“All I wanted was just what everybody else wants, you know, to be loved.” – Rita Hayworth
The transition from child star to blockbuster talent isn’t an easy road to walk, especially when you literally grew up in front of millions on the Disney Channel. Yet by the time Debby Ryan left the Disney Channel after seven years, she had accomplished more then most people do in decades of being in Hollywood. Debby, in partnership with show runner Pamela O’Connell, created her break-out series on Disney, Jessie. Since then Debby has transformed herself into a household name.
Recently, Debby completed shooting a new film with Melissa McCarthy, entitled ‘Life of the Party,‘ coming out in 2018. In honor of Debby’s journey, Black Chalk wanted to take her as far from the Disney image as we could, yet still remain true to who she is. For inspiration, we turned to the femme fatales of classic Hollywood like Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich. With that in mind, we hope you enjoy our editorial debut of Debby Ryan. Take a moment to watch Debby’s newest film, ‘Rip Tide,’ a beautiful coming of age story set in Australia’s iconic Gold Coast.
Debby Ryan, The Adventure Of
Justin Howard for Black Chalk : How is life?
Debby Ryan : It is up and down, every day is different. I mean I live in LA.
Justin Howard : Let’s talk about your film ‘Rip Tide’ that just headline the Sydney Film Festival, which is coming out in the US in September.
Debby Ryan : Yeah, it will be nice as it is a really good ‘back to school, finding yourself’ story. I like that.
Justin Howard : Tell me about your character and the experience you had shooting it.
Debby Ryan : The experience was amazing. I got to do some surfing. It wasn’t my first time surfing, but it was definitely me really getting on a board. I had to build up with the strength in my calf muscles, and getting that rhythm really down. Surfing is so like the industry, you don’t know what kind of water you are going into. All you can do is prepare with strength and focus. What ever happens out there, you just have to be able to ride it out. Being in Australia was very much that experience for me. I didn’t know what to expect and I was surprised about how wonderful everyone was out there. My director Rhiannon Bannenberg, who is a young female director and this is her first full length feature, was extremely knowledgable. She was the perfect leader for this group of people. I felt like was truly in capable hands.
Andrew Creer who plays my love interest is an absolute Aussie dream boat. Any time I get a chance to go to Australia, I want to go. It is a really beautiful coming of age experience. My character Cora comes from this fashion modeling world where her mom runs the show, and Cora learns she really doesn’t want to be part of that world. She is trying to find out who she is, and in the middle of all this she goes to spend time with her aunt in Australia. She ends up getting a whole new perspective. The feeling of being in the ocean, on the water is really inspiring.
Personally, I got to connect with the character because my aunt and uncle live in a small coastal beach town in Texas. Whenever I felt crazy growing up, that was my own personal reset method. I understand what Cora was going through.
Justin Howard : It is interesting you mention how you connect with the theme of the movie on a personal level. Just as Cora is coming into her own, you right now are coming into your own transiting from being a Disney Kid to doing features with Melissa McCarthy. Can you share a life lesson you learned by doing this film, something you didn’t know before?
Debby Ryan : You know my mom always loved the beach and the ocean. I loved it, but I never really connected with it in that sense. I was always like it “It is sticky and sandy.” But being there doing this film, I would be exhausted after shooting for 15 hours overnight and I didn’t want to do another scene. They would be like “Go jump in the water. Water is the cure for everything. Go jump in the water” in their Aussie accents. I would be like “I am exhausted. What are you talking about? That just sounds like it would destroy me right now.” They would be like “No, mate, you have to just do it. You have to just jump in. Jump in the water.” The second I got in the water, it was really crazy. But the moment I got in the water, it was truly spiritual, I felt my breath sync with the whole pull of the waves. I just felt so connected.
I grew up climbing trees and hiking in Germany. I am not a city kid, I had never had that romantic beautiful connect with the ocean and the water like I did when I did this film in Australia. It taught me that the way I have always been afraid to slow down, that the Ocean is part of something so much bigger and it was here before us and will be here after us. If we can just trust that the rhythm is a bigger rhythm then any kind of construct we put on our lives, that it is a more real and healthy time frame to submit to and abide by. It is so beautiful. It really helped me prioritize and learn that what I was telling myself what was so important was, in retrospect, not all that important. It could have waited. If it can’t wait, it will come back around and if it doesn’t come back round then it wasn’t meant to be.
Justin Howard : It is a very powerful lesson to learn about our place in the universe. What that really means and what it doesn’t mean. What is one thing you want the audience to take away from the film?
Debby Ryan : It can be easy to think that when someone who knows you really well is confident in telling you what you are meant to do, you think they might know better, but until you make that decision for yourself you’ll see that no one knows better then you. I am very thankful that my parents developed strong morals in me, and gave me a very strong character. Because it is with that strong character and morals that I can look at for guidance when I have a question about what it is I believe.
