It’s not difficult for AJ Michalka to think about the special teachers in her life while playing an educator in the new ABC comedy “Schooled.” So much of her own time in school took place while working on the Sony Studios lot, where she’s filming “The Goldbergs”’ spinoff series. Michalka has been appearing on television shows since she was 11, including appearances on “Passions,” “Oliver Beene,” “The Guardian,” “Birds of Prey,” “General Hospital” and “Six Feet Under” while she was going to school. That meant a lot of her classroom work was done on set with a studio teacher.
“It’s a thrill for me to have those people locked away in my memory banks so that I can now use them in playing a character,” Michalka says. “I am able to reference things that I wouldn’t usually be able to reference as an actor because I can look back at them.”
Michalka plays Lainey Lewis, the new music teacher at William Penn Academy in the ’90s-set series. During the ’80s (and while on “The Goldbergs”), Lainey dated Barry Goldberg (Troy Gentile). But that ended, and after graduation, she began pursuing her dream to be a rock star. When her music career failed to launch, Lainey needed work, and the William Penn graduate landed a job where she finds herself a colleague with Mr. Glascott (Tim Meadows), Coach Mellor (Bryan Callen) and super teacher Charlie Brown (Brett Dier).
A spinoff of a hit comedy like “The Goldbergs” is both a burden and blessing for Michalka and the rest of the “Schooled” cast. “Schooled” premiered last week.
“We are blessed in that we already have an established hit show leading us in, which is amazing,” Michalka says. “There also is a kind of pressure. We are like ‘Oh my gosh, is this going to work?’ But this is round two in a way and we still have a lot of stories to tell for the Goldbergs.”
Michalka likes that through her time on “The Goldbergs” and now with “Schooled,” she has gotten to play a large arc with Lainey. In “The Goldbergs,” she was just a student who was trying to figure out where she was going in life, but the new show allows her to play the character as a career woman.
“We are seeing Lainey in a different light. We are seeing her in a world where she doesn’t necessarily have a lot of respect for these people, which is unfair, but kind of how it goes when you are her age,” Michalka says. “Now, she gets to see exactly what these guys have done and how they function with these kids.”
“Schooled” unfolds in the ’90s, when Michalka was growing up in Torrence, Calif. Michalka admits there are some things, such as hair and makeup, that make her giggle, but overall she feels at home in the era.
Working on “Schooled” allows Michalka the opportunity to keep working as a voice actor. Along with providing the vocals for Stevonnie on “Steven Universe,” Michalka is the voice of Catra on “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.”
“There are days when I am working on ‘Schooled’ and ‘Goldbergs’ and ‘She-Ra’ at the same time. It’s insane but I love it,” Michalka says. “I have been this way my whole life, working in two different mediums.
“I love what I do. So, for me, bring it on. The more the merrier. At one point, hopefully I can be as great as I want to be in each medium. I am really working hard on that.”
Voice work is a natural job choice for Michalka because of her love of music. Along with all the work she has done as an actor, Michalka is an accomplished musician who can play the guitar, piano and percussion.
She and her sister, Aly Michalka (“iZombie”), have released two albums. The platinum-selling recording artists have contributed to the soundtracks for the films “Secretariat,” “The Game Plan,” “Grace Unplugged,” “Herbie: Fully Loaded” and “Ice Princess.”
Working as an actor and musician has been ideal for Michalka.
“I think the rush I get from music is more intense in some ways because there is a live aspect of being on stage. You get that immediate feedback from the crowd. You get to hear them sing your lyrics. You meet them after the show,” Michalka says. “When you are on TV, you don’t necessarily get to meet the people who watch your show.”