'Andi Mack' season 3: Lilan Bowden gets candid about playing Bex, Cyrus' closet and not being Asian enough
Disney Channel's 'Andi Mack' is back for a third season on October 8. We caught up with Lilan Bowden who plays Andi's mum Bex ahead of the premiere.
As the diversity boom makes its way into Hollywood, it is worth noting that television has always been ahead of its time in terms of inclusion. We've had shows that gave us colorful and ethnically diverse characters and some of them not only gave us representation, they also managed to transcend stereotypes. Disney's 'Andi Mack' is one such gem and it's character Rebecca 'Bex' Mack is an even shinier one. The story revolves around a teenager named Andi, whose world turns upside down when her cool older sister Bex reveals that she's actually her mother.
Bex's character is rebellious - she's a free spirit in every sense of the word yet rooted to her responsibilities. Played by the amazing Lilan Bowden ('Parks & Recreation,' 'Conan' and 'Suburgatory') there is very little to complain about when it comes to this character - unless of course, you want a Bex spin-off show. Bowden has managed to embody the bittersweet struggle of a carefree person learning to take on new responsibilities thrown her way like it's a piece of cake. Even though she may not believe it, Bowden was destined to be Bex.
Bowden has been in the industry for almost a decade ("I like change," she says). So while auditioning on and off, she almost didn't make it to this one she tells MEAWW. "I have been acting and auditioning pretty 'regularly,'" she says making air quotes, "and I wasn't able to make it to the first audition for the show. It was conflicting with a project that I was doing." Bowden, 33, thought that it was quite okay if she passed this one on as it was a much younger theme than her usual projects.
Little did she know, she says, that it was something she had been ready for a long time. "I read the script and realized how different it was from every other Disney show. I thought to myself, 'I don't wanna let this go by, and that was the start of it. I really feel that for this project a lot of planets did align. I loved what she was all about. If I believed in destiny then yes, it could be. I just feel lucky enough that this audition came at the point where I felt ready as an actor and confident in my abilities as an actor. I feel like if this role had come when I was just starting out, I would not have felt confident that this was the role for me," she says before pausing to think and then adds laughing, "This is who I am supposed to play, maybe I do believe in destiny." Without a doubt, yes. Sometimes the unexpected is what makes life great.
She's played the character for two seasons now and will be back soon for the third time around. She admits that Bex is so much like her. "She is just a cooler version of me," Bowden says laughing, "When we start 'Andi Mack' we see her as a person in transition. She is looking at her old life examining it, and she is deciding that she wants more - that's a perpetual theme that never really got away from me. I always want to improve, and I love living the life of Bex where things aren't picture perfect when you do the hard things."
Bex not only shatters stereotypes, but she is also such a grounded character that she really connects to one section of the fans - the mums. Bowden says, "I've been able to connect a lot with moms through the character - the difference between how moms are viewed as and who they are in real life and what they represent in a true human, a three-dimensional state is who Bex is. She's trying to just figure it out, like so many out there. They can see someone who is like them, not the abandoned part," she says before letting out a giggle," but like it's not easy to get you to go to school when I'm also trying to be your friend!"
The show's success has brought around a season 3 renewal, and Bowden says you can expect a lot of growth in your favorite characters. "The 'Andi Mack' universe will get expanded, we'll see that the family dynamic where Bex, Andi, and Bowie will grow as a family, yes, but we will also see the other characters that are there in the story be more. We'll get to see more of them and more of their stories. It will feel gratifying for fans - we are just giving you more of the whole universe. " The season premieres on Oct 8.
One of the things that really stands out about this coming of age series is the way it has handled Disney's first openly gay teenager. Played by Joshua Rush, Cyrus is very gay yet very one of them. The character goes through the struggle that is puberty, coming out of the closet, run of the mill teenage insecurities and just lives life the way a teen does - unlike the way we've always seen them stereotyped as one thing or the other.
Cyrus is both and everything else. Bowden recalls that she was so happy when Cyrus was introduced to the story without really thinking about the reception. "I think I was very personally excited because of how different it was. I wasn't really thinking about it from the larger reception. When the storyline of Cyrus line was introduced, I really didn't know if it was gonna be taken positively or negatively, but I was so happy. There were feathers ruffled but the overwhelming majority was so good. This felt like it was overdue and like this was the show that they were waiting for. Instead of going 'oh what's this' they went 'oh finally!'"
When she's not busy on set, Bowden spends her time as half of the comedy duo 'Lilan and Wilder.' Her best friend Wilder-Smith forms the other half of the duo. Their compatibility is electric and it really reflects in the work that they do. The two often talk about totally relatable things in their comedy sketches while sneaking in a thing or two about the real questions they wanna ask - like Planned Parenthood's embarrassing questions. "Comedy provides a release and a relief I think in the world that is so crazy right now. We need that to be able to survive and recognize what is going on. We should be able to examine what is going on around us and comedy lets you do that," she says.
Examining the showbiz world around us, especially the one that is constantly getting more inclusive, she recalls that it was a grim scenario back when she began. She'd only get roles that said "Asian girl" as a name with a description that said, "shy." Some even accused her of not being "Asian enough."
"When I started in Hollywood, 10-ish years ago there weren't the same roles for Asian women as Caucasian women. I noticed when I started that it seemed like I wasn't "Asian" enough for the Asian role. Physical representation and even in storylines - it's important that you see all types of people. Unemployed parents, military parents, two sets of parents, those stories are so important and we are more empathetic because of it. 'This is what works this is how it's always been', I don't believe that. There's definitely consumer demand for stories of diversity," she says before adding, "I didn't feel like there was room at the time to tell multidimensional stories for minorities. It's better now but we do have a long way to go."