Terri Minsky On Creating ‘Andi Mack’ and Raising Teen Awareness
This show was trailblazing in so many ways. You, first of all, dealt with so many issues from Cyrus saying, “I’m gay” and having a major character on a Disney show be gay. You also were dealing with a teenage audience too. How did you pull that off?
I really love writing for teens. It is all new to them. In some ways, I think teens are fundamentally the same with or without social media whether you’re from the 50s or whatever. You’re still having that brain surge where you don’t understand everything. You think you’re that absolute, most horrible, awkward, and lonely person on the planet. That’s one of the great things about the internet is that they know now that they are not alone and not out there hating themselves. Everyone hates themselves. I didn’t know that. I’m just going to write about what a loser I am, and everyone said, “Me too.” And, it was such a revelation to find out that we all think we’re nothing.
That is a period of time when there’s so much input from visuals, from school, from gossip. This is one thing I really enjoy doing on the show, if I had the opportunity I would put some sentence in the mouth of a character that I wish I had said. I would be like, “This is how you handle it when you like a boy more than he likes you and he’s always asking you to do stuff and you always say yes and then you feel like crap after, this is what you say.” That was really fulfilling to me.
In that way, I feel like I’m still trying personally to get it right. If I can’t do it, I do it vicariously.
You do get it right. I’m not your target audience, but it’s so much fun to watch. It helps me talk to and understand teens. I loved what you did with Cyrus. I love that you also had an Asian-American family.
When I write the teenage girl, it’s almost always me. When you audition, you try to find your avatar. I’ve had to do this twice. One time, I had Hillary Duff, and she couldn’t look more like me.
With this, Peyton Elizabeth Lee, it was like I was meeting my character. She came to life and it wasn’t me. Peyton brought to it, not my neuroses, not my anxiety. She was this tiny, little, competent and funny character. I loved her when she talked. This is what I would love to have been. She was only 11-years-old at the time. She’s such a natural. The show was originally not about an Asian-American family. It was written about a girl and her family and the girl turned out to be Peyton. Aside from the episodes that addressed Asian traditions, I have to say, we didn’t treat them any differently than we would have written for any other family.
In the beginning, we tried to make Celia more of a Dragon mom, but that is so not Lauren Tom. She really was like, “Can I hug her?” She very quickly became a parent and it was so much better when you go with what the actor is naturally and that’s what we did with Cyrus.
That was hilarious. From day one, the first shot was Josh running up a hill. He couldn’t do it, he was wheezing. The director was like, “What am I going to do with this?”And we were like, “Use it. That’s his character, he can’t run.” On the second take, he couldn’t run and his shoe fell off. We just got such incredible stuff from the actors themselves and what they brought to the role, which made our lives easier.