Debby Ryan’s dream came true when she was cast as Bailey Pickett in Disney Channel’s “The Suite Life on Deck,” a spin-off of “The Suite Life of Zack & Cody.” Ryan fit right in with the established cast members and was a fresh face for Disney at a time when several of their flagship stars had been there for a few years already.
The young star covered a lot of ground in a short time, quickly becoming a household name and starring in her first Disney Channel film, “Sixteen Wishes.” In 2011, Debby Ryan finished her work on “The Suite Life” franchise, but she wasn’t ready to hang up her mouse ears.
The actor was a guest on Dax Shepard’s “Armchair Expert” podcast in 2018. She reflected on her unique position as a bridge between older and newer Disney Channel shows when mainstays like “Hannah Montana” went off the air. Ryan remembered, “People were very much like, ‘I miss the old Disney, I miss classic Disney.’ And I was kind of the last person with a foot in both worlds. And at 18, too old to be the lead of a Disney show, but, like, prime age to be a relatable, quirky authority figure.” Debby Ryan helped develop her next show, “Jessie,” which she claims is Disney Channel’s first series to be “greenlit without a pilot.” The star has been a bit more subdued as an adult, but she is still acting and has had quite a journey.
Debby Ryan: Disney Channel's youngest female director
From her first days on a Disney Channel set, Debby Ryan “started shadowing directors” in order to learn the behind-the-scenes craft, she told Bello Mag. Her interest led her to dig deeper and eventually become a director herself (the youngest female director ever for the Disney Channel, per Seventeen), while producing and starring in “Jessie.” This move made sense as Ryan already felt such ownership over the series. “Being the lead of a show is one thing, being there from the very concept before characters are even formed is another,” she told the outlet, adding, “It was really myself, the showrunner, and Disney that were involved in bringing it to life. My heartbeat’s been running through this from the very beginning.”
With “Jessie,” Debby Ryan earned herself a spot in The Director’s Guild, but she had to fight against the odds. She told Seventeen, “Being a girl in the industry, being an actor in the industry, and being young in the industry were three marks that were against me. People didn’t expect me to have a voice.” Ryan continued, “I learned all of the terms and when to use them. I learned what to do. I think that going onto that set and being powerful showed them that I was capable of being a leader.”
Ryan was awarded a place in Ryan Murphy’s Half Initiative Mentorship Program in 2019. As a Directing Mentorship Participant, Ryan shadowed the director of Fox’s “911.”
Jessie 'ran its course' and Debby Ryan moved on
“Jessie” ended in October 2015, and Debby Ryan responded a few months later to a fan on Twitter who wanted to know why: “Hit a hundred episodes and it ran its course.” That’s a respectable amount, and only a handful of then-current Disney series, including “Hannah Montana,” “That’s So Raven,” and “Wizards of Waverly Place,” had hit that benchmark prior to Jessie.
Even before Jessie officially ended, however, Ryan told fans that she dyed her hair blonde, in part, to distance herself from the role (and the character’s signature red locks). But she didn’t turn her back to her childhood co-stars. In fact, she told Shine On Media in 2018 that she loves keeping in touch with her kid star colleagues, because “it’s really cool to be able to see [their careers] evolve.”
In 2019, Ryan and many of her Disney Channel cohorts were heartbroken when her “Jessie” castmate, Cameron Boyce, died following a seizure in his sleep. Ryan wrote on Instagram that Boyce “couldn’t help himself but to always leave you smiling, or laughing, or dancing.” In 2020, Ryan teamed up with her “Jessie” family to support Stars In The House. On the video call show reunion, she shared a moving memory: “During the third season, my mom was battling cancer, and we weren’t really vocal about it … But during that, it was like [Cameron] had this sense and was aware and … would just, like, pursue and come up and give me hugs.”
Wait, Debby Ryan was in a band?
Debby Ryan sang for a variety of Disney projects, but she was also in a band during her “Jessie” era. That band was The Never Ending, and she described the sextet’s sound to Bello Mag: “We’re classic Rock & Roll people. The old school classic guitar tones; the ramping. Everything is very analog.” She also spoke candidly about her music with Billboard, saying, “This is the most vulnerable and real personal thing I have ever done. I will take the hate with the love as I release this as an independent artist.”
