Starring in He’s All That (2021) alongside a fresh generation of stars, Peyton’s larger than life character Jordan Van Draanen is a far cry from the genuine, caring, and down to earth guy we chat to about life lessons and the importance of reading and educating yourself about yourself.
Elizabeth Weinberg photographs Peyton around the park with a mellow tranquillity gravitating around them as she captures his warmth and joy through her lens. Falling into an easy rhythm, the rustling trees and gentle stirring of the lake forge idyllic scenes. Stylist Evan Simonitsch formulates clean lines and classic cuts for Peyton to emphasise the gentleman within him and his elegant nature of self-confidence and compassion.
From growing up in Las Vegas and witnessing addiction first-hand to jumping out of an airplane and writing his own eulogy, Peyton teaches us the significance of self-discipline and appreciating the small things in life. To Peyton, every experience is rich with lessons to be learnt and a good book is the foundation of understanding yourself. Settle in with a hot cup of tea or coffee and uncover the rigorous routine of being a Disney kid and the journey on learning to 'Love Yourz'.
He’s All That starring Peyton Meyer alongside Addison Rae, Tanner Buchanan, Madison Pettis and Rachael Leigh Cook is now out on Netflix.
Tell me about Peyton Meyer. What do you think is your best quality? And while we're at it, how would you define who you are as a person?
I've been working ever since I was young and luckily I've been exposed to the world at a very young age. It made me grow up very fast so my maturity level and independence have always been one of my strongest qualities. I have always been able to take care of myself and handle any situation I have been put in. That's one of my best qualities - my independence. My mum and dad always said, "Even at a young age you could've moved out and been fine on your own!". I’m also a Sagittarius, so I love adventure. Travelling is one of my favourite things in the world. I just got back from Italy and I loved it! Italy is such a special place to experience the culture, the language, the food, how everyone operates, and how the whole system works. In Venice, there’s not one car on the island! I’ve never been to a place where there isn’t a car. I love experiencing new things.
You were born in Las Vegas, were you raised there too? What was that like?
Yes. That's where I spent most of my childhood until I moved to LA when I was 13 years old. I ended up going back and forth because I was in LA for work but I would go back to Las Vegas every single weekend to see my family and friends. Once I turned 16 I was fully in LA. Now I live in Nashville. I was looking to get out of LA. I’ve been there for ten years and spent enough time there. Although I wanted to get out of the city, I ended up meeting this woman and she changed my life. She lives in Nashville, so I ended up going to Nashville to be with her.
How do you think growing up in Las Vegas has shaped you as a person?
I started working very young, so grew up very quickly. I come from a place where, if you wanted to go to the movies or to the bowling alley, you had to go through the casinos. You're around smoking, drunk people and a lot of things that normal 9 to 11-year-olds aren’t supposed to be around. You get to see addiction first-hand and see what not to do. It’s right in front of you. You can tell as a kid, you look at the smells of cigarettes and what people are doing. They looked very bad and it was imprinted in me. For some people it doesn't. I have a lot of friends that went the other way. It really thrived them that way, but for me, it stuck in my head of what not to – not gamble all your hard-working money away, not to smoke, drink and be stupid. It gave me a good example of what not to do at a young age.
Do you go back there often?
I haven’t been back in a while. I used to go back all the time but the main reason I went back was to see friends. I miss all my buddies but you grow away from high school friends. Everyone grows up and finds their partners, jobs and what they want to do. So now when I go back, maybe once a year, I have fewer people to see. My birthday is November 24th
and usually lands around Thanksgiving, so I usually go back for this. I'm over 21 now, so I would be able to hang out at the strip with everyone but, honestly, I'll probably be in Nashville with family.
What is the first thing you think of in the morning when you wake up?
That is a very good question! It's one of two things. It’s usually a battle of remembering not to check my phone – I'm not a phone person. I'm really not! I don't spend much time on my phone, maybe an average of 2½-3 hours a day. It's a battle of not checking your phone right when you wake up to see if you missed anything. The first thing I like to do when I wake up is to think about what I’m grateful for. Whether it’s small or big I try to set my mindset because gratitude is very big for me. Just something small: I woke up today, I can move my toes, I can move my hands, I am breathing, I'm in my place, I'm not in a hospital. Even if it's something very small, just a quick thought and a breath on what I'm grateful for. Those two things are usually the two battles when waking up.
