In The Mix

Point of Departure

A grown-up Disney star hopes her fans will come with her in her new series.

Bruce Fretts
  • Courtesy of Netflix

Debby Ryan has come a long way in a short time.

Barely a teen when she made her TV debut on Barney & Friends in 2006, she soon started showing up on Disney Channel series, eventually becoming a regular on The Suite Life on Deck and then the lead on Jessie for five years.

Now, in Netflix’s new dark comedy Insatiable, she’s exploring more thorny territory — as a bullied ex-binge-eater who reshapes herself into a would-be beauty queen to take vengeance against her tormentors.

“I was looking for a departure from Disney,” Ryan says. “The musical rhythm of sitcoms wasn’t something I was necessarily interested in repeating.” In fact, Insatiable has a very different tone, one that may have proven a tad too offbeat for The CW, which developed the pilot but ultimately passed on the series.

Netflix came to the rescue, picking up the CBS Television Studios show for a 13- episode first season that rolls out in August. “Being able to have a home at Netflix gave us the groove we were looking for,” Ryan says. “They allowed us the room to mess around and find our quirks and be a kind of red-headed stepchild.”

Ryan hopes the millions of fans from her Disney days will follow her to this more mature project. “The people who have grown up with me are in need of stories that look a little bit more like their life,” she says.

The show’s twisted take on adolescent turmoil resonated with Ryan, who endured her share of growing pains while coming of age in the public eye. “The way I’ve dealt with the most messed-up things I’ve ever witnessed or been a part of is with a sense of humor,” she says. “That’s my survival, my coping mechanism. And it’s also just the way things make sense to me.” 

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 8, 2018