The band was established in 2013 with a cover of “Santa Baby,” and they released a five-song EP in 2014. The Buffalo News published a peculiar article about The Never Ending in 2015, beginning with, “Debby Ryan walked into practice. She was supposed to be ready to sing. But she wasn’t. She was having a bad day — ‘a terrible, terrible day,’ she admitted later — but she didn’t want to show it.” Although the band appeared supportive that day, 2016 seems to be the last time anyone heard from The Never Ending.
Years later, Ryan told W that her foray into music “only happened because I was writing songs and there were a few that were so personal it felt weird to give them away to someone else.” Perhaps hinting at the, well, end of The Never Ending, Ryan added, ”I know a lot of really talented, hard working musicians, and those people give it everything they have, and if I can’t afford to give it everything I have, then it’s not doing respect to the industry.”
A former flame became Debby Ryan's husband
The Never Ending penned a personal song before disbanding. Guitarist and co-writer Kyle Moore’s significant other had broken up with him, and Debby Ryan had ended things with Josh Dun from Twenty One Pilots. Ryan channeled her break-up with the drummer into music. She told The Buffalo News of her and bandmate Moore’s respective relationships, “I think that gives you a really complete mindset of a song to be able to write: This is what it’s like to break up with the love of your life, and this is what it’s like to be broken up with by the love of your life.”
Ryan and Dun rekindled their romance, and Ryan confirmed to The Sydney Morning Herald that they were back together in 2018: “I’m in love and very happy,” she said. Dun and Ryan got engaged in December 2018 while in New Zealand and wed in Austin, Texas on New Year’s Eve in 2019. Despite the long engagement, their wedding was planned in just 28 days and was tailor-made for the bride and groom from start to finish. They shared their wedding album with Vogue, revealing intimate details like how they had a private meal together before dancing the night away. “Taking that time to bask in the ‘heck yeah, we’re married’ realness really set us up to celebrate with such deep and unencumbered joy.” The time away from busy Hollywood was special for Debby and “Joshua,” as she calls him.
It's all about passion for Debby Ryan
Back in 2015, Debby Ryan reflected on her career as a young entertainment professional and posed for some stunning shots with Bello Mag. Ryan’s perspective from that time is one to live by: “What is your armor? What is your cause? What are you fighting for, and what are you fighting against? Those sorts of things are what keep the grey from settling in.”
The actor has a point, but she nearly missed out on a huge project a few years later when she wasn’t planning on doing a series for the moment. “I was very heavily urged to read the script. Finally I was like, ‘Fine, if you want to hear another no, I’ll read it,'” Ryan told W. “I read it and was like, ‘Oh.’ It totally touched on this idea that I had had inside of me. I loved the duality of it, I loved that it was so broad and funny.” The script Ryan was talking about was for her 2018-2019 Netflix series, “Insatiable,” and, well, it may not have been as serendipitous for Ryan as she initially thought when she took the role.
Did Insatiable miss the mark on body-shaming?
Debby Ryan’s character on “Insatiable,” Patty Bladell, is a high school girl with a binge-eating disorder. She becomes engaged in a physical altercation, recovers on a liquid diet, loses weight, and seeks revenge on everyone who has wronged her. Concerned viewers began a petition to cancel the series based on the trailer alone, which shows Ryan in a prosthetic fat suit. Co-star Alyssa Milano defended the series on Twitter in 2018: “We are not shaming Patty. We are addressing (through comedy) the damage that occurs from fat shaming.”
What brought Ryan to such a controversial role? “I was drawn to this show’s willingness to go to real places about how difficult and scary it can be to move through the world in a body, whether you’re being praised or criticised for its size,” she told The Sydney Morning News. Ryan has body dysmorphia, which she discussed on Armchair Expert. “Dysmorphia is a mental illness … it doesn’t follow logic or reason, and I also don’t have context at all, so I have photos of me looking completely different. I mean, bleach-blonde hair and red hair and dark hair … 15 pounds heavier and five pounds lighter or whatever.”
Despite the criticism, Ryan was fully invested in “Insatiable,” telling The Sydney Morning Herald, “The redemption for me is that this whole struggle can now live outside of me on the show, and is no longer hidden.” Unfortunately, “Insatiable” may just have gone too far for audiences, and was canceled with only two seasons in the books.
