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Interview: Debby Ryan

The 18-year-old chats about her new Disney Channel series Jessie.

DISNEY CHANNEL/CRAIG SJODIN
Debby Ryan stars as Jessie on Disney Channel's "Jessie."

With her spunky personality and endless energy, Debby Ryan is instantly welcoming. The Texas-born actor, who made her television debut as Baily on Disney's The Suite Life on Deck, is now celebrating her own series, Jessie, a show about a girl from Texas who becomes a nanny for a wealthy New York City family. We chatted with Debby about family, friends and her newest acting adventure, which premieres on the Disney Channel on Friday, September 30. 

You have such a big fan base of young girls. Is there a lot of pressure to be a role model to them?

There's definitely an awareness. Not ten minutes goes by that I don't think about my fans. It's such a mirror, and you realize the effect not only on yourself, but on the world around you. But I'm not a controversial person. I'm different and I'm not afraid to be different. I work with kids and I see certain things, so I realize now why my mother was so horrified and overprotective of everything that I watched.

You seem so mature for 18! Are you friends with other actors your age or do you gravitate more toward the older crowd?

I have two close girlfriends who are my age, and otherwise most everyone else is two years older. They're people who, on a Friday night when they need to unwind and release some stress,  come over and play Apples to Apples and we bake brownies and jam on the piano. When you're in an industry where you're forced to grow up so quickly, part of you never grows up, and that's a good thing.

Jessie is set in New York City. Do you think your life would have been drastically different if you grew up here?
I didn't grow up in one place, so I never had a certain mentality. I have some aspects of growing up in Texas, but I also have a lot of East Coast family. I would have loved to grow up on the East Coast. When I was a kid, I would say, "I could never live in New York. It's so big and bustling." I liked Germany and the European mentality. Now I could see myself living here for a year or two sometime in the next ten years.

The show is taped in Los Angeles. How do you channel an NYC vibe?

Right before we started, I was flown out to New York to study. I went around the Upper East Side and saw the doormen and got to know these people and their phrases. I feel like there's such liveliness in the city. I had a day off and a friend happened to be there for spring break. We rode the subway and disappeared into the crowd and found tiny coffee shops, and got to see vintage stores and record stores. I think that's what attracted [my character] Jessie to it.

A lot of city parents want their kids to go into show business. Any advice for them?
If your kid has that need, you can't say no to it. My mom was horrified but she said, "You know what? She needs it." It was all about keeping me as stable as an artist can be.

What do you do to escape the spotlight?
I make music and bake and watch old movies and take a lot of photos. Sometimes my friends and I jump into a car and drive two hours to a beach and sit there. We're teenagers, but we have no desire to stir things up. We've seen controversy and we're wise enough to know that you don't need to be stupid to live.

If you weren't acting what would you be doing?
I'd probably be in medical school to become a surgeon—which I'm really glad didn't happen. I remember that I wanted my own practice. I wanted my name to be on the buzzer in the building. I remember even thinking about the fish tank I would put in the lobby. I remember telling my mom I was going to be an actress-surgeon.

How will you be celebrating the premiere of Jessie?

I wanted to throw a premiere for the nuggets. They're the kids on the show, and it's their first time on the Disney Channel. I wish I weren't in the process of moving, because I would totally have a house party and make them cake balls. But we're probably going to sit in the screening room and watch it and celebrate, and probably hold each other and freak out. I remember crystal clear last November, getting a phone call from [executive producer] Pamela Eells O'Connell, with whom I worked on Suite Life. We were pitching ideas back and forth and she says, "Alright, it's a girl who moves to New York City and becomes a nanny." And I said, "I love it. Let's do it." Hopefully we'll have a giant crew party—we should get on that.

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