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‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ Series Casts ‘Star Wars’ Fans as Extras (EXCLUSIVE)

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Welcome to this week’s “Just for Variety.”

“Star Wars” really is about the fans.

So much so that some of the most die-hard will be seen in the Disney Plus series “Obi-Wan Kenobi,” starring Ewan McGregor.

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So says Maya Erskine, the “Pen15” co-creator and co-star who appears in the “Star Wars” spinoff. “The extras were incredible on the set, and a lot of them were mega ‘Star Wars’ fans,” Erskine tells me on this week’s episode of the “Just for Variety” podcast in a joint interview with her “Pen15” cohort Anna Konkle. “One guy, he was so nice and he lifted up his sleeves and had ‘Star Wars’ tattoos over his whole body. And they build droids. There are lot of ‘Star Wars’ fans that build droids, and then the production companies will rent from the fans.”

Erskine shot what she calls her “speck” of a role shortly after giving birth to Leon Frederick, her son with her fiancé, “This Is Us” actor Michael Angarano. “I got to bring my baby to set,” she says. “I wanted to wrap him in a shawl and have him pass as an extra in ‘Star Wars.’”

Erskine jokes that she’s getting an Obi-Wan Kenobi tattoo: “It’s on my ass.”

Of course, she has to be tight-lipped about her part on the show, but says, “Deborah Chow is an amazing director. The cast was incredible. It was so fun to do.”

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She adds, “My brother, who’s a mega fan, was like, ‘If you don’t take this, I will disown you. You have to be part of this universe.’”

Speaking of the podcast, last week’s episode not only featured Lady Gaga but I can report that she helped “Just for Variety” pass 1 million downloads. Thank you, everybody, for listening and letting me know what you think. Here’s to another million and more!

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Jeremy O. Harris, Ashley Park, Lily Collins and Darren Star.
Michael Buckner for Variety

Lily Collins is hoping for an “Emily in Paris” crossover with “Lupin,” the French-language Netflix show about a master thief played by Omar Sy. “I feel like Emily would make a really good spy,” Collins told me at the Season 2 premiere of “Emily” at the West Hollywood Edition hotel. “She does her own share of spying on social media. I think she’d make a really good investigator. I just hope we get to do a Season 3.”

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One person who won’t be popping up alongside Emily is Samantha Jones. Twitter users have had a field day suggesting that Kim Cattrall’s iconic “Sex and the City” character join the series. “Emily in Paris” creator Darren Star also was creator and executive producer of “SATC.” “I’m not a fan of crossovers,” Star said. “It’s two different universes.”

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Nina Dobrev.
Getty Images for Fresh Vine Wine

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Nina Dobrev started a lot of speculation about her joining “Stranger Things” for its fourth season after she posted a photo of herself in early December on Instagram in front of a building emblazoned with “Hawkins High School: Home of the Tigers.” She captioned the pic, “stranger things have happened …” But Dobrev tells me she was just having some fun in Atlanta while filming her upcoming Netflix comedy “The Out-Laws” near the “Stranger Things” set. “I walked over and took a picture because I’m a huge fan,” Dobrev told me on the phone from New York, where she and Julianne Hough had just rung the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate their wine company Fresh Vine Wine’s initial public offering. “But I’ve been campaigning to be on the show for years now. Hopefully ... got their attention. Maybe in Season 900, I’ll get to play an extra.”

Well, that’s it for “Just for Variety” in 2021. It’s been a little over a year since I was handed the pen for this column’s relaunch. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it every week as much as I’ve loved reporting and writing it. Stay safe, be well and I’ll see you in 2022.

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Gossips

‘Glee’ Alum Kevin McHale and Justin Thorne Launch Children’s Entertainment Brand With Animated Singing Teddy Bears (EXCLUSIVE)

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Kevin McHale and Justin Thorne first worked together when they were members of the boy band NLT in the mid-aughts. Now, the two are thinking about a bear band.

McHale, best known for his work as Artie on “Glee,” and Thorne are the creators of the AlphaBeatZ, five animated singing and dancing teddy bears; they launched the group over the holidays with a short video on social media featuring the cuddly creatures coming to life in a young boy’s bedroom and performing a portion of the original tune “Christmas Everyday.” They also released “The AlphaBeatZ Christmas!,” a five-song EP of holiday music, including covers of “Feliz Navidad” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.”

The AlphaBeatZ are voiced by McHale, Thorne, McHale’s “Glee” co-star Jenna Ushkowitz, Chris Moy and Shelby Rabara.

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“We joke that it’s the Spice Girls meets One Direction but for kids,” Thorne tells me.

McHale and Thorne began working on AlphaBeatZ about two years ago as a music project. “We wanted to use our passion and knowledge of music to make something magical for children,” McHale says. “We started sending the songs to family and friends and got this overwhelmingly warm response.”

Since then, they’ve expanded their plans to create a multiplatform children’s educational and entertainment brand that includes a series, movies, live concerts and merchandising. They’re shopping AlphaBeatZ around to potential investors. Thorne’s father, Rich Thorne, a veteran visual effects supervisor, serves as a producer. “There’s so much that we want to build on,” Justin Thorne says. “We’re hoping for a financial partner who knows the creative space and can help us build this from the ground up. We want to create characters that kids fall in love with.”

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Disney Reorgs Streaming Business, Names Joe Earley President of Hulu

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Disney reorganized its global direct-to-consumer streaming organization, including installing Joe Earley, formerly head of Disney Plus marketing and operations, as president of Hulu.

As part of the reorg, Disney is creating a new hub for international content creation under the direction of Rebecca Campbell as chairman, International Content and Operations.

Joe Earley, who previously served as EVP, marketing and operations for Disney Plus, has been named President of Hulu. He takes over for former Hulu president Kelly Campbell, who recently exited to join NBCUniversal’s Peacock.

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Campbell, in her newly expanded role, will focus on local and regional content production for Disney’s streaming services, as well as continue overseeing Disney’s international media teams worldwide, reporting directly to CEO Bob Chapek. The International Content and Operations group will be home to a fourth content-creation engine for the company, alongside the Studios Content, General Entertainment Content and Sports Content groups.

In addition, Michael Paull has been promoted to the newly-created role of President, Disney Streaming, overseeing Disney Plus, Hulu, ESPN Plus and Star Plus, and will oversee these platforms globally for Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, reporting to Kareem Daniel, chairman of Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution (DMED) segment.

Earley will report to Paull. The streaming leadership team will also include a new head of Disney Plus, who has yet to be named, filling a role that Paull held previously. Russell Wolff continues to serve as head of ESPN Plus. These roles will also report to Paull.

“Disney’s direct-to-consumer efforts have progressed at a tremendous pace in just a few short years, and our organization has continued to grow and evolve in support of our ambitious global streaming strategy,” Chapek said in a statement. “Rebecca has played a vital role in orchestrating our global platform expansion, and I’m excited that she will be leading our new International Content group, bringing her expertise and talent to oversee the growing pipeline of original local and regional content for our streaming services while continuing to lead our international operations. Likewise, with a relentless focus on serving consumers, Kareem has developed an industry-leading team of seasoned executives who are uniquely equipped to take our streaming business into Disney’s next century.”

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