While little girls everywhere dream of what they want to be when they grow up, Brooklyn-born actress Peyton List has been living her dream since she was just 6 years old. The budding actress got her start when she appeared in her first feature role in the film, “27 Dresses,” portraying a young Katherine Heigl.
“That was something fun and the initial thing that hooked me,” says List. “I met so many cool people who showed me around set and took me under their wing. I learned so much, especially from the female director who I vibed with.”
From that point on, List’s career took off. The actress appeared in two of the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” films based on the book series of the same name. Next, she was cast in the Disney show “Jessie,” a role that would continue not only through the series, but also in the spinoff show “Bunk’d.”
For List, joining the Disney family was another childhood dream to check off her bucket list. “I was jumping up and down on the couch when I found out I had the role; I was crying from excitement,” says the actress. Growing up watching Disney channel shows and then landing one of her own was more than she could have imagined.
In an exclusive interview with BELLA, the down-to-earth teen who is a role model to millions of young girls spoke about her career, her upcoming film roles, and the many ways in which she is helping others.
You’ve been acting pretty much your entire life. Have you ever thought of doing something else?
There was a point before middle school when I questioned whether I wanted to continue acting. I wasn’t doing much and missing out on birthday parties and being with friends. My mom told me I had to make a decision; she never forced me to act. But then I booked another movie and thought, “Never mind!” It’s that period when there’s a dry spell and you wonder, “Is this the right thing?” But then whatever I’m working on, I’m so in love with it that I don’t question my decision.
Was it difficult to miss out on some typical childhood moments?
It was more about finding that happy balance. When I was younger, my mom was good about making sure we had a “normal” life. It was hard for people, like the kids I went to school with who weren’t in the business, to understand when I had to cancel plans. This industry can be so last minute that it was hard managing at times. Even today, I miss out on things and I get bummed, but that’s life, I guess.
You grew up in Red Hook until moving to LA because of work—what do you love and miss about living in Brooklyn?
I love the energy and pace of the city. I miss the Italian food, the pizza, the pasta; I load up on carbs when I’m back. I call it the biggest small town because I am always running into someone I know. And I still have a lot of friends who live there. I also love that you can go somewhere different and locally owned every night; it’s great supporting people who live in the neighborhood.
On the Disney Channel show “Bunk’d,” you play Emma; a role you originated on “Jessie.” What do you love about her, and how has she changed from one series to the next?
At this point, I feel like she’s a part of me; I’ve been playing her since I turned 13 years old. I love how she can smile while saying something terrible yet she’s oblivious when she’s being awful. She genuinely wants to be a good person and when she does hurt someone, it’s not intentional. She’s into fashion and beauty but has a serious side to her as well. She can have her ditzy moments, but I also wanted to show a realness to her. When I began playing her, she was a negative curmudgeon, but over time, like myself, she’s grown up. Going from the penthouse in New York to the summer camp has humbled and matured her.
You have two new films coming up in 2018: “Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet” and “Departures.” Tell us a little about each.
In “Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet,” I play a character named Faith who is dealing with the loss of her boyfriend. His best friend, Luke, played by Cameron Monaghan [who portrays Ian Gallagher from “Shameless”] predicts his death and it comes true. In the process of my character coping with this loss, there is this new friendship with Luke that she’s dealing with. It’s a lot darker and heavier than what I’ve been doing.
In the film “Departures,” I play a girl named Ashley. When her best friend [played by Maisie Williams] is diagnosed with cancer and has to leave school abruptly, Ashley doesn’t know how to deal with it and winds up pushing her friend away. In developing Ashley, I had to define her actions because this is not something I would do in real life.
Both roles are very different from what you’ve been doing; how did it feel stepping out of your comfort zone?
I love being able to push myself and meet new people and directors in the process. It’s been nice to play something different than what I’ve been used to for these last couple of years. But you wind up taking home the energy of whatever you’re doing on set, and with these darker projects I feel like I became kind of a shut-in. With “Anthem,” we spent an entire day filming my boyfriend’s funeral scene, in which I’m basically sobbing and thinking sad thoughts all day. By the time I got home, I was drained. In those instances, I needed a lot more time to unwind. When I’m working on my Disney show, I come home a bit happier.
Is there a role you’ve yet to play but would like to?
I think it would be cool to play a superhero or be a part of an action film.
In a time where social media dominates and our lives are well-documented, how do you maintain a sense of balance between sharing with your fans and still maintaining some anonymity?
It’s easy for me because I can take a photo every couple of days and share it—but it’s the photos other people are sharing that sometimes worry me. I was out to dinner recently with a friend and someone was pretending to be on their phone but really was Snapchatting and videoing us. I am happy to take photos with people but it’s when they’re sneaking shots and you’re chowing down on something or it’s a bad angle… But at the same time, I’m not doing anything scandalous; it’s just that they’re unflattering.
What would your fans be surprised to learn about you?
I think people are surprised when you’re nice. I’ve played characters who are mean girls, and sometimes people assume I might be rude or not a nice person. Truth is, I am super-normal and laid back. I want to become friends with anyone who comes up to me. And I might post these pictures that show me looking glamorous, but at the end of the day, I’m a mess!
I think they’d also be surprised to learn you dealt with bullying as a child. What advice do you have for those in similar situations?
I find that whenever someone is passionate about something or has an idea of what they want to do, others who don’t have a passion yet will pick on you for what you’re good at. Middle school is such a weird time because most kids don’t know yet who they are or what they want; I did, and I felt like people were mean to me because of it. I had a hard time standing up for myself during those school years, but if you have a good group of people around you with a solid foundation, people you can talk to, and a hobby you can pursue, then it’s time taken away from the people who try to hurt you. Just stay on your path.
Looking back, if I could tell myself something, it would be not to take it so seriously. If you don’t give in to them it won’t be fun for those trying to hurt you.
As a result of your personal experience with bullying you’re working with the organization Girls on the Run. What type of work are you doing with them?
The organization teaches young girls about bullying—how to deal with it and how to support other girls around you and not tear them down. I’m a guest coach, so I visit different schools to teach a different lesson. One is called SBLR – Stop, Breathe, Listen, Respond. Think things through before you speak. Words can’t be taken back once they’ve been said, so we teach young girls to be aware of how others feel when they say something.
It’s an after-school program girls can sign up for, and more and more schools are picking it up. The girls become close as a result of being part of the group, and I’m happy we are instilling these ideas while they are in elementary school so they’ll have these lessons to take with them through life.
At BELLA, our tagline is “Beauty As Defined By You.” How do you define beauty?
It’s something that radiates from within. I feel the second someone is awful to me, they immediately change. Being a good, kind person and spreading positivity is what makes you beautiful to me.
I am passionate about….
Love! Whether it’s my family, friends, or relationships, I’m passionate about spreading it.
IG, Twitter, Facebook: @PeytonList
Photos by Derek Reed
Styled by BELLA Fashion Directos Mindy Gura and Paula Orlan
Hair by Whitney Willson
Makeup by Roberto Vasey for Aneglo David Salon | Charlotte Tilbury
Location: Hotel Henri NYC