Three decades ago, an adorable little foster girl named Punky Brewster came to primetime television and quickly nestled her way into our hearts. So much so that the 10-episode revival of the show is evoking fond memories while capturing the hearts of current generations.
Soleil Moon Frye portrayed the spunky title character in the original NBC show, voiced an animated spin-off (It’s Punky Brewster) and the continuation of the show – also named Punky Brewster — on Peacock that had its debut in late February.
In the original Punky Brewster, the title character is adopted by a Chicago photographer named Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes). The Peacock revival includes a similar premise, as Frye’s character learns about a foster child named Izzy from her friend Cherie, a social worker. The young girl reminds Punky of herself, as she displays an incredible amount of what is best described as “Punky Power.”
Soleil Moon Fyre directed Kid 90 docu about child celebrities
In addition to her acting career, Frye is now the loving mom of four and has directed Kid 90, a new documentary about her life and the lives of young Hollywood celebrities growing up in the 1990s, using hundreds of hours of footage shot when she was a teenager.
Throughout it all, Frye says that she is grateful for all of the opportunities she has had in her life, even the difficult ones.
“We each have our stories. So, I would not change any of my life experiences,” she says, “because they brought me to right here, to right now, which is the most incredible gift to be able to share my story.”
During a recent Zoom event to promote Kid 90, hosted by The Moms: Denise Albert and Melissa Gerstein, Frye spoke about the coronavirus lockdown with her two sons and two daughters, reminiscing about her celebrity life in the 1990s with some old pals and why Punky Brewster – the show and the character – will always be a beloved part of her life.
Monsters & Critics: Some child actors don’t want to be reminded of the character that they were, yet you are clearly embracing it.
Soleil Moon Frye: I’ll be Punky forever and I will be proud of it forever, so you can call me Punky any day of the week.
What was your favorite part about being Punky Brewster?
Soleil Moon Frye: Well, Punky is such a big part of my heart, and she always will be. I always say I didn’t know where she ended, and I began because we were the same in so many ways, and it’s true. She was a survivor and spunky and so full of life and heart, and yet she had been abandoned by her mother in a shopping center without a father, and she meets Henry, and they form their own family. I really believe there’s a family we’re born into, and there’s the family that we choose.
M&C: How does the new show inform everything you have done before it?
Soleil Moon Frye: What I think is so interesting throughout the continuation is this moment in which she speaks about how grateful she is for everything that happened in her life because of the way she looks at it, she wouldn’t be where she is in her life.
M&C: Will you share any early Punky stories with me?
Soleil Moon Frye: As a little girl, people would come up to me, whether they came up through the foster system or they had come from a broken home, and they would talk about what Punky meant to them. Those moments always stuck with me, and that’s the reason why I held her so close to my heart. It was always in the moments when the people were most authentically sharing their stories with me.
M&C: Let’s talk about Kid 90, your new documentary. What a great idea to videotape your life and put it away before it became a regular pastime to document your life.
Soleil Moon Frye: I kept a diary from the time I was five years old, and then I got an audio recorder for my 12th birthday. When I was a teenager, I got my hands on a video camera. Really, it was this journalistic side of me from the time that I was a child. I truly love documenting the world around me, my friends and our experiences.
M &C: What excited you about this?
Soleil Moon Frye: It truly is so incredible because I feel like, in a way, I created this chronological blueprint as a way for me to find my way back home to the artist that I once was. And the journalist that was always inside of me. It’s really been a profoundly life-changing experience for me.
M&C: When you put these tapes and diaries away did you ever think to yourself, okay, in 2020 I’m going to open it all up and look at it?
Soleil Moon Frye: No. I think that I put it away on a subconscious level. I had had so much joy and bliss and love and light in life and, I also had gone through some pain. I think it must have been a subconscious thing where I just locked it away in my vault of Tupperware for all of these years, not really ready to face it. But I didn’t realize that that was the reason why I wasn’t facing it.
M &C: What prompted you to open your Pandora’s box?
Soleil Moon Frye: Well, then about four years ago I turned 40, and I started to question who I am, in addition to my children. After this incredible life, I wondered who am I in addition to being mom and all of these different things. I remembered that artistic side of me, but I needed to revisit it.
M&C: What was the process?
Soleil Moon Frye: I started going through the hundreds and hundreds of hours of tapes and the diaries and I tried to make the documentary about everyone but me. It was supposed to be about the last decade of privacy. I was asked, “What is the glue that pulls it together?”
M&C: What was the next step?
Soleil Moon Frye: Then I went in and spent months upon months going through this found footage to really look at what the backbone of this story was and I cut a version and turned it over. What started as one journey really became this very deeply personal coming-of-age story, and it changed my life and the way that I viewed the world.
M&C: How did it change your outlook?
Soleil Moon Frye: It changed everything. It was being able to look at the world from all of these different perspectives, which was so illuminating. And then the discovery of true self-love. And self-awakening. And really finding my voice again. Ultimately, the way in which I found my strength. All of these things fundamentally changed the way in which I related to the world around me.
M&C: How were your two daughters involved in the process?
Soleil Moon Frye: The kids have been my biggest support system. My daughter Poet (15) documented a lot of the journey and Jagger (13) was doing research. Especially when you’re living in an edit bay 18 hours a day, it was so important for me to show them that what I was working on was something that was so important to my heart. It opened up very honest dialogues for us to have about everything, essentially.
Do you still videotape everything?
Soleil Moon Frye: Yes, I still do.
M&C: How would you feel if your kids told you they want to be actors?
Soleil Moon Frye: Jagger has been focused on acting since she was very little, and I knew if she’s anything like me, I have no choice in the matter because she is going to go for it. She actually guested on the ‘80s episode of Punky, which was so awesome to have her. She is such an amazing actress and so committed to it.
My son, Lyric, now talks about how he wants to perform, and he is amazing and such an artist and creative. For me, I would really want them to be able to follow their passions. While also getting an education, still having their childhoods.
What have you done during the COVID-19 pandemic that makes you proud?
M&C: I’ve been incredibly grateful to work with an organization incredibly close to my heart, Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), where we’ve been doing test sites across the country and vaccinations and we’ve now done over 340,000 vaccinations and over 4.8 million tests. I want to continue to be of service to others.
M&C: What do you do for yourself where it’s like you’re giving back to yourself?
Soleil Moon Frye: There are quite a few things. Meditation is a really incredibly important part of my life right now, especially in the healing of this entire process.
M&C: What is the most fun you’ve had during the pandemic?
Soleil Moon Frye: I’ve had so many amazing moments with my kids. Then, of course, I was so grateful to be working during the pandemic, that we shot the pilot pre-pandemic and we were able to shoot the series and doing it safely. I have this burst of gratitude every day that I got to go to work.
M&C: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given, or a quote that you live by that you keep close to your heart?
Soleil Moon Frye: There’s a quote that I love so much in the documentary, by Samuel Johnson that is, “The true art of memory is the art of attention.” I’ve gotten incredible advice from my parents, who taught me to always be strong, to be a survivor and when you get knocked down to get back up again. And to always believe in myself!
M&C: What is the first thing that you want to do when the world opens again?
Soleil Moon Frye: Give hugs and love to people that I care about. I’ll be so excited to give a real hug to someone. And then – I really want to go someplace tropical. I am dreaming of a tropical getaway.
The new Punky Brewster airs on Peacock. The documentary, Kid 90, is streaming on Hulu