"I didn't see how much pain some of the people I loved most were going through."
In an era before iPhones and Instagram, Soleil Moon Frye still managed to document her life in a way most people in the '90s didn't.
Not only did she keep a diary starting at the age of 12, but she also followed her friends around with a video camera, kept all their messages on her answering machines and took more photos than the average teen. Now, 30-something years later, she's sharing that treasure trove of memories with the world in a new documentary called "Kid '90," a project that wound up being far more emotional than the 44-year-old actress ever expected.
"I went into it literally wondering if things had happened the way I remembered them. I had remembered our lives being so joyful and so full of life and so blissful and really I didn't realize that I was opening Pandora's box," she explained to TooFab about the project, which hits Hulu on Friday.
"I think on a subconscious level, I probably locked it away for so long because I had lost some of my closest friends so young. So, on a subconscious level, I think I probably wasn't ready to look back at it," she explained. "And it was only about four years ago when I was wondering if things happened the way I remembered them that I started unlocking the vault. I didn't intend for the documentary to be about me. I really was so focused on making it about everybody but me. And then it ultimately became very much a coming of age story of the teen me and adult me."
Frye lost a number of her friends at a young age, including Jonathan Brandis and "Kids" star Justin Pierce, who both died by suicide at the ages of 27 and 25, respectively. In the documentary, Brandis is a warm presence, leaving Frye silly voicemails and even visiting her in the hospital after she had her breast reduction surgery when she was just 16. For Frye, who also directed and produced the documentary and is still in contact with Brandis' parents, seeing those who are no longer around was bittersweet.
"It was such an incredible process because seeing the depth of love that was all around me was really awe-inspiring because I've always loved people. I really do," she told TooFab. "I love people, even with our flaws and our ups and our downs. I really love people, so the realization that I was so loved back was incredible. Finding the voicemails from Johnathan -- when we were kids he'd press pound, because literally Johnathan would have this thing where he liked to fill up my tape -- so he would just talk for 30 minutes at a time and it was really in those final moments of those audio recordings that he really shared so much of himself and you hear that through the documentary."
"It was so moving and there was so much pain, because I didn't see how much pain some of the people I loved most were going through," she continued. "I think we all had different levels of it. There was so much joy and bliss that I remembered and there were also some internal struggles we were going through, some of us more than others."
Near the end of the doc, Frye said the process also made her realize she has "so much guilt that I didn't know I had until I started watching the tapes back." She explained how, watching and hearing some of the footage and audio, she realized "some of my friends really needed to be heard and to have a friend listen. I didn't hear it and I didn't see it. I only see it in retrospect, 20 some odd years later."
"How often do we really look at somebody and say, 'How are you?' and actually hear them back," she says, getting emotional. "That's why this process has been like f---ing blinders coming off. I don't think I've been living a lie for the last 20 years, but I certainly haven't been f--ing listening. Now that they're off, now that I've opened Pandora's Box, I can't put any of this back."
"Everyone was so willing to share themselves, and to share so authentically. I think it really goes to show that these were really true friendships that go so far back, and we really were like our own middle school of friends and kids growing up together," said Frye. "I was so grateful that everyone just opened their hearts and I think they're so sincere throughout it in sharing their lives. It was amazing and each person had their own perspective. At the root of it though, in the core, you saw this deep love and connection we all had with each other."
"Brian, it was so funny when he first watched it, shaking his head. And David Arquette thinking it was so funny that here he was trying to direct me, and here I was filming him. There's just so much joy," she continued. "And those bad boy moments of friends reflecting going, 'Oh, what was I thinking at that time?' It was just so fun to watch. And then some of the really emotional moments, my dear friend Andrew Dorff [Stephen's brother, who died at the age of 40 in 2016] who I love so much, who I feel is looking over us now and being able to watch the footage back with Stephen was really so meaningful because it was really the tapes that brought us together. We were friends in our youth, and after he passed away the tapes really just made us so much closer."
While the documentary does touch on a lot of darker times for Soleil -- including sexual assault, and body shaming -- she said she loved seeing the "innocence" and love prevalent in videos from her youth.
"The moments that are so amazing in retrospect and just the joy ... to be able to have the ghosts of the past that I really feel are angels surrounding me, to have them live on through this," she continued, "I hope people are watching this through their own lens and that in some way, I would love to be able to raise awareness around the things we’re talking about, around growing up, around being teens, around the awkward stages in our life, around mental health awareness, around suicide prevention. I just hope in some way this documentary reaches out and can wrap its arms around people of all ages to make us feel not so alone."