She reflects neither of the titular attractions of the campy “Piranha 3DD,” the follow-up to 2010?s surprise, $80-million-grossing “Piranha 3D,” but Danielle Panabaker anchors the movie nonetheless, starring as level-headed graduate student Maddy, whose visions of a happy summer working at her stepfather’s water park get dashed, in bloody fashion. It almost certainly helped that Panabaker had hearty, previous genre experience, in the form of “Friday the 13th” and “The Crazies.” For ShockYa, Brent Simon had a chance to speak to Panabaker one-on-one recently, about the movie and its production, her admirable dedication to education, and a T-shirt she might have liberated from the wardrobe department. The conversation is excerpted below:
ShockYa: The Internet is sometimes true, and it said, amazingly, that you graduated high school as valedictorian at only 14 years old.
Danielle Panabaker: [laughs] Yeah, I went to an independent study high school and graduated young.
ShockYa: You were working even then, doing theater, commercials and TV. How was it that you were so driven, academically?
DP: I give a lot of credit to my parents. Education was very important to them and they were insistent that it was a big part of (life for) my sister and I. From the time we were young we moved every two years, basically, and my parents always chose the suburb in which we lived based around the school district, basically. So I was very fortunate, had a great education, and when we came out to California just got to stay on the same track and keep moving right along. My parents’ rule was as long as you live in our house you’ll be in school, so kudos to them for helping us stick to it.
ShockYa: You also went to UCLA to purse a degree, where you graduated and were on the Dean’s List.
DP: It was a challenge (to juggle) school and work, for sure. While I was at UCLA, I think I missed a quarter. The most frustrating thing is when you get halfway through a quarter and you’ve done all the work and written all the papers and you’re committed to it, and then you have to go away for six weeks or a couple months, and you can’t finish. That was the most frustrating part for me. But I made it work. I was very lucky that [CBS’] “Shark” came along and they were so amenable to working around my school schedule that I was able to attend 80 or 85 percent of my classes. It’s funny because those contracts are always pages and pages long, but there was always a little paragraph about, “Danielle will be able to attend her finals, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on December 14,” or whatever. It was a priority and I did it, and I’m still shocked a little bit. It’s a feat, for sure.