Disney Magic: NWA native cast in ‘Secrets of Sulphur Springs’

Disney Magic: NWA native cast in ‘Secrets of Sulphur Springs’

Northwest Arkansas native Adam Henslee’s 2020 started out with a bang, when he found out he had landed a reoccurring role in a Disney-produced series called “Secrets of Sulphur Springs.”

“It was one of those things where my agent submitted me for the role, I auditioned, they really liked me, and it went straight to the producers,” he says, a note of surprise in his voice. “Normally, I would go back for meeting after meeting, but this time I went straight to booking from that audition. That was the first time that has ever happened.”

Director Adam Sigal (left) talks with actors Scout Taylor-Compton (bottom right) and Thomas Mann (top right) and crew members about a scene while shooting the film “The Chariot” on Jan. 25 at the Hotel Frederica in Little Rock. (File Photo/Thomas Metthe)

By February, he was on set, shooting scenes as the character of “Keith” in the mystery show about two kids who explore a haunted hotel — a dream come true for the actor, who says this was his biggest break yet. Then covid-19 hit the United States in full force, and you can imagine what happened next: Shooting shut down for months.

“We came back in October, but it was such a totally different environment,” he says. “Before, we could get as close to each other as we wanted, but during covid-19, everyone is so wary, we had our own little cubicles that they would keep us in, with Plexiglas walls. But Disney was really good about making it a fun environment, and everyone was still excited about telling this story and doing this project — but it was different.”

Despite the difficulties of social distancing, shooting on the first season of the show wrapped, and it premiered on the Disney channel in January. Henslee says watching his performance on screen was a highlight of his career so far.

“It’s amazing — it’s so cool,” he says. “It’s another one of those achievements — actors work so hard. To see my face on television with the Disney logo, it’s almost surreal. I’m so grateful for the entire experience.”

These days, Henslee splits his time between New Orleans and Los Angeles. Like all actors, much of his time is spent auditioning for projects — though things have slowed down considerably since the global pandemic began.

“I have a lot of friends who are in Los Angeles and New York, and things have definitely slowed down,” he says. “Productions keep closing down and opening back up — it’s certainly affecting a lot of people in the entertainment industry. The only thing I can do is take it moment by moment. I think that’s kind of one of the things that drove me towards this career path — you kind of have to find enjoyment or find comfort in the process of it and not just the result of seeing yourself in a Disney show. You have to find enjoyment in the running of the race and not just trying to get to the finish line.”

The constant roller coaster of auditioning for projects can take its toll, says Henslee, so he’s learned to put a positive spin on the process.

“Actors can take auditioning as though it’s a chance to perform, a chance to play this character even though you haven’t been cast yet,” he says. “You prepare, people are going to watch you perform, that audition room is your stage. You can put on a whole performance and find enjoyment in a character. That makes it more enjoyable.”

Henslee says he gets back to the Northwest Arkansas area to visit a family that’s highly supportive of his career — his two older brothers, in fact, helped steer him towards this path when the trio used to film improv comedy bits and short movies together. His mother, head chef at the popular Northwest Arkansas restaurant Marketplace for over two decades, watches everything he’s cast in.

Northwest Arkansas native Adam Henslee (second from left) is in the Disney production of “Secrets of Sulphur Springs.” The show debuted on Jan. 15. (Courtesy Photo)

“She’s always so happy to see me on television,” he says with a laugh. “There’s a commercial that I’m in that’s been airing here, and I always get a text message full of emojis when she sees it.”

Henslee has a future project in the works — still too early to talk about — but says his Arkansas visits will continue, no matter how busy he gets.

“I love coming back to Arkansas so much,” he says. “I love traveling in general, and Arkansas is my home. It’s just so gorgeous. I love coming back and camping and hiking. Everything is so crazy out here that it’s nice to go back home and connect with everyone.”



‘Secrets of Sulphur Springs’

Showrunner Charles Pratt Jr. says that Disney’s “Secrets of Sulpher Springs” “is like nothing that has been on the Disney Channel before.” The show airs on the Disney Channel and on the Disney Now app.



More Film Friends

SkipStone Pictures is the family-friendly movie studio behind locally filmed festival heavyweights, “F.R.E.D.I.” (2018) and “Max Winslow and the House of Secrets” (2019). Just before the pandemic, the founder and CEO Johnny Remo officially moved the production company to Arkansas permanently to be part of growing the film scene here. Despite covid’s bringing the film industry to a screeching halt, Remo and SkipStone have remained busy.

At the end of the year, production wrapped on the company’s next film, “Monstrous” starring Christina Ricci (“The Addams Family”). Another project, “The Chariot,” is expected to debut later this year, and was filmed in Little Rock. The sci-fi comedy thriller stars John Malkovich (“Being John Malkovich,” “Bird Box”), Shane West (“A Walk to Remember,” “Gothem”), Thomas Mann (“Kong, Skull Island”), former NFL player Vernon Davis and Rosa Salazar (“Alita”).

The next two projects coming from SkipStone are family action adventure, “Memoria,” shooting in NWA, and family drama “Lilies,” shooting in both NWA and Little Rock.

“We had great support from the crew and locals in Little Rock, with a great metropolitan city dynamic,” Remo shares. “NWA has that warm and fuzzy hometown feel with incredible support from the local businesses and people.”

“F.R.E.D.I” can be stream on Netflix, Amazon, Tubi and Peacock. “Max Winslow” is available at Walmart, Amazon and STARZ.

— Jocelyn Murphy


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