LOS ANGELES—Remembering the many great friendships and opportunities it brought into their lives, a group of Hollywood stars including Judi Dench, Jack Nicholson, Jeremy Irons, and Meryl Streep recalled Thursday getting their start on The All New Mickey Mouse Club in 1993.
The group of A-listers, who began their careers on the popular children’s variety show along with other notable cast members such as Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Britney Spears, warmly reminisced to reporters about what it was like to have been part of such a talented group of performers, and how they owed much of their subsequent success to the exposure and experience the early ’90s Disney Channel program brought them.
“The Mickey Mouse Club was the launching pad for so many of us,” said Streep, explaining how the show was vital to helping her land roles in The Bridges Of Madison County and Marvin’s Room. “I’d been in a couple of smaller things before it, but nothing prepared me for being up on that Disney stage doing ‘The Mickey Mouse March’—I mean, that was the big time. When you’re a Mouseketeer, you’re a household name.”
“All of a sudden, agents started calling,” Streep added. “Real Hollywood agents.”
Judi Dench, who prior to The Mickey Mouse Club had appeared mostly in plays, credited her time on the show with teaching her the practical skills she would need to thrive in the rough-and-tumble film industry. The star of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel also candidly told reporters that the ice cream shop skit she appeared in provided her with a better education in acting than any performing arts school could.
Fellow class of ’93 alumnus Jack Nicholson expressed similar sentiments, saying that all the while he was having fun covering Shanice’s “I Love Your Smile” in a duet with Christina Aguilera, he was growing up, too.
“When I first joined The Mickey Mouse Club I was so green,” said Nicholson, who would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1998. “I was this naïve 56-year-old from New Jersey, but singing and dancing to those ’90s pop hits and classic Disney tunes five days a week helped me develop as a performer and as a person. Plus, it really helped having an old hand like JC Chasez there to take me under his wing.”
Added Nicholson, “To this day I still know all the steps to the ‘Super Goofy Shuffle.’”
Nicholson went on to note how lucky he felt to have been plucked from obscurity and land a featured role on such a high-profile showcase for young entertainers. He said some of his favorite memories from “back in the day” included putting on his official Mickey Mouse–emblazoned letterman’s jacket for the first time, touring Disney stores and theme parks all over the country, and seeing an unknown Daniel Day-Lewis—then barely 36—audition for the show and sensing that, though he wasn’t cast, he’d still be a star someday.
But the job also came with its share of stress, according to Jeremy Irons, who said spending so much time away from friends and family was often difficult and was not made any easier by the shock of suddenly being recognized as a Mouseketeer almost everywhere.
“Back in the ’90s it seemed like every girl in America had a Jeremy Irons poster hanging in her bedroom,” said Irons, adding that tensions arose among cast members who weren’t considered one of the “cute ones” and weren’t natural singers or dancers. “And there were the love triangles, of course. I remember Justin Timberlake had the biggest crush on Judi Dench, which made things really awkward when he started dating Britney [Spears].”
“At the end of the day, though, we always tried to put those disagreements behind us,” Irons continued. “Because we knew we were all there for the same reasons: We loved to sing, we loved to dance, and we loved Mickey.”