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'Parent Trap III' stars share memories of filming 1989 sequel

Leanna Creel and Joy Creel reminisced about making “Parent Trap III” in interviews with TODAY.
TODAY Illustration / Alamy Stock Photo

As summer movie season gets underway and people start heading back to theaters, we’re thinking about our favorite film franchises, past, present and future. So, all this week, TODAY is celebrating sequels — the sequel to a beloved franchise you might have forgotten about, the sequel that’s become a cult classic, the upcoming sequels we can’t wait to watch and the sequels we wish had been made.

Everyone remembers the 1961 classic "The Parent Trap" starring Hayley Mills, and the franchise got a whole new legion of fans in the '90s with Lindsay Lohan's remake. But super fans might fondly remember that the original movie spawned several sequels.

The series' popular third installment aired on "The Magical World of Disney" on NBC in 1989, more than two decades after Mills first delighted fans with her performance as twins who scheme to reunite their estranged parents.

Mills even reprised her roles as Susan and Sharon in "Parent Trap III," which starred real-life triplets Leanna, Joy and Monica Creel rather than using special effects on one young lead. Sisters Lisa, Jessie, and Megan Wyatt disapprove of the woman their dad Jeffrey (Barry Bostwick) plans to marry (Patricia Richardson) and plot to set him up with interior decorator Susan.

Leanna Creel and Joy Creel reminisced about making “Parent Trap III” in interviews with TODAY, and both had warm memories of working with Mills.

“The number one thing was Hayley Mills,” said Joy. “I adore her, I literally wanted to name a baby Hayley, I want to do Hayley Joy and I ended up having an Olivia and it came right down to Olivia and Hayley and I went with Olivia because it said that it sounded better with last name, but my whole life I was gonna have a baby name Hayley.”

“She was amazing,” Leanna said. “We adored her. Really, really funny and British humor. … She said maybe the three of us were enemies in a prior life, and we came back in this lifetime to work it out. And I remember thinking that that rang really true. She said we were either really really close in a former life or we were enemies in a former life. But I think we were maybe enemies in a former life, because we were so different.”

Before being cast in the film, the sisters had taken a general meeting with Disney. Leanna said said “Parent Trap III” was written with them in mind.

“They weren't thinking of doing a ‘Parent Trap III’ with triplets until they met us,” Joy said.

Both remembered watching Mills in the original “Parent Trap” movie as kids.

“We watched it all the time and, and totally loved it, and were huge huge fans of it, even though it was before our time,” recalled Joy. “We watched it and loved it and had the tape and knew all the words.”

Hayley Mills did double duty as twins Sharon and Susan in 1961's "The Parent Trap."United Archives via Getty Images

“We watched the Disney Sunday night movie religiously,” said Creel. “We were raised in a very religious home and so we were not allowed to watch much on TV, but we were allowed to watch the Disney Sunday night movie, and we would race home from church on Sunday night and watch it. ...I think at some time or another, each of us wanted to name our daughters Hayley. I thought Joy was going to do it.”

When “Parent Trap III” aired in April 1989, Joy remembers the sisters watching its premiere with all their friends from high school.

“It was such a trip,” she said. “They basically wrote the three characters based off the first initial of our three names. So instead of Leanna, Joy and Monica, it was Lisa, Jessie and Megan.”

Both noted that their characters didn’t quite align with their real-life personalities.

“I ended up playing something very different than me — like the total nerdy girl,” Joy said of Jessie. “lt's not really who I am, like an artistic nerd or whatever, but it was super fun.”

“I'm married to a woman, but my character was the super boy crazy one, so everybody thinks that's really funny,” said Leanna. “I remember I feel like I got the best character though, of the three. I got to be the rebel character.”

The movie’s ratings success led to another film starring the Creels, “Parent Trap: Hawaiian Honeymoon,” which aired later that year.

“We had like 20 million viewers or something watching these shows,” said Joy. “People would kill for those ratings today. And you know now nobody gets that.”

Joy remembers plans for a further “Parent Trap” installment, which was canceled.

“We were totally devastated,” she said. “The third one was, we were going to go to college and was gonna be in Colorado, was gonna be the snow or ski trip or something.”

Leanna said Disney began developing a series for the triplets, in which their characters were each part witch, but they later declined.

“We should have said, ‘We don't want to play witches,’ because we were, at the time, very religious,” she said. “And we should have said at the beginning of the development process, we don't love that concept, but we were just dumb and naive.”

Leanna, also known for playing Tori Scott on “Saved by the Bell,” went on to a career as a film producer, and said her interest in filmmaking was evident even while working on “Parent Trap” as a teen.

“When we were in Hawaii, I remember at the end, the crew gave me a T-shirt, and it was like me surfing on a surfboard with a camera on my shoulder,” she said. “And the camera crew even recognized that I was going to be behind the camera. I guess I was showing a lot of interest with the camera crew and the cameras and the directing.”

“It was the first time I'd ever worked with a female director, and probably the only time for a long time after that, until I could hire one as a producer,” she added. “We adored Mollie Miller; she was our director and we adored her, and she was super cool and we knew it was special, but I don't think I realized how special it was until, you know, getting out into the world a little bit later, how rare that was to have a woman director at that time. We were really lucky. They were super fun and kind to us.”

In addition to running the photo, film and video production company Creel Studio with her wife, Rinat Greenberg, Leanna just launched a real estate app called Vuse.

She said she now feels lucky that “Parent Trap III” jump-started her career. She remembers writing former Disney CEO Michael Eisner a thank-you letter when she graduated from film school and began producing movies.

“I said, you know, just feeling really a lot of gratitude for for those Disney movies,” she recalled. ”They allowed me to go to college and grad school and become a producer.

While Joy stopped acting and became a stay-at-home mom, she says she's still "tangentially involved with the entertainment business" through her husband, comic artist Rob Liefeld, who co-created the character Deadpool.

"I get to keep my big toe in the industry a little bit through that," she said.

In addition to the fun of filming in Hawaii, Joy said the triplets’ involvement with Disney led to other exciting experiences, including meeting Hollywood legends such as Dick Van Dyke and Betty White.

“We got to work with Betty White at Disneyland in the middle of the night,” she said. “And she was an old lady back then. When I calculate, I'm like OK she's probably like 65. And I thought she was ancient.”

The triplets are now 50, and Joy said their fans are usually in their 30s or 40s.

“There's some fans that we've kind of run into on social media and they, like, remember the lines and stuff,” she said. “And I'm like, oh wait that's a line from that, like, I don't really remember it, but, oh my gosh they remember that.”

In 1998, the Lindsay Lohan-led remake of “The Parent Trap,” which retold the original 1961 movie’s story, sparked a resurgence of interest in the franchise.

Leanna said she’s caught parts of that version and thought Lohan was “adorable” in the dual roles, adding, “It was a great casting choice.”

“It was darling,” said Joy. “I couldn’t love it any more. I thought it was pitch perfect. It was adorable. She was so perfect. Lindsay Lohan is such an adorable little girl. And I loved Dennis Quaid as the dad. He was adorable. I just thought, they nailed it. It was a great remake.”

Leanna hasn’t watched the movie in recent years, but says it’s time to show it to her two sons, who are 13 and 8.

While neither has seen “Parent Trap III,” her older son has caught a couple episodes of “Saved by the Bell.”

Joy hasn’t yet watched the movie with her kids either.

“Now my son Chase is an actor,” she said. “And I would probably die if he saw it, because he’d probably think it was so bad. So I'm not rushing out to have him watch it.”

However, she acknowledged, “It would be fun to sit down with my sisters and do that. We should’ve done that for our 50th, we should have had that playing in the background.”