Paris Berelc: Growing up in the Spotlight
Photographer Malik Daniels
Wardrobe Fairfax Copenhagen
Makeup By Hendra Nasril
Hair BJ Blaze
Studio Creative Island Studios
It was only five years ago, that Paris Berelc first graced our television screens in her first major breakout role as Skylar Storm a ‘kickass’ super strength superhero in a Disney XD action sitcom, Mighty Med. She was only 14-years-old.
It was only 11 years ago, that Paris was walking in the mall with her family in her hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when she and her sister randomly decided to audition at the Ford models pop-up stand. She took some photos and a couple of months later, she had maxed out her “sick” days at school because she was modeling for top brands like Kohl’s, Boston Store, Sears, K-mart, American Girl and more. She was only nine years-old.
Today, a 20-year-old Paris happily but nervously plops down on the couch. Just finishing up in hair and make-up, from the neck up she is prepped and ready to go with her tight spiral curls. Neck down, she wears a black crop top, grey sweatpant bell bottoms and white sneakers. Her black crop top is adorned with a delicate gold necklace that has a cross and two rings as pendants. As she sets down her water bottle, I catch a glimpse of a small thunderbolt symbol on the inside of her left wrist and a greyscale rose on her right forearm (just two out of what she tells me are eleven tattoos).
“Wow, I was born and raised there [Wisconsin] and I was a normal kid. But then I moved to LA when I was 14 and now my life is very different. I feel like [in Hollywood] you grow up really fast when you’re not supposed to,” Paris confesses as she answers my first question about her early life in Wisconsin.
While Paris admits that growing up fast is a natural result of the life and career she wants, she finds creative ways to experience those pivotal moments of those teenage years that she missed being homeschooled by her mom, such as prom. For her 21st birthday, which is on December 29th, she’s planning a Starry Night Prom birthday celebration for mid-January.
It is in her recent groundbreaking role as Alexa, in a heartwarming sitcom that is a Netflix original series called Alexa & Katie, that Paris is able to experience the drama, teenage pranks, sparkling romances and ins and outs of the overall growing pains of being a teenager in highschool – with a unique twist. Alexa has cancer. The show follows two best friends, Alexa and Katie, as they navigate high school life while Alexa undergoes treatment for cancer. The first season followed the girls during freshman year, the second season followed their sophomore and the third season, that will air in June, will be released in two parts and it is all about junior year.
When I ask her what she finds challenging about playing Alexa, Paris explains: “it’s making sure we do it [show Cancer] right. Especially since everyone goes through cancer differently, like if you’re older, it’s going to be different. If you’re a teenager, it’s going to be different, if you’re a kid or a toddler. It [Cancer] is such a heavy and intense thing.” Aimed at a younger demographic, Paris also feels the show and the creator Heather Wordham do a great job at balancing the portrayal of cancer but “keeping it light and funny.” She adds, “a lot of other shows around cancer tell the story of how it’s serious, intense, scary and sad. And I think we were the first show to not take it in that way and just have a more positive outlook on it.”
With reports earlier this year by the National Cancer Institute estimating that roughly 1.8 million people will be diagnosed with cancer in 2019, it’s evident that more people and families are affected by this disease and can relate to the story of Paris’s character, Alexa. On a more positive note, as more research and treatment is developed it has been estimated by the Center For Disease Control and Prevention that cancer patients overall are living longer and cancer survivors are expected to go up from about 11.7 million in 2007 to 18 million by 2020. These startling statistics reveal the important story Paris tells through this cutting-edge depiction of a teenager survivor.
With Paris’s own father doing computer IT for cancer research, it seemed like the perfect role for her. Auditioning for the show at 18 she originally thought she was too old to play the character. “I remember waiting to audition and looking around and seeing all these young faces and thinking I might be too old to play a high school student,” Paris states as she plays with her necklace. But after running her lines and going downstairs to call an Uber, she was called back upstairs. After she was dismissed for the second time, she went back downstairs to call her Uber with her phone only on 2%. It wasn’t until she was called back upstairs for the third time, followed by a phone call, that let her know that she was actually perfect for the role of a resilient teenage girl.
