Cancer is probably the most unfunny thing in the world, but I’m a comedian, and even cancer couldn’t stop me from seeing the humor in what I went through. – Gilda Radner
Paris Berelc brings the funny to cancer in the Netflix sitcom, Alexa & Katie. As Alexa Mendoza she plays a freshman facing the first day of high school without wanting anyone but her closest friends to know she has cancer. Her greatest wish is just to be normal and experience all the things she’s been looking forward to, something that isn’t always easy or possible.
Paris brings spiritedness and sensitivity to the role, perfectly finding the balance between humor, heart and, sometimes, even hurt. Talk with her for awhile and you get the sense she share’s Alexa’s impulsive nature, quick wit, fiery drive and loyalty and love for family and friends. At fourteen, she moved to L.A. to pursue an acting career and quickly found regular work with Disney. Now, at nineteen, she’s leading her first show and stepping into more mature roles, as well. Given her talent, beauty and passion for acting, I think it’s fair to say, “We’ll always have Paris.” Read on for our exclusive interview.
Fans likely know you from Lab Rats: Elite Force, as well as many other Disney appearances. Now you’re doing Alexa and Katie on Netflix. How would you say your new show and experience has differed?
It’s different because I was a lot younger when I was on Disney and I was still fresh, fresh out of Wisconsin. I had never done anything like that before. I’d never worked on a set before and just like different terminology that we were talking about. I had to learn. Disney was really a good learning experience for me and I learned a lot. My co-stars really helped me a lot in that series. With Netflix, I’m a little older, I’ve figured out more of who I am and it’s just… different.
You play a freshman in high school who’s battling cancer with her supportive best friends by her side. But this isn’t a tear-jerker kind of show, is it?
No, it’s not. I mean, if you do cry, which you might, it’s tears of joy and like, “Oh my God, I wish I had a best friend like that.” It’s not like, “Oh my God, that’s so sad.” It’s not like that.
Have you known someone your age who has had to deal with something like cancer or chronic illness?
Not somebody personally, like who was a friend of mine. Definitely, I have met people, because we met a girl named Katie at Children’s Hospital before we started the show, just to hear her story. I understand more what it’s like for a teenager to go through it. She’s 17 years old. Hearing her experience was kinda similar to Alexa’s. She still wanted to go to school and she has a boyfriend and she went to prom. She was showing us her prom pictures and she just wanted to be a normal girl. I don’t know anybody personally or that I’m close to, but I have definitely met people.
I love that you met with a teen patient beforehand.
Yeah, we definitely did our research. I would read articles online and then we talked to Katie. I talked to different people in my life that I know had cancer, so I could see the differences and how chemotherapy worked for them or what kind of food they liked to eat or what they would do on a normal basis if they continue with their job. Yeah, everyone’s different.
What have you personally taken away from the experience of playing an ill teen?
It was eye-opening to me because I’ve had– my great grandma had breast cancer and my old gymnastics coach, he had cancer as well. Every day I saw him and what he was going through, but I never really fully realized that this person has cancer. I don’t know why. I just never really realized that. Playing a character that does, it was very eye-opening and it was a big realization for me.
When teens are ill, whether it’s cancer or something chronic, like fibromyalgia, teens want to see themselves represented as they are: hopeful and coping and laughing, just trying to be a normal kid. How do you think Alexa and Katie does that?
I think it gives someone who’s going through a serious illness, or even if they’re not, it just gives people a different, better outlook. It’s an optimistic look at it. It gives them something positive and it shows that even though you may have an illness, it doesn’t change who you are. It doesn’t define who you are.
This is a sitcom, but does it also show some of the realistic, uncomfortable parts of dealing with illness?
Yeah, definitely. At the end of the day, we still are a kid show slash family show, so we can’t show anything too extreme, but we do see things. In the first episode, Alexa gets exhausted and she has to sit down for a couple of seconds. There’s a whole episode where I’m in the hospital. There’s an episode where after I get out of the hospital I’m on my i-pad the whole time because I couldn’t go to school. You see that even little things like a flu outbreak or like my dad being sick, like those things are accounted for because your immune system is different when you have cancer, it’s weaker, so you have to really, really be careful in situations like that. You definitely do see it. It’s not anything too extreme because at the end of the day we are a sitcom, we’re a multi-camera show, and do want to make it lighthearted and fun for people to watch.
Absolutely. And while the show does deal with a serious subject it does so in a heartwarming and humorous way. Ultimately, it’s about the strength of friendship and living your best life. There’s definitely something here for everyone. What do you hope viewers will take away from the show, whether they’ve battled an illness or whether they haven’t?
I hope they take away the feeling of just not being alone like you’re never alone. There’s always somebody there who is going to support you, wants to help you and wants to be there for you. I hope they take away the sense of friendship and family and optimism. I always say optimism because there’s a lot of things that go on in the world and we hear bad things on the news all the time, so I hope they take a little laughter and optimism out of the two.
Definitely did that for me. I noticed you also sing the theme song, “We’ll Do This Together.” Was that something they approached you for or that you asked to do? And is singing a passion for you?
They asked me to do it. I have a few covers on my YouTube channel, but I am not a singer. I’m an actor who kind of knows how to sing. Acting is definitely my passion and I don’t really plan on becoming a singer or making an album. But it’s a fun hobby for me.
What would you say your best friend’s best quality and biggest quirk is and how would she answer that question about you?
My best friend name is Mychala. She was my first friend in L.A. and her best quality is that she’s real, she sees things that are wrong and she doesn’t pretend to be somebody else that she’s not. And she’s always there for me. Her biggest quirk is she chews ice all the time, regrettably. [laughs] We’ll be sitting at the table and we’ll have a cup, a mug full of ice and she’ll just chew it [laughs] and eat it.
And what would she say is your best quality and biggest quirk?
I think that’s a question you gotta ask her. [laughs] She would probably say kinda the same thing, in the sense that I don’t pretend to be somebody else. I’m not [fake]. And I’m always trying to go on trips. We always say: she keeps me safe and I keep her wild. That’s how we kind of balance each other out.
You also have two recent killer movies, pun intended. What can you tell us about #SquadGoals and Confessional?
#SquadGoals came out already. I think you can buy it. I had a really small part in it. I worked for two days and I played a cheerleader. It was the first time I had to kiss a guy onscreen. It’s very different from Alexa and Katie, it’s a little more intense. You know, there’s partying and it’s just a cool thriller about high school kids.
Confessional is one I actually just did a few weeks ago. Another one, an indie film that I did and I worked for two days. Everyone worked for two days and it’s about these college kids being blackmailed and they have to confess everything they’ve done. That was a really interesting one. I had a really, really great time on it. I got to go deeper into acting than I ever have before. I’m really excited for that one.
Name the top five things on your acting bucket list.
I want to play a villain. I want to be in an action movie. I want to play Angelina Jolie’s daughter with her in the movie. I would love to be in a romantic comedy. I think those are really cute. I also want to write and produce my own work.
Have you started writing screenplays?
I actually have, I wrote a pilot. But I want to pitch this year actually. So we’ll see.
Seeing as we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us we always ask: what do you nerd out about? But seeing as you play Isabel May’s (Katie) best friend on the show I’m going to see how well you really know her and ask what she nerds out about too? And hopefully I’ll get the chance to ask her the same question and we’ll see if they match.
I nerd out about minions, the little Despicable Me guys. She nerds out about books. [laughs] She’s a bookworm.