OLIVIA RODRIGO OF DISNEY’S “BIZAARDVARK” CHATS ABOUT ACTING, SINGING, HER FILIPINO FAMILY AND SKATEBOARDING

Olivia Rodrigo. Photo by Samuel Victoria.
Two young Asian American women are leads on the Disney show.

On Disney’s Bizaardvark, young Asian American women actors lead the show. The two main characters are best friends named Paige Olvera and Frankie Wong who sing and vlog and attend a specialized high school. Paige is played by Olivia Rodrigo, who also starred in the American Girl movie, Grace Stirs Up Success, about a young aspiring baker.

I chatted with Olivia via phone about her experience auditioning for roles, her YouTube channel which features her singing, and about learning about her Filipina heritage.

—Momo Chang

Can you talk about how you first go into acting?
I first started taking singing lessons, and my singing teacher said, “Wow you’re really expressive with singing, maybe you should take an acting class.” So I took a local acting class. I really fell in love with it. So the teacher said, “Do you want to do this professionally, try some auditions.” I was pretty young so just totally open to that experience. I started auditioning and went on tons of auditions, didn’t get lots of them, but I got Bizaardvark when I was about 12. So I think all of that definitely paid off, because now I get to be on this amazing show.

Before Bizzaardvark, you were the lead on An American Girl: Grace Stirs Up Success. It’s about a girl who bakes. Do you like to bake?
I do, actually. Before I ever got this movie, my friends and used to have baking parties with our American Girl dolls. It’s was just a coincidence. It was just a crazy thing that I got this movie for American Girl about a baker doll. It was just a dream come true.

When you go to casting calls, do you go to roles open to all ethnicities?
I try for all ethnicity casting calls. All of the roles I’ve gotten have been all ethnicity, which is a nice thing for casting directors to do that.

I interviewed your co-star, Madison Hu, last year. You guys seem like you have so much fun together, just based on Instagram and the other video clips you shoot for the show. Do you have a favorite moment from the show?
Oh gosh, everyday I’m just having so much fun. My castmates are my best friends. Everyday is a new, fun, funny thing. One of my favorite things about our cast is in our schoolroom, we have this wall of post-it notes of quirky things that people have said—funny thing. We can look back on it later and laugh at it. It was probably our teacher’s idea. We say weird stuff when we’re doing math and we get frustrated. That’s probably one of my favorite things.

Do you go to school on set?
Yeah, we do on set and we have a teacher there who can help us. None of us go to traditional high school. We have a four-person high school that we make on set so it’s kind of funny.

I noticed that you have your own YouTube channel, which mirrors the show. And you started off as a singer.
I’ve always wanted to do it. One day I decided I was going to post my first cover on there. It’s been a really great outlet for me, seeing people’s comments and and requests for songs. I really just like sharing music with people. It’s a fun aspect of my life, doing music like that. I don’t have any expectations of where it’s going to go. I’m still really young, I’m kind of going with what I feel is fun for me right now, and if that transforms into something bigger, then so be it. I’m just following my bliss right now. I’m just having fun.

So last May, you and Madison and other Disney and ABC actors did a APA Heritage Month video. Can you talk about your Filipino American side of your family and heritage a bit?
Sure. My great-grandfather immigrated here from the Philippines when he was just a teenager. He’s my grandma’s dad, and my grandpa is also Filipino as well. My dad grew up in a house where they were always making Filipino food, his grandpa always spoke Tagalog. All of those traditions have trickled down to our generation. Every Thanksgiving we have lumpia, and things like that.

I have never been to the Philippines, but I really, really want to. We still have extended family there, but I’ve never met them. That’s on my bucket list, definitely. When we were doing the Asian and Pacific Islander video, my whole family chipped in. They send me pictures for the video. I learned so much about it through my family. That video totally taught me a lot. It’s so import know your culture. Talking about it with them was really informative.

I saw that you’re cast for a new movie about skateboarding.
Yeah, it’s called Paved New World. We actually haven’t started filming yet.

Do you skateboard or will you need to for the movie?
My dad is a big skateboarder and grew up in the 70s and 80s and he skateboarded everyday. So he’s really, really excited to teach me how to skateboard. I’ve tried it before I’m really bad. We’ll see how it goes.

Sounds like it will be a fun thing to do with your dad!
Yep, exactly.

 

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), a nonprofit organization dedicated to presenting stories that convey the richness and diversity of Asian American experiences to the broadest audience possible. CAAM does this by funding, producing, distributing and exhibiting works in film, television and digital media.