Insatiable: Interview with Debby Ryan, Star of Netflix Controversial Series

Debby Ryan

Motivation to do Show

Debby Ryan: What was captivating to me about it and drew me to it which is that it’s so wild and so campy but all of that is earned with such conviction and honesty and truth.  And the comedy of it and the way that we can discuss several people navigating really tricky situations and finding identity and relationship and kind of doing it in such a wild, off the rails way. That was very attractive to me and being able to play a girl who’s so complex and who goes through such a transformation which spurs such a conviction within her and this injustice that she notices and sees within her just even personally receiving such drastically different treatment as the same person I think that navigates her into some really interesting places and I didn’t know upon choosing the role and the script where it would go and what the arc of everyone would look like and I was pleasantly surprised and delighted with every script and just absolutely captivated, very insatiable, yeah.


DR: The show is about a girl named Patty who was bullied a lot growing up, bullied for her weight and grew up under the care of kind of a hot mess, the mama, and she is finding herself as a girl and as a woman and because of this very complex tipping point ends up getting into a physical altercation which requires her to have her jaw wired shut, putting her on a liquid diet and after several months returns to school her senior year I believe just absolutely, you know, looking different but the same. You know, living the thing that she thought that she wanted and kind of stepping into this lie that she had believed to govern her life for so long that if and when her body changes then her entire life will change and her heart will change and who she is will change and, you know, unfortunately when you look for having this outside of yourself you won’t ever kind of fill that God sized hole and so it’s – it begins there. She’s united with a man who is loosely based off of a real man, who is a lawyer by day and a beauty pageant coach by night and she kind of just imprints upon him as her guide through this world and someone who sees her and understands her and can help navigate her through changing the system from the inside out and she also I think gets a little confused and misguided and misconstrues his belief in her and affection and his role in her life and so she thinks she has a crush on him for a bit of time and it’s just quite an interesting romp from there as they are trying to find it.

Journey from Disney

DR: I was 15 when my first like starring role in a Disney series came out and I’m 25 now so 10 years is a lot of time and that 10 years specifically I think for a woman, for a girl to go through being a teenager and everything that comes through that kind of in addition to losing anonymity and that kind of trading that away to live your dreams it’s a very high contrast and fast moving rate of change and it’s hard to I think relate to maybe but I think that every person knows what it’s like to especially within that time in your life and in high school to realize how much different your life looks even year to year and so for Patty of course she has a very accelerated change in this very physical drastic transformation and the hard part I think is you have this compulsion, you have this desire to tell people this is who I am but you’ve no way of knowing when you’re a 16 or 17 or 18 year old girl who you are really. I mean, I had such strong identity and morals and I knew who I was and I had my kind of tastes and was very well traveled and have great family and still was finding myself and shifting so much and have been and continue to so it’s cool to play, you know, a version of what every girl goes through and specifically highlighting the pressure that culture does put on us to look a certain way or behave a certain way and then it takes place in the world of southern beauty pageants in which appearances are very important and maintaining a kind of status and a composure is very important and I think that when you’re a young girl in the public eye that’s also those things are very important as well and so navigating finding yourself an identity in the world around you and in the things while incorporating, you know, new tastes and styles and desires and just constantly moving yourself forward while finding contentment is a strange thing and it’s navigable but it’s definitely a struggle and confusing and can bring you to some weird and hilarious places if you’re not checking in with your heart and your intentions and I think there is a lot of Patty acting on impulse which is built in several years of just historically her whole life worth of damage. I’m very fortunate because I at least was aware of the weight of making a sprint in any direction and knowing that like if I really go for something in any direction it’s in front of the whole world basically and people begin to care especially when you muck up so I think I had that perspective and that awareness, did not keep me from messing up, you know, but it definitely gave me a grace and room to deal with that with my family and my friends sort of. Patty sets the world on fire

Keeping Grounded

DR: Perspective is everything and I mean the short answer is I have like insanely great parents who never wanted this for me and, you know, wanted me and my brother to pursue our hobbies and our passions and value our education and so kept things really in balance for us and really until my career uprooted myself and my mom and moved us here we all kind of just thought I would do it until I got a real job, you know (laughing) like we really thought it was maybe a hobby. We didn’t know I could at least support myself doing this and so always feeling like I had a way out and I wasn’t doing this for anyone other than myself and the people that I could kind of impact with this but also when I was growing up and acting I got one audition every 2 months, you know, and for that 45 seconds that was when I got to act that 2 months, that gives you a lot of gratitude for opportunities and I have a lot of friends who are actors and it’s really rare and special to be working as an actor and especially on stuff that you’re super passionate about with people who are awesome and inspire you so I think I don’t know how to not have gratitude for it but I do things with my friends where we’ll just be like all right, 10 gratitudes. Go. My family, California sunshine, caffeine, my lungs, they haven’t failed. Healing, you know, redemption, boxing and grateful for puppies and animals and living creatures. Being able to just – it’s really uncomfortable at first actually when you challenge someone to do it. People are like ah, uh and then you find it and it just becomes so top of mind and I think that the more that you look for new things to be thankful about, the more you realize they’re infinite and it really does like permeate your perspective.

