Monique Coleman just doesn't play a senior in the big screen debut of the 'High School Musical' franchise, but the actress is really the eldest of her Disney co-stars.
The Orangeburg, South Carolina-bred actress is actually 27 years old, more than seven years older than her on-screen love interest Corbin Bleu and co-stars Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens and Ashley Tisdale.
But with age comes wisdom and Coleman believes that being the oldest member of 'High School Musical 3: Senior Year' has allowed her to have a positive influence on her peers.
"I'm the one who definitely steps away and goes, 'hold on guys, can we please just take a moment and recognize where we are? We're standing in the middle of New York City and people are listening to the songs from our movie. Can you hold off and wait to get your Diet Coke and just take a moment," she recalled of the advice she sometimes offered.
Being in the "moment" is important to Coleman, who competed on ABC's 'Dancing With The Stars,' because she believes it is easy to become jaded by rapid success in Hollywood.
"Before we did each concert tour we would all stand in a circle every night before the show and say something. I was usually the one to be like we have to give them a performance like they've never seen it. I normally just bring it back. I bring back sentimental moments and the fact that it is not always gonna be this way and that we're lucky," she explained as we sat in her suite at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills.
A graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University in Chicago, Coleman recalls the days of struggling to pay bills and constant auditioning in Los Angeles.
"I was a mess. I came into this movie with a two or three day notice on my door, literally! I hadn't paid bills in I don't even know how long. I got to the point where I was so broke that I would pay my car insurance and my cell phone. The reasoning behind that was I didn't want to get pulled over so I wanted to make sure that I could drive to get to and from auditions. I thought that if it came down to it I could sleep in my car. I paid my phone because I needed to be able to get in touch with people to get to those auditions. That's really all that mattered at the time," the actress shared.
Coleman said she always believed that her circumstances before booking the first 'High School Musical' were just temporary.
"I had absolute faith," she declared. "I'll never forget that even after the movie came out, we went to and I had to get my passport because I didn't have a passport to go on this trip. We got back from this trip and I was on unemployment at the time – even after the movie. I got my unemployment papers in the mail and it was right before the first of the month. I thought, 'God, I really don't have my rent.' I think my unemployment might have been like $800 every two weeks or something like that. I looked at it and said to myself, 'Monique Coleman, is this really what you believe you are worth?' I just got back from staying at the Park Hyatt Sydney looking at the Opera House, traveling the world and promoting a movie. I had no other source of income that was it. I said, 'no, I don't believe that's what I'm worth' and I tore it up. I didn't know that three days later, we would get our first bonus check from Disney and I haven't had to go back to another day job or really struggle financially since. For me, I think that is about inviting abundance. I think that abundance is out there for everyone. Somebody is gonna get it. You have to claim it for yourself and decide that if someone is gonna get it, why shouldn't it be me?"
In addition to her prayers for abundance, the actress, who also starred in the Hallmark Channel movie 'The Reading Room,' had a few angels to help her along the way.
"I met [actor] Ernie Hudson when I played his daughter on '10-8: Officers On Duty' and that was during another time that I was in a major financial situation. I didn't remember this until right now and I don't think he would mind me saying this, but I was so broke and I couldn't even afford gas and he gave me $100. At that time, $100 was more money than I could think of. That was a lot of money to me and still is. I promised that I would pay him back and he said, 'no, please don't ever, ever pay me back. Do what I did for you today for someone else. That's the only way that you can pay me back,'" Coleman shared.
Now that she's a leading star of one of Disney's most successful franchises of all time, Coleman would like to use her newfound fame to bring a dream project to life.
"I want someone to do the TLC story and I want to play Left Eye," she disclosed. "That's the truth and it's one of those things where I thought that I was meant to develop it or produce it. I would love to be a producer on it, but I'm someone that can develop other people's visions. Left Eye was doing missionary work and blowing up people's house and cars or whatever, there is a story there and here she is. That's my dream role."
See my interview with 'High School Musical 3: Senior Year' star Corbin Bleu here: 'Corbin Bleu: 'High School Musical' Star Talks Barack, Being Biracial & His Rock Star Status.'
Disney's 'High School Musical 3: Senior Year' opens in theaters nationwide on Oct. 24.
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