The City Life

Suite Life star Debby Ryan heads to the Big Apple in her new Disney Channel show, Jessie

Sep 30, 2011 | By Vickie An
CRAIG SJODIN—DISNEY CHANNEL

Suite Life On Deck star Debby Ryan is bidding farewell to the high seas and heading to dry land. The 18-year-old actress stars in the new series Jessie, premiering tonight on Disney Channel, about a small-town Texas girl who moves to bustling New York City. To make ends meet, Jessie takes a job as a nanny to the four unruly Ross children: bubbly Emma, cultured Ravi, mischievous Luke and imaginative Zuri. Along with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ross, the energetic siblings take Jessie on a ride she won’t soon forget!

TFK sat down with Ryan at ABC Studios, in New York City, recently. Keep reading to see what she says about her new adventures in babysitting, and about leaving the Suite Life behind. (Click here, or scroll down, to watch a video interview with the actress.)

TFK:

With Jessie, you’re working with a new cast, a new set, new everything. What is it like?

DEBBY RYAN:

It’s amazing. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before. We have a lot of confidence in it. I helped pull together the cast and crew, and I helped design the styles. It’s fresh, and it’s a little more sophisticated. It’s something that’s cool for the younger ones, but it’s also cool for people my age that grew up watching Suite Life and are now a little bit older. There’s hip fashion and witty humor. We have a little bit of everything.

TFK:

Jessie is a military kid, like yourself. Do you draw from your own experiences to play this character?

DEBBY:

I do draw a bit from my own experience. I feel like there’s a certain resourcefulness that comes from growing up around a military base. Jessie always talks about making her own clothes and embroidering things. I’m sort of like that myself. Also, I’ve been babysitting since I was young. I love kids. Jessie’s a little overwhelmed. She takes care of four kids—

TFK:

Four very rambunctious (energetic) kids!

DEBBY:

Yes! Three of them are adopted, so they have four different personalities and four different cultures. One of them has a seven-foot lizard! Things are a bit crazy, but Jessie can juggle them.

TFK:

What’s it like working with that seven-foot lizard?

DEBBY:

It’s an alligator with lips! It’s large, and it doesn’t move very much, but when it does, it can book. So we are always very careful around him. The lizard’s real name is Frank; he plays Mr. Kipling on the show. Some of the kids prefer not to be close to him. Some of them dig it. Frank goes to the bathroom a lot on set, which slows things down.

Jessie (Debby Ryan) helps Emma (Peyton List) with her science fair project.
RON TOM—DISNEY CHANNEL
Jessie (Debby Ryan) helps Emma (Peyton List) with her science fair project.

TFK:

What kinds of adventures can we expect in this season?

DEBBY:

Well, the parents have a private helicopter, so the kids may or may not sneak onto the roof and try to fly that. The lizard could possibly get loose in the apartment building and have a crazy chase scene. There are tons of [scenes] where I’m dangling from the landing skids of the helicopter, and I’m trying not to get my fingers bit off by a local dog.

TFK:

So, there are lots of adventures, then.

DEBBY:

Lots of adventures. There are rival nannies at the park, kids picking on the Ross kids… A lot of times, Jessie tells these kids that they can rise to a challenge. In the first episode, Emma has a science fair. She’s working really hard on her project, but she loses her motivation. Jessie says, “Listen, you may have given up, and you may feel like everyone else has given up on you, but I know you can do this. I’m going to be cheering you on from the sidelines.” And she is. Jessie may forget their lunches sometimes, but at the end of the day, everyone’s healthy and growing. I feel that makes her the best nanny.

TFK:

Mr. Ross is a famous movie director, which opens the door for some famous guest stars. Who would you like to see on the show?

DEBBY:

I would love to see Tina Fey or Emma Stone or Kristen Wiig [on the show]. We joke about Taylor Lautner a lot. We joke that Jessie’s very “Team Jacob,” and there are a few of those references. Emma is as well. Ellen DeGeneres could be really fun!

TFK:

Why do you think kids should watch the show?

DEBBY:

You can tell when you’re watching a show sometimes that it’s a bunch of adults making a show [based on] what they think kids like. This show is by me. My mark and my stamp are on the jokes, the fashion and the humor. It has respect to Laverne and Shirley and I Love Lucy and other classic sitcoms. But it also puts a new little twist on it. We’re definitely popping it up a little bit. We’re doing things that I think people haven’t really seen before.

TFK:

October is National Anti-Bullying Month. You’ve been very open about your experiences with bullying. Can you talk a little bit about what you faced?

DEBBY:

I moved around a lot, so I didn’t ever have a core group of friends growing up. I was in public school, private school, and home school... I didn’t know who I was back then, and people sensed that. My second week in public school in the U.S., I was like, “Finally! I’m going to have a normal life, I’ll have friends, and it’ll be great.” But people were really fake-nice to me, and I realized that they were really making fun of me. One boy tripped me in the hallway, and my papers flew out of my hands. It seemed like everything was moving in slow motion as I hit the ground. Everyone was laughing and walking away.

TFK:

What advice do you have for kids who are bullied?

DEBBY:

It’s going to get better. I promise it does. There are always going to be people who want you to feel bad about yourself, so that they can feel great about themselves. But if you’re comfortable with yourself, it won’t matter what [the bullies] say. Also, people need to know that they’re cared about. It only takes a few seconds to open a door and let someone go in front of you. Or, to pick up something that someone dropped. [Kindness] really does make people’s day.