Attending School and Being Bullied

DR: Yes to both. I was home schooled. I went to private school where my mom was a teacher. When I moved to Germany I went to German public school on the economy and then I went to American public school on the base in Germany and we didn’t live on the base. We lived kind of in the economy and so that and then my parents began to home school us kind of catering the curriculum to where we were able to travel, incorporating that so I was always very passionate about learning an education. I always felt that that was the most like glamorous opportunity was to be able to like figure out a new thing and then put those things together and learn more so when we moved back from Germany I was home schooled for a bit of time. My mom wanted us to make friends (laughing) so we went to home school, the chess club and then from there into American public school for the first time and that was a lot of ammunition for people to make fun of me (laughing) just like a lot and so I became the mascot which also, you know, it was funny because there would be some people that I liked and, you know, I was used to being the new kid but I wasn’t used to that culture I think American public school and I’d seen it on TV shows and it’s spoiler alert different (laughing) and which is what I think is cool about the show is that we’re able to show the damage of (inaudible) and the damage of, you know, they’ll look for anything. I think bullies and mean people will look for anything to point out and make you feel less about yourself. That definitely informed a lot of my growing up in really negative ways and in really positive ways, showed me who my good friends are and showed me how I never would ever want to make someone feel and taught me that there are people who need that to try and feel good about themselves, to cut other people down so it was interesting and cool to be able and then I moved to Hollywood and there’s bullies here. There are a lot of bullies here and there are a lot of bullies I think and the mindset and the tone of it permeates through culture and then as I became more public facing I was also part of this generation which married like social media and accessibility in a new way with our role models and people on TV and people we looked up to so I was definitely privy to a lot of the negative comments and remain that way and hear a lot of it and see a lot of it and people are very brave behind a keyboard but I, you know, we are attracted to the negative ones almost Those ones speak so much louder. One negative and 200 positive just sits with you so I think this show and going through this journey with her was such a good reminder and actually a really healing place for me to be able to say I choose what I believe about myself like I can’t control what people are going to say or think or how people are going to take things out of context and I really can’t even be sure that they like me but I can control who I am and if they like me I can control that I know that that’s me that they like and not a version of myself that I think they want to see. There’s freedom in that.

Memories from Germany
Sure, yeah. Okay, so I remember enough German to where if I’m in an elevator with someone and they’re speaking, I can tell whether or not it’s about me and if it’s positive or negative, you know (laughter). I could order something at a German restaurant. That’s pretty much the extent of it and like decipher contextually but it was like, yeah, I loved it so much and it’s where I fell in love with Christmas like this do you know like there’s nothing like that like that is real world magic just walking around Germany around wintertime and being able to see all of the fairs and have all of the like pfeffernussen cookies and just everything. It’s so deeply ingrained in me and I remember like sledding. There’s a hill next to our house and my parents would just pull us on little sleighs and we would go all the way up just climb so high, so hard to the top of the hill for one sled ride down and it was just bliss and had never experienced like snow up to my waist and seeing our little dog like get lost in little trails of snow and there were berries and like fruit trees everywhere. I liked the connectivity with like kind of earth and existing and choosing, you know, your daily breads. Walking to the bakery several times a week versus getting like a grocery haul for the – I think culturally there is a lot and the math being horizontal made so much more sense to me and when I moved back to the States and was like re-learning things it was quite – it was an adjustment for me but, yeah, Germany is a very special place in my heart and there’s – my 13th birthday, no my 10th birthday which was a month before we moved back to the States there was like a castle ruin by our house and my friends and I all went and had like little plastic tiaras and we like walked up the stairs of the castle ruins and there were girls that I went to school with, both German school and American school there and so it was a nice little kind of mix and the girls on the base were from different countries around the world as well and so I had a friend who was there from Turkey, a friend who was there from South Korea and then a couple of friends from miscellaneous places in the States and everyone experiencing walking through a castle ruin and obviously, you know, we’ve been to Neuschwanstein and seen like all of the gorgeous kind of iconic castles and for us to walk about this castle ruin which is like not really glamorized there but in the States to have castles just like all round town is crazy and especially for a little girl so, yeah, quite interesting to find that approach to like a grounded princess, yeah.

