She also played the young Barbara Mandrell in the TV movie The Barbara Mandrell Story. Her feature film work includes The Omega Code, Rebound, and What Just Happened.
Kell began seriously studying ballet at a young age and danced with American Ballet Theater at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood as 'Greta' in The Nutcracker. She completed 15 years of Royal Academy of Dance ballet training at the Los Angeles Ballet Academy and competed in the finals at the Youth America Grand Prix in New York City and was a featured dancer at Valentino's International Carousel in Tokyo, Japan.
Kell is now starring on MAKE IT BREAK IT as Payson Keeler. The show returns on Monday, March 26 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on ABC Family. She spoke with the media last week about the new season and you will find the transcript below.
Since this is a gymnastic show, do you think it's going to inspire girls to be more active in sports?
Ayla Kell: I do think so. That's one of the things I love about the show is that it isn't showing just the boys’ side. Something like Friday Night Lights does where only the boys are achieving and the girls are a side note to the boys achieving. This is more about the girls going out there and getting at their dreams. They're capable of achieving anything and their strength is more than the boys have, I'd say, for gymnastics. So I love that it shows strong women at their best. I do think that girls will want to go out and get some sports after seeing this because I know that after I watch an episode I have to go move my body and do something.
Would you and the other girls on the show consider starting a program for young girls, maybe touring schools and talking about proper diet and exercise?
Ayla Kell: Oh yes, that would actually be a great idea. I know that we've gone to a couple of gyms already just to be a presence and make sure that we're being a positive influence with those girls because we know that gym girls especially do look up to us. But that would be a great idea to be able to expand that even more.
We really love the dynamic of where Season 2 left off with the girls finally getting Team USA together and fighting so strong. But now with Jordan thrown into the mix, how do you think that's going to skew the dynamics?
Ayla Kell: I think it skews the dynamic in, actually, a really good way. It posed this problem for the girls of what's more important: the individual medal, the team medal, or us three making it to the Olympics. So we have this kind of battle throughout the season of, is she competition or is she a teammate? It's a little bit of a struggle.
So we start to finally figure out what it takes to win and what it takes to be a team and what it takes to be in this sport. I think that she added a great level of realness to this season. I think that, one, she's just gorgeous. She's just gorgeous. But she's also just a talented actress and she had so many wonderful scenes. They did so much with her character this year that is going to, I think, really play as a real thing this year because it's been very prevalent in the news.
With the summer Olympics just a few months away and gymnastics is always such a huge part of it, are you and the cast going to watch and maybe get some inspiration for your characters?
Ayla Kell: Oh, absolutely. We went to one of the qualifiers for the Olympics, actually, right before we finished, just to get pumped up for shooting the last episode.
How did your training as a ballerina prepare you for playing the role of a gymnast in the show?
Ayla Kell: I have to say, when I got the script it read so real to my life, just because I knew what it was like to give 110% into something. I knew what it was like to be able to focus on nothing but dance. Then when I saw Payson, who was that character for gymnastics, I got really excited that I had some real life experience for it.
Then, I'm always used to be in a leotard so that wasn't a huge culture shock. Although, their leotards are way more spandex-y than dancer ones are. But also, we use our bodies a bunch doing the floor routines. So I'm actually able to do all of my dance stuff, my floor routines, my beam and stuff like that. So it really helps when I have to do filming stuff as well.
How much of the actual gymnastics do you perform on the show? Do they ever use any stunt doubles?
Ayla Kell: We use a lot of stunt doubles just because–these girls have been working at what they do since they were four. We got cast when we were like 19 and 20. We didn't have time to go back and learn all that gymnastics they had been studying their entire lives. But we have girls who do all of these really, really amazing tricks.
I'd say that I do the little stunts. I do all the dance stuff. So any leaps, turns, anything like that, it's all me. Any kicks, extensions, it's all me. But when it gets to flips like double backs or any type of gainers or a double Arabian or anything, that's all going to be the stunt doubles.
Payson is one of my favorite characters on the show because she's transformed so much over Season 1, Season 2. What are the core values and principals so that she's retained over the last two seasons?
Ayla Kell: I think she's really retained the core values that her family instilled in her. The fact that if she does keep working hard and if she does strive for what she believes in and what she dreams about that she's able to make it there. It's through the love and support of her family that she's really able to make it because otherwise her family wouldn't have been able to afford this. They've pulled all these strings to make it happen.
Speaking on the transformation of Payson in the last two seasons, though, this season, I think, is the biggest transformation for Payson. She really starts to understand that it's not just gymnastics. That she has to find her voice as a woman and it’s thanks to a boyfriend, which she never thought that would be the case. So we really see a change in how she carries herself and how she handles herself and how she even used herself, which really starts to benefit her gymnastics routines because she's trusting her body more.
