Fifteen years ago, a dream came true for sisters Malika Haqq and Khadijah Haqq McCray.
Before the twin sisters had ever become reality TV staples as members of the Keeping Up with the Kardashians universe or started families of their own, they were just a pair of Hollywood hopefuls grinding away on audition after audition, praying for that big break. And then, in the mid-'00s, it happened. A tryout for a feature became a supporting role in the beloved Disney superhero film Sky High, with the sisters playing Penny, an athletic student at the titular school with the power to duplicate herself.
"I remember being at the audition going, 'Oh my God.' You know, this is literally probably Khadijah and I's only second audition for a movie in itself—and we had no idea. You don't go into it knowing how big the project was. We actually thought the movie was going to go straight to the Disney Channel. Little did we know," Malika told E! News on the eve of the film's 15th anniversary. "And out of all of those options, we felt so blessed and overwhelmed to learn that, as we've been working our whole lives on like commercials and TV shows and stuff like that, that Sky High was going to be our first film. And not only that, it was going to be a much bigger project than what we had initially auditioned for."
Of course, they had to book the role first. And, thanks to the power of special effects, arriving with your own pre-existing duplicate in tow didn't automatically give them a leg up. As Khadijah explained, "Thanks to movie magic, we learned that it could be done with any amount of multiples. So when we were in the waiting room, there were triplets, there were twins, there were singles. So, you didn't have any really clear direction on where they were going to go with this, but we knew we had an up. There's two of us. So that's good. That's gonna help us."
Despite feeling an instant connection with director Mike Mitchell in the room—"Which this isn't always common," Khadijah noted—there was no sure feeling that the gig was theirs. But a chance encounter with an executive producer and his family at a movie theater on the night of their second callback certainly gave them hope.
"He started telling his wife right in front of us how great we were," Khadijah shared. "But we were like, 'Oh my God, what does that mean?' We were like, 'Wow, we don't know if that was a good thing or was he just gassing us because he happened to run into us?' And then it turns out it was maybe a week or two later we got the news that we booked the job. And then Malika and I were definitely like, 'That was God. It was a sign.'"
As for how they celebrated being cast in their first feature film, Malika said she and her sister kept a longstanding tradition alive. "If we booked a commercial or a TV show, my mom would always celebrate with us by throwing a pizza party. And although we weren't children anymore, it was a part of the tradition to celebrate booking a job, you know, and that's what we did," she explained. "We threw a pizza party, we kept it the same. We kept it traditional. We were just really, really happy and excited."
When production got underway, they quickly learned that, though they had one another to lean on in this new environment, they were in good hands. "The really good thing about a production this big is you don't go directly into filming. We had weeks of training because we did gymnastics. We had to learn stunts. So you actually get to go into this environment, knowing that you have space and room to learn, and everyone is there to support you. And the good part is because the cast was so brand new, everybody kind of felt like they were doing the same thing," Malika explained, referring to co-stars Michael Angarano, Danielle Panabaker, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Nicholas Braun, among others. "Nothing really separated you from your experience because you were all doing it together for the first time. And there were some incredible veterans like Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston that were so amazing to all of the kids or just the younger actors on set. So they made it like it was just, honestly, like it was a Disney-approved, fun, loving, working environment."
Despite developing a close bond with Winstead, whose character Gwen was BFFs with Penny, the sisters pointed to the two industry vets at the top of the call sheet as being responsible for some of their fondest memories during filming.
As Khadijah shared, "It was a wonderful time in our young career to encounter people like Kurt Russell. We shared a glam trailer with him, and he was just so amazing. He would come in every morning and give us hugs and kisses. It was great to watch such seasoned and humble actors on a daily basis for months at a time. It was a real, real pleasure."
On the topic of Preston, who sadly passed away in early July following a battle with breast cancer, both sisters admitted they shed some tears when they learned of her death. As Malika put it, "Not because of a personal relationship, not because of the experience on Sky High, but, you know, just mourning for her family and what a huge loss she is to this business. And she really truly was just a beautiful person."
Khadijah added that Preston's presence on set made a lasting impression on her. "I just remember her talking to me and hugging me and, in between takes, watching her go over her lines. It made you feel like, 'You know what, this is what it takes.' And she was sharing in that and she was present in that and she was so nice and so gracious to everybody. I really took that," she said. "It wasn't that I didn't already know that, in a work setting, you should be professional, you should be nice to people, but to watch people like that—'cause you hear in the business that some people aren't as warm—it was a wonderful role model to say, 'You know what, Kelly was someone I worked with and she was a pleasure and she was nice to me. '"
Shooting a film full of special effects was both a valuable learning experience and a bit of wish fulfillment for the sisters. As Malika put it, "Honestly, who doesn't want to be a superhero ever in life?" And it was Sky High's big premiere in Los Angeles, days before it arrived in theaters on July 29, 2005, where everything finally came together, Khadijah explained.
