By Grace Hwang Lynch for CAAM
This interview has been edited for length and clarity by XFINITY.
Could 13-year-old Peyton Elizabeth Lee be the next “Lizzie McGuire?”
Lee stars in the Disney Channel’s newest hit show “Andi Mack,” this spring’s breakout comedy, which is the number-one TV series to date in 2017 among girls aged 6-14. The show centers around Lee’s character Andi, an artistic 13-year-old who gets a surprise during the premiere episode when she learns that her free-spirited older sister Bex is actually her mother. Along with figuring out her new family dynamics, Andi is also an eighth-grader dealing with school, friends and a crush on the local Ultimate Frisbee champ.
Created by “Lizzie McGuire” producer Terry Minsky, the multiracial family cast of “Andi Mack” includes Lauren Tom as Celia Mack and Lilan Bowden as Bex Mack. Stoney Westmoreland plays Henry “HAM” Mack, and Trent Garrett rounds out the cast as long-lost dad Bowie Quinn.
The finale of the 13-episode first season aired on June 23, and a second season has already been ordered. We caught up with Peyton Elizabeth Lee over the phone to find out what it’s like to be at the center of one of the hottest kids’ shows right now.
You just wrapped up your first season of “Andi Mack” on the Disney Channel, and you’re 13 years old, just like Andi. Tell us how you get into acting and how your family influenced your decision to get into acting?
My dad (Andrew Tinpo Lee) is an actor, so when I was little I’d see him on TV and I would say I wish I could do that. That’s how it all started, to be honest. I think If he wasn’t an actor, I don’t think I’d be exposed to the whole idea. My family has been super supportive all the way. Since my dad has been really helpful in guiding me. There are a lot of decisions to make and each path that you take as an actor or actress is totally different from anyone else so he’s really been there to help me.
Your character, Andi Mack is a mixed-race Asian—as you are, right?
My dad is Chinese, so I’m half-Chinese on my dad’s side. And my mom is Irish and Italian.
What was it like growing up mixed?
I would say that it definitely makes me stand apart from the crowd. I wouldn’t say that it’s really changed anything dramatically. Yes, when we see families from my dad’s side it’s a different experience than seeing people from my mom’s side. But being mixed-race has definitely had no big effect on my life really.
Some multiracial actors feel pressured to “pick one ethnicity.” Have you felt any pressure in that area?
I’ve actually never really experienced that. My dad always was helping with that. I never felt any pressure to identify as one race or another. I’ve always just been half.
And luckily your character is also reflective of your own identity…
I think one of the interesting things about all of this is they weren’t looking for an Asian-American girl. They were just looking for a girl. So when I went to the audition there were people of all different races, white, everybody was there. So once I was cast, then the family became Asian-American. That was never the first idea.
“Andi Mack” is the No. 1 show among girls 6-14. What’s it like to think that you might be a role model for other girls?
It’s so incredibly surreal, it’s really insane. I feel so lucky to be a role model for kids. I always had my Disney Channel role, models. “Wizards of Waverly Place” was my favorite show of all time. I just remember looking up to Selena Gomez, and it’s crazy that I might be that sort of person for somebody else.
Yet it’s pretty different from other tween shows in that it deals with family secrets, such as teen pregnancy and the long-term effects of that. What’s it been like for you to work around these story lines?
I would definitely say that “Andi Mack” has mature themes. But I think that at its core it’s like all Disney Channel shows, it has strong family values. I do think it is important for kids to see what real life looks like. Because kids don’t live in a fantasy world like some TV. So I think it’s really important that there are shows on TV that show what real life can be like. I’ve been really lucky to be part of such an important show.
“Andi Mack” just got renewed for a second season, so congratulations!
Thank you. We’re really excited!
Can you give us some hints at what we might expect in the next season?
I really wish I could. I honestly don’t even know myself what’s going to happen. When we were shooting we got the script just five days before we started filming it. We have no idea what season two is going to be like. The whole cast would love to talk about what we think is going to happen…
When do you begin shooting? What’s that going to be like?
So we start in early July. I still have to pack and move to Utah. So that will be interesting. But we’re really excited. It’s always so fun being there with everybody. We’re all so close and I owe a lot of that to Utah because we don’t have any other friends there and a lot of time our family isn’t there either. So we’ve grown really close, I think, because of it.
So you’re actually filming on location in Utah?
We’re on a stage in Salt Lake City. The stage has the Andi Shack and the house. We shoot on location for the schools and the parks and stuff like that.
Any hopes for the next season?
I wouldn’t say I have any specific hopes or expectations. I’m just super excited to get back and start work again. The whole cast and crew, we all live so spread out. So when we shoot it’s really a treat because we all get to be together again.
Any advice for other kids, especially Asian-American kids, to get into the entertainment industry?
I would say that If you want to be part of the entertainment industry, just know it’s going to be a lot of work. The whole journey is full of ups and downs, if you just keep working toward your goals then you’ll make it.
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Grace Hwang Lynch is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance journalist and essayist, and a contributing writer to the Center for Asian American Media, a nonprofit dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible.
For more Asian and Asian-American content, go to XFINITY Asia.