Sunday, January 15, 2012

Debby Ryan, cool nerd

(Published January 15, PDI-Entertainment)
By Oliver M. Pulumbarit

Teen actress Debby Ryan isn’t the typical Disney “princess.” The “Suite Life on Deck” star admits she’s a nerd who sometimes talks a lot about geeky topics without realizing it.

But like the regular Disney heroine, she struggled with bullies in school and later emerged triumphant.

Ryan, 18, opened up about the challenges of growing up, among other things, in a recent phone interview with Inquirer. She stars in the new Disney sitcom “Jessie,” which debuted last September in the United States and will be airing in Asia this March. She’s being touted by some as the “next” Miley Cyrus or Selena Gomez.

“It’s funny but it’s definitely a progression,” Ryan said. “I really want to have a long career. No one is ever gonna be the next Miley or the next Selena. I would love to be the next anyone. I love having a creative say in all my projects.”

She identifies more with former “Saturday Night Live” comedienne and “30 Rock” creator Tina Fey. “I’d love to be the next Tina Fey or someone like that—people [who] are able to be funny, on top of just being pretty onscreen. I had no idea I could make so many expressions with my face and they’re totally unattractive! And I’m totally okay with it. I can growl or even have cake on my face. That’s what I love about my job: I can be silly and make people laugh!”

Ryan played country girl Bailey Pickett in “Suite Life on Deck” for three seasons. In “Jessie,” she plays a Texan girl who moves to New York and becomes a nanny to four kids. Ryan can relate to Jessie to some degree, having helped out classmates back when she was younger.

“I was home-schooled, accelerated in classes and I was the kid who would stay behind writing papers and grading tests for the teacher,” she recalled. “And the only reason other people talked to me would be to ask, ‘Hey, how did I do in my test?’ And I’d be like, ‘Yeah you got a B. You missed some tough questions; I’ll tutor you if you want.’”

But it was also tough, being “different.” “I was made fun of for being academically accelerated, being in the chess club, being home-schooled, living in Germany,” Ryan revealed. “I was the German kid when I got back to America and they were like telling me that I was fat, nerdy and that I didn’t belong there… It was really hard to ignore those bullies. On my first week, I would get shoved and pushed, all my books on the floor while I was in the hallway at school… When I started pretending I had a secret and acting like I owned the place, that was when I realized that they don’t have any power over me.”

She added, “People will call you everything and with Hollywood, all these things are magnified. It’s important to being able to stand up for yourself.”

Now idolized by teen and tween fans, Ryan is appreciative of her own female role models. Aside from Fey, whom she describes as “quick, witty and very enthusiastic,” Ryan is also inspired by actress Natalie Portman and rock star Joan Jett. “Joan Jett, [she’s] created a new vibe,” Ryan said. “She’s like, ‘Girls don’t rock, so I’m a girl and I’m gonna rock, let’s do this!’ [And I’m inspired by] people who don’t take no for an answer.”
Ryan also loves writing stories, poems, and song lyrics. She recognizes her growth in the business, and keeps in mind the importance of individuality.

“Be yourself no matter what other people say about you,” she said. “Know who you are, know what you stand for. And don’t pay any attention to what people are saying!”

(“Suite Life on Deck” airs Sundays, 11:30 p.m. on Disney Channel. “Jessie” will air Saturdays, 10:30 p.m., starting March 3.)

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