Jamie Lynn Spears is opening up about reuniting with her pals from the Pacific Coast Academy for the upcoming Paramount+ film Zoey 102.
The 32-year-old actress called reprising her role as Zoey Brooks from the Nickelodeon series — which aired from 2005 to 2008 — a “pinch-me moment” ahead of the film’s release on July 27.
“It’s like I have to pinch myself because it’s something we’ve worked on really hard for years to get, being patient to make sure it’s right, putting the right things in place. And then it’s like a dream come true,” she told Entertainment Tonight. “It’s this thing you’ve been talking about and working on and trying to bring to life.”
She added: “The first day I walked on set, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we really did it. We’re here, we’re doing it,’ so it is surreal.”
For Spears, taking part in the reunion was especially meaningful because the role was a part of her childhood, adding, “We grew up together.”
“I was so ingrained in that character, so revisiting her was something I always dreamed of,” she explained. “But I was like, ‘Can that really ever happen? In what world, dude? Who gets to do something like that twice?’ It’s one of those things that I wasn’t sure if it could ever happen, but I always dreamed of being able to do it and see where she is.”
She revealed that reuniting with original cast members Erin Sanders, Matthew Underwood, and Sean Flynn after filming solo scenes was like a return to “our high school.”
“We grew up together and getting to do this again, we were crying when we wrapped because it felt so fulfilling,” she recalled. “But also, just one of those experiences that I don’t think you could ever recreate. But we got to do that.”
When news of the revival movie was first announced in January, Spears shared her excitement with PEOPLE about returning to her Nickelodeon roots.
“I’m beyond thrilled to be back alongside my PCA family and continue the story of Zoey and all the characters fans know and love,” the Sweet Magnolias actress said at the time. “As an executive producer, it’s been an exciting opportunity to work with such incredible talent as well as Paramount+ and Nickelodeon.”
Spears credited the fans with giving the cast an opportunity to make the new film, telling ET, “The fans are the only reason we got to do it the first time and they’re definitely the only reason we get to do it the second time.”
“So we worked hard and finally brought it to life and it’s all because of the fans,” she said. “And I think we did them justice. I think they’re going to be really happy. They were patient and I think it’ll be worth the wait.”
This time around, Zoey and her PCA pals come together for Quinn Pensky (Sanders) and Logan Reese’s (Underwood) wedding. And as her friends take this big leap forward in their relationship, Zoey is still stuck in love with high school boyfriend Chase Matthews (Flynn), who will also be in town for the epic reunion.
Given Zoey’s dilemma, she hires a very handsome man to “play” her boyfriend. The sight of Zoey’s handsome plus-one shakes Chase, who accidentally walks into a pole at the sight of them together, despite being accompanied by a date of his own. The reunion eventually sees Zoey and Chase reminiscing over the past in more ways than one.
“She’s a fixer and a planner, but she’s also in the midst of her own kind of personal identity [crisis], like, ‘Am I where I want to be? Am I?’ ” Spears explained. “She’s looking at Instagram. She’s looking at her friends. We all do this in real life [comparing ourselves]. And I wanted it to be really important that Zoey — when we left off [in Zoey 101], she was always perfect. Like, everything was with a bow on it.”
She continued: “And I wanted to see her where our generation is — the struggle of measuring up and feeling good enough and not having all the answers and being okay with that, but also taking the steps to change that.”
Spears explained the film will set “the tone for a new era of Zoey that really connects to our generation” and she doesn’t count out the return of Paul Butcher, Victoria Justice, and Austin Butler in possible future sequels.
“They’re part of the Zoey family and they always will be,” Spears said. “They’re all doing so well in their careers and we have nothing but love and support for them.”
“And hopefully, they get to be a part of the continuation of Zoey’s story if we get to do this whole new Zoey era,” she continued. “I just think it’s a testament to a magical lightning in a bottle of spirits we had. Look what came out of this? I mean, we got Austin Butler, Victoria [Justice]. I just think it’s a reminder of where it all started.”
Zoey 102 premieres July 27 on Paramount+.