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DISNEY is known for launching the careers of young starlets in the making.
Although the brand’s clean image has been muddied by the good-girls-gone-wild reputation of its former teen divas like Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears, at least Selena Gomez hasn’t gone down that same tabloid-attracting route – her former relationship with Justin Bieber notwithstanding.
Debby Ryan is the next actress being groomed for the dazzling lights of Hollywood. At 19, she is still at the naïve, wholesome girl-next-door stage of her career and the star of Disney Channel’s successful comedy series, Jessie, which bagged a Bafta nomination for the children’s awards category.
But she started out as Bailey Pickett in The Suite Life on Deck, bagged a cameo in Wizards of Waverly Place and broke into the big screen realm with movies What If… and Radio Rebel.
Still a fledgling in the industry, I asked her what has been her fondest memory to date.
She laughs, “My trip to India for (Disney’s) Friends for Change, which was an incredible experience. Helping to build a school for the village and meeting the kids was moving. The kids were so much fun – they would just run up to me and want to play. The local people were so welcoming. I was a complete stranger but they were so friendly.”
Interestingly enough, Ryan also wears the hat of co-producer for her current series. “I love being a co-producer on the show – I really enjoy it and I am learning a lot. I’ve been co-producing for a while now but at first, I didn’t want to announce it so I kept it low key as I wanted to develop and feel more confident.”
That her character resonates with teenagers around the globe, is a given. On the traits she admires in Jessie, Ryan enthuses, “Jessie is a girl from Texas who moves to New York City. She’s very resourceful, she’s funny, she can laugh at herself and she doesn’t take things too seriously. No matter what shenanigans the kids get her into, she always manages to find a way to work things out.”
Viewers who have been following Ryan in her breakthrough TV roles would have got an introduction to her singing abilities.
On where things stand on the vocal front, she offers, “I am producing a web series called Ryan Style, which is a fashion website. I’m also writing some songs which are on YouTube. I’m working on a little bit of everything right now but I am concentrating on my music, which is super fun.”
Along the way, Ryan also got to work with Cyrus and cherishes the experience to this very day.
She recalls, “She’s a real, down-to-earth girl, who is doing what she loves and is incredibly talented. I feel like she is underrated – whatever is happening backstage, she can go out on stage and give an amazing performance. She’s also really thoughtful. She (once) noticed that I was feeling upset and she came up to me and gave me some great advice. Some people don’t want to see other people succeed but she is very cool and always there to offer advice.”
Being a face of Disney’s new finds comes with a few responsibilities.
She nods, “It is intimidating at times and scary but at the end of the day, I think it’s all about growing and learning.
“I am extremely lucky to be in a position where I am encouraged to grow and I am blessed to be able to do interviews like this. I work incredibly hard and I have sacrificed a lot to do what I do.”
All that hard work is certainly paying off – ka-ching!
• Jessie airs on Disney Channel (DStv Channel 303) on Saturday March 16 at 9.35am.