The new Disney+ musical Sneakerella is a self-described “modern-day spin” on the classic Cinderella story, following amateur sneaker designer El (Chosen Jacobs) as he falls in love with Kira (Lexi Underwood), the daughter of basketball legend and shoe-biz tycoon Darius King (real-life basketball legend John Salley). It’s a vibrant, upbeat urban fairy tale that takes place in the streets of Queens, New York.
Of course, Canadian viewers will probably recognize that it isn’t really Queens, New York at all—in fact, in most scenes in Sneakerella, it’s Toronto, Hamilton, and other recognizable parts of Ontario, dressed up and CGI-enhanced to look like the U.S. To add to the Canadian charm, there’s also El’s best friend Sami, played by up-and-coming Canadian actress Devyn Nekoda. A plucky photographer always by her best friend’s side, Sami gets to sing and dance her way through this musical at the forefront of the cast, celebrating sneakers and sneaker culture along the way.
As Sneakerella hits Disney+ this weekend, Complex Canada caught up with Devyn to talk about her Canadian roots, how she landed the part, and her own love of sneakers.
“I often had to remind myself, we’re in New York! Not Toronto!”
I see you’re from Brantford, Ontario.
I am from Brantford! I don’t like to tell people that. No, I’m just kidding. But I actually live a little bit outside of Brantford. I went to school there and studied dance in Simcoe. So I have lived in an extremely small town my entire life.
Did you migrate to Toronto at some point?
I have not, actually. I’m still at home. When I filmed the movie, I had an apartment there for three or four months. I’ve spent some time living in L.A. for a couple of months. I’ve done that two years in a row now. I’m kind of all over the place.
A lot of things are filmed in Canada these days, which is fortunate for actors like yourself I’m sure. Do you still find you need to be in L.A. to get work though?
Yeah, absolutely. The biggest thing in this industry is making connections. I’m not able to work in the States because I don’t have my work Visa, but I wanted them to see me in person, see my face. I think that’s super important.
Your background is in dance, but I see you also studied… circus arts?
Okay, wow. You really did your research. I started dancing when I was two, and at that time, my mom was kind of like, we’re going to put her in everything and see what she does with this. I had a lot of energy. I did dance, gymnastics, t-ball, soccer. I chose to go competitive in dance. With the circus arts, I took some classes for a couple of years. It was amazing. I was doing the flying trapeze and hanging upside down.
Tell me a little about your involvement in this project. How did you get cast in the movie?
When I’m doing auditions, typically, once I do it, it’s out of sight, out of mind. But this one I could not stop thinking about. I fell in love with the character, Sami. I auditioned in maybe June or July, and then I didn’t hear anything back, so I didn’t think I got it. I got a random callback audition while on a road trip with my friends to B.C. So I did all my call backs over Zoom in a hotel room. At one point I did it from a campsite. I ended up having to fly home from Vancouver and my friends had to drive my car back to Ontario.
The movie is set in New York but, obviously for us, it was shot in Toronto and Hamilton. I think I noticed some scenes that looked like King and University downtown. What was that experience like for you on set?
It was really funny. We were filming on the street, and you know how busy downtown Toronto is. We had to change all the street names and everyone passing by was like, wait, what? In post-production we added all the real New York elements, so I often had to remind myself, we’re in New York! Not Toronto!
The focus of the movie is all about sneakers and sneakerhead culture. Were you a sneaker person going into this?
Definitely. I would not call myself a sneakerhead, but I love them. With my dance background, it’s a huge element in the dance world as well. I’m working on growing my collection. One day I’ll be there.