Juju Brener is excited to go to Disneyland. Sure, she went there when she was a baby, but she doesn’t remember it a decade or so later.
Juju, whose birth name is Journey, won’t be the average 10-year-old visiting the popular theme park – she will be there to celebrate Hocus Pocus 2, the reboot of the beloved 1993 Disney movie, and the company’s biggest film of the season. Juju stars in the movie as young Sarah Sanderson – that’s right, she plays the kid version of Sarah Jessica Parker’s witchy character.
While she may be the most diminutive of the three actresses who play the witches’ younger selves, Juju definitely doesn’t feel small on the screen as a bright and sprightly child-witch in 16th-century Salem. And she is actually quite an experienced actress – already having acted opposite Morgan Freeman in the movie Vanquish and starring in the Miley Cyrus music video for Younger Now.
Juju shared her story from her home in Los Angeles, where her mother, Shirly Brener, was sitting by her side, sometimes helping refine answers or remind Juju of things (like the fact that she’s already been to Disneyland). She’s also a reminder that Brener is part of a Jewish acting legacy, with Shirly and her mother, Smadar (Juju’s grandmother) both starring in well-known Israeli series and soap operas. Shirly starred in the 2013 season of Mehubarim Plus, in which Juju also appeared as a toddler, along with her sister Mila, who is now 17 and also a working actress.
The last time Juju was in Israel was for the series’ premiere. “I was like, a little baby, so I don’t really remember it,” Juju says. “I want to go again so I can actually experience it.”
Both Shirly and Smadar have helped counsel the girls in their acting ventures – as Shirly says, she’s riding on 40 years of acting experience. But it was Mila who was the most impactful in helping prep her little sister for the role in Hocus Pocus 2. Mila is currently applying to film school, has acted in TV shows like Mom and Ray Donovan, and has a prolific voice acting career (most recently, she was in the beloved Pete the Cat series).
“She helps me with like everything,” Juju says of her oldest sister. “My auditions and my scripts that I have to memorise – she just helps me with the roles.” And because Mila is old enough to have a driver’s licence, she even drives Juju to her auditions.
Another thing the family does together? Halloween, which is their favourite holiday.
Juju just generally loves scary things – scary movies like The Purge and roller coasters. One frightening thing she doesn’t like, though, is bugs, especially spiders. “Whenever I see one, I just get really scared,” she says. Unfortunately, she had to get pretty acquainted with spiders during the Hocus Pocus 2 shoot, in which the sisters offer Winifred a spider for her birthday.
“We had to do spider training and I had my sleeve down because I was too scared to have it on my bare hands.” But at a certain point, her fear subsided. “I opened my sleeve and I let them walk on my bare hands. And it wasn’t too bad. It was just tickly.” Juju said that the team who brought the spiders in even offered to name one after her.
But her favourite memory from the Hocus Pocus 2 set was during a rainy and muddy day. “My shoe fell off while running in the mud, and then we all tripped all over each other like a stack,” she laughs. She said this happened twice and it was “really, really funny”.
Another great part of starring in the movie was meeting Parker, who is one of Juju’s idols. Because the two didn’t actually star in any scenes together, they met for the first time at the premiere, where the Sex and the City actress fawned over Juju’s ruffled pink dressed and told her she looked so beautiful.
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When they’re not on set, Juju’s family is a typical Jewish one who celebrate the holidays – Juju’s favourite is Pesach.
While she has no memories of Israel, Juju loves Israeli food. “Couscous is one of my favourites, falafel, pita,” she lists off, then turns to her mom and asks, “What’s the salad called?”
“Tabouli! She loves tabouli,” Shirly says. “And I also love matzah ball soup,” Juju adds. “Now I’m going to start craving all of that! I’ve been meaning to find some.”
Juju and Mila also love Japanese food – ramen and sushi are their favourites – as well as Japanese culture. They dream of going to Japan. “I hope I can go for my bat mitzvah,” Juju says.
The young actress already has more projects coming up. She’s about to star in another sequel, Born Again, a follow-up to the 1987 Born in East L.A.
Juju’s dreams is to play a Mean Girls type character and to star in a Steven Spielberg movie.
“I love his movies so much,” she says.
With how her career is going right now? That seems totally attainable.
Hocus Pocus 2 is now streaming on Disney+