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Tampa Bay Tribune
Jan 2, 1998

The "Principal Takes a Holiday" on ABC

By Kate O'Hare
Tribune Media Services

For those few who haven't seen ABC's "Home Improvement" recently, it might be a little surprising to see Zachery Ty Bryan, who plays oldest Taylor son Brad, in his new TV movie.

Actually, there's nothing little about the surprise at all. "I'm six feet," says Bryan. "I'm 16 now."

On Jan. 4 at 7 p.m. (Eastern) on ABC, Bryan stars in the new "Wonderful World of Disney" movie, "Principal Takes a Holiday." The high-school comedy also stars Kevin Nealon, who co-stars with Richard Lewis in ABC's "Hiller & Diller," produced by Touchstone Television (a Disney division, which also produces "Home Improvement" ... just keeping it in the family).

Producers for "Principal Takes a Holiday" are Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who scored earlier this season with their new version of "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella". It was written and directed by Robert King, whose writing credits include Richard Gere's recent "Red Corner," and "Speechless," starring Michael Keaton and Geena Davis.  "There were so many things I liked about the movie," says Bryan. "First of all hearing that Kevin Nealon was in it, that attracted me
most. I love him. I think he's the coolest; he's hilarious.

"Not only that, going up to Vancouver (B.C.), having a good time. I just enjoyed the script, I thought it would be fun. I thought I'd love playing the character of a prankster. It was probably one of the best experiences I've experienced in my life."

Bryan plays John Scaduto, a notorious prankster who's racking up demerits at his straight-laced school. As his senior year begins, his parents inform him that he must get through the whole year without a single demerit, or he won't get a $10,000 inheritance check. But there's a problem - Scaduto has already set in motion his most outrageous prank, a trap that will dump a bucket of red dye on the head of officious Principal Hockenberry (Kurt Fuller).

Scaduto rushes to school and tries to dismantle the trap, only to be foiled by a conservative, by-the-book new student named Peter (Rashaan N. Hall). Hockenberry turns red, and Scaduto takes it out on Peter by implicating him in the stunt. When the aftermath of the stunt causes Hockenberry to be taken to a hospital, Scaduto comes up with a devious plan.

He has to find someone to pose as the interim principal, Dr. Baxter (who has been delayed, which only Scaduto knows), just long enough to erase the demerits from his and Peter's records. To this end, he tries to enlist a scruffy drifter named Fitz (Nealon), but when that doesn't work out, he and Peter hire a high-strung actor (Carlos Jacott) for the role.

But Fitz changes his mind, and Scaduto winds up with two Dr. Baxters, a computer system that can't be fixed for a week, and the unwanted scrutiny of suspicious, new history teacher Celia Shine (Jessica Steen, "Earth 2").

It's a setup that leads to outrageous behavior, laughs and a surprising turnaround in attitudes and fortunes for Fitz, Peter, Celia and Scaduto.

"He's a little punk!" says Bryan of his character. "He's the kind of character that kids always want to be in real life. Well, they shouldn't, but they all want to be, because they want that attention.  It's always cool to be a rebel nowadays, as you know."  But isn't Scaduto the sort of student who might wind up drifting through life without purpose? "Those kind of people usually wind up doing that. But luckily, they don't show the end of his life, they just show the beginning. But by the end you get the idea that he's deciding to focus and really pay attention, so he can get into the college of his choice."

Is there much of Bryan in Scaduto? "Not very much. To be honest, I'm not much of a prankster myself. I'm pretty focused on what I want to do in life. It was fun to play a character that I'm not. I really did have a good time with it."

Is there a message in "Principal Takes a Holiday"? "I think it's more just a comedy, where kids won't really learn or gain anything from it, but not learn anything bad from it either. It's just the type of movie that people are going to sit down and laugh and have a good time with it. That's what's important."

For Jessica Steen, it meant a rare chance to dress in skirts and sweater sets ("It's good for me to try to be a lady."), and do a little comedy, which is a direction she'd like to take. "I would love to get into a sitcom. I want to do fun stuff. It's a different atmosphere. I laughed from the second I got there until it was over with."

And apparently Hall was also playing someone different from himself.  Says Bryan, "But you know what, Rashaan is so not that character. He's a party animal! We both were going totally crazy in Vancouver. Every night we'd walk down the street and meet girls and go eat, just hang out and have fun."

But while he may spend his summers making movies and having fun, Bryan is quite clear on his goals. "I definitely see myself in comedy movies, but at the same time, I want to get into more dramatic films too, because I really enjoy dramatic roles. I think that's what my strength in acting is, I really do.

"I see myself doing versatile stuff, comedy and drama, so it can show I'm an all-around superb actor."

And he knows that if he pursues acting, it won't be a bed of roses.  "Everybody can deal with success. Those who are successful are able to deal with not being successful. When you can deal with yourself and be OK and just keep trying harder and harder when you're not working, you'll eventually get there."

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