What do you want out of life?
Did you ever read the book The Alchemist? That is one of my favourite books! So, the legend - what I've always thought of my legend to be is, it sounds weird, but it really is just to learn. I don't have a specific purpose of 'I want to accomplish this' or 'I want to do that'. No one can give you an answer as to why we're all here or why we're doing what we're doing but you can have a personal reason for it. That's what will motivate you. Every day I try to learn who I am, what I'm doing here, how I'm relating to the world around me, and how all this craziness works - especially recently. We're not living in a normal world anymore. Everyone is beat up about it but it really shook things up. It made everyone stop and think about what they're doing. It's given me a lot of time and space to break down what I want in life - which is to learn.
How do you relax?
It's really my home. When I was in high school and right out of high school too, I was very extroverted. I was always out and I always loved being around people but I've really turned into an introvert. I've found peace relaxing at home with my girl. She's got a baby boy and we hang out and watch shows and play games. I love to read and I love to write. Reading is one of the biggest things. I'm currently reading Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins. It's a very good book. I'm about two chapters in, I just started it! You can tell when someone has something to say. This man has lived! He has been through it. It's one of those life lesson books which is what I love to read. Life lessons. Learning. Picking up little things. That's my sanctuary.
What makes you happy?
Travel. Love. Freedom. And my job - I love what I do. It's always new, which feeds the Sagittarius in me. Every single time I show up to work, nothing is the same. Even if you try to make it the same, it will never be. It's always present and has a fresh new start to it.
What was your journey into acting?
My mum and I just jumped off a cliff! We went: "You know what? Let’s just go for it!". I did this little talent showcase for agents and managers in Las Vegas. It was a low-key thing, but I ended up meeting this agent that was like: "You guys need to come out to LA because Vegas is nothing." I signed with her and started doing modelling jobs. I knew I wanted to act, so we ended up finding someone who called a manager through a photographer on the next shoot who said: "You need to see this kid." I met with the manager who took me over to another agency, and five months later I booked Disney's Girl Meets World.
You made your debut with the Disney Channel original series Dog with a Blog in 2013. What was your experience on the show like?
It was amazing! It was exactly what I wanted to do. It was the first opportunity I had to act and do something that wasn't just taking photos. Showing up on set was cool because we had filmed the pilot of Girl Meets World, so I had gotten a little taste of what it was like to be on set. With Dog with a Blog I got a good feeling of what it was like to run the rhythm: the three weeks on and one week off, how the process works, table reads, networks, producer reads, and all the way down to the filming. That cast was so great and welcomed me in right away. Plus, I got to work with a dog that was trained to the T! It was one of the most fascinating things because I love dogs. It was mind-blowing!
What was it like to be baptised into the professional industry with the world of Disney?
It's something I'm very grateful for. When I was around 11 or 12 years old, it was my dream to be on the Disney channel. We all grew up watching it, and it was always something that was on. Disney was so good at teaching me how to handle everything. When it comes to set, in-person fans, maybe getting mobbed, press and all of these things - they gave us guidelines on it. Disney was great, but the greatest teacher I had was executive producer Michael B. Kaplan who is a genius. He had something ticking through him that was spot on. He taught me so much about the longevity of a career, about this business, how things work and how to be super professional, which I am very grateful for.
What's the best lesson you've ever learnt on set?
It was probably the most recent. I worked on He's All That, and Matthew Lillard and I were having a conversation. I've looked up to him for a long time - I mean that's Shaggy from Scooby-Doo! He said: "Enjoy it. It moves fast. I'm looking back now at you guys coming up in the industry and remembering that this was us once". It feels like not too long ago". Obviously, you know time moves fast but it was one of those things, the way he said it, that impacted me. Things move very quickly so just enjoy what you're doing right now and live in it.
And from Shaggy from Scooby-Doo!
Exactly, right? You have to listen!
You also starred in Disney's Girl Meets World
with Sabrina Carpenter and Rowan Blanchard. How did your time on the show shape you as a person?
