Debby Ryan: From Disney Kid to Dope Chick
The public eye is kind to no one, especially not child stars. But for Debby Ryan, whose acting career took off starring in the original Disney series The Suite Life On Deck when she was just a teenager, and later, the popular series Jessie, growing up “Disney” has had its’ pros and cons…
As most child stars grow up, they often end up fighting against being themselves, and the squeaky-clean personas of the characters they play on TV — sometimes getting lost along the way. Debby says that “It can be really scary because if people have only seen me in older episodes of Jessie, and it’s been several years since that was released, I’m now a 23-year-old woman and I’m going to act and behave like a 23-year-old woman, not like my character where everything is kind of summarized and there is a happy ending and everything works out.”
Disney highlighted all the things in Debby that a Disney star should be: she’s likeable, funny, caring — not too different than how she is in real life. However, for any of the “real” problems that one may have, Disney has always highlighted problems that are somewhat surface level and candy-coated — and ultimately solvable after a 22-minute episode.
TV & film captures a moment in an actor’s career that the public doesn’t seem to understand isn’t “the right now,” or even their actual personality. Debby says, “You shoot something and then months later it comes out, people assume that that’s who you are, and they define you based on whatever their most recent input of you is.” While she understands that fans will always have an expectation of any public figure, it’s still hard when life’s real problems hit, and audience members often mistakenly skew the line of actor vs. character.
For her more public mishaps, Debby is one of few stars that has been quick to recognize her mistakes, and makes no excuses. She says, “I’m really proud of a lot of the ways that I’ve dealt with things. TMZ doesn’t care about the good ways that you handle things, and it’s not anyone’s job to hold me accountable, but my own.”
While other Disney stars haven’t made the transition into deeper-diving roles so smoothly, having a few bumps in the road isn’t going to stop Ryan from growing and trying to be better — in every way, especially in her career. In her time with Disney, she made sure to take each and every opportunity to learn and make for a better career in this ever-turbulent industry. “They have such a system in place to where it’s really difficult to fail, but it’s not going to be done for you. In my relationship with Disney, the more that I learned, the more they encouraged me.” And while it’s maybe easy for some child stars to talk about the things they had to give up for their careers, like their childhood, or their privacy — Debby is quick to say that she was instead blessed with invaluable skills: having Disney allow her to “shadow” directors, writers, producers and the like, so that she could take a larger part in all of her projects. She says “I just automatically started doing things to make the days go faster and easier, which turned into a huge learning experience. If there was something I could do to make the shot funny and interesting, and to where we didn’t have to shoot it 47 times… I was happy to help out.” She also adds, “They took care of me, but they didn’t baby me.”
Body piece – For The Stars. Choker – Vintage
With new feature films in the can and other “Non-Disney” acting projects on the way, Ryan has learned to maneuver picking and choosing projects for the next phase of her career by remembering what’s true to herself. She chose to work on films like the upcoming Riptide, which was shot primarily with a female crew in just 18 days in Australia, and the comedy, Life of the Party, in which she shares the screen with Melissa McCarthy and Maya Rudolph. She says of her next project goals, “I don’t want to look at my goals like a checklist, as in ‘do three films this year,’ because that’s the way to do work that you don’t like. That seems like you’re working just to work. You have to have full confidence that the project is 100% where you want to go.”
Something else that some child stars don’t necessarily always do, is use their very large fan base as a forum for a cause, especially with one that is so relevant. Ryan’s chosen “cause,” is one she created herself: the hashtag, #dopewomen2016, a project that she started in order to celebrate the women around her, their achievements, and their dopeness. A project that will undoubtedly continue into 2017 and hopefully beyond, Debby says, “I think dope women this year is going to be one really large ongoing conversation with many different voices and a focus on people that I ultimately respect and look up to.” She adds, “2016 was F’d and I need to acknowledge and honor that life’s a little bit harder for others. If we cannot support one another and recognize all of our hardships — it’s only going to get so much more sadcore.”
With her sights set on the future, Debby is throwing herself into her work, not only by remembering and being grateful for what she learned at Disney, but by keeping on top of her game, and celebrating the things around her: “You cannot know enough. You cannot watch enough incredible films, you can never read too many scripts to inform your taste, or research the roles that you want to play. Every bit that you do and bring into your projects should really feel good to you, as in ‘this is actually like me.’ The more well-rounded and the more I put into everything, the better I am at what I do.”
Beyond her immediate future, Debby says she would love to someday direct a project that she wasn’t acting in and pushing her limits. She says, “I get afraid of getting out of my league but the truth is, I’m constantly pushing myself to live out of my league. I want to be doing something that scares me. I want to go for anything I put my mind to, and understand that the worst thing that they can say is no.”
Bodysuit and heels – Elisabetta Franchi
Body piece – For The Stars. Earrings – Moortown