By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
When Faly Rakotohavana was a child in Ahwatukee, he had a serious stutter—so much so, it nearly derailed his dream of entertaining.
“I always had a lot on my mind, so much I wanted to say,” says the effervescent Rakotohavana. “I wanted to say it all at the same time. It was an overload of thoughts. My tongue would just stop operating. (Speech therapists) taught me to order my thoughts. It took a lot of patience and hard work to improve it.”
Rakotohavana has now landed a lead role, Prince Matteo, in the recently released Disney+ film “Secret Society of Second-Born Royals” alongside Skylar Astin of “Pitch Perfect” and Niles Fitch of “This is Us.”
“Matteo is very shy and awkward and antisocial,” he says. “He is very meek. He doesn’t like social situations. I’m pretty much the polar opposite. Getting to play someone opposite of me was a challenge.
“I had to learn to undo everything I am and build a new version of myself. As social as I am, getting to do that was really fun. As far as how Matteo and I are the same, we both see the best in people. We see the world as a glass half full. We’re very optimistic. We do try to fit in, and we want everybody to love us. We want people to see the best in us, as we see the best in everyone.”
Astin and Fitch, Rakotohavana says, were the real hits of the film, though.
“They really are the life of the party on set,” he says. “Skylar loves to sing and dance around the set. We’d share AirPods. Niles brought his sense of humor to the set and a standard to set that all of us really tried to live up to. They were all so great, and so fun to be around.”
The 17-year-old Rakotohavana—who lived in Ahwatukee when he was 6 to 9, after moving here from Madagascar—also had recurring roles on “The Mick” and “Raven’s Home.” Astin famously sums up “The Secret Society” near the beginning of it, “They are the heirs. We are the spares.”
“‘Secret Society of Second-Born Royals’ is a film about these second-born royals,” he says with a laugh. “They don’t inherit the throne. Instead, they inherit this gene that gives them superpowers. Summer school is a super-secret training facility for superheroes.”
The movie was filmed in Toronto, a city that Rakotohavana fell in love with. He adored the universities he visited, the CN Tower and the gothic revival mansion Casa Loma.
“We were in that castle for a couple weeks,” he says. “It was huge, and it was beautiful.”
He’s just as excited to play Matteo in “Secret Society.” In the second grade, he attempted to audition for a role, but his stutter got in the way. So, he took a break, did speech therapy in Phoenix and moved to Reseda, California, with his family.
“It’s still just so bizarre to me to wrap my head around the fact that I’m a part of a Disney+ project,” he says. “I forget, and when people remind me, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m on Disney.’ I’ll forget sometimes. It’s so crazy to be a part of something this huge.”
As for future roles, Rakotohavana says those have quieted down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, he’s focusing on skateboarding, the violin and the piano.
“I’ve been playing the piano for about 11 years,” says Rakotohavana, who listens to Michael Jackson with his dad, a Malagasy musician/drummer. “That’s a craft I’ve been working on. I play violin as well. I’ve been playing that for about six years. Hopefully, I’ll be able to bring my passion into music.
“I got a skateboard for my birthday. I’ve been practicing religiously. I have nothing better to do. I go to school from 9 to 2 and then I have the rest of the day to do whatever I want. I don’t want to waste it on video games or TV. I have a skateboard, and I want to be good at it. I’ve accomplished tricks.”
“The Secret Society of Second-Born Royals,” streaming on Disney+.