Justin Howard : Can you talk about the experience of working with Melissa McCarthy on the film ‘Life of the Party?’
Debby Ryan : Absolutely, I am going to meet up with Melissa and Molly Gordon and a couple of the cast members to screen it and watch it tonight. I didn’t think I would be able to see it for months, just because it comes out next May. Most directors tend to be very protective of their films so they can present it in the original way they want to. It was the best experience of my career so far. Everyone was wonderful on set and incredibly lovely. So lovely that it kept me wondering when the other shoe was going to drop. It was a master class for me, because I love comedy. I love to laugh and I love to get people to laugh. I like to hear funny things and being able to use that as a launch point. It was incredible to watch Jackie Weaver come in and starting singing karaoke with Maya Rudolph. Hanging out with Gillian Jacobs and having conversations with her about Old Hollywood. She is really just an encyclopedia of so much information. Yet she is really humble and unassuming.
Melissa is my ‘Ultimate Queen’ because she is so funny and she writes as she is going. I watch her and just wonder how her brain really works. It was interesting to listen to the cast and crew share how they all met Melissa for the first time, what she was like and what she is like now. It was truly an inspiring experience. She was really warm and welcoming to me on set. When I was hanging out with her, I got to see her design her fashion line. With any of her ‘spare’ time, when she isn’t parenting or writing, or producing two films at a time. She is acting in them.
It is funny, but on my very first film 16 Wishes, I asked the woman who played my fairy godmother in the movie “Why are you so nice to me? Why are you so good? You don’t have to do this.” She replied “I believe good people deserve good people.” I couldn’t think of a better way to describe Melissa. Her entire crew is insanely talented from her DP to the props department to her script supervisor. It was really inspiring to see that literally everyone onset would vouch for her, and show up for anything she does. Not only is she a really solid person but she makes consistently good work with a really good work environment. I think all that really goes together.You can be the funniest person in the world, but unless the people around you feel empowered to make each other laugh and to make each other better and sharper then it isn’t going to be as good as it could be.
Justin Howard : I am just surprised you get to see the film in some final form this early.
Debby Ryan : Yes, it is kinda amazing to see the film in some ‘final’ form. What is really crazy is that I have some friends who are on dating apps. No, I have never been on one myself though I am sure it is a lovely place to network. I have had people message friends of mine and people that were in the film and say “Hey I saw an early cut of “Life of the Party” and she was so funny in it. You’re friends with Debby, right? Tell her, she was so good in it.” It is kinda amazing, but I think there is a small group of people who are seeing it and are apparently liking it. Clearly it works, I am just excited to see a take of what we did because it was just like professional goofing off. I want to know how much of it ends up in the film and how much was just for our own personal enjoyment.
Justin Howard : I do love how random people are telling your friends that they love you in an unreleased film via a dating app.
Debby Ryan : That is funniest thing. Maybe it is because I am always online and I post about my friends and they post about me. I always get all these people who come up to me on a ‘first name’ basis like “Oh, it is Debby” and I would be like it is “Debby Ryan.” But now I’m just like Cher or Madonna, and I don’t know how it has happened. I am just like “Yeah, just call me ‘Debby’.”
Justin Howard : I love how we have gotten to gay icon status via Tinder. Soon there will be drag queens’ routines based on you, ok!
Debby Ryan : Oh My God! That’s how I know I am done. I can move back to Texas, bartend at night, and living my quiet life.
Justin Howard : You can be like “I am good, I have drag queens doing me on stage!”
Debby Ryan : Everyone needs goals, and this can be my legacy.
Justin Howard : Just a little hint, RuPaul if you are reading this. For the next season of Drag Race, call Debby not Debby Ryan just Debby.
Debby Ryan : Yes, call me! I was at the MTV Movie awards and I finally met him. I walked up to him, suddenly discovered I just couldn’t talk to him. Totally fangirl moment!
Justin Howard : What is one truth you have learned over the course of the last year that you want to share?
Debby Ryan : Being relevant and being talked about are two different things. If you constantly trending, or people are constantly asking you questions but you aren’t doing anything then that is a waste. For me, I want to create a body of work that I believe in, cool roles in cool films that I liked. Sometimes I had to fight to get into a room to read for a role, because the people casting that role only knew me as a Disney Kid. Sometimes it got to the point where my reps won’t even tell them my credits so I could go in and read for things I wanted. Quite often, once I made that person-to-person connection, then people would be surprised that I wasn’t that character they saw on TV. Humans are infinite creatures who are constantly evolving. If you are offered the chance to rewrite your narrative, I have learned the best thing to do is really define deep within yourself who you are and know your narrative. Reintroduce it once the time is right and lead by work and actions. I can tell you I had a hilarious time on set with Maya, Melissa and Chris Parnell, but until you see the film you won’t get the kind of deep belly laughter we all experienced for months and months.