Interviewed by: Morgan McMurrin
Caroline Sunshine may be known for playing the over-the-top, but loveable Tinka Hessenheffer on Disney’s hit show, “Shake It Up,” but there’s much more to this up-and-coming star than what her fans see on TV. Check out what we discovered about the actress when we recently caught up with her.
AC: “Shake It Up” is such a fun-loving program! Is this the first series you’ve been part of?
Caroline Sunshine: Thank you! Yes, it’s my first TV series and I count my blessings every day that I get to work on such an awesome show and play such a great character. We have amazing writers and crew members who work so hard on our show each week.
AC: Can you believe how popular the show’s become?
CS: The fans’ reaction has been amazing. When I heard that over 6 million people tuned in to see “SIU” when it first premiered, I was smiling ear to ear. I would’ve been excited if just 100 people had seen it.
AC: Seeing as how you’re new to Hollywood, how did you first get into the business?
CS: I was actually training to be a prima ballerina before I started acting. I really have to thank Christian Kaplan for “discovering” me. He cast me in my very first feature film, Marmaduke. When I auditioned for the movie, I only had a few commercial credits to my name and Christian really took a chance on me. Being cast in that film gave me a lot of confidence in my acting skills.
AC: What made you want to audition for the part of Tinka?
CS: I’d heard Disney was having trouble finding someone who could bring the character to life. Then when I received the script and read her character there was something inside me that said, “ya know, this could be a lot of fun.” That’s when I decided to audition. I love playing characters that are a little offbeat and crazy. Tinka is so great because she’s not your typical mean girl-type. She’s really funny, says exactly what’s on her mind and is very driven to get what she wants. She’s not afraid to dress a little differently and express herself.
AC: Tinka’s a European exchange student. Was it hard mastering her accent?
CS: Well, I spent three months in Russia prior to filming to master the accent…just kidding! Developing the accent was weird, because it just sort of came to be. It’s really funny because my fans always want me to do the “Tinka voice” or the “Hessenheffer pose” when they see me.
AC: Do people ever get confused when they hear you speaking without an accent?
CS: The younger ones are kind of confused when they meet me, because I speak very differently from Tinka. Tinka has a heavy Russian accent and in real life I speak like a total beach girl.
AC: Since “SIU” centers around a group of teens who perform on a popular Chicago dance show, do you think your background in ballet helped you land the role?
CS: My ballet background helped me with the dancing part, and also as a performer in general. One of the biggest reasons I love being on “SIU” is because I get to do the two things I love the most: act and dance—especially in the second season because my character dances a lot more.
AC: Could you see yourself performing on a dance show like the one your character’s on?
CS: Absolutely! I’m one of those people who isn’t afraid to put myself out there. Before “SIU” I was a competitive dancer and would travel and compete with my dance team. We were all huge fans of shows like “So You Think You Can Dance.” I’ll never forget an episode we did where Kent Boyd (a finalist on “SYTYCD”) was my partner for a routine. I called up my dance girlfriends and said, “Can you believe this is happening?!” Kent’s a really good example of someone who wasn’t afraid to put himself out there, try out for a dance show and now gets to dance out his dreams!
AC: Tinka has a twin brother on “SIU” played by Kenton Duty. Is it true that those characters were inspired by Ryan and Sharpay Evans of Disney’s High School Musical?
CS: When the show first came out people were calling us the new Ryan and Sharpay. Kenton and I both love those characters from the High School Musical movies, but neither of our characters were really inspired by them. Gunther and Tinka were originally inspired by characters from the show “Laverne and Shirley.” It’s an honor to be compared to them though, as I think both Ashley Tisdale and Lucas Grabeel are great actors and performers.
AC: What’s your favorite performance that you and Kenton have done together so far?
CS: Gosh, there have been so many! I mean how could you forget our “I’m Getting a Goat Christmas” song or the glow in the dark performance we did with the girls on “Shake It Up Chicago”? We’ve had some memorable moments.
