It’s been a year of change for Debby Ryan. Not only did the 22-year-old actress say goodbye to her Disney Channel hit show Jessie last month, but she broke our hearts broke this spring when she revealed the shocking news that she was in an abusive relationship in the past. Because of her first-hand experience with domestic abuse, Debby has been doing BIG things though her work with Mary Kay and Loveisrespect for the Don’t Look Away campaign.
Besides working hard as Mary Kay’s Cause Champion, she’s also been able to battle her own inner demons with the help of music, and specifically her band, The Never Ending. We recently chatted with Debby and got an inside look at many things, including the rawest song she’s ever written, which was just what she needed to face all the thoughts running around inside her head.
As Mary Kay’s Cause Champion, you’ve been making tremendous efforts for the Don’t Look Away Campaign. Could you tell our readers what that’s been like?
“The Don’t Look Away Campaign with Mary Kay is a partnership between myself and Mary Kay and an organization called, Loveisrespect. Basically, we’re raising awareness and hoping to end abuse in dating relationships, especially with young teens and young people.”
What advice would you give to teens that are in a relationships where they are unhappy?
“I think the first thing you could do is really educate yourself. When I started learning all these things, I realized that there are so many behaviors… Calling and texting, demanding your phone passwords and accusing you of doing things and having really aggressive mood swings… Things like that are active signs of abusive behavior. Because they aren’t maybe physical, we don’t actually notice that they are abusive behaviors. Also, the statistic is one in three teens is dealing with abuse in a relationship, which means if you have two or three friends, then you know someone who has either dealt with it or is dealing with it. For us, our big thing is to not only raise awareness and educate people, but our most exciting thing is, what do you do now? What do you do if you feel like you or maybe a friend or coworker is in a relationship that’s not good for them and not healthy? What do you do if you’re in this relationship and it feels tricky and you feel trapped. Is anyone going to fight for you, and will it ruin things? There are all these questions that we ask. For me, what I love so much is that we are able to provide information and resources to be able to help people identify them and prevent it from happening again and create really great standards in a relationship, as well as helping people along with kind of like, redemption and freedom.”
What can you tell us about #DontLookAway?
“What’s really great is that we have a campaign that we’re doing right now on Instagram. It’s #DontLookAway, and you upload a picture of you and two friends that stand up against dating abuse. It shows the people around you that you stand up for those things and starts a conversation; more than anything, it starts a conversation. It makes people want to discuss this and bring it up… We’ve heard some amazing and beautiful stories. There have been people coming out of relationships and also starting relationships and them realizing that it isn’t going to be good.”
Let’s talk music. Over the summer you and your band released “Secondhand” as the first single off the album! What made you guys go with that one as the first single?
“When we released “Secondhand,” it was kind of a song that we hadn’t built the track for. It was the only song that I had ever wrote on my own, and without Kyle (Moore) from the band who’ve written all the other songs with. We started the set with it; I played it on ukulele and John (Franco) was on drums. We presented the song how it was — that it was a song that I wrote in my bedroom at ten o’clock at night because I was falling in love and I was terrified. From my previous relationship, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be loved for who I was and where I was at. I wrote that song and people really started responding to it. Of all our fun rock songs, this was one that I could put out there and really give people a piece of my heart. It was something I needed to do for myself. It was so cool, because as more people were hearing it, amazing stories were coming out of it. It really is a song about knowing your value and knowing that no amount of gone is too far gone. There’s always something to love about you and always something to fight for about you. I think that sort of message was really empowering for me to start the show with every night. It started the show in a very vulnerable way because when you break yourself down and introduce yourself to a crowd, if they know you or know of you, they know of you as something. I was like, ‘Hi my name is Debby and this is how my heart works.’ It’s a really cool way to get the crowd ready for the story you’re about to tell.”
Do you think you’ll be releasing another single soon?
“We haven’t even gone, like, “official” singles yet. It was kind of just the band being like, ‘Hi, this is who we are and the music we make.’ We’ve been writing all the time and get to perform a song called “Midnights” at We Day and we have a couple of places around town that we’re performing. I’ve had had fans come up to me and ask me to write the lyrics to “Midnights” so they can have it tattooed on them. The song is also about being alright. The chorus is like, we’ll be kids and we’ll be alright; it’s so easy to get caught up in things. One of the lyrics is, ‘Drunk in love is overpriced.’ That’s what I found, it’s overpriced. The decisions you make rashly, don’t tend to serve you really well. It’s just things that I’ve learned…I would love to release that song as a single, but right now we don’t have any plans to do that…”
Switching gears a bit, the last episode of Jessie aired last month and we miss it already! Do you have any other acting projects coming up?
“Yeah, it’s been so cool… I’ve been working on projects that I want to work on that I don’t think are rushing the growing process. It’s important for people my age who used to watch Jessie to know that I’m not going to just leave them there. I’m going to grow with them, and they’re going to grow with me. I’ve kind of been doing a lot of things that people haven’t seen yet, but you’ll for sure see me on screen a lot. It’ll be fun.”
Have you gotten the chance to check out Bunk’d yet? Did you give the cast any advice for the spin-off?
“Yeah, I think the entire process has been auditioning them, casting them and kind of shifting the roles to really be about these kids in particular and their strengths. I’ve been believing in them and fighting for them; I started off telling them this is how you start on a Disney Show, and now it’s like, okay this is how you start on your own show. Where they go from here — I can’t say much — I am very impressed with what I’ve seen these kids do and how much I’ve seen them grow in the past four or five years. I haven’t gotten the chance to visit set yet, but I saw Cameron (Boyce), and this show is doing so well and I’m so proud of them.”
We just heard the exciting news that you were going to be the executive producer on the digital adaptation of Jessica Darling’s It List! How did that get started?
“Yeah, it was so fun. I was having a dialogue open with MarVista, the production company behind 16 Wishes and Radio Rebel. I’ve heard of Jessica Darling’s It List, as well as the other book series, and it’s incredible and so awesome. MarVista asked if we wanted to do it and my production company got on board… It’s a really good venture and a really good collaboration; I’m really proud of the film we made.”
Is there anything else you can share with your fans?
“I’ve been working hard behind the scenes and trying to make myself as educated as possible on certain things. I also have been trying to take a vacation every once and a while to be with my family and friends. I’ve been doing a lot of personal living. For anyone that watched Jessie and watched the finale and is going to miss it, thank you so much for your support. It means so much to me. I’ve learned and have grown so much. I’m not going anywhere, and I’m going to make you proud; you’re going to see some amazing and cool stuff and I’m excited for them.”