The Meet & Greet: Debby Ryan, Disney’s Next Big Star – Exclusive!
Although Debby Ryan isn’t exactly an unknown in the world of Disney stars, she is preparing to take over the world with her new, teen-aimed TV show, Jessie. The fiercely intelligent 17-year-old actress has quickly transitioned from a tween sidekick on Suite Life On Deck to the Disney Channel’s most promising new star. Will Debby be able to become the next Miley Cyrus? We certainly think so.
Your new show Jessie centers around an 18-year-old girl who leaves home to become a nanny in New York. That’s quite different from the kid-centered shows on the Disney Channel. Is this show more aimed at young adults?
I feel like the fact that somebody has watched me grow up since I was 14-years-old and started on Suite Life on Deck and now I’m 18, instead of abandoning that demographic and starting over from scratch I think what we’re doing with Jessie is catering to those people [who grew up with me]. Those people who were 14 and are now 18 just like me. You can have people my age going through this experience: I’ve just graduated high school, what am I going to do? Where am I going to move? What am I going to do for a job? You have people looking to branch out from their families and are looking for ways to relate to other people.
I love Disney and I love the way we get to cater toward the young kids, but I also don’t want to abandon kids once they turn 18. [The audience] doesn’t have an age limit, they don’t expire. We’re really breaking new ground when it comes to growing up. The show is set on the Upper East Side so we will have a little Gossip Girl fashion or Sex and the City- type fashion, just on this network channel and I am so blessed to be a part of that.
So fashion will play a role in Jessie – do you have any personal interest in fashion?
I’m very much a clothes girl. Today, I went to two different showrooms to look at all sorts of clothes and I was up to my eyeballs in adorable couture. First and foremost I run around a lot doing meetings so I like to be comfortable, but I also like seeing different ways of raising the bar a bit and surrounding yourself with cute comfortable clothes that you can throw on at the last minute and they’ll look good.
Jesse’s going to be cleaning up after the kids so it’s not going not be impractical clothes but she is surrounded by fashion. She’ll be wearing stuff that we can run to the mall in and has a resourcefulness to it still put looks together. I am very excited about the fashion on the show as a result of me being excited about fashion in my personal life.
Have you started production on the show yet?
We’ll begin production in June of this year and the show will premiere in the fall.
Have you met with most of your castmates yet?
They’re still figuring out the cast at this time, but I did get to do screen tests. I got to go in and even in-between some of their auditions and sat with them on the floor in the waiting room. They all got to know each other and their competition and all sorts of things. What was really cool about it was that two people that should’ve been in competition ended up being really cool friends and, without giving too much away, certain things were catered on the show for that.
I don’t want someone on my show to be the kind of kid who in a waiting room is going to be really rude and cut down another actor, so I’ve definitely been there and was aware of that. I wanted to help them and let them know why certain beats were the way they were and with the little girls I was picking them up and brushing their hair in real life which I think helps you get into character. I was definitely involved in the cast.
It sounds like you are pretty involved with the show and the whole process.
I’ve been working on the show since the concept. Before it was pitched to Disney, the writer – who was a writer on Suite Life – called me and said, ’Listen, I have this idea. I think you’ll like it.’ She pitched it to me and I loved it and we brought it to Disney. So since the beginning I’ve been very involved in the show and watching it come together.
Just being involved in the entire process is very important to me because all of us being there for 12 hours a day, 5 days a week…we’re going to spend a lot of time together on set and it’s important that we get along and that we all have the same vision and bring something to the table.
I am very fortunate because as of now, we don’t have one person who doesn’t fit. Everyone brings something completely different and unique to the table, behind the scenes. And I’m very excited for the world to meet my kid.
What got you so interested in being involved behind-the-scenes?
With Suite Life it was an amazing experience because I had never done TV, never a multi-camera sitcom, never done Disney so there were so many new elements to lean. It was such a blessing and a learning experience.
There are certain things that you learn technically that make you a much better actress. Towards the end of Suite Life, that was the experience for me. Once I had gotten used to the acting part I exposed myself to the behind-the-scenes of it all and shadowed directors and writers in the writers’ room. I came up with ideas and I pitched dresses and had them sent up [to Vancouver]. Most actors don’t have all of these opportunities creatively to be so involved and really making opportunities [for yourself].
I’m still learning so I don’t in any sense think I know everything at all and that’s my whole goal: To learn as much as possible.
You’ve worked on creating and producing songs in your previous projects – do you have any plans to release a solo album sometime soon?
I don’t have plans for a solo album. I have a home studio. My brother and I write and produce for other artists and ourselves. I don’t see myself as a solo singer, I don’t want to be a singer. I want to be a producer and a songwriter, but ultimately if singing is what will get you there then it’s definitely what I’ll do. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen, but I won’t do it through Disney. Disney has such amazing opportunities for music. If I do, it will be something very much my own voice.
Are there any artists that you admire?
I have an artist named Grace Potter, who I absolutely love. It’s Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and they’re actually on Hollywood Records. They’re old-school blues-rock and roll. They sound a little country sometimes and they’re from Vermont. She’s writes, plays organ, tambourine, lead guitar. They all get on stage and play the drums. She manages the tour and cooks all of the meals. She’s someone I look up to in terms of the entire production of it all. I love the band Fun, I think their production and instrumentation is unparalleled. I love the band The Hush Sound and Jon Foreman.
Are there any other Disney actors or artists that you look up to?
I look up to Chelsea Kane. She’s one of the very first people I met in Hollywood and she’s genuinely a sweet girl. She’s funny and unapologetic with her sense of humor. I don’t think I’ve met one person who hates Chelsea. he is who she is and she is who she appears to be on Dancing with the Stars. I actually watched her in the audience as her guest on Tuesday night’s (April 19) live episode.
I love Tiffany Thorton. She’s from the South too and she’s very unapologetic, she’s sassy.
I like Nick Jonas and the way he’s been producing for artists. I feel like he’s OK with taking the backseat where the spotlight is concerned. He’s OK with not being the frontman but still writing and producing.
I also like actors like your Shia LaBeoufs who have had brilliant transitions form youth and comedic sitcom roles to serious film roles and action roles and I would love to do action movies.
Your 18th birthday is coming up soon, do you have any big plans?
I have a record store down the street of my house that I absolutely adore and I love to spend time in. I think it would be really fun to rent it out and fill it with a few friends and have a little jam session there. My 17th birthday was a bonfire and all of us just sitting on bean bag chairs outside under the stars and playing music. That was such a brilliant celebration and very low key.
No matter what I’ll be with my friends. I’m also looking to go to Las Vegas and staying for a few nights with a couple of friends and watching a show there and going with my mom and a couple women who are like moms to me. Kinds of a girls’ night thing for my birthday. I’ve never been to Las Vegas and it seems that there are a lot of things there that don’t interest me, but it also has some amazing art. And The Beatles show, I would love to see that.