Interview by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
June 8, 2016, introduction updated August 28, 2016

Set between the events of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the animated series LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures follows the exploits of three siblings who operate a struggling business aboard a bustling space station: 18-year-old Zander Freemaker (voice of Eugene Byrd), a skilled pilot and masterful mechanic with a penchant for getting into trouble; 16-year-old Kordi Freemaker (voice of Vanessa Lengies), a quick-thinking entrepreneur and de facto parental figure of the group, who is constantly looking out for her brothers, as well as the latest financial opportunity; and 12-year-old Rowan Freemaker (voice of Nicolas Cantu), an adventurous youth with raw potential in the ways of the Force.

Together with their re-programmed battle droid R0-GR ("Roger," voice of Matthew Wood), the trio operates Freemaker Salvage and Repair, scraping by on their resourcefulness and ingenuity to earn a living and make the rent under the rule of the Galactic Empire. After meeting the mysterious Force-practitioner Naare, who offers to take Rowan on as her Padawan apprentice, the Freemakers find themselves caught up in a quest to recover the scattered fragments of the Kyber Saber, an ancient and powerful Jedi artifact that could hold the key to restoring freedom to the galaxy. Along the way, they run afoul of Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, who are determined to recover the Kyber Saber for themselves.

While The Freemaker Adventures skews younger than other Star Wars series such as The Clone Wars and Rebels, it is still remarkably adept at appealing to older fans with its clever references and abundance of recognizable aliens, locations, ships, and one-liners. Audiences are treated to cameos by classic characters including Chewbacca, Boba Fett, Jabba the Hutt, Lando Calrissian, and even the trinity of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo. Jokes make reference to various key events in the main Star Wars continuity, such as the Clone Wars and the destruction of Alderaan. In its pilot, The Freemaker Adventures even kicks things off with Palpatine antagonizing Vader with footage of his failure at the Battle of Yavin, playing it like a sadistic workplace performance review. The shot-for-shot remake video instantly imbues the show with a nostalgic familiarity, as does the music and sound effects, all straight from the Lucasfilm vaults.

In this exclusive interview, fellow big-kid-at-heart Vanessa Lengies (Stick It, Waiting..., TV's Glee) talks about her experience of voicing Kordi, including her discovery of previously untapped sisterly energy. She also reminisces about her childhood love of LEGOs and Disney films, and instantly solidifies her spot as one of our favorite people by geeking out over toys, The Lion King, and her adorable Kordi action figure.

Update: LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures completed a successful 13-episode first season, and can currently be seen on Disney XD and VOD. The complete first season comes to Blu-ray/DVD on December 6, with behind-the-scenes bonus features and an exclusive pack of 6 magnets for collectors! When you first announced your role in The Freemaker Adventures on social media, you enthusiastically shared a picture of Kordi circled with the caption "That's me!!!" Beyond the thrill of being cast in a new series, did you have any childhood memories of LEGOs that made the news extra exciting?

VANESSA: [laughs] Yeah. My neighbor two houses down from me, who was my best friend, her brother had a box of LEGOs--you know, one of those big plastic bins that you pack Christmas ornaments in. And I remember making up that I wanted to go play with my best friend just to go access this treasure chest of LEGO. And because it was all jumbled in there together, all these random pieces, I never had the box or instructions. And I would sit there for hours making everything that a child's imaginative mind could think of--I was a Freemaker. And I like to think that I was a handful, and on the scale of [imagination], I was on the crazier side. And so it was really personal to me, just the toy factor. And I'm a big kid. I love any kind of games, and I love LEGOs.

Given your love of toys, what were your thoughts on playing a character who would be immortalized as an action figure?

