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Disney Actress Debby Ryan Is the Anti-Miley (and That's Not a Bad Thing)
By SP_COP on October 14, 2014 | From www.papermag.com
Disney Actress Debby Ryan Is the Anti-Miley (and That's Not a Bad Thing) It's a cloudless late July afternoon in Los Angeles and Debby Ryan, the brassy star of the Disney Channel's Jessie, is sporting very un-Jessie white-blonde hair and still riding the adrenaline rush of last night. Ryan's band, The Never Ending, played their first-ever concert out in Pomona, about 90 minutes east of LA, to fans, friends and family.

"I was surrounded by my best friends," Ryan, 21, says, beaming. Making The Never Ending's debut outside of Hollywood's glare was all part of the plan. While Disney's tween stars tend to stir up tabloids as they come into their own (see: Miley Cyrus), it's moves like this that show Ryan isn't interested in biting the white-gloved mouse hand that feeds her. "I don't do anything on my own that's too Disney-adjacent," she says. Instead, Ryan's more interested in creating a separation of church and state -- or, in this case, a separation between the music industry and the Magic Kingdom.

Ryan grew up in a religious, military household in Texas with a stint in Germany, and says she found a platform to perform at church. It wasn't long before she set her sights on acting in films. "I wanted to be Dakota Fanning," Ryan says, adding that she got her start in indie films, rather than the commercial fare she's since become known for. After landing her first role in a small film in Louisiana as a teenager, Ryan's tight-knit family relocated to LA to support her budding career. With her raspy voice and Texas-sized personality, she was eventually cast on Disney's Suite Life on Deck and, later, Jessie.

Entering its fourth season, the show follows Ryan's character who, like herself, is a small town Texas girl that moves to the big city to break into showbiz. But in this case the big city is New York and Jessie works as a nanny to a large multi-cultural family of adopted children: a breakdancer from Detroit, a sassy little girl from Africa, a sweetly nerdy Indian, and a Paris Hilton-y daughter. The parents are cartoonishly narcissistic movie stars, the butler is lazy but big-hearted, and one of the main characters is a kimodo dragon named Mr. Kipling who -- spoiler alert -- turns out to be Ms. Kipling after having lots of little Kiplings.

While many Disney shows can be annoyingly rote with their -- cue overwrought TV promo voice -- kids who quip like grown-ups and their grown-ups that act like kids, Jessie's distinguished itself with an episode that addressed adoption from both the parents' and kids' perspectives. And this season will see Ryan's character outgrowing the usual forever-young Peter Pan-ness of Disney stars to get married.

It was the same year Jessie went on the air -- 2011 -- that Ryan began penning her own country-tinged music. Eventually friends and friends of friends connected her to guitarist Kyle Moore and together they went on to form The Never Ending. Though all the band members are ringers with the kind of industry-town writing and playing credits that working in Hollywood affords, the group is more like friends than business partners. Ryan is housemates with TNE's drummer Johnny Franco, but says it's anything but a band house. "We live in a neighborhood that's mostly elderly people. I have my cats and Johnny's like my big brother," she says. "I only really go out to support my friends' bands." (Her boyfriend is also a drummer, Josh Dun of the emo-EDM duo Twenty One Pilots.) "Otherwise it's movie night with s'mores and maybe jumping in the pool after midnight."...
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