When it comes to Disney stars, Debby Ryan has taken the road less travelled. Named as one of Rolling Stone’s 2017 ‘25 Under-25 Musicians, Actors and Activists Changing the World’, she has gone from being a child star to a 24-year-old producer, director, touring musician and an ambassador for women in abusive relationships.
Despite all this, you probably won’t recognise her—unless you have a child under the age of 12. Which is why her Aussie film Rip Tide is so important; not only does it introduce her as a serious actress to Australian audiences, it also parallels her own story of fame, forgiveness and redemption.
Filmed on location in Illawarra, Debby was joined by Genevieve Hegney (Janet King), Aaron Jeffery (McLeod’s Daughters) and Jeremy Lindsay Taylor (Love Child) in the coming-of-age flick about a supermodel who travels to Australia when a video of her breakdown goes viral on the internet.
The story isn’t that far from Debby’s own life, when the rising star was pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol in April 2016. Known for being a good Christian role model to her fans, it was a far cry from the values she spoke about as a 16-year-old.
“I feel like religion is a word synonymous with rules. For me it’s all about a relationship I have with God. I’m accountable to him,” she said as a teen to SUSIE magazine, talking about a Bible study she started on set.
“Every time I say no to a drink at a party or I offer to pray with someone and it might be super, super scary, it’s…my own tent peg through the darkness.”
Referring to Disney as her ‘high school and college’ experience, Debby has gone through her ups and downs in the public spotlight. In her early twenties she spoke about being in an abusive relationship, prompting her to become an ambassador for Mary Kay and Love Is Respect for their ‘Don‘t Look Away’ campaign. She has also highlighted the importance of having a healthy body image in an industry that commodifies women.
However, much of this was forgotten when Debby’s misdemeanour made headlines. She posted a public apology on Twitter, recognising her responsibility as a role model and wishing she had used better judgment. “I have always worked hard to set a good example to my millions of fans,” she said. “I am so sorry to disappoint everyone.”
During this time, Debby found solace in the church community. An attendee at Hillsong Los Angeles, she called the UNITED’s band’s album Empires her ‘lifeline’. And when asked by a fan what she believed today, it was clear she is living out the redemption she grew up learning about.
“I believe in eternity. I believe in redemption. I believe pain is not wasted and that we don’t have to be defined by our scars,” she said.
While the media often dramatises a celebrity’s ‘fall from grace’, Debby’s story is proof that grace and redemption are an unfolding story for each of us. This came out so poignantly in her cameo for To Write Love On Her Arms’ World Suicide Prevention Day Campaign. Looking straight down the camera, she shared this timely truth with the world: “I was made for forgiveness and redemption. I was made for second chances.”
We all need a second chance in life, and Debby Ryan is a woman showing Hollywood that we don’t have to be defined by our mistakes, but by God’s grace as we learn from them.