Exclusive Interview with Andi Mack’s Lilan Bowden

Lilan Bowden’s first love is improv. She fell in love with the craft in college and created a comic duo with her roommate and best friend Wilder Smith. Today they continue to perform sketch comedy online, in theaters, and at festivals all over.

That is… when she’s not starring in her first series regular role as Bex Mack, the mom every girl wishes they had. You know the one – she’s funny, not too strict, easy to talk to, drives a motorcycle, and dresses cooler than most of your friends.

If you haven’t seen Disney Channel’s hit teen show Andi Mack you’re missing out, and I don’t care how old you are. Without question, it’s the networks most progressive, relevant, and important show to date. It also happens to be ridiculously charming – you can’t help but fall in love with each and every character – and truly representative of the real world. Not only is the series the first to be centered around an Asian-American family and introduce a leading gay character, but it also tackles important issues kids face daily and does so with incredible heart, humor, and sensitivity.

Here Lilan and I discuss the impact of the show and what being a part of it means to her. We also talk about pop a wheelies and fast trains to crazy town, but I’m pretty sure what those mean to her and what they mean to me are two very different things….

Andi Mack is your first series regular role. How did you come by the role of Bex Mack?

Like most auditions, my agency sent me the breakdown of what they were looking for – a late 20s, mixed-race Asian American who could be funny and sarcastic but also deliver emotionally, who looked similar to Peyton Elizabeth Lee. I have never come across a breakdown that seemed tailor-made for me like this one.

You play Andi Mack’s incredibly cool, and not at all traditional, mom. Most of your scenes are opposite newcomer Peyton Elizabeth Lee, who is 14-years-old. What have you learned from one another?

YES! I’m ‘incredibly cool’, someone said it. Peyton and I seem to share some similar experiences, both being female and mixed-race making careers as actresses. I learned a lot from Peyton about what it’s like to grow up in her time. A lot of the new music I like is from her suggestions. And I’ve taught her the thrill of secondhand clothes shopping!

For the first time EVER, Andi Mack has an Asian-American family front and center on the Disney channel. Something that’s woefully lacking in all of television. What does being part of that kind of representation mean to you, especially where young people are concerned? What would it have meant to you at that age?

Oh man, it would have meant everything to me at Andi Mack’s age, and I had no idea. When I started writing comedy, later on, I wrote what I saw. I wrote myself into scripts as a side character or as a love interest to the main character. I had no models to look at to understand I could be a main character. Representation begets representation, and I feel like having diverse representation increases the quality and quantity of stories we can tell and learn from.

The show also has Disney Channel’s first gay character and a lead at that. While it’s delicately handled, maybe too delicately, I think it’s incredibly important to normalize this kind of representation. What are your thoughts on the character of Cyrus (Joshua Rush) and can we expect the show to address his sexuality a little more than it has?

{Laughs] I’ll actually say I appreciate the delicateness of the coming out scene. The first time I read it AND the first time I saw it after editing I thought, “People who have prejudices are going to watch this scene, and this could be the scene that changes their minds.” It is really hard to get someone who has preconceived notions about what is right and wrong to change their world view, and I think that tenderness of Cyrus and Buffy’s scene can pierce the hearts of almost anyone, no matter what their perspective is on LGBTQ persons.

I don’t want to spoil anything for the episodes to come, but my message to fans looking for this storyline is: Stay with us, we got you.

One thing I love about the show is how it tackles important issues affecting kids today: guns, anxiety attacks, bullying, dyscalculia, phoenicopteriphobia, and having a deployed family member are just a few. What do you think about Andi Mack’s approach to these kinds of topics and is there an issue that hasn’t been addressed yet that you’d love to see done?

I had to look up phoenicopteriphobia, very interesting. [Writer’s Note: this is a joke about one of Cyrus’ phobias] I mean, there are a million issues that would be great to address. I applaud Andi Mack’s writers and Disney for being able to tackle so many issues and still tell entertaining family-friendly 23-minute stories: such as Buffy’s hair, school dress code, parent’s unemployment, etc. to add to your list. What I like best about the show’s approach to hard topics is that they have these young characters go deep into being understanding and compassionate. Their dialogue can teach people – young AND old – about how to respond when a friend is going through a tough time.

What has fan reaction been like for you? I imagine, as a groundbreaking show, that you’ve heard a number of things from fans who finally feel seen and heard.

I can’t describe it. It does feel sometimes like my life changed overnight. I underestimated the impact it would have on kids, and I wasn’t prepared at all for the impact it would have on parents and people my age. My Asian American actor peers tout this show as a big win for all of us. A friend of mine congratulated me on our GLAAD win last year and said, “That is MY Emmy, and I am so proud of you.” I honestly get misty eyed when I think about it.

As a fan of the show, I love Bex & Bowie’s relationship. You and Trent Garrett have great chemistry and I know fans are rooting for the pair. (Confession: I have a MAJOR crush on Trent) What’s it like working together and what do you hope to see in their relationship?

I mean who doesn’t! Look at him! A crew member who observed us joking around on set one day remarked, “You guys seem more like brother and sister than husband and wife.” We’ve worked together so much now, he just feels like a big kid that I can joke around with, but what’s great is when the camera’s rolling, we take our parts very seriously. The main difference with Bex and Bowie is that Bowie is simple in what he wants and Bex is complicated. I’m hoping they (mostly Bex) are able to not let that difference get in the way of their happiness.

You and your best friend/former college roommate, Wilder Smith, are part of the sketch comedy duo Lilan and Wilder.  Tell us a little about your history and why you still love working together.

Wilder and I were cast on the same improv team together and both found that we were weird in different but compatible ways. When we both graduated, we eventually ended up in LA and started writing comedy sketches together. We’re inseparable and since then have done festivals, videos, and lots of LA live shows for years and years. We even got to hang out on the set of Andi Mack together because she was hired as the dialogue coach! You can also see her in the Bowie birthday episode as the Renaissance Barker. It’s nice to have someone in your life that you know won’t judge you no matter what mood you’re in, or no matter how weird or silly you’re being. I hope everyone finds their Wilder best friend in this life.

Where can fans catch the two of you?

We’ll probably find YOU. And bother you. We’re on Instagram as @lilanandwilder, and you can see our videos on our same named Youtube Channel or on Funny Or Die. If you live in LA, check out our Instagram for live show updates.

What are some things on your acting goal list, or bucket list if you will, that you really want to add to your resume?

I love Sci-Fi stuff and would love to play some characters in that realm.

Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share with fans?

I’m doing a lot of live shows at Upright Citizens Brigade, I’ll have info on them on my Instagram account @yourfriendlilan

Lastly, we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have something we nerd out over. What do you nerd out about?

Long Form Improv Comedy. Discussing all the exciting/boring details of what types of players people are, what makes a good second beat, when to pop a wheelie, when an edit is too slow or too fast, connection island, and fast trains to crazy town. These terms will either bore improv nerds or leave everyone else completely lost. Talk improv nerd stuff to me any day; I’m here for it.

You can catch Lilan on Andi Mack, Fridays on the Disney Channel.

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