Prior to acing her audition and landing the role as Alexa and even before modeling, Paris started out as a successful gymnast in Milwaukee. “I originally thought I would be a gymnast because that was my passion. Then I modeled because it helped pay for my gymnastics. And my plan was to come out to California for college and acting, but that all changed,” Paris says leaning back into the couch. She knew she might enjoy acting full-time after she auditioned in California in 8th grade during pilot season. Acting seemed like a natural progression for Paris as she started to get “bored” and got the acting bug growing up on Disney and watching actresses like Miley Cyrus. She recalls initially feeling torn between gymnastics and acting until her friend Kennedy reminded her of how much she loved acting.
Her love for acting continues to grow as she gets more and more opportunities. In addition to playing Alexa on Netflix’s Alexa and Katie, in 2013, Berelc starred as superhero Skylar Storm on the Disney XD action sitcom Mighty Med. Following that in 2015, Berelc portrayed Molly in the Disney Channel Original Movie, Invisible Sister. That same year, Mighty Med ended but Berelc continued to play Skylar Storm on it’s spinoff series Lab Rats: Elite Force, which premiered on March 2, 2016. Now, having just finished filming season 3 of Alexa and Katie, Paris is anticipating the shows release in June and gearing up for another secret project that she recently booked.
Up until this point Paris, has excelled at everything she has laid her hands on, be it her career as a gymnast, as a model or even as an actress. Even with all her success, she would label 2019 as one of her most difficult years yet. “If life and years are like a roller coaster, this year was like the worst roller coaster I’ve ever been on.” Paris found herself in a dark place after the death of two of her friends in a span of a year. She also finds it difficult being in the spotlight in Los Angeles. She admits, she feels like “everyone is in everyone’s business.” Looking down at her hands Paris adds, “It’s a lot of pressure, a lot of anxiety and you know? Sometimes you can feel so down.” These feelings are relatable to many as reports from the National Institute of Mental Health show a significant increase in depression among people overall, but teenagers in particular. Realizing that Paris has been in the spotlight from the tender age of nine years old, with two million followers on Instagram, one can only imagine some of the pressures she has to overcome daily.
While she labels 2019 as the hardest roller coaster, she is able to tell me four highlights of her 2019 which include: (1) going to the Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, (2) writing a script (that she is going to work on after the shoot), (3) taking a recent trip to New York City and (4) throwing an “epic” Halloween party.
Being on the celebrity track since she was a child, Paris has made some pivotal lifestyle adjustments that help her get back to her happy place like writing poetry (you can find some of it on her second Instagram account @theheartofP), hiking her favorite trails like Malibu Creek or simply just taking a drive. One major adjustment she is looking to make is moving to New York City. After a recent trip she fell in love with the concrete jungle and felt a new form of inspiration pumping through her veins. Paris also finds that time with her family helps ground her. For example, the other day when her mom asked her to pick up her three younger sisters from school, take them to the dentist and then drop them off. “I know it’s so simple, but stuff like that, doing ‘normal’ big sister duties are nice,” Paris states.
With 12 years of modeling and acting under her belt, Paris still has a lot that she wants in life. Professionally, she feels “at some point I need to be Angelia Joie’s daughter. Like that needs to happen soon,” she says throwing her head back and laughing. Having already played a superhero role on Disney, she’s ready to play a villain, “Blackcat, villainy, I’m ready,” she adds. At the moment she is working on her own poetry book. She also wants to have a production company and is excited about pitching her recently completed script.
As for her personal life, having grown up in a big family and witnessing the continuous love between her parents, she also wants a big family, “like married with four kids,” she says. “I know you probably think I’m crazy, but I really want that, it’s important to me,” she said in reference to her longing for a family.
Having answered all my questions and more, we both look up and see we’ve talked well past our allotted 30 minute time blocked out for the interview. My interview with Paris was like having an uninterrupted, frank conversation with your younger yet wiser sister.
She shuffles towards the edge of the couch, looking at the clothing rack full of outfits for today’s shoot. Just as she is about to stand up she hesitates and admits that she is “definitely ready for 2020” and her 21st birthday prom theme birthday party in the middle of January.
Although, she concludes, “I’ve been surrounded by a bunch of adults for so long and got treated like an adult. In a weird way, I feel like I’ve been like 21[years-old] since I was 15[years-old].” She smiles and gets up and I get the sense that she has a lot more to look forward to as a true adult.