AC: How would you describe your character’s relationship with Bella and Zendaya’s characters compared to your real life relationships off-set?
CS: My relationship with the girls compared to Tinka’s is night and day. The first day on set I literally hugged them and was like, “Hi, I’m Caroline and I think we could be great friends. Sorry I have to say some mean things to you in this scene.” It’s kind of funny because before takes we’ll be gabbing about our nails, chatting about girl stuff, but then when they call “action” we have to start playing our characters.
AC: Can you tell us about any fun episodes we have to look forward to?
CS: We have a fun retro episode coming up that’s filled with some great dance numbers. Tinka also has a cool performance with Rocky and Cece that will take you out of this world! You’ll have to keep watching to see what happens.
AC: Your character rocks some pretty daring looks! Do you love getting to play dress-up at work?
CS: As a fashion lover myself, Tinka’s closet is a dream come true. You can usually find me in the wardrobe room chatting with our costume designer, Jessica, about a new pair of shoes or something. All of Tinka’s outfits contain something I’ve wanted to rock in real life, but never had the guts to. Her wardrobe lets me be as crazy and colorful as I want.
AC: Is there a trend Tinka won’t try?
CS: She’d probably never go for the “minimalist look” or “muted color” trends that are in right now. We have a saying in the wardrobe department: “With Tinka, more is more.” I imagine Tinka’s wedding dress looking something like a gown she borrowed from Nicki Minaj’s closet.
AC: What are your top three favorite outfits Tinka’s worn so far?
CS: I heard that Lady Gaga archives some of her greatest outfits and I joke that I want to do that too after the show because Tinka has rocked some fabulous ensembles! I think my top three would have to be the egg hat outfit she wore in “Heat It Up,” the fabulous super-spy outfit she wore when she broke into Cece’s apartment and the dress she wore on her first date with Ty (Roshon Fegan). Tinka also has some fabulous shoes—most of them actually come from Japan!
AC: How would you describe her style compared to your own?
CS: I like to think of my personal style as “sophisticated eclectic.” Like Tinka, I like fashion that makes a statement. I love a good piece of statement jewelry or a statement shoe. In the words of the great Coco Chanel fashion is something that should be “classy and fabulous.”
AC: Who’s style in Hollywood do you admire?
CS: My style icons are Blake Lively and Audrey Hepburn.
AC: Tinka loves to experiment with her hairstyles, too. Would you say you spend the most time in hair and makeup out of the cast?
CS: Hair and make-up are definitely important in bringing my character to life. Believe it or not, it only takes about 30 minutes to produce those fabulous updos and it’s all my own hair! I like to think of Tinka as my alter ego and my hair and make-up really help me to become her. When I’m fully Tinka-fied I stand differently, walk differently and even smile differently. Our hair and make-up team is great and we like to try out new beauty trends for her.
AC: If you weren’t acting, what would you be doing instead?
CS: I think I’d be learning how to drive. It’s one of the things that I haven’t had time to do just yet. A lot of things in my life have changed since starting the show, but I’d like to think I’m still pretty normal. I go to school, watch my brothers little league games, crush on boys and listen to Taylor Swift when I’m having a bad day.
AC: Do you think it’s important for girls to be involved in activities like dance, cheerleading and gymnastics?
CS: It’s really important. Getting involved with dance was one of the best things I ever did. It taught me the importance of teamwork, discipline and hard work. It also gave me the self-confidence to set goals for myself and not give into peer pressure, because I wanted to respect my body. Academically, it made me a better student, taught me the importance of good time management and gave me an outlet when I had bad days. I’m on the dance team at my high school and still take classes because it’s something I’m passionate about.
AC: Were you ever a cheerleader?
CS: Yes! I was also really into competitive dance and we would travel all over the country to different cheer and dance competitions. As I said, I still go to a regular high school and love seeing some of my friends cheer at the football games. I think being a cheerleader represents confidence and spirit, which are important for whatever you do in life.
Make sure to check out Caroline on “Shake It Up.”