"It was like the big reveal because most of the characters, they were playing themselves and there wasn't an addition to them other than their special power," she said of seeing the film for the first time that night. "But for us, we got to finally see all of Penny, you know? We didn't know what six of us were going to look like in one frame. It was phenomenal to watch. I mean, I think I could speak for myself and Malika, we got a real kick out of like, 'Oh my goodness. If there was more of us...' We've always wanted a triplet, but now we know what it looks like if there were 10 of us in one scene or 10 of us sitting at one table."
And getting to share in that special moment with family and friends only amped up the excitement. "Malika and I were so excited. We dressed, we coordinated with our cheerleading outfits and the theme of the movie. We had dresses made special for this occasion," Khadijah recalled. "It was a really exciting time for us. We got a limo and we took our whole family in it. We took our best friend with us. It was a really special time."
If you're wondering which lucky BFF got to tag along for the night, the sisters shared it was none other than Khloe Kardashian.
"Yeah, she was with us. She was in the limo," Khadijah revealed. "It was just a really, really special time for us to share with our family and our closest friends. I just remember it was just a big party after the premiere. It was like a big ball of fun. It just looked like a circus to me. Do you remember that, Malika?"
Her sister replied: "Yeah, I do. It was the best. Disney went all out for us."
While the sisters are more likely to be stopped on the street by Keeping Up with the Kardashians viewers, they admit there's a growing cross-section of fans who are starting to put together that they're the same girls who were in Sky High, as well. As Malika explained, "Becoming a part of the E! family...a lot of people know us for being on that show. But it's funny how things have come super, super full circle and they're like, 'Wait, oh my God, you guys are the girls from Sky High.' It's actually funny to see. It's nice to see those moments because, you know, a lot of people that are like new actors, you don't always know them by their first name. And it was a lot of the notoriety on Keeping Up that it brought people back—they've tied in my first name with characters that I played in the past, especially 'cause a lot of people didn't know that Khadijah and I were actors."
Though it's almost always parents who recognize the sisters for both of their highest-profile projects, there are always kids who view them as Penny. For better or worse, as Khadjiah shared.
"You know, we really love kids. We're little kids at heart and now we're having them and raising children together. And one of the funniest memories Malika and I have is there was a little girl that recognized us in a restroom—and this was a couple of years back—but she was actually kind of scared of us because Penny was a villain. She wasn't exactly one of the good girls. So her mother was like, 'Oh, she recognized you guys.' And so, you know, just Malika and I being who we are, if we see any of our fans, we're always trying to make time or greet them or take a picture if that's what they want. The little girl would not come towards us," she recalled with a laugh. "She would look at us. She knew who we were, but she would not come towards us. She was terrified. I guess she thought we were going to string her up in vines. Like she just wanted to steer clear. It was the cutest thing, but it's moments like that that really do remind you of the projects you've been a part of. And that's impactful."
On the topic of kids, Khadijah—who shares three with husband Bobby McCray—says that the first time her nine-year-old son Christian saw the film, it threw him for a bit of a loop. "He might've been like two or three," she explained. "He just didn't get why Mommy and Auntie were in the TV. It just didn't make any sense. But then, you know, Mommy was sitting right next to him.He didn't get it, but he loved it. And then when he could say the words Sky High, he would ask for the movie, to play it again. Back when there was a DVD player, we couldn't get him to take it out of the DVD player."
Meanwhile, Malika, who welcomed first son Ace in March, is counting down the days until she can show it to her little boy. "Everything that he learns at this point, I'm so intrigued. Seeing life through his eyes is the greatest joy for me, watching him learn and discover and all those things," she shared. "So, you know, having my son watch my work before he was ever an idea, and to see how he responds to me, I know is just gonna fill up my cup. Like everything he does makes me overflow and cry, but like, this will be very special to see how he responds. I'm going to love it."
As Malika answered, Khadijah interjected, "I want to be there!"
Malika replied: "I will make sure that you are there. That is not even just a Mommy adventure."
Spoken like a true pair of super sisters.
Sky High is available to stream on both Disney+ and HBO Max.