It was very hard work. I was 13 when I started the show and up at 5 am in the morning, driving 30 minutes to work, doing two hours of school, then going straight into rehearsals for 6-7 hours and then going through notes. All of it was very high-pressure. Most of it was table reads in front of the network, producer run-throughs, or filming. As a 13-year-old it's intense to have 70 people, including the bosses, be there judging you. It creates a lot of pressure. On top of that, we would do 2-2 ½ more hours of school and then drive home. By then it would be 5:30 pm and be home by 7 pm. Then we would get the new script, finish up some homework, and go to bed as fast as possible to get back up in the morning. That went on for about five months out of the year for three different seasons. It was a lot of work, but taught me discipline and what it takes in this industry. It really shaped my career as well as my life. Things always take a lot of time and work. Some things move a lot quicker and smoother but for me, it was definitely all about discipline.
Have you ever felt like you lost out on a part of your childhood?
Absolutely, I feel like I missed a lot but in a very good way. I'm 22 now and looking back to when I was 13 I don't remember that many details. Maybe some of it shaped my life in ways besides work but everything else was just being a kid and having fun. I can't imagine being 40 years old looking back going: 'wow that was so meaningful when we hung out and threw rocks at the lake', you know what I mean? As hard as it all was, it was so enlightening to be working on the shows because it was meaningful to be doing something that had the power to impact others. We had live TV tapings every Tuesday and would have a Make A Wish kid come in. It was one of the most meaningful things. It is one of the most sacred things in my heart. It was one of those things where you're shaking hands and hugging them and showing them around the set, knowing that they might not have that long left to live. They could have chosen anything for Make A Wish, but they chose to hang out with us and see what it was like to film. That is more important than anything else I could ask for. It shaped me a lot.
Besides Disney, you've appeared on ABC's American Housewife and in the family film Gibby. What's the most challenging character you've played to date?
The character I just played from He’s All That. I play Jordan Van Draanen who is essentially the gender-swapped version of Taylor Vaughn and Brock Hudson combined into one. That was by far the most difficult. The rest of the characters had a piece of me in them - in Girl Meets World
and Dog with a Blog I was the good guy, the good boyfriend, the mature nice polite kid. In American Housewife I was this sweet golden retriever type boy and I was missing a few pieces. Jordan Van Draanen in He’s All That was the complete opposite of who I am. I've never been a singer, never danced, never done anything like that. I've always been scared of that but this role incorporates both. Having the pressure of doing that and being this enormous egomaniac was so far from me that doing it was very difficult but it was so fun at the same time – to be able to play someone so unlike myself. That's the most I've put myself out there.
Speaking of He's All That, for anyone unfamiliar with the 1999 original She's All That, can you explain the premise and how this compares to this new reimagined gender-swapped version?
First of all, watch the original because it’s a great movie! He's All That is about this girl who is the queen of the high school and she takes a bet from her friend to turn the school's biggest loser into prom king. That's basically the premise of it but there are so many little things in there. The old one was catered to high schoolers/just out of high school/coming into high school and relates to the vibe of high school. This one is catered to this day and age. It's a totally different world we're living in. There's a whole new group of kids that are going through things in high school with all this technology and social media, and there is so much going on in between those bells that people need to become aware of and that students can relate to. He’s All That has such a cool message and I hope people can relate to it.
How has the gender-swapping element impacted the story?
The storyline stays pretty solid. It's really the gender-swap itself that comes with an entirely different set of perceptions. It's a cool look because now I can't wait to watch both movies side by side because when the guys got together in the old one it was so ‘the guys’ and now when the girls get together and it’s so ‘the girls’. It’s cool to be able to see how differently the problems are perceived and how they are handled. It's also got a whole new set of jokes and a different set of lessons.
This is your first project as Peyton in his own right - what challenges have you faced in your career from being a ‘Disney Kid’? Has it impacted anything?
Absolutely, it has impacted a lot. It's just one of those things - the stigma always stays. No matter what I'm doing it's always: "Oh it’s Lucas!" from my role in Girl Meets World. It's something that sticks with you but I've always been a pretty good kid.
You've done family and comedy, where's next for Peyton?
It's very tough to tell because I'm not in charge of it. If I had a strict 'what I want to do' it would be action! I had a fight scene in He’s All That and it was so cool to be able to choreograph and the intensity of it when you're filming it was really fun.
We could ring up Marvel!
That would be amazing!
What do you think about the incorporation and representation of the digital space in film?
