David Henrie talked to E! News about his enduring relationship with former Wizards of Waverly Place co-star Selena Gomez and their partnership on his new film.
We may not have an official Wizards of Waverly Place reunion yet, but David Henrie and Selena Gomez are about to give us the next best thing.
The former TV siblings have joined forces on Henrie's new film This Is the Year, which he not only stars in, but also co-wrote and directed, with Gomez coming aboard as an executive producer in the hopes that the passion project might reach as many viewers as possible.
To that end, the pair are teaming up for the film's big virtual premiere on Friday, Aug. 28, for a virtual event that involves a screening of the movie, live after party hosted by Charli and Dixie DiAmelio and a live performance by lovelytheband. And as Henrie told E! News ahead of the special night, it couldn't have happened without Gomez's support.
"Her being an executive producer was just an organic thing that came to be," he said in a new interview. "The second she came on, she had all these great ideas. She's like, 'Well, movie's got music, let's put together playlists that could go on the website the night of for the live event.' She's like, 'I'll be there live too, you and I will be together.' We did a press day together. I mean, to get four hours of her time to sit and record a bunch of different marketing hits is just unheard of. A brand would go bankrupt trying to get her time for that kind of a thing.
"And it all is just organic and natural because she believes in the movie. So, it's been a true blessing being able to have such an organic, mutual support for this film."
It didn't hurt that the sibling relationship Henrie and Gomez developed during their four seasons on Wizards has only grown tighter since the Disney Channel hit wrapped in 2012.
"The show really bonded us as brother and sister and best friends, and we've kept that relationship over the years," Henrie explained. "Anything professional was just never brought up or thought of, we were just solely friends. She's now close with my wife and my daughter. She bought my daughter the most beautiful little toy pony horse that's her favorite thing in the world, that says her name on it. Like, she's Auntie Selena to my baby. And we always bonded over having deeper conversations about meaning and purpose and helping others and giving back."
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So, when Henrie invited Gomez over for a screening of This Is the Year, it was without any agenda. "Our friendship is the most important thing," he said. "She happened to see my movie as a friend, we were sitting down at dinner, and [I said], 'Hey let's watch the film, I just finished it.' And she's like, 'Great!' So she put her pajamas on [laughs] and my wife and we had a little pajama party and watch[ed] the movie for fun. And she just fell in love with the message. She was like, 'Young girls especially need to need to experience this empowering message. This is a very positive version of love that hasn't been shared in a long time.'"
Described as a "contemporary spin on many of the classic '80s movies," the film, which Henrie co-wrote with Bug Hall, Pepe Portillo and Sienna Aquilini, follows a high school senior and his friends as they head out on a road trip to attend a music festival as part of a last-ditch effort to win over the girl of his dreams.
"I really wanted to explore some themes that I feel like young people are tackling nowadays, especially with love and love by way of expectation versus reality," he said of his inspiration for the project. "I feel like a lot of young people expect love to be a certain thing because of what they see in social media, movies, TikToks, Instagrams, everything. You might expect love to be a certain thing, but in reality, a lot of times it tends to be different, but far more beautiful even. So I kind of wanted to tackle that theme for teens and tweens nowadays."
He credits Aquilini with helping "charge the female leads in the characters and [doing] some things with the characters that weren't common of 1980's coming of age movies."
"There is authentic female friendship, there's encouragement, there's no competition or cattiness that was in a lot of those old movies. I'm very happy that we accomplished those goals," Henrie continued, adding that those accomplishments in the story were what drew Gomez in. "Ultimately, what led to her coming on board as an executive producer is she really felt that the female characters were portrayed well and had very empowering arcs in their own right," he said.
Henrie believes that one character, in particular, struck a nerve with Gomez: Zoey, played by Alyssa Jirrels. "I think Selena really gravitated towards seeing a female character in Zoey get out of a codependent relationship that was kind of not beneficial to her," he said. "I think she saw Zoey's an empowering character and liked that, and also liked that there was authentic female friendship. I think she gravitated towards a lot of that because Selena has tons of great friends that are all strong, powerful women who are very supportive."
While Gomez doesn't appear in the film, it does features appearances from other Wizards alum like Gregg Sulkin and Jeff Garlin, which only helped the "unofficial reunion" vibes. "Every day on set was just a party in itself," Henrie said. "And getting to do that again in a professional setting, all the nostalgia for us was there completely. That same spark, that same fun was there. Even when I was doing the press day with Selena, she was like, 'David, do you believe we're here right now? I feel like we're in 2009 again. Do you feel like you're a kid again?' We were just cracking up. It was so fun and it made us all really miss the show. That's what it did. It made us all really miss the show."
With eight years between them and their last appearance together on Disney, Henrie reflected on how both he and his erstwhile little sis have changed in that time. "If you asked that question to Selena, she would probably say I've changed the most. That I went from—she probably wouldn't expect me to be married right now with a second kid on the way," he said, laughing. "So I think she'd say I would change the most. I would say I'm really proud of how Selena has matured into just such a strong, smart woman who cares about things more than materialistic stuff. I'm really proud of who she has become and how, especially with all the health issues she's had to go through, physical and mental, that she's overcome and she's on the right path. And I'm super proud of her, for sure."
Spoken like a true, if not genetic, older brother.
This Is the Year, a BOLD Entertainment film, premieres digitally on Friday, Aug. 28, at 8 p.m. ET. For more info, including how to buy tickets to the virtual event, head over to thisistheyear.film.
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