There You Are with Debby Ryan is the star's 'favorite thing'
As “Insatiable” emerged into the streaming world, Debby Ryan began examining her life and work more deeply. In 2019, she started a podcast called “There You Are with Debby Ryan” as a way to engage more long form with her fans. ”There are so many things in my life that I haven’t gotten into or spoken about because being in the media or putting it on Twitter in 140 characters was not the opportunity to open up about some of the things that I’ve experienced in my frame of reference in my mind,” Ryan said in her introduction. Ryan has had multiple “Insatiable” co-stars on the podcast as well as the series showrunner.
In a late 2019 profile for Vogue, Ryan can be seen in a hotel room, recording “intro and outros” for the podcast on the fly, and in one, she directly addresses her listeners and says “my favorite thing is doing this for you.” Surprisingly, after putting out a season two intro and one new episode February 2020, the former Disney Channel star has not uploaded any new episodes, at the time of writing.
Sorry, you won't be owning Debby Ryan on social media
Debby Ryan got some attention online for her role as Tara in Disney Channel’s 2012 “Radio Rebel” movie. Oddly, that attention came in April 2020, when TikTokers started making fun of the character’s shy facial expressions (via Buzzfeed), which isn’t an ideal reason to go viral, but Debby rolled with the punches. In response, she tweeted, “I was serious about my craft from a young age and studied technique alongside Roxanne from A Goofy Movie.” The tweet included a GIF of Roxanne making a similar facial expression.
A few months later, Ryan jumped on TikTok and recreated her iconic Disney Channel looks, reenacting her “Radio Rebel” shy face. She poked fun at Donald Trump with the caption, “the president said to make a tiktok…”, an apparent reference to his goal to have the app banned in the United States (via International Business Times).
Ryan spoke about social media and comparison in 2017 for a Darling Magazine project called “self(i.e.).” Ryan said, “The internet is forever, and I think we’re really flippant about it. … I think we can be using it to tear each other down or you can be using it to, like, heal each other and better ourselves.”
Debby Ryan is quite the fashionista
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Debby Ryan has an estimated $4 million to her name. It looks like she wisely spends some of that hard-earned income on clothing. She told the AP that at age “15 or 16,” she bought “Marc Jacobs knee-high boots” for her first New York press trip. Ryan still had the boots in 2019! The actor is quite fashionable and is not a stranger to New York Fashion Week. You won’t find Debby Ryan paying full price all the time, though — W went “thrifting” with her and learned why style is important to the celeb. “I think because I moved so much style became a really quick way to introduce yourself at first sight. It’s one of the only things you can have control over in terms of how people read you,” Ryan said.
With $4 million secured, Debby Ryan doesn’t have to worry too much about bigger purchases. She told Dax Shepard on Armchair Expert that she grew up thinking she was saving her acting money for medical school so that she could become a surgeon. Ryan was tickled when Shepard asked her if her parents would let her buy “a Mustang” as her first car at age 16. In fact, the actor and her mother did go a Mustang together, which she ended up wrecking in an accident after two years. Ryan later purchased an Audi.
Netflix and more are keeping Debby Ryan busy
There are many layers to Debby Ryan, and she pours herself into her film and television roles. She starred in a 2020 Netflix thriller called “Horse Girl” and has a 2021 release, “Night Teeth,” planned for the same platform. Aside from Netflix, fans can look for her in an HBO indie comedy called “Spin Me Round” with Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Alessandro Nivola, Lil Rey Howery, and Molly Shannon.
But even Ryan’s longtime fans must look closely to catch all the nuances of her life and career. She intentionally keeps some things private, but with her choice of projects like “Insatiable,” which touched on a personal issue, and her podcast, which seeks to engage even more deeply with fans, the actor knows what she’s doing, and knows how to impact her audiences on a personal level.
For now, it seems like Debby Ryan is sticking with acting, but she’ll keep rocking out with her drummer husband along the way. Ryan is smart — after all, she does have a genius IQ (if this random tweet isn’t just a joke). Fans are eager to see the star use her talent in creative ways as new projects flow in.
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