Disney Chanel has an impressive record of launching TV shows featuring actors who became bigger stars than their series. Selena Gomez on “Wizards of Waverly Place,” Miley Cyrus on “Hannah Montana” and Bella Thorne on “Shake It Up” are just a few. The latest rising star on the cable channel, “Andi Mack’s” Peyton Elizabeth Lee, sees the success of her show not so much about her, but about the series in general.
“The coolest thing for me is that people like it for so many reasons. They connect with so many different characters and so many different themes,” Lee says in an interview to talk about the new episodes of the second season that will begin airing Jan. 15. “The coolest thing we hear is that ‘These characters remind me of myself’ and ‘They remind me of my friends,’ which is very exciting because in a lot of shows, kids look up to the characters.
“For ‘Andi Mack,’ fans are looking at our characters on an even level and from a mutual perspective.”
“Andi Mack,” the coming-of-age series from veteran television writer Terri Minsky (“Lizzie McGuire”), has been among the top 10 cable series for girls 6-11, 9-14 and 6-14 since it launched in early 2017 on Disney Channel.
Lee finds the popularity of the show easy to explain: Viewers can relate to the character and her life very easily. The 13-year-old actress knows this because when she’s not filming the Disney Channel series, she goes back to living a regular life. What happens in her life away from work and on the set are very similar. The storylines may take on a larger scale, but they always start with issues and situations that teens face.
“You see a lot of the same themes. You see a lot of characters on the show and you go ‘Oh, these are those people.’ Which is cool,” Lee says. “I think going to school you pull a lot of memories and you bring those into your acting, which is very important.”
And the themes addressed on the series have included family, friends and what it’s like to be a 13 year old trying to figure out who she is. That search has been complicated because on the eve of her 13th birthday, Andi learned her older sister, Bex (Lilan Bowden), is actually her mother. At the same time Andi is dealing with such a life-changing revelation, her best friends, Cyrus (Joshua Rush) and Buffy (Sofia Wylie), are also figuring out their places in the world. The series broke new ground in its second season opener revealing one of its main characters is gay.
The fact that Andi’s family is mixed race (Lee is half-Chinese) has not been the basis of many stories. But giving the family a diverse look is another reason Lee keeps getting positive feedback from viewers.
“I think an important point is that kids don’t see the show and think this person is this and that person is that. They see it as ‘She looks like my neighbor’ or ‘She looks like my best friend.’ It is this community of people and kids don’t take thinks like that out. They just see it in terms of that they know,” Lee says.
What the viewers saw in season one was Andi, with Bex’s encouragement, began to step outside her comfort zone, particularly when it came to approaching the most intriguing guy at Jefferson Middle School — Jonah Beck (Asher Angel), whom she quickly realizes is dating a high school girl. In season two, Andi uses the strength she gets from her family and friends to deal with new challenges including the possibility that Jonah might like her, too.
Playing a character who has to deal with emotional issues has been easy for Lee. Before taking on the role for Disney Channel, Lee appeared on ABC’s “Scandal” and Showtime’s “Shameless.” Her other acting work includes several national commercials for Carnival Cruise Lines, Sprint and Petco.
The career choice came naturally. When Lee and her sister weren’t glued to their TV set watching “Wizards of Waverly Place,” they loved to sing and dance. Once they started doing plays, Lee knew that was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
“When you are in first grade you don’t actually know what that means,” Lee says. “Now that I am getting to live that dream, it is very exciting.”
Lee never wavered on her acting passions and has a confidence in what she’s doing. Part of that comes from being on the set learning from actors who were working before she was born. It also comes from the fans who are so happy with the show.
Living the acting dream has meant numerous acting jobs, but she’s best known for her work on “Andi Mack.”
“I live in a pretty small town (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) and most of the people in the shops there know me. But, I also get a lot of ‘Andi! Andi! We love your show!’ It’s really crazy to hear,” Lee says. “For a while I didn’t even turn around when they yelled ‘Andi! Andi!’ because it didn’t faze me because that’s not my name.”
With the success of the show, Lee’s learned to respond to both her real and character name.
The cast of “Andi Mack” also includes Lauren Tom (“The Joy Luck Club”), Stoney Westmoreland (“Scandal”) and Trent Garrett (“All My Children”). Season two returns 8 p.m. Eastern Jan. 15 on the Disney Channel with new episodes subsequently airing at 8 p.m. Eastern on Fridays. All previously aired episodes are available on the DisneyNOW app (www.DisneyNOW.com).