Controversial Series
It is. Yeah, yeah, I mean, I think anytime you touch on something that is important and sensitive and hard for us either personally or culturally to acknowledge. Fat shaming is one of the last prejudices that is just there’s no accountability for it. Like people kind of do it and can do it in a way where it’s so shocking and damaging and I think it made me really thankful that the conversation was stirred upon the trailer release because clearly the things that are stirred in Patty resonate with even more people that we could have predicted which was both daunting to be like well, we have to make sure that this is coming across right like what we’re doing here and what we’re trying to do like we know our intentions. We know that we’re speaking out of our kind of damage and awareness and healing and that within satire which is so hard to do in order to satirize a trope you first have to introduce the trope and you have to say, you know, this is her origin story and this is part of her but to make sure that it comes across in a way that’s helpful and productive and doesn’t move the conversation backwards is definitely a needle to be threaded and I’m really thankful for the opportunity to be able to kind of speak on it and touch on it, you know, the show is a comedy and it’s playful so if I were to stand here and tell you that it’s this kind of very serious after school special about the dangers, that’s not the tone of it which is also not the tone of when I sit in therapy and was speaking with my therapist about disordered eating and the effect that a body expectation had on my development as a woman I wasn’t just serious and straightforward about it. I have to talk about it and I talked to my stylist and I’m weeping on the floor of a photo shoot and I’m like I can’t do this, I can’t do this. I don’t – I don’t – it doesn’t work. It’s not working. They don’t want to see me. It’s not – it doesn’t look the way that you think that it looks and I think to relinquish control and to just trust someone, it requires that openness in conversation and that tone and the best way for me to get there is with comedy. Lauren Gussis is our showrunner as this story and the character of Patty are loosely inspired by situations in her life it was very important for her to approach it as a comedy as well so I think that, I mean, we absolutely did that and there is I think a dignity and a respect in the DNA in touching on the seriousness of the issue in which, you know, we’re never leaving the audience to laugh at someone’s body and, in fact, we’re not even saying that the bullies get what they want or have success because they made someone else feel bad about themselves or even are funny like nothing that they say is funny to the audience even so it’s not even that we’re saying well, there is kind of redemption in the fact that people make fun of people for this. It’s absolutely not reflected that way and so I feel really proud of how we did thread the needle with that and there’s obviously a lot of other kind of discussions as there are in life. There’s a lot of things that people go through and navigate that are tricky and weird and confusing and hilarious and strange and wild and I think Lauren, I mean, the gorgeous team of writers that we had making this, turning out these scripts and these stories they were really careful to exercise tact and fearlessness but not irreverence or recklessness and I think the second that we stop making things precious then we can actually touch on them and talk about them and address them and acknowledge them but the more that we kind of tuck them in the corner and say we’re not going to talk about that and how that makes me feel then the further we are away from real change in the conversation and being able to acknowledge the damage of it.

Being Role Model

DR: I would babysit when I was younger and I didn’t even consider, I didn’t really hear a lot of like cuss words like swear words, bad words or subject matter just wasn’t really in my life or vocabulary but I remember even in having such wholesome purity and nothing to hide being super aware of the fact that this was an impressionable person and that I was a person of authority in their life, you know, at 13 babysitting, right, and so that is a thing that regardless, you know, if you’re a big brother or a big sister or, you know, a teacher’s assistant or whatever, there is that awareness that you can either use it for good or evil right and I want – I think my biggest fear in that is not, you know, there’s this kind of like impostor syndrome right and it’s the fear of being exposed as like a fraud and that like one day everyone will realize like I am not supposed to be here and I have no idea why I’m here and I’m not as great as you think that I am, that is definitely a thing. I don’t feel that I’ll be exposed for someone that I’m hiding or a lifestyle that I have that I, you know, am not presenting to the world. I am afraid of things being taken out of context or in finding myself and in knowing what’s right for me and what makes sense for me and is incorporated in my life and knowing that that is not going to be the same thing for other people and that things that – advice I would give to someone I care about is something that I would keep another person I care about very far from just knowing that different things affect people different ways morally and lifestyle-wise so I think the fear is that it will sound like I’m some subjective authority on anything when I’m a 25 year old girl and I’m figuring it out so, yeah, it’s hard to figure it out but I definitely make sure that if I go in a direction that I’m like I know where I’m going and I know what I’m doing and I think my biggest mistakes have happened when I’ve tried to hide that from my parents because they’ve always been an open place for me to be able to be like what’s this about and what’s that and, you know, I didn’t drink ’til the year I turned 21 and I didn’t even consider it like I came up in Hollywood and there’s parties and there’s drinks and I didn’t even think about it. I was just like oh, but I am not 21, you know, like I kind of was very straightforward about it and then, you know, being able to try and find how people incorporate that into their life as they’re growing, what that looks like, like that’s – and what society tells us and in Germany people are, you know, drinking at younger ages than here and kind of finding my version of that truth that makes sense with who I am and navigating it. I think it’s all, you know, tricky but…

