*”High Expectations“ is a film that stars Emmy and Golden-Globe-winning actor Kelsey Grammar and pop star Ally Brooke, formerly of the girl group Fifth Harmony. The inspirational movie tells a story of perseverance, redemption, realizing dreams despite disappointments, and restoring relationships.
Jack Davis (Taylor Gray) finds himself adrift after his father, the legendary Coach Davis (Kelsey Grammer), cuts him from his renowned soccer club, the Carolina Mantis. Estranged from his father, at odds with his brother, Mantis All-Star goalie Sam (Adam Aalderks), and desperate for purpose, Jack turns to his ex-girlfriend Sophia (Ally Brooke).
He tackles his depression and takes one last shot at his lifelong dream by trying out for a rival soccer club. Can Jack finally prove that he is worthy of his dad’s love? Can he forgive and believe in second chances?
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EURweb spoke to rising star Taylor Gray about setting high expectations, sibling rivalry, mental health, and if he’s a fan of soccer.
EURweb: Your character has a goal of playing professional soccer and deals with many hurdles and reaching for that dream. And as the film states, he has high expectations for himself. How do you balance setting high expectations knowing there is a possibility of disappointment?
Taylor Gray: That’s a great question, and that’s so universal to so many people because we hope that people are striving for greatness and to be the best that they can be, but also in a healthy way that they’re able to balance with the struggles that come along with it. I relate to that, in chasing my dreams, but also doing it in a way that I’m able to accept the fate that comes along with it and the rejection in this industry, as well as being able to continue in doing what you love.
Finding your passion and sticking to it in this film is a big thing. Despite the enormous shadow of his father and his older brother, who are both in professional soccer, Jack continues to blaze his own path because he loves soccer. That’s the only thing he sees himself doing despite the difficulty and the public humiliation he’s faced from being cut from his father’s name.
EURweb.com: So there is a theme of sibling rivalry. I don’t know if you have any siblings yourself. Do you?
Gray: I do. I have a younger brother and younger sister.
EURweb.com: How did you navigate that journey growing up with sibling rivalry because that’s inevitable in every family.
Gray: Absolutely, and it’s the classic Adlerian psychology is birth order. I happen to be the oldest sibling, so it’s a little bit different of a dynamic where there’s a responsibility to look after your siblings. But at the same time, you’re expected to win every game that you guys play just because you’re older and, and you’re bigger. So that always comes into play. But in this film, Jack is the youngest sibling, so it was interesting to observe how that dynamic works in my family.
Especially in other families I know, people are very competitive. But within my family, even my mom and dad, we’re a very loving and close family, but we’re very competitive. I mean, game nights with even Uno, everyone desperately wants to win. So it was cool to tap into that in this film. I think of my younger sister anytime she wins a game. We’re not necessarily surprised, but we expect one of us to come out on top, right? So I can understand that feeling that Jack has [which is] ‘just like, respect me, I’m good, and I’m worthy.’ Those are all things that I think people feel universal, so I hope that connects with a lot of people.
EURweb.com: Definitely. The film also touches lightly on your character’s mental health. How do you protect and maintain your mental health while working in the film industry?
Gray: I’m so fortunate that my mom is a mental health professional; she’s a psychologist, so I grew up with a lot, a lot of communication, as we call it. Our family dinners were very introspective. We definitely talked a lot about feelings and how other people made us feel and how we dealt with people, and so that helped a lot, especially because I had a patch through my teenage years. I was on a Nickelodeon show, where it’s very interesting to navigate that path. I remember them flying us out to New York for the opening press of it, and you’re up in Times Square on a billboard that’s big, and it’s a lot to try to work around in your mind. If I didn’t have my mom and family, I could see it being difficult.
I had classmates on the show and on other shows on Nickelodeon and Disney, where I saw where they didn’t necessarily have the same support system around them. I feel very fortunate to have a support system of not only my family but friends who genuinely care about me, and likewise, I care about them, and no matter how they’re doing, whether they’re on top of the world or at the very bottom of the mountain they’re staring at we look out for each other and so that’s a big thing [to] find your group of people that you can connect with and look out for.
EURweb.com: Awesome, awesome. Are you empathetic towards your film character? If so, what are some relatable elements?
Gray: [There’s] a lot, a lot about Jack I can empathize with, and it’s funny as an actor, when you approach a character, they say even if it’s the most hideous, evil villain in the world, they don’t see them that way necessarily. They’re making these decisions and these actions because they believe it’s the right thing to do, maybe everyone else sees differently, and that’s often the case.
Jack is similar where there are certain things that he does that; if I were an outside observer, I would judge a little harsher than I did. I understand why he was doing what he was doing and why he was in the place he was in; the pressure was insurmountable at times. So he reacted accordingly, and sometimes he fell to different vices that he maybe shouldn’t have. But in the end, there was always that kernel within him, that voice.
I often keep a journal for characters, and I’ll have different mantras, and the one for Jack was just ‘Come On,’ and it was that thing that he almost wanted to say to everybody, like, ‘Come on, like, hear me out, come on, love me respect me.’ He had that with every member of his family in a different sense, and the biggest one was with his father [who] he’s just vying for his love. Even though he wants to make the team and beat his father, and this and that in an external sense, internally, he wants that respect.
EURweb.com: What was it like working with Kelsey Grammer and Ally Brooke on this film?
Gray: It was amazing. Kelsey is such a seasoned veteran, and his track record is amazing. My dad was so excited when I told him that he was playing my father. He loved “Cheers”, and everyone knows “Frasier”; it was really fun to work with him. Because of the emotional depth of our relationship. Those scenes were really fun to dive into, but also, between the scenes, just sitting on set here, and his numerous stories was just a great time. He’s a kind person and a kind scene partner, very giving as an actor.
Ally she’s an amazing singer and the kindest person in the world. She’s a pop star, and hearing her sing on set, I was blown away by her voice; it’s beautiful. But it was cool to be on a film set and see it again with a fresh perspective because it was her first film that she’d ever done.
She would make certain comments that would juxtapose where I was, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s amazing. It’s cool that we’re doing this and playing pretend or that they’re moving this and that this whole world is shifting so that they can shoot from a new angle.’ I took it for granted at times; it was really cool to see from her perspective.
EURweb.com: Were you a fan of soccer before you took this project?
Gray: Yeah, yeah, that was one of the cooler aspects. Sometimes you do genre films where you know nothing of the genre or have no knowledge or knowledge within it. But soccer, I actually follow so closely. So it was cool because a lot of my friends follow certain teams. My brother l thought it was cool because we’re a sports-heavy family, we love it, so it was fun to dive into something that I had such a passion for.
EURweb.com: Based on your character, what is the biggest takeaway that you took from the story?
Gray: That’s a great question because for me, personally, there’s a lot about healing within a family and the redemptive quality. Even if there’s a fracture or things seem like the relationship has soured beyond repair, you can overcome that, and you have to lead with love always. It goes to what you said earlier about empathy: you have to find empathy for everyone in your family and everyone beyond your family.
As far as what I hope other people take from the film, I hope people are inspired to continue to chase their dreams and go after whatever they’re passionate about, and when they come out of the film, they’re fueled and ready to go for whatever they care about.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS will play in over 850 movie theaters nationwide on April 7. Find local theaters and purchase tickets at FathomEvents.com or purchase at participating movie theater box offices.