When I heard that it was going to be LEGO Star Wars, I didn't even think that there was going to be a toy of me--like, it didn't cross my mind that that was a possibility. It was just so cool that I was playing a LEGO onscreen and that we were doing a show that takes place in the Star Wars universe, and that it's a cartoon. And as I said [previously], two years ago, somebody was like, "Where do you see your career going? What's a desire you have for your career?" As in, probably, like, "Do you want to make drama movies or comedy?" And I was like, "I really just want to be a cartoon character." [laughs] I think that's kind of just something that I've been dreaming about for a while, and I'm finally willing to say it out loud! And so beyond that whole dream come true, when they said, "Oh yeah, and the LEGO set's coming out...There's going to be a LEGO of Kordi..." [stammers] Something broke in me! I didn't even know I repressed [my inner child] because I'm such a big kid, but some repressed child in there that wanted to go over to my neighbor's house and lie to play with the LEGOs broke and was set free. And I've been so obsessed with the fact that I'm a LEGO. [laughs]

A great thing about voicing a cartoon character is that you can inspire the imaginations of kids who will always have fond memories of you. Growing up, what were some animated films or shows that influenced your creative path?

I'm so glad this is a Disney/Lucasfilm LEGO Star Wars collaboration...because I only watched Disney animated movies growing up. I had the VHS of everything made between 1990 and 1997--so, like, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King, Pocahontas, Tarzan. That's my whole life over and over and over again. And in fact, I think I'm an actor because of The Lion King. Because I would just act out all of the scenes with the singing and the dancing and the characters, and Timon and Pumbaa, and Simba young and then Simba old, and I'd change my voice. And it was my life. And I was an only child, so it was really my life--like, I was in my room alone just acting out Disney movies, cartoons. So to answer your question, it's a very big part of my enthusiasm for this project, and also my history as a human, and as an actor, and as an animation enthusiast.

As an only child myself, I totally relate to that idea of making up your own worlds...

Yeah, and you realize later in life how much you're still doing that--like, how much of my current world is still the things that I decided when I was younger. I don't know if this is true for you, but I didn't have to let go of most of the creative, imaginative sides of myself, and I don't think I ever had to grow out of the things that I liked. I don't know, maybe people with siblings also get that, but I think there's definitely this unique experience as an only child where that imagination universe continues on. When I meet only children, I feel like we have this, "You made up your own world in your room, too, right? Everything was created in here, and now we're just living it." [inquisitively] ...You do, though, right?

Absolutely. I was a child of the '80s, I did the whole thing with Transformers...

Okay, good. Just wondering! [laughs]

In coming up with Kordi's voice, what characteristics did you want to bring to her?

So like [series creators Bob Roth and Bill Motz said], we don't really get to know the backstory of why they have no parents. And when we started the show, I definitely wanted to make sure that she came across as this grounded, responsible adult, even though she is a teen. And so for me, I wanted her to embody both parents of the family. I wanted her to be very motherly and nurturing, and also very stern and strict, like a stereotypical father would be. So I really wanted her to capture both of those attributes. I guess you could say it was like a tomboy quality to her, but not tomboy because she likes to wrestle in the mud and play with cars--more like she has to run this show and she's only a kid, and she's been doing it for a really long time. So I wanted her to have this, like, weathered, androgynous kind of feel to her. [laughs]

Despite being an only child, you seem very sisterly with your onscreen brothers Nicolas Cantu and Eugene Byrd. How did you approach the whole sibling dynamic you have with them?

The hardest part for me was...You know how Kordi loses her temper quite easily? She is very protective, but she also yells at her brothers. I don't have that experience. I never yelled at my friends. Obviously, I was taught not to yell at people. And I'm very respectful towards my parents. So I don't have a lot of experience in my life yelling at people out of love, do you know what I mean? So there were a couple of scenes that director Michael [Hegner] had me do over and over to try to access this, like, "No, you're yelling at them because you're pissed." And in my life, I've never had to unleash that anger at somebody, knowing that they're family and they're going to stick around even if you lose your cool. So that was just an interesting dynamic that I hadn't really realized I didn't have access to...I never beat somebody up, and, like, loved them at dinner later, you know? So that was something interesting that this experience had me look at. And I don't think in my entire career I've actually had any experience playing siblings. Probably because my ethnicity looks so mixed? Maybe they have problems casting me with siblings. I'm not sure [of] the reason behind it! But I'm pretty sure that this is my first experience acting with siblings...

[laughs] Congratulations on this momentous occasion!

[laughs] Thanks! From one only child to another...!

Vanessa, thank you so much for your time today...

Thank you so much! It was really nice to meet you.

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