and Augie counts himself as very lucky that “all the sets I’ve been on have been super fun and great working environments,” adding that “I’ve had a lot of luck in just being on the right sets where everyone’s really nice and there’s no ego.”
The set that likely became the most prime example of all this was that of Mighty Med, Disney XD’s superhero medical series. “The reason I wanted to audition and do professional acting when I was like ten or eleven was Disney Channel,” and Mighty Med brought all of that and more. The superhero elements added an extra level of excitement, with choreographed fight scenes and fantastical costumes like a horned alien or a “Criss Angel-type” magician with hair extensions.
The one thing that does set Disney and Nick apart from most channels, however, are the casts. While the majority of shows choose actors who are much older than the parts they play, those two studios have mostly adhered very closely to the ages of their characters when considering cast members, creating a constant culture of support and collaboration on set between like-minded young people. Even though he was the youngest one on set by a couple of years, he never felt like he was patronized or being treated like a kid. “I felt like I was at the same level” in “a good collaborative process… Maybe I was just a kid and couldn’t tell I was nurtured (I’m sure I was)” but that set felt the same as every one he’s worked on as an adult. The fact that everyone on the production is so close in age only boosts that positive energy and fosters amazing connections that continue into the future, both personally and professionally.
In sixth grade, Isaac started a YouTube channel called 240REVIEWS with his best friend, Dylan. While it started as a way to do fun sketches in middle school, it’s returned in various capacities over the years, and they’ve been able to get a few of their high school friends involved as well. Their fourth season of content in early 2018 actually became the perfect example of the benefits of set friendships. While filming School of Rock, Isaac met Jade Pettyjohn (most recently seen starring on Hulu’s smash hit Little Fires Everywhere), and as soon as Augie called to ask if she’d like to play a part on the show, she immediately said yes, set some time aside in her schedule of Golden Globe and Emmy-nominated projects, and jumped right in. While work schedules are often chaotic, he and all his old castmates “try to meet up every once in a while when our schedules align,” and he specifically described the Mighty Med ensemble as “definitely a family that I’ll always have.”
Was it strange for Augie to jump between the production world and his ‘normal’ teen world? In fact, “it was seamless” as he got the best of both worlds. The generation that watched Mighty Med was a few years younger than him, so while many of his classmates were vaguely aware of his career, there weren’t any expectations from or uncomfortable encounters with the students around him. There are countless actors from classic shows who played one iconic character in their teens and are never truly able to make a name for themselves beyond that character. No matter what projects they do or how famous they become, they’ll always be the goofy best friend from that sitcom that triggers everyone’s nostalgia. Isaac is one of the lucky ones who has never felt pigeonholed by his character, Gus, and while the show has a large and solid fanbase, “I don’t feel like I’ll never be able to escape him.”
Social media has become such a prevalent part of every young person’s life, and after first joining YouTube at seven years old, Isaac is no different. While many ideas of studios’ supposed control over what their stars can and cannot post are overblown, Augie did feel some added pressure to keep everything clean for the younger audiences of his shows. However, it wasn’t much more than that personal responsibility he felt. Now, his favorite app is TikTok, just due to the democratic nature of it. Other social media sites like Instagram and Twitter keep you very insulated, as you mostly only see content from the people you already follow, but Augie likes the way TikTok shows you videos from all different types of people, sometimes threaded by your general interests and sometimes not. In fact, the first song that he ever dropped got a significant amount of its attention because of a little ‘making-of’ video he’d posted.
Maybe the most unexpected bonus in all the technological development of the past few years has been the rise of streaming services. Disney+ has amassed more than forty million subscribers since its launch less than a year ago, and one of the shows in its colossal archive is, you guessed it, Mighty Med. Isaac has found it occasionally difficult to remember specific times during his run on the show, and he admitted that it was strange to be able to click on the streaming service and have such a solid guide down memory lane. Most people’s memories of their childhood and teen years can become hazy as more time is put between them and their younger selves, but screen actors have such a unique point of view, one where they’re literally able to watch themselves (and their friends around them) grow up in real time. Granted, they might often be watching themselves growing up as other people, but the concrete nature of literally having your life and work flash before your eyes can’t really be found anywhere else. Augie found it to be a little like a yearbook, “to look back at that time in our lives… like going back to your childhood home, but things are a little bit different than you remember.” He hopes that people can be entertained by his old series during quarantine, and based on the new followers he’s been amassing lately, he thinks maybe people already are.
Even as the world was largely put on pause around him, Isaac didn’t let quarantine and a little time at home stop him from creating. His performing life started with musical theater in elementary school before he graduated to a cappella and choir in high school, but it was only in the past couple years that he began to focus on learning instruments. Augie described going to film school as “hobby being profession,” and while his passion for cinema does not seem to have abated, “I couldn’t really decompress with film in the same way” as before. When the first weeks of quarantine began stretching into months, he needed something to fill the time, and that became learning about instruments and chords and music theory.
Becoming admittedly a little addicted to it, he worked overtime to put together an EP titled 308 that released on July 31. He described the process of creating the six-song collection as extremely collaborative, working with lots of friends who helped out “in different ways, in different amounts.” With the help of some people who really helped to elevate the ideas in his head, he’s created something he’s really proud of. “There’s a throughline of theme, but musically, there’s a lot of different stuff happening.” His biggest fear is that people will feel apathetic about it, and he’d rather someone completely hate it or love it than not care.
His music has kept him very busy in quarantine, and while he does spend more time on TikTok than he’d like to think about, he’s also been playing tennis and creating a few new things for YouTube, as it’s “pretty fun to make stuff [outside of class that] you don’t really have a prompt for.”
Though the past should never be fully forgotten, Augie Isaac is living proof that innovation and fresh ideas (in both the personal and career spheres) are the keys to an exciting life and career. As he continues to discover unexpected creative breakthroughs, we couldn’t be more excited to watch his journey. His first EP, 308, is available now wherever you buy or stream music. You can also stream Mighty Med on Disney+.