When you're in high school that's your world. You don't think: 'I'm going to leave these people and I can create a new me'. For them, their entire reality is collapsing in front of them. A lot of kids are going to be able to relate. It's a darker show, but Euphoria does it very well. It's a bit more of a darker side of high school but nowadays high school definitely has a darker side to it; a lot of kids struggle. You and I didn't have to deal with this in the same way. Towards the end of high school I had a phone but it wasn't crazy like it is now. These kids have to deal with so much. Even as adults we're struggling with anxiety and depression, but these kids are being exposed to it at a very young age. Film and TV shows are starting to incorporate the darker side. Luckily He’s All That isn't, and especially with quarantine, let's just have a laugh and enjoy a feel-good movie.
What is your relationship with social media?
I hate it! I watch who I follow and what I click on because I know there is an algorithm and if I click on something negative or distracting it'll keep popping up. I've done a good job of levelling myself and of going 'why am I on here?'. I'm on it for entertainment sometimes and I'll watch funny videos or something like that. I like good stories like saving animals or military parents coming home. Stuff that feels good. Spiritual conversations or good interviews, too. I'm in charge of how I interpret this machine. It doesn't get to run me, which I learned a couple of years ago. It was one of the greatest things I've done for myself. I understand that when I'm on this machine everything is on this machine but the second I close it I'm back to reality and don't think about what's happening on the platform.
What is the difference between having social media as a celebrity compared to before you became famous?
You lose all communication. When I first started social media it was to communicate with kids at school and kids at other schools. You would spot someone cute and Facebook poke them! It was so simple. Nowadays the communication is wiped because there's too much going on. Now I just use it to go 'here's me and I hope you like it'. I’m not trying to be anyone else. If I want to communicate with someone I call or text them. I'm very confident in who I am and believe in expressing my truth. If I have an opinion or a belief, it's just an opinion or a belief - it's simply mine. I'm not stating a fact. I've lived a very different life than most people, so it's cool to share.
What's the biggest challenge affecting young men growing up today?
I think it's ignorance. It's not educating yourself. Young men feel this pressure, and a sense of pride and ego, but it's okay to be hurt. It's okay to have feelings. It's different as a guy growing up. I grew up with two older brothers and my dad, and if you are sad about something and you cry, you're a baby. So you don't cry. You know? Man up. It really instilled in me. Hanging out with guy friends it's all-around pride, ego, keep it up at all times, and you never get to put it down. You never get to feel it and think about it. It causes a lot of problems because they put it into other outlets. It really plagues a lot of young guys.
Do you have any advice for young men growing up today?
Read. I know it sounds boring but read. It is really important to educate yourself on yourself. You can push away feelings all you want like you're a big guy, I get it, but I'm telling you to dive into your feelings, dive into yourself, and learn to educate yourself about the things you're passionate about. Reading will become a lot easier when you're reading something that you're passionate about. It's very important to educate yourself.
How do you look after your mental health?
I've had some amazing people come into my life that have passed away and, honestly, death has taught me more about life than anything. One of the best things I ever did for my mental health was skydiving. It sounds crazy, but I wanted to get as close to death as possible. How can I literally jump out of a plane? How can I look at the world going: ‘wow, this is the closest I've ever been to dying'. Before I went skydiving I wrote my own eulogy, and every once in a while, if I ever get too lost in a place, I'll write a eulogy to myself about my life. Usually by the time I'm done writing it I realise how special all of this is. It is a little bit darker but it was taught to me by someone very special to me that is now passed away, so I've kept it with me. It's very healing for me, I don’t know why.
What is your biggest, wildest dream?
To travel the world. I'd love to do it. I've ticked a lot of places off my list but there are a lot more places I want to go to. I really want to see the Northern Lights. Then, the Great Wall of China and the Great Barrier Reef. There are specific things that I really want to go experience. Imagine walking on the cobblestones in Europe or hopping on a train and go to a new country to experience different foods with change in your pocket. It's a special experience to be able to do that.
Do you have a life motto?
I'm trying to decide between two. One I have is tattooed on my ribs and it says: ‘Love Yourz’. It's from a song by J. Cole called ‘Love Yourz’. Essentially the song is about how there’s no such thing as a life that's better than yours. Yeah, love yourz! That's all I got. Have fun. We're here for a limited amount of time. Enjoy your ride. You're on a train and you punch the ticket and you're going to get off the train. That is the only thing you're guaranteed. So just have fun and enjoy your time here.