What changes should we expect to see from Payson as she starts to prepare for the 2012 Olympics with her new boyfriend and things like that?
Ayla Kell: She's starting to prepare for the 2012 Olympics. She's going through this other side of the battle which is her coach thinks she's safe, which is something she never thought she would ever hear. Because of her back injury she went into ballet. So now all of the sudden she's being called safe.
So she has to do something to completely blow the coach out of the water. So her solution is to try going to a salsa club scene because going to a ballet class that Sasha had me go to, helped then. So she's hoping that going to a salsa club will help. So we'll see if it does.
I'm excited to see that.
Ayla Kell: It was my favorite scene to shoot, I have to say. That and the make-up fight. Those are my favorites.
Payson had such a strong relationship with Sasha. Will she click as well with her new coach at the USA Training Center?
Ayla Kell: Well, anybody who knows Payson will know that she is going to be a resistant to the change at first; at the change of style and the change of how he views the girls and all of that. I think the hardest part is having the Rock title ripped away from her because that's been her home for such a long time. But as always, Payson is respectful and tries to work her hardest and tries to be the best she can be. Essentially, in the long run she ends up clicking with the coach, but still needs Sasha to help her get to the Olympics.
What kind of changes, if any, will we see this year between Payson and Kaylie and Lauren?
Ayla Kell: We have such an exciting storyline between me and Lauren where we start to really rely on each other because we're confiding each other’s secrets in the other person. So it becomes this little bit of a sisterhood between the two of us because Kaylie and I are on the out.
So, me and Lauren become very dependent on each other, and then have a big falling out after I think I'm doing the right thing by telling one of her secrets. So then we have to work back our relationship because we are on a team, so we have to work as a team. I have to say, the whole secret about who sent the kiss cam—it comes out this year.
Payson had a lot of love interests on the show with Nicky, Ike, Max and Sasha. Who do you think is most compatible with her?
Ayla Kell: I think that the one you're going to see this year is the most compatible. Every time it's been somebody who didn't quite understand what her goals were. Because with Max, the problem was he has his own issues, obviously as we saw when he kissed Austin which, you know, kind of unexpected. Then with Ike, obviously, he was in high school and was offering me drugs and wanted me to go to the Prom and stuff like that. So he wasn't really quite compatible either.
Sasha, obviously, that's a long shot; although that was one of my favorite scenes to shoot last season. But I think that the one you see this year, because we're at the USA Training Center where everybody there is going to the Olympics. Finding a boyfriend there was, kind of, the perfect spot for her because it's somebody who has the same Olympic drive and that same 'go get them' attitude. Wants her to achieve everything she can in gymnastics and just wants to support and help her. I think that this year it's that kind of relationship that she has this year that really brings her out of her shell and really starts to show her the world outside of gymnastics.
Would you like to see her settled down with one character or remain single for awhile and play the field?
Ayla Kell: I like her settling down a little bit just because it's so new for her. Both of the other girls have had boyfriends long term, and Payson never really did. So I think that the security in that; it's almost like a little bit of a security blanket for her.
I kind of want to see her stay in this relationship. Plus, I just really like this year. I want to stick with this year's feel that we had; the way that the whole season ended up coming together. It was just like all of the pieces fell into place this year.
If Payson had to choose between gymnastics or love, which one do you think she would choose and why?
Ayla Kell: Well, she's worked so hard for gymnastics that gymnastics will always win out. But on the flip side of that, in this year it's the first time she hasn't had to choose between having gymnastics, or having a boyfriend, because it's not against the rules to have boyfriends at the USATC. So she's not breaking rules here.
But if she had to choose it'll always be gymnastics because that's her love. But I can't wait to see what people think about the whole relationship. But the whole relationship between the two of us ends up being this very, very sweet, very heartfelt—it’s not like the other girls relationships is what I'm trying to get at.
It's not like Johnny and Emily. Damon and Emily, or Nico and Emily, or Carter and Kaylie, or any of that where there's all this drama in between them. We're very settled. We're very calm. We don't fight. We don't go back and forth or anything like that.
It's literally–we get together, we talk about what we're doing. Like, they do vent a little bit, talk about the other girls and I'm off. It's just this great, like, it's a normal relationship. That's what I like.
If Emily doesn't return for Season 3, how will that affect the dynamics? You've talked about the relationship between the girls, but what can we expect between the three Rock girls this season and the trials and tribulations they go through?
Ayla Kell: With no Emily this year it left us with a little bit of a hole. But it kind of forced then the three Rock girls to kind of step it up. Then all of the stakes get higher because we realized how easy it is to be–how quickly it can happen that you're gone. So it makes it kind of real for us that there's no room for error.
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