Character’s Mind

I felt careful. I wanted to make sure that no-one thought we were doing it in parody or as a joke and that it was just a physical representation of this girl and how she grew up and in people seeing me in the suit, kids who were working background and meant to point and laugh to portray the bullying, those people who knew that I was in a suit and in prosthetics thinking that they were bonding with me over it being like oh, wow, that’s crazy, right, I mean like not really, you know. It just kind of is like – it was an interesting thing. It was I think gave me a lot of compassion and awareness and opened my eyes to like exactly how that treatment comes across and, you know, adjusting to kind of the movement and the radius in a way that’s not charactery but just accommodates the body that they’re moving through the world in. You know, there was a lot of tenderness and, of course, as Lauren was there and grew up heavier and was giving a lot of great perspective I felt that it was, you know, grounded and connected in truth and in like wholesomeness at all points but it definitely was hurtful to watch. It’s just even hurtful in my life. I’ve had people their weight has fluctuated significantly. My weight like fluctuates a little bit and the same casting directors that refused to see me because I didn’t look like a movie star have been hitting me up and are like it’s so great to see you. I haven’t seen you in a while. Interesting because you wouldn’t let me even try for that script but now the same person, different value system to you, it like and that’s the matter of 15 pounds. That’s not some of the weight fluctuations that Patty and people experience and I’ve seen insane difference in treatment and it really enrages me. I mean, it kind of lights that fire on behalf of people that I know and Patty and people that I don’t know and I think, yeah, only more awareness and passion I think.

Attitude Toward Beauty
DR: My parents and I would walk around and my dad would be like are you ready, 5 x 2 – 3 x 40 and I would track the whole time. I was like okay, okay, okay as I’m like learning my numbers and then he’d be like go and I would tell him the answer and he would tell me whether or not that’s correct and I would be celebrated and valued based off of what my mind was doing and I think that they were very careful to never attribute physical beauty with value as a person and as a woman and my mom, you know, even when people would walk up and be like oh, gorgeous little baby and she would be like she’s just a good girl. Look she’s a sweet girl. Look she’s a kind, compassionate girl and I think that culturally my personal home culture celebrated true beauty and I think that that then when I was thrust into a world that identified it so strongly with the aesthetic and the physical had a tricky time reconciling what was required of me and what I had to change and adjust and move into to fit an ideal which is a moving target always. I think, you know, in Germany and with kids and going through Europe I was able to see 1 million types of beauty just having traveled so much because we were in Germany, you know, it’s so connected, it’s so close and touches on so many of course we would just drive and we would just have like a weekend and we would fly, whatever and I got to see so many different cultures and skill sets and locations and women that looked like everything and didn’t seem to think twice about it and put a value system on it and that was cool and educational I think even subconsciously just to know that there is not one type of beauty and there’s not one definition. Moving back was difficult because I just wore my brother’s hand me downs like I wore my brother’s clothes like I didn’t really like dresses and bows and pink and I thought that I should maybe and tried to find that and just backwards hats and running around and then I felt really cool and valuable when I could like get my brother’s friends to laugh and like like me and think I was cool, you know. Before I even liked boys or thought about it was just like wait, you guys are roller blading. I want to roller blade like no, you’ll get hurt. Yes, so will you. Come on, let’s do it like finding equal value in that was really nice and fun and, yeah, I think just like looking for it in so many different places created a fortunately well rounded version of that but also, you know, I deal with dysmorphia and so it’s very difficult to know if what I have seen or what I see in the mirror or have ever seen in a photo of me is what other people see. I don’t actually – I don’t know. I don’t have any way of knowing if we’re all looking at the same thing, you know, if blue looks blue to me and looks the same kind of blue to you. I have no perspective on that which has brought me to really kind of confusing places and can be very destructive but also forced me to lean into being like well, if I have no idea if I have a maintainable standard of beauty and if I have no idea and there’s people are saying like this is the most gorgeous girl in the world and she looks different all the time then I’d better be funny (laughing) like better be